…. So there I was, at 30,000 feet, 24 years old, on my way to NYC to join PiL and had a few hours to consider what was coming. I knew Martin well and we got on so I didn’t have any worries in that respect, I had confidence the rhythm section was gonna be spot on. Martin and I had been playing together since 1978 and we knew each other’s playing, reaching that intuitive stage where you kind of know what’s coming next. As I have said, John I knew was an arse from previous encounters but he didn’t scare me none, I was big enough to take care of that and Keith was the unknown part of the equation but hey, how bad could he be? I didn’t like the music, or half the band. (I thought the drugs might be good and plentiful though, and on that score, I was right.).
I was heading into the Unknown without anything in a contract. I didn’t know how long I was going for, how many gigs were planned? what was the recording plans? was there any split on publishing? how much was I gonna get paid? I was a bit naive and just assumed that Virgin records were behind it all and that money wasn’t going to be a problem. How fucking wrong was I? The last PiL performance had been the infamous riot show at the Ritz so I wasn’t even sure what the fuck we’d be playing live or what format the shows would be.
I was also going away from all my friends and family as well as long term partner, not knowing when I would return. But it was what I had wanted all these years; to be playing for a name band, recording and touring as a professional and being paid well for it with a bit of recognition and fame thrown in, it’s what I had dreamed of. I had been playing for 6/7 years and had done pretty well, but not broken through from scratching around earning a crust here and there. (For example my first ever “wage” turned pro playing for The Bob Lewis Band in 1979 was a £30 bag of hash… I didn’t get an option to ask for cash, take it or leave it. The same bunch of crooks asked me to join The Jags but I turned them down, I didn’t fancy the prospect of a bag of weed a week as payment). Driving up and down the UK playing in front of nobody for £30 wasn’t much fun either. At one point I had £1.70 to my name, living at my mums and not even being able to afford the bus fare into Watford let alone having money to spend down the pub when I got there.. It was fucking grim. So here was the chance to break free and break through and although it wasn’t my ideal band of choice, it was a much better prospect than any available alternative!
I touched down at JFK late in the afternoon and Martin had arranged to meet me. I was booked into the Infamous Iroquois hotel where I had stayed previously with Brian Brain. That was a great hotel back then; rooms were cheap as chips and all the touring bands stayed there partying aplenty. I would get phone calls to my room that were meant for Mick Jones of The Clash, much to my amusement. The switchboard couldn’t cope with more than one Jones at a time! It was as grimy as eighties New York itself and it’s sad to see it is now just another swanky boutique hotel for those that can afford the squeaky clean New New York prices… Progress.
So a grinning Atkins was there when I eventually emerged from the usual grilling from immigration, despite my work visa being in order and we jumped in a yellow cab to Manhatten. “We’re going straight to the studio” says Martin. I was a bit taken aback having just got off a 6 hour flight and being a bit pissed.. “What, right now? I was hoping to have a lie down” said I. “They’re keeping the studio session open for you to come in and play some bass so were going straight there”. Unbelievable. This was going to be jumping in at the deep end. Martin spent the rest of the journey trying to sing me the bass line to the new song they wanted recorded, no mean feat for both of us considering he was tone deaf and couldn’t sing a melody to save his life but I caught the gist of it and off we went to Park South Studios to meet the gang.
As we arrived at the studio, there was a bunch of guys from some poor band who had studio time booked and were waiting patiently for PiL to finish up. They would be waiting a long time and eventually had to go home, their recording session ruined before it had even started. PiL had trumped their session, in part waiting for me, and I thought “Fuck, that’s not very nice” and genuinely felt sorry for those guys who had their big day scuppered .
I walked into the control room where I met Keith Levene, Bob Miller the producer a well as a couple of other faces and was surprised to see Ken Lockie was there who I hadn’t seen since I left Cowboys International two years previously, small world. The pleasantries were short and stifled, and within minutes was given a bass guitar and told “play along to this”. The tape started and we worked laying down the bass for Mad Max. There was already a bass line written and played by Keith, but it was a bit ragged and not particularly well played being out of time in places. You could get away with that on guitar but not bass. The bass was slightly off tuning wise too so I played it tighter in with Martins clockwork drums and In tune! We did take after take after take.. On and on through the night with Keith at the mixing desk making the tiniest of adjustments to things on the fly.. “Aimless fucking knob twiddling” I called it, endless tedious fiddling around with fuck all time after time. I was fucked and was offered something to keep me going which I refused. I never took drugs in the studio, ever, it’s hard enough playing straight but on drugs, you just play like a cunt even though you think you sound the best thing on the planet, bad news. But there was plenty of it going round and I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. After a long while, John Lydon suddenly appeared from behind the mixing desk where he had been lying down. I hadn’t seen him there and he never offered me the courtesy of saying hello when I arrived either… Playing the cunt as usual, and he had to make his grand entrance. The fortieth take was no better than the first and eventually we finished in the early hours of the next day and I caught a cab in a daze to the Iroquois.
What the fuck was I getting into? I wasn’t impressed with what I had seen and heard so far in the studio, it all seemed so directionless and chaotic, no plan, no ideas, no production no discipline and it was typical of how the recording process was going to continue with this band. I saw some of that during the recording of Flowers of Romance and it looked like it nothing had changed. But I thought, oh well, if they want to spend wasted hours fucking about in the studio then so be it, what did I care? Well, little did I know at the time, but that’s where most of the money was going, to pay the studio bills. So I was going to be working my arse off to playing live to pay the stupid wasted studio time… One day in and things didn’t look good. The first gig was planned in three weeks, 28th September at Roseland… We had some rehearsals to do….
To be continued
Copyright Pete Jones J A M Uk 2015
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