THE PROFESSIONALS (Live at The Riverside, Newcastle, U.K., February 21, 2019)
Photo: Mick Burgess

When the Sex Pistols split drummer Paul Cook and guitarist Steve Jones wasted no time putting a new band together. The Professionals fed on the raw energy of the Pistols but injected a harder, rockier edge with a huge slab of melody. With Jones now an occasional contributor to the band, it’s left to Paul Cook and singer/guitarist to fly the flag. Mick Burgess called them up to talk about their new album SNAFU and current UK tour.

This last year has certainly been a strange time for everyone. How has this time been for you?

Paul Cook (PC): When lockdown started our tour with SLF was postponed after two or three dates. I actually had Covid but not too bad which I think I caught on tour and I think a lot of other people came down with it on that tour too. During the first 6 months of lock down we couldn’t do anything so it’s been a bit of a chore getting the album done. We had to do it stop, start, stop, start but we finally got there in the end.

Tom Spencer (TS): This lock down has made time go equally fast and equally slow. It’s been the same for everyone else. You just try to deal with it the best you can. The only way we can reference it is by the punctuations when we were able to get together to make our new record which for us was quite lucky as other people have been been unable to work.

Your guitarist Chris McCormack left during this period too. What happened to him?

TS: Chris has been a mate of ours for years and I’ve played in a band with his brother too but he couldn’t come to the early studio sessions because his daughter is high risk so he was going to add his parts remotely. Gradually during the process, it removed him from us to the point where he wasn’t part of it. It wasn’t deliberate. He then just said that he’d been recording some songs at home and he was going to do a solo album. It sounds a bit harsh but it was a natural thing. He’s still a mate of ours but he didn’t feel involved. It wasn’t our fault and it wasn’t his fault.

PC: Covid played its part but there was also a little bit of falling out musically but we parted ways amicably and everything is fine.

Who is taking his place?

TS: Rich Jones is doing this tour. He’s worked with the New York Dolls and is with Michael Monroe now. We haven’t found a permanent replacement yet. We did some shows a few weeks ago with Chris Catalyst from the Eureka Machines and Ugly Kid Joe amongst others but one of his other bands called him up for some American shows so he couldn’t do it so we were lucky to have found Rich, who was available and good enough to be able to jump in and do the upcoming tour. He’s probably too busy to become a full member as he’s everywhere and he lives in Canada so that doesn’t help. We’ll go into next year and make a decision on a permanent replacement.

What shows have you played since the lockdown was lifted?

PC: We did a few shows about a month ago as a warm up to playing at the Stone Valley Festival in Newark. Cast, The Farm and The Undertones were on with us too. It was just so nice to be at a festival again. The shows before that were low key shows just to get back out there again and back into the groove. I’m glad we did the three warm up’s before the festival to get us match fit again. Once we’d done a couple of gigs, it’s like we’d never been away.

Did you need any special precautions in place for those shows?

PC: For the festival you had to show your Covid passport to prove you’d been vaccinated but the smaller gigs were almost bubonic in terms of hygiene. After all the care that’s gone into social distancing, masks and sterilising your hands it was if Covid had never happened. I’ve heard that for bands with fans in our age range attendances have been down as people wait to see how things develop. It’ll be interesting to see. We’re not worried if we don’t sell places out we’re just glad to be back out there and we need to encourage people to come out and see us.

TS: I think people have also had bad experiences getting their money back when shows were postponed or cancelled. Lockdown was supposed to be temporary but as it went on promoters hung onto the money and many festivals never paid people back so there’s a bit of mistrust out there as well as the health issue. I can’t blame people. We’re just going to get out there and do it anyway, we’re troopers. It’s about time we tried to get everybody back out together again.

What sort of show do you have planned for the tour?

TS: With our last album we had to make sure there was a nice balance between the old and the new but now we have a new album we have the nice problem of deciding what to play. We have an over-the-top setlist planned which we are going in to the studio to rehearse then we’ll cull a few. You know what it’s like when you see a band you want to hear new stuff but you don’t want to lose the audience to new stuff so we’ll play plenty of the older stuff too. It’ll be a good mix.

PC: I prefer playing the new stuff. People really like the first album but it was 40 years ago. We do a mixture of each so it’ll be a good balance.

Do you feel pressure to play the odd Sex Pistols song now or do you prefer to stand on your own two feet?

PC: We never have done Pistols songs other than we used to play “Bodies” but stopped doing that after a while. We do “Silly Thing” which was in effect the first Professionals song anyway and we’ve done “Lonely Boy” from that era as that was really the transition when there was no John Lydon from the Pistols to The Professionals. “Silly Thing” is a great song. We don’t save it to the end and usually throw it in towards the middle of the set.

Talking of new songs, you have a new album, SNAFU out at the end of the week. Are you excited ahead of its release?

TS: We are very excited. It seems so long that we’ve worked on this record and it’s taken a disproportionate amount of time compared to other records we’ve made because of the gaps in between recording sessions. When you leave gaps the memory loss kicks in and digital recording is complicated with all these files and we’ve got guests sending stuff over which complicated things. We also changed engineers three times so it was up to us to bring them up to speed. It was such a relief when we finally put it to bed. We went through the whole recording process digitally but when it came to mastering, we did that analogue in a great studio in London to give it that real sound. I’m so please to finally get it out

When did you start work on the record?

TS: We were just about to go on tour with Stiff Little Fingers and had just released our third EP so a new album was always going to be the next thing after the SLF tour but then the tour was pulled and we went into lockdown and couldn’t be together to work on the album. We’d talked about using the EPs as album tracks but we didn’t want to do that as we wanted the EPs to remain valid. After the first lockdown we went up to the studio in Wales.

PC: It’s been a slow process writing between the lockdowns and then going into record when we could. It’s taken us a good 18 months to make this record. That’s not too bad considering that some bands take years to make an album.

Where did you record the album?

PC: In various pockets of freedom, we were able to nip to Wales to go to the studio called Mwnci, which is pronounced “Monkey” to do some recording. It’s a great studio which has a Rockfield vibe and is in a beautiful Welsh valley. It’s lovely as there’s no distractions. We did have Steve the cat bringing us mice and rats every day though.

You have Phil Collen and Billy Duffy guesting on the album. How did they get involved?

PC: Phil is an old friend of mine and we had a little three-piece band called Manraze a while back. We did a tour with Alice Cooper but we couldn’t really take it much further as Phil was off on tour with Def Leppard and that’s his priority but we did get two albums out of it so that’s our connection there. He lives just down the road from me and I bumped into him one day and he asked if I was interested in being part of a side project that he was doing and I’ve known him ever since. I’ve known Billy from being in L.A where he lives now and he’s a good mate with Steve Jones too. I knew these guys and just asked them if they’d like to do something on our album. They were both willing to do it which was great.

TS: He’s got a fuckin’ cool address book.

PC: Jimmy Page didn’t get back to me though. Ha!!

Did you ask your old mate and original Professionals guitarist to be part of the album?

PC: Because of Covid, we couldn’t get Steve to go into the studio where he lives in L.A to play some guitar for us. He’s had health issues so he was worried going out anywhere.

Your first single “Spike Me Baby” has just been released. That’s a tale of mistakenly eating some of your daughter’s chocolate isn’t it? What happened there?

PC: She lives a couple of doors down from me and when I get the munchies I go down there and raid her fridge. Unknowingly to me, one day I went round and I ate some of her chocolate. A bit later I started to feel very strange. It wasn’t until a few days later that I discovered that they were herbally enhanced chocolates which she says somebody left at her house. I was totally freaked out on the night that it happened until she told me what it was a few days later. I had a good night’s sleep that night. I’m not going to raid her fridge any more.

TS: I’ve got a different perspective on this. I had three phone calls from him during the day. The first, he said he was putting up some shelves at Holly’s. The next one was later in the evening when he phoned me to say he really wasn’t feeling very well and he was going to go for a lie down and he was being negative about everything. He then phoned me up later to say how great the music was sounding. Then the penny dropped with Holly so it’s a brilliant story.

You’ve worked again with Dave Draper as producer. What does he bring to the creative and recording process?

TS: Dave did the last album, What In The World, with us and me and Paul sit in the room with him and he works great. He’s very creative and in the absence of a full band in the studio it’s great to have that third person to make suggestions but we do have the power of veto of something that we feel doesn’t work. He’s really fast and is something of a genius. We had thought of working elsewhere as he’s in Perthshire and we’d started working with a guy called Tim Wells who has worked with Ian Brown. We were working with him in a local studio. Tim was great in a different way, very clinical but it wasn’t going so well so we called up Dave and asked if we could finish up there. It was the right choice and gave us that continuity from What In The World. He’s also really good at adding those finishing touches that enhance the songs, ghost parts and stuff like that.

The album will be available on vinyl. Is it important to you make your music available on physical formats especially vinyl?

PC: It is. Everyone is back into vinyl now, me included but the only trouble is the pressing plants can’t get the vinyl at the moment so people will have to wait until the New Year to get the vinyl version although the cover is ready, there’s just no record to go into it yet because of the shortages in the raw materials for making vinyl partly due to Covid and partly due to problems with the Suez Canal. We’ve had a perfect storm of Covid and Brexit and it’s just getting worse which is why the title of our album is SNAFU.

Will Brexit cause problems for you when you tour in Europe?

TS: We have no plans to tour there because of that. They haven’t worked out how to do it yet. They were going to do temporary visas but that hasn’t happened. It’s going to knacker everyone up. Maybe if you’re Ed Sheeran you can incorporate that into the ticket price but it was already a fine balance for us to be able to do Europe in any case. It was one of the reasons I’m in in a band is to be able to tour Europe. It’s going to hit European bands who want to tour the UK as well. I just hope the governments involved get this sorted. They’ve had four or five years to sort this out. It looks as though Brexit has been rescued by Covid and all of the problems can be blamed on that. They will sort it though when a ballet troupe or theatre group can’t tour they might actually have more sympathy and whatever visa they give them, we can then use. We’d love to go back to Europe so long as we can get some petrol to get there.

Has the recent court case over using the music of the Sex Pistols in the Danny Boyle TV series, been something of an unwanted distraction for you?

PC: There was a lot of ranting and raving going on but we won the case. It was very sad that we all ended up in court. It was a bit of a shit show but you move on. A decision has been made and we can draw a line under it and just get on with it. I’m very old fashioned. We had an agreement between the four of us where the majority decision ruled. We had a majority decision agreeing to the use of our music in the series but John didn’t agree. I think if you sign an agreement then you stick to it and that’s the end of it. It’s so insane, it’s as if he had something up his sleeve but he didn’t so why else dispute the agreement that we had. It’s always been a fractious relationship. This is just a culmination of all that really.

Has this soured your relationship or do you think you could still work together in the future?

PC: I don’t think so. I am still close to Steve Jones but not as close as I used to be as he lives in L.A.

Your tour ends in Chester on 27th October. Where do you head after that?

PC: After the tour we’ll just keep on promoting the album one way or another and we might do a few Christmas shows too. Then in March next year we’ll do the Stiff Little Fingers tour that was postponed in 2020.

The Professionals are on tour in the UK now with Desperate Measures in support.

SNAFU is out now.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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