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Professionals - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 10 / 4 / 2020

Professionals - Interview


John Clarkson speaks to Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook about the reformation of his band the Profesionals, their acclaimed album 'What in the World’ and three new EPs.

Since the Sex Pistols broke up in the late 1970s, Paul Cook has maintained a regular career as a drummer. He has worked with artists as diverse as Edwyn Collins, Vic Godard and the Subway Sect and Phil Collen from Def Leppard, and also discovered Bananarama, helping the bestselling girl group record their first single, ‘Aie a Mwana’, and working as one of the producers on their 1982 debut album, ‘Deep Sea Skiving’. The last five years have been particularly busy for the London-based Cook. He joined reformed early 1970’s art rockers and pre-punk pioneers Sharks, and appeared on their final two albums, ‘Killers of the Deep’ (2017) and ‘Ready Set Go’. He has also has found time to work with indie bands such as Ben Wood & The Bad Ideas, who are releasing twelve singles this year and to whose April single ‘Lead Me On’ he has lent his drumming skills. Since 2015, Paul Cook has also been playing again in the Professionals, the group he formed with guitarist Steve Jones after the break-up of the Sex Pistols. The original Professionals, who were formed in 1979, had a short, messy career. Their self-titled 1980 album was recorded but scrapped after the Professionals’ first bassist Andy Allan sued their then record company Virgin Records in a legal dispute over unpaid royalties. By the time the Professionals had re-recorded and re-released it in 1981 under the new name of ‘I Didn’t See it Coming’, keeping some of the original tracks and adding others, they had lost much of their original momentum. Both Jones and Allan’s replacement Paul Myers had developed heroin problems, and the Professionals came to an abrupt end shortly after an American tour was cut short when Cook, Myers and the band’s other guitarisr Ray MxcVeigh were all injured in a car crash. The reformed Professionals initially featured Cook, Myers and McVeigh alongside new front man and guitarist Tom Spencer, who had previously been in Sub Pop signing the Yo-Yos and the Loyalties. Ray McVeigh dropped out before the Professionals recorded their much acclaimed 2017 album ‘What in the World’, which was completed using a series of guest guitarists including Steve Jones, the Clash and Big Audio Dynamite’s Mick Jones, the Cult’s Billy Duffy, Guns ‘N’Roses Duff McKagan and Adam and the Ants’ Marco Pirroni. Myers also has subsequently left the band, and the group now consists, as well as Cook and Spencer, of Chris McCormack on guitar and Toshi Ogawa on bass. The Professionals began 2020 by releasing what they have named the ‘1 2 3’ EPs, an EP a month over three months. Each EP – January’s ‘Kingdom Come’, February’s ‘Curl Up and Cry’ and March’s ‘Twenty Twenty Vision ‘ – comes with a B side and extra live and TV session tracks, and appears in a range of vinyl and CD packages. Pennyblackmusic spoke to the genial Paul Cook in March a few days before a UK tour was due to start in support of Stiff Little Fingers. The tour has now been rearranged because of the Coronavirus to take place in September. We talked to him about the Professionals’ reformation, ‘What in the World’ and the new EPs. PB: Your career with the Professionals in the 1980s suffered a lot of bad luck. There were drugs problems, car crashes and your first album was scrapped and then re-recorded. Why did you want to resurrect such an unlucky, ill-fated band? PAUL COOK: It was just timing really. I had always kept in touch with Ray McVeigh and Paul Myers, who were the original guys in the band, and we had talked about it over the years, but it came about when Tom Spencer took over as lead vocalist and guitarist. We said, “Let’s have some fun and play the old songs and see how it goes,” and it went alright and we were having fun. We had never played the songs properly. As you said, the original band didn’t last all that long because of the car crashes, the drugs, rock and roll, all that sort of stuff, and so we thought, “Why not? Let’s go for it and do some gigs,” and it went from there really. PB: Was it a tough decision deciding to restart the band without Steve Jones? PAUL COOK: Steve lives in L.A. now and we are still in touch. He wasn’t able to be involved full-time but was happy for us to go on without him. It is not the same. It is a different band. It is a completely different line-up now. There are no original members except for me, which is fine by me because there is a new energy to the group. We have got a whole new front row. There is just me at the back from the original band, but we have got new material which is the main thing really. It is a new band in all but name. We might be called the Professionals, but it is a totally new band. PB: You have done lots of support dates with the Ruts and are going to be touring with Stiff Little Fingers, but you have done less headline shows. Has it been difficult starting out again? PAUL COOK: It is a struggle, I must admit. I think people are still getting their heads around the new line-up, but ‘What in the World’ is a great album. I think that it is better than our original album, and the new line-up is great. People sometimes just want you to avert back to type and do the original stuff, even though the new version is better. PB: ‘That said, however, ‘What in the World’ picked up fantastic reviews. Have you been surprised at how well received it has been? PAUL COOK:: Yeah, I was surprised. I wrote the songs for the album with Tom Spencer, and we started writing songs, but we didn’t know where we were going musically. It all started to work out right, but it wasn’t until after the album came out, and when we started getting great reviews off people and great feedback from other musicians and fans at gigs, that we thought, “We have made a great record here.” We didn’t realise at the time we were recording it, but we were pleasantly surprised by the reaction. PB: How does the songwriting work between you and Tom? Do you use the same formula as you and Steve Jones used to? PAUL COOK: Kind of! We each come up with ideas. We are not precious, but we don’t mind telling each other “I don’t like that. I think that is crap.” Tom comes up with a lot of great ideas lyrically. He is the main lyric writer, but it kind of works out about 50/50. We get on well, and Tom has great enthusiasm. He gets me going which is great, and is a good thing to have when you are a front man. It basically works the same way as it used to when I wrote with Steve. We bounce ideas off each other, and eventually we get there. PB: ‘What in the World’ had lots of what you described as ‘Guitar God Guests’. Will the next album feature as many guests? PAUL COOK: I don’t think so because we have got a stable line-up now. When we made ‘What in the World’ Ray McVeigh, our guitarist, had left for a variety of reasons. It didn’t work out with him, so we were a three-piece at the time. We needed another input, so I just had the idea of sending the songs to all of my friends who were lead guitarists and saying, “See what you can do.” Everyone was so amiable, and it just worked out really well. They all came up with some really great stuff and they were really helpful, but this time around we have got Chris McCormack, who was way back in Three Colours Red, in the group. We are well capable of doing it ourselves now, so we won’t need any guests. PB: Why did Paul Myers leave? PAUL COOK: Paul was fine for a while, but the trouble was that he had a regular job and the band couldn’t really sustain him because we are not earning a fortune, to be honest. It is a bit of a labour of love. There is not much money about these days, so he needed to work and he also had quite a few health issues which he was getting quite stressed about. We decided quite amicably to take a break and to see how it went, and I think he is in a better space not being in the band. We still keep in touch. We are still good friends. PB: Who is Toshi Ogawa who has taken his place on bass? PAUL COOK: Toshi is a Japanese guy. He has played with lots of different people over the years including the Wildhearts. He is a regular fixture of the band now, but he had actually worked with us before he was in the band as he was our tech guy. He was a natural replacement for Ray.I have known Toshi for quite a while now, as he was also in the reformed Sharks with me, and appeared on the two albums, ‘Killers of the Deep’ and ‘Ready Steady Go’, I did with them. PB: Why have you decided to put out three EPs in succession and one a month rather than wait until the next album? PAUL COOK: We had these songs, and if we waited for an album it would probably be at the end of the year now. We are still writing songs for it. I thought it would be a great idea to get new material out and keep things rolling and hit people with new stuff rather than wait another nine months or whatever. It is always great to get new material out. PB: ‘Twenty/Twenty Vision’ is absolutely caustic. It has got the same sense of rage as the Sex Pistols. PAUL COOK: Yeah, I think that musically the Professionals are not a million miles away from the Pistols. Steve Jones and myself had obviously both been in the Pistols, so it was a continuation really. I have tried to keep that vibe going since then, that punky sound and catchy rock stuff with a bit of energy about it, and we still maintain that with the Professionals now. PB: You show immense stamina on stage. Do you do a lot to keep fit? PAUL COOK: I have always kept fit over the years. When I was a kid and growing up, I was always into my sport and being a drummer you have to be in shape, especially if you are doing a tour. I keep in shape. I go to the gym and drumming keeps me fit as well. It is pretty full-on playing rock and pretty up tempo. PB: You have just done a single with Ben Wood & The Bad Ideas... PAUL COOK: That was a while ago, but it is just coming out now. That was fun. They were good guys. That’s another group putting out a single a month. There are more and more bands these days putting out a track at a time rather than doing an album. It is a very good song. PB: Can you ever see the Sex Pistols reforming again? PAUL COOK: The short answer to that is no. I keep in touch with Steve Jones but that is as far as it goes really. None of the rest of us are in touch and there is quite a bit of baggage involved, so I don’t think that we will be going down that road again. PB: What are your plans for the rest of 2020? PAUL COOK: We’ll hopefully be doing a tour of America, and we will be doing both the West Coast and the East Coast. We will also be playing headline dates in the UK towards the end of the year. PB: Thank you.

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digital downloads


The Complete Professionals (2016)
Finely-packaged three CD retrospective which compiles together the complete works of Steve Jones and Paul Cook’s post Sex Pistols band, the Professionals
Best Of The Professionals (2006)

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