Pretender

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

wonderful spectacle

And after all these years Chrissie and I finally made up.

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