“I know that the Pretenders have looked like a tribute band for the last 20 years. … And we’re paying tribute to James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon, without whom we wouldn’t be here. And on the other hand, without us, they might have been here, but that’s the way it works in rock ‘n’ roll.
Each day when I wake up (before I put on my makeup) I say a little prayer. Mainly I give thanks for
never having become a probation officer (it’s a long story). More recently my gratitude has extended
into other areas where in the past I could have made some terrible mistakes.
Lately I have become increasingly thankful for never having been in a successful band. To be honest
becoming a probation officer was far more of a possibility but there have been times in my life
when there had been just the slightest possibility of what was called ‘making it’ with one musical
combo or another.
Much of my gratitude stems from reading a lot of musicians autobiographies. All bands seem to pass
through a stage in their ascension where they are on the road almost all the time, a permanent haze
of lack of sleep, casual sex, alcohol, drugs and endless travelling. It’s probably fun for a while but it’s
bound to do some sort of damage in the long run physically, mentally and spiritually.
Not long ago I read Chrissie Hynde’s autobiography. Despite intersecting with punk Hynde has a very
American perspective on rock music. Raised in the heartland of Middle America she was inducted
into the stadium spectacle, blinded by the supposed glamour of the tour bus discharging its load to
play Cleveland before moving onto Kansas City to play another one nighter.
Hynde was inducted to the old fashion rock business where the men are in charge and chicks know
their place. Physical and sexual violence were pretty common place and acceptable in the world she
aspired to and taking up with bikers and subsequently having to get out of town was pretty much a
rite of passage.
Coming to Britain in search of the rock and roll dream was a brave move which altered the course of
her own history. Inevitably there was the mistake of getting involved with writer Nick Kent but that
opened doors writing a few articles for the NME and getting to know Malcolm McLaren and
associated formative members of the punk scene. But Hynde was a million miles different from the
Siouxsie Sioux and Viv Albertines who were struggling to make their own music with limited
resources. The British pretenders were trying to create something that bore as little relationship to
the music that went before, Hynde had rock running through her veins, she just wanted to get on
stage and make like the Rolling Stones.
There were abortive groups such as Masters of the Backside and the Moors Murderers, all as
hopeless as their names suggest, after a spell in France taking more drugs and having more bad
relationships Hynde returned to London with a serious attempt to get her shit together.
This time she was able to pair up with someone who recognised and nurtured her talent. James
Honeyman Scott was a guitarist who hated punk and worshipped the Beach Boys. Together they
were able to craft her songs into something special. Despite her song writing talent her first release,
now as the Pretenders was a cover of a (then) obscure Kinks song ‘Stop your Sobbing’.
Produced by the omnipresent Nick Lowe It was a great song and a great record and it started Hynde’s journey into ‘making it’.
That’s where the horror began,
she describes endless soulless gigs with the band either hung over or off their faces. For some reason
she felt it a good idea to insult the audiences and rather inevitably she had started a relationship
with bass player Pete Farndon who was in the process of proving his rock and roll credentials by
killing himself with drugs. Hynde’s account of the first couple of years of the band sound like the
most awful time ever, she was in her late 20’s by now, there was no plan B but it did beg the
question, was it worth it?
Such was the unexpected nature of her initial success with the Pretenders was that the band had
been booked to play St Andrew’s Hall in Norwich. It wasn’t often a chance came up to see a band live
who had been on the cover of the music papers and on Top of the Pops so with a few friends I set off
to catch the new big thing.
If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to alienate a British audience it’s arrogance. If you are arrogant
and American then it’s doubly bad. On the night I saw her Hynde was both, she managed to grasp
defeat from the jaws of victory. As we walked home from the gig we took particular pleasure in
dissecting the empty rock gestures, Honeyman Scott’s blazer and floppy hair, Farndon’s ridiculous
biker boy posturing and Hynde calling a member of the audience ‘honey’.
Luckily Hynde had the talent to ride out the bombast. It’s easy to forget that a lot of her music is
actually three chord rock thrash because when she slows things down and lets her amazing voice
relax a bit she can be incredible. She was new rock and talented enough to build a proper career
which has sustained her over 40 years.
And she’s a vegetarian.
39 years later I caught her live again at the Cornbury Festival. Now in her mid 60’s she’s still adhering
to the skinny rock star chic that usually only members of the Stones can sustain. She now got a band
of skinny rock star youngsters apart from original drummer Martin Chambers who has to play behind
Perspex. The sun was going down, a couple of hot air balloons floated past, they played ‘Kid’. It was a
And after all these years Chrissie and I finally made up.