RAY McVEIGH in conversation with Phil Singleton November 2008
Ray McVeigh was enlisted into The Professionals by Steve Jones and Paul Cook in late 1980 to bolster the band's guitar sound. With Steve possessing one of the most recognisable and dynamic guitar sounds in rock 'n' roll, the addition of a second powerhouse guitar player was designed to make The Professionals one of the most ferocious groups on the planet.
I first interviewed Ray back in 2003 when he talked about his early days leading up to meeting Steve and Paul and joining The Professionals.
The latest interview is presented in two parts.....
Part One: The audition; live debut; John Peel; producers; video shoot; managers....
Phil: Hi Ray, it's good to interview you again for the site. I thought I'd start by picking up where we left off last time by asking about your early days in the band. Can you recall how you first got involved with The Professionals? You went to audition for the band, what was that like? Frightening?
Steve knew I played guitar almost as good as he could hot wire motors and after the Pistols split, said I should go down and have a play with him and Cookie for a new band they were forming. Steve and I had been out on the lag one night and he said to come by the next day as they were seeing a bass player. I went down to Denmark Street, and there was Paul Myers, holding Paul Simonon's paint-splashed Rickenbacker...totally casual. It was the least audition-like moment ever...
I remember Steve being really impressed with Myers suntan, he was a part time lifeguard at that time (laughing), and Steve wanted him in the band because of the tan and because he was a remarkably David Essex-ish handsome young chap then; time hasn't been kind (laughing). Cookie, on the other hand, was attempting to be vaguely serious, saying how they should maybe try a song with Myo (Myers) first, so they ploughed into Little Boys In Blue while I watched; though at the time I had no clue what it was, just that it was simple and sounded like the bollocks.
When they finished, Steve spotted another amp and guitar in the room and said did I fancy a go. Seemed like a good idea at the time and off we went - sounded great with two guitars, rounded the tea off nicely and that was that. Being a musically minded fellow I remember standing mouthing the chords to Myo...'B'...'D'...'A' as he seemed to be just slamming all the strings at once. Afterwards he asked what I was trying to say and we died laughing when he said “Oh fuck that stuff, one of them is bound to be right if I hit all of them at once.”
A revelation! Eventually we all did learn the actual notes (laughing). Myo is playing great these days, he and I have just finished a Maltese folk/punk album together that will be released next year on Malteser Records, called 'Never mind the chocolate balls, try the finger of fudge'.. we tried to get Gary Glitter to sing but couldn't find him anywhere (laughing).
We played Join the Professionals as well - and then I guess I did (join the Professionals). Not a mention of money or hours. The benefits I already knew about, ha ha ha! We just all agreed it worked and that was it, we played some more. Steve and Paul loved how much more meaty it sounded with all of us, and that I was, in actual fact, a simply incredible electronic guitarist who learnt the whole album in about 10 minutes (laughing).
All jesting aside, it was really awesome to play that first time with Steve, Paul and Paul - Cookie was and is one of the best real drummers there is, no nonsense, THE BOLLOCKS, and can still do handstands; and Jonesy is Jonesy. It was a fucking glorious racket, still is - as anyone who really did witness it live will agree. So much so that we decided to re-record the album with a new producer... then another new producer, then another new producer... then another producer, and then finally with a new producer...luckily the studio canteens were reasonably tasty and there was plenty of 'stuff' as we call it in the trade to be requisitioned.
What songs did you play at the audition?
All of them. Twice. Some of them three times. I believe I scored a perfect 10 on at least one of the songs and thus was enlisted immediately; lately I heard rumours that a young Eddie Van Halen turned up to try out the next day but couldn't do the windmill or the monkey pose.
With all four of you hitting it off so well as a unit, what was your live debut as a group like? Can you remember where it was?
Yeah, it was Nottingham Boat Club... I distinctly remember because it was a nightmare (laughing). We were managed at that point by Dave Hill, who had managed Johnny Thunders and was managing The Pretenders. Consequently he came with half of the Pretenders. I was fine until right before we went on stage when Jonesy pointed out that it was our first ever gig and that the crowd would probably go as mental as the last time the Pistols had played; it suddenly dawned on me what expectation level there was, and as I was the one who started the show, instantly began to shit myself.
I think it was the ever sympathetic Cookie who shouted at me “come on you wanker, get on with it” and spurred into action I ran out and started Little Boys In Blue. The opening chords were great, or would have been if I hadn't taken off half of the strings at once...woeful. It was a true baptism of fire...gob, coins, lighters, shoes, the whole bloody lot, thank fuck for Mr Jones covering for me while I changed guitars, even if he did slag me off laughing for the rest of the show - he loved it, it meant no one realised it was his first gig ever singing, all attention was on the knob on the other guitar.
We played for an hour or less, which was our usual offering - did Little Boys, 1.2.3, Join the Professionals, Just Another Dream, Kick Down The Doors, More Than A Feeling, Silly Thing, White Light White Heat, most of the album. I remember the crowd loved it and wanted more but we didn't have any.
Pete Farndon of The Pretenders was an instant convert; he came to as many of our shows as he could after that, great bloke, taste too...toss up between him, Simonon and Myers for coolest looking bass player in those days...lucky old Myers has the ring to himself now!
It was great getting that first show over and done, it felt like we had actually made a move, it was always just the biggest buzz being onstage with those three, never an argument or row over bollocks like who did what - Jonesy is the best mate you could ever have to learn the ropes from, never afraid to pull a move, The Guvnor then and the Pontiff now. Cookie was guaranteed to be hitting it like Tommy Cooper, I mean Henry Cooper, with the occasional “faster you wanker” as polite encouragement and Myo was just fucking unflappable - there were full scale riots kicking off some nights, and really full scale riots, and he would be there smiling calmly, dodging the missiles, scanning for Richards, winking at me, amazing. I thought we were the dogs bollocks you know, and I wasn't wrong.
Just after you got together you recorded a John Peel session. John Peel said the guitar wasn't Steve but was "Kid" McVeigh! I still have a copy of it on tape. I assume Steve did play guitar on it as well as yourself? Any thoughts on this?!
I have the same tape of it (laughing). Thin Lizzy used to call me "the kid" because I was so young, and I think somehow that was mentioned to John Peel by Phil Lynott who had come down to the BBC with us to borrow this Gretsch White Falcon off Jonesy, and on the night Steve was more bothered about getting the vocals spot on so he did have me play the bulk of the guitar - aside from the trademark Jonesy solos. Hard to tell the difference but that's what we call the stuff in the trade. Also I recall Jonesy was quite busy signing something soft for one or two of the receptionists so I had to deputize if you catch my drift. Rounded the tea off nicely.
Did you get many in the crowd shouting for old Pistols songs? You used to play Silly Thing of course.
I guess it's well enough documented that we only ever played about seven or eight shows here in England, and never did Scotland, Ireland or Wales...in contrast to quite a substantial amount in the States...maybe 100 or so over there. A big reason was the difference in reception - we always got asked to play Pistols songs at the gigs which was no real surprise, they are great songs and as you say we did do SIlly Thing live, although that was mainly Steve and Paul anyway. But in the States they were just way more enthusiastic about the band and the sound; here it seemed to be more about the aggro and trouble, because a lot of people had missed out on the whole Pistols scene live, they had that distorted press image that it was always a riot; spitting and rucking mandatory etc, which got old really quick.
We had a couple of really ugly moments at gigs in Coventry, Birmingham and Middlesborough, with kids getting glassed and ridiculous amounts of shit getting thrown, and it just felt like North America was more open minded in a way, with less emphasis on the trouble and more on the music. Aside from one legendary night in Montreal with the Upstarts.
The real drag was that it was finally really starting to be about The Professionals and our tunes, when we had the car crash and then every other possible balls-up possible. In the States they had bought the album solely on import, yet there would always be yells for favourite album tracks and the singles which was always a good vibe. In the UK it finally seemed to be accepted on its own merit too.
I think the majority of the crowd realised what a difference there was between the two bands, it just takes a while to settle in. I saw early P.I.L. shows and they would get the same reception initially; you just needed to set your stall out and give them what you got.
Around the time of the Peel session I recall reading that Join The Professionals was going to be a single in November that year (1980). Everything then seemed to go quiet with the single eventually being released in June 81. Can you remember why there was a delay? You've mentioned about the problems with finding the right producer....
The delay was what really killed a lot of the impetus. We were being tossed backwards and forwards by the record company and various producers; just trying people out till we heard what we liked. It seemed like we had a shot with anyone and everyone; Chris Thomas was great but tied up, even a stint with Vic Maile, who had done Hawkwind, Motorhead and Girlschool! I have no idea what became of those sessions.
Mick Glossop we liked because of The Skids stuff he had just done, and it was okay recording Join The Professionals with him - he got a reasonably close feel of the band, the main problem was that we recorded it at The Manor in Oxfordshire which felt like a country holiday camp to us - there were some awfully shocking incidents. I mean, a go-cart track, a replica of a British frigate in a window sill directly over the swimming pool, a child's inflatable boat and a trout lake, two thirds of Bananarama, Lemmy's favourite friend, Motorcycle Irene, the disappearance of Mr Branson's wristwatch, combined with us, savagely unlimited amounts of alcohol and anything else that came to hand.
I think by the end of the recording Mr Glossop was just relieved to have survived it alive, so it wasn't likely he would do the album. Serious sense of humour failure for most people who had to contend with us at that time. Still remember Jonesy washing Cookies BMW with a massive trifle nicked out the kitchen and hosing down the serving staff with the fire hose through the kitchen window. Not received well. Possibly why the mix sounds a 'trifle' rushed in retrospect.
When the single finally came out, you filmed a video for it. At the same session you also shot one for 1-2-3.
Those videos are about as two bob as you could get. I think they cost about nine guineas for both. It was early days for that kind of bollocks, and the crew were really old school BBC union types, hated us on sight. There was a bald bloke who had to keep standing in front of us with the clapper board to start each take, and Steve would do that whole Benny Hill thing slapping the geezers head, not appreciated at all, except by us...I particularly cringe at the Rambo bandana and evident overindulgence of some kind of performance enhancer on my part... I think they had to slow-mo every shot of me because I was so hyper. I love Myers always being in a cloud of nicotine and looking in slow motion when he isn't (laughing).
The funniest thing about those videos is in 1.2.3. when Jonesy just fucks every single mic and stand; we were pissing ourselves from start to finish. If you watch it closely, he breaks his mic and stand, lets it fall and snatches mine and starts carting it round over his shoulder, fucks that up and out of the corner of his eye you see him eyeing up Myers mic, which we are both singing on, comes and grabs that and drags it off tangling everything up (laughing).So now he is holding two mics, tosses one in the air in time to the song and actually fucking catches it! He is so pleased with himself he busts out grinning and looks round for us, as if to say “did you see that?” then tosses both mics and sings into the guitar head...genius!
Going back to what you said about changing managers, you ended up with John Curd. Was he a good choice for the band?
At the time the band was a nightmare to deal with, pretty uncontrollable, with no real plan. I admired Dave Hill, who had really looked after us, but he ended up with no option but to let us go after one too many unmentionable incidents and being knee deep with The Pretenders; and at that point I guess John Curd seemed a really good choice as he was one of the best promoters around, a tough old mate and well feared in the business. All qualities that actually should have kept both sides from working together.
At that point we really needed someone objective, from outside our circle, to step in and co-ordinate the album release, a worldwide deal and an overall strategy for us as a band. Diplomatically, because I love Curdy nowadays, it was not a good career move for him or us, and we all fell out badly because of it for years afterwards. I think his business suffered because he was forever trying to pick up the pieces after us and we suffered because he had too much other stuff to deal with. Milk spilt. All chums again now.
The story continues in part two.