The Professionals - Autumn 2021
Punk rock band The Professionals returned to active service in 2015 with Paul Cook and Tom Spencer leading the charge with the release of 2017’s stand out album What in The World. Now they are back with Toshi Ogawa (bass) to bring us their incredible new album SNAFU. With guests musicians Billy Duffy, Phil Collen, Jonny Weathers and Neil Ivison joining them along the way, The Professionals have created something very special indeed. We catch up with Paul and Tom at their studio in Shepherd’s Bush, and what a glorious studio it is too. With the racks and racks of vintage vinyl inviting us to thumb through them, it really is an Aladdin’s Cave and a music lover’s dream. Following their huge welcome we make ourselves comfortable, ready to hear how it all came together…
Well of course, the first thing I want to talk about is the new album SNAFU, which for the uninformed means ‘situation normal – all fucked up’. Now reflecting on the fantastic album artwork which shows broken regal imagery presented in a stained-glass format, I feel this may be a fairly easy question to ask, but what or who were you thinking of when you decided on the title of this album?
Tom - Well it’s a mixture of us and the world really because the whole album has been made during lockdown, and leading up to lockdown was Brexit. And of course during lockdown the chaos within The Professionals losing a band member during the recording process, it was a working title. It’s an old army term which relates to old Spitfire pilots jumping into planes and flying on speed rather than musicians but I think it sums things up.
Paul - It’s perfect for what’s going on at the moment, especially in England with Covid, Brexit, the petrol crisis and stuff.
Paul - Of course times have changed since then, we’ve moved on and there’s lots of stuff that’s got better. But at this point in time it just seems like we’re going back in time a little to the 70s and disruption when there was the winter of discontent, three day week and all that sort of thing. That’s what it reminds me of with the Covid lockdown.
Tom - The song is a little bit more complex than that. Me and Paul are easily lead personalities. We lead each other astray. He was famously led astray by Steve Jones before that. By the way, I made the stained glass cover, and it’s as the result of working with the stained glass I get lead poisoning occasionally. So the song has got an undertone of lead poisoning throughout. So a lot of the lyrics, once you know that, relate to lead poisoning which is an old-fashioned disease that modern doctors don’t know how to deal with.
Paul - Yeah, you’ve got the gist of the story there! My daughter lives a couple of doors down from me and so whenever we run out of provisions, if she isn’t home I go in and raid her fridge. One particular day I just felt like some chocolate and she had these little chocolate balls in her fridge, and I thought “Oh, they’ll do!”. I was doing some work in there and I don’t even remember munching on them, and that evening I started feeling very strange. The worst thing about it was not knowing why I was feeling strange. I asked her as she didn’t have an answer, because she didn’t know they were there apparently. They were from a friend of a friend etc, and I was on the phone to Tom acting very strange and freaking out. I was getting very paranoid but at the end of the day I phoned Tom back and I was feeling quite good about it. I was listening to some music telling him that I’m alright now and I’m feeling great! I had been inadvertently spiked, but I didn’t know until a few days later when she was clearing out her fridge and she asked me “by the way, the other day when you are feeling strange, did you take any of these?”… and then the penny dropped! At least I knew why! The worst thing about it was not knowing why.
Paul - It was great to get her on there. As you probably know she is a musician in her own right and we’ve never worked together really. I’ve never played with her before but it was Tom’s idea really. He said it will be great to get her on there but we were so stuck for time. We managed to get her on there right at the death where we managed to get her to sing a line at the end of the song. Making the album has been a bit of a chore over the lockdown because we’ve not been able to get together. I think it was the last thing that we did on the album wasn’t it?
Tom – (Laughs!) No, but should have done, shouldn’t we! We got a weird opportunity from a guy called Mark Sloper who is a friend of Paul’s and he’s made the last two videos with us. Olympia is an exhibition Centre in London near Earls Court and they’re doing one of those developments on it. It’s getting a complete makeover. Apparently they are going to have a new Ronnie Scott’s in there. They turned it into a Victorian shell and we got a chance to go in there before all the building work. It was great just to be there let alone make a video. So we just jumped on it.
Paul - Well it came about really easily. We got them to play on our last record What In The World because we were a guitarist short then as we are now, in this ever-changing lineup of The Professionals. For that record I just thought ‘You know what? We haven’t got a guitarist, I’m just going to phone up my friends, get the phone book out and see if they’re interested’ and they were. They were really up for it. We lost our guitarist Chris McCormack during lockdown for various reasons. A lot of it to do with lockdown actually. So we were guitarist short again so I did the same thing. We sent over the guitar tracks to them in LA, they put their contributions down, sent them back, we chopped and changed and cut and pasted what they’d done and it worked out great again. You’ve got to guess which guitarist is playing where because we haven’t labelled it on the album.
Tom – Yes! When they play solos they are very distinctive, both of them. But more importantly some of the ghost parts they play on the album are great. The Professionals by nature is a four piece band and I can play different styles of a guitar and do that but you really need other personalities on the tracks sometimes to do it. Me and Paul then have the power of edit. Sometimes we put the parts where they didn’t plan on playing them and that was part of our creative process.
Tom – I’d rather not have any days off! When we have a day off we tend to get in trouble, get into mischief and go down the pub. At least you get a routine going. It’s great and a nice compact tour.