Original article in Spanish published in Revista Madhouse on May 12 2017
Who’s the quirky guy in Texan shirt, a matching bandana and shades sitting at a table in the cafeteria of that hotel in downtown Buenos Aires at 3 pm?, the personnel of the place ask themselves, as they’re about to finish their days’ work. “Is he famous?”, one of them demand to know. “Let’s say he’s quite popular”, I try to explain, “but from a very particular elite”, all this while the man at the table, who’s now sporting a wide smile and a good disposition, is dividing his time between waiting for the next one to interview him, and wondering where is it that he left his room keys, who humbly confesses to have lost a few minutes before (“sorry, I’ll be right back”)
Lunch isn’t served anymore, while there are no drinks available either. Only water and coffee. Which is no problem at all to Honest John Plain, since the booze played hard on him a few years ago, leading him to leave it behind forever and ever after an accident that put his life at risk. Which may not be an easy task for a true Londoner always up for a drink at the pub, but yet Plain looks thankful and happier than ever. After all these years on the road he’s still is the restless rocker who plays all over the world and often keeps recording. And who’s now back in he country (his third visit in about 15 years) to do three shows, and also to remind us that he’ll always be the one he never stopped being.
Do you want to order a drink or something? Or a cup of coffee, maybe?
No, thank you. I haven’t had a beer or spirits for over 2 years now, because of my accident.
An accident? What kind of accident was it?
I was in Norway playing with Casino (Casino Steel, ex-Hollywood Brats and also member of The Boys with Plain) We were in a mansion. I was on the fifth floor and there were marble stairs all the way down. I just got to go to the toilet, because I was drunk, and I fell down the whole of the stairs and smashed my head to pieces.
You fell down marble stairs?
Yeah. I got past the first two, and then fell again. And they found me in the morning. I was unconscious.
But you where there all alone? Nobody there to help you out?
Well, everybody was asleep, because it was during the night. I was with Casino but, when I went to bed, I needed to go to the toilet, and fell.
How come Casino didn’t notice it?
He found me in the morning, eight hours later, and there was blood all over the floor. And they put me in the hospital, and I only had 3% of brain left. And I nearly went, you know.
Did you injure only your head?
Yeah, I smashed it to pieces! (laughs)
Well, good to have you here, good to have you anywhere!
And I went on tour again after coming out of hospital. And then in Germany I went to hospital again for about 2 weeks, got out of that, started a tour again, finished off the tour and then I had another accident. You know, I kept on getting fits, so now they give me medication for it. And so far… (shows he’s still here)
Well, you survived. It could have been much worse.
Yeah I survived! But it was self-inflictive, I felt really bad when I was in hospital, with all these people that were really ill. And they did nothing. I felt bad ‘cause it was self-inflictive, because of being a drunk.
And who took care of you while you were there?
People in the hospital. My ex wife and my son came to see me when I was in London.
Another hospital in London?
I’ve been to hospital in Germany, in Norway…
It was a “hospital tour”, I mean, basically you’ve been touring hospitals…
(laughs) Yes,they had to give me medication while I was touring. So that’s why I stopped the beer and the spirits. I’m a pretty good guy now.
Are you living in London now?
Yes, in Belsize Park, Hampstead.
This is not your first time in Buenos Aires, you played here before…
Yeah, I played here with The Boys, but we’re coming back again in November.
That’s great to know! And after what you’ve gone through concerning the accident, it’s all like a miracle.
I love it!
You did four albums with The Boys between 1977 and 1980. And then, 34 years after that, in 2014, you put out a fourth album, “Punk Rock Menopause”. Why is it that the band waited 34 years to do a new album? And, by the way, your last solo album is called “Acoustic Menopause” So is there a menopause in rock’n’roll? I always believed it was made to keep you young…
Well, I didn’t come up with that title. My friend Jean Cataldo thought of it. I have no idea if there’s a menopause in rock’n’roll, I’m sorry. But I think it’s a great name.
Ok, and then why you waited 34 years for the fourth album by The Boys?
Probably Matt Dangerfield, the other guitarist in The Boys, who didn’t want to do it. He wrote most of the songs with Cas, you know. He probably was busy doing other stuff and didn’t want to do it, and I was with the Crybabys. It’s just happened because people asked us to do it, and it was great to do it again. I’m sure we’re gonna do a last one before it’s time to get in the coffin (laughs)
Why not two or three more?
Yeah, one more and we stay in.
You did a solo acoustic tour to promote your last album, and you did it all by yourself, as a one man band. Why you chose to do it like that?
Nobody wanted to be with me! (laughs) It was because the guy who was putting the shows on decided it was a good idea to do it that way, and it was fantastic because every show was full. You know, mostly Boys fans. But I did it to be on my own as well.
You always had a good base of fans.
Yeah, all over the place. Europe, the US, Argentina, Italy, China, Japan…
The Boys were labeled “the Beatles of Punk”. I know you’ve got a thing for the Beatles, don’t you?
Yeah, of course!
So since you toured solo, which Beatle would you have been? John, Paul…?
Any one of them. I think I’d rather be Ringo ‘cause he’s a funny guy, and I can play drums, you know. But I wouldn’t mind being John. I wouldn’t mind being Paul either, especially for his money, you know.
Are the Beatles your favourite band?
Yeah, I think the Beatles are my favourite band.
Everything you always did was about the ‘60s. So you’re here basically to take us back to that era!
Exactly! I was at the right age to appreciate that music.
So how old are you now, 62?
I’m 65. Yeah I’m and old guy, I’m on a pension now, punk rock pension! (laughs)
That’s a great name for a future album!
That’s what I’m gonna do! It’s my punk rock pension!
You were born in Leeds…
Yeah, and I still support Leeds as well, but they’re not doing very well.
Which reminds me of The Who’s classic “Live at Leeds” album.
Yeah, I was there!
At the very show of the album?
Yeah, I was in art school at the time. That’s how I met Matt Dangerfield of The Boys, I met him at the gig. I’ve known him for a long time.
You did lots of things as a musician. But my favourite one, and this is a personal thing, is what you did with The Crybabys, the EP and the three albums. So are you ever planning to get back together again?
It’s very strange you asked that because not long ago me and Darrell (N.: Bath, also member of The Crybabys) did a show together for the first time. That was in Brighton, ‘cause he lives there now. We just did an acoustic show, and so many people showed up.
Just the two of you, both on acoustic?
Darrell was on electric and I was on acoustic. Now we’re talking about doing another one, ‘cause it went down so well. When we are together, we really are good together. So it’s definitely gonna happen.
What songs did you do at the show?
We played mostly of what you already know, and also some covers we like, you know. But the day before the show I was with Darrell at his place in Brighton, and we started writing again.
I’d really love another Crybabys album!
We’re gonna do one, that’s for sure. It’s time we did another one.
Plus Darrell doesn’t seem to have a steady band at the moment.
His best time is with the “Babys”, that’s for sure. I think he knows that as well. As far as I know, he’s one of the best guitarists all over the world, you know. And we fit together good.
It always appealed to me that you represented the Beatles bit in the band, while Darrell was always more Stones or Faces-styled. Would you agree with that? And if so, how did it happen?
I would agree with that, completely. I don’t know how that happened, I can’t even remember how I’d met him. I was probably very drunk at the time. But when we started playing together, we realized we had to do it. He’s a good lad.
He’s a very good friend.
Yes, absolutely. Not just the guy who plays guitar, you know, he’s family.
And looks like everybody loves him.
Yes he’s funny. We’re all funny! That’s how we carry on, you know.
I believe you recorded with The Dirty Strangers for their first self-titled album in 1988, but then you weren’t in the album.
Yes, I was in the album but I wasn’t credited, because The Boys started again. And they didn’t like that. So I got the sack, and then somebody replaced me. The album doesn’t say I’m playing on it, but I am. That’s when I met Ronnie Wood (N.: Wood was also in the album)
What’s the story behind that?
I think, that’s why Alan (N.: Clayton, guitar/vocals in The Dirty Strangers) worked for the Stones. I’ve got fond memories of Alan. Good singer, a great band, and he was fun. It’s just the end of it, which was a bit rough. I don’t even know if the band exists.
Oh yes they do! And they have a new album out last year called “Crime and a Woman”
That’s sounds like him! (laughs)
OK so what about meeting Ronnie Wood?
We were in the studio, I forgot what studio it was, a big studio in London, and I couldn’t believe it when Ronnie and his minder showed up, I wasn’t expecting that. And then Alan said to Ronnie “would you like to play in this song?” And Ronnie says “oh let me have a listen”…
Did you meet Keith Richards as well? He was also in the album.
Yes, but that’s when I went to pick up my guitar after I was given the sack, and he was there.
In 1995 you guested in Ian Hunter’s album “Dirty Laundry”, along with Darrell, Casino Steel, Glen Matlock, etc. Any memories of the recording of the album? Wasn’t it done at Abbey Road studios?
Oh, I like Ian! I watched football with him, and he was in his underpants, and without his shades on!
Ian Hunter without the shades? No way!
Yes, you shouldn’t look at that (laughs) No shades, and no trousers! God bless him, don’t get me wrong. That shows how much we got on, ‘cause he would never take his shades off for anybody. That was in Norway. No one believed me, but that was true!
What about the recording of “Dirty Laundry”?
It was fantastic going to Abbey Road, for a start. And you know Von, who plays drums in Die Toten Hosen, he was on the album as well. I had a bicycle with a basket, and me and Von would go show at Abbey Road on it! (laughs) Everybody else was arriving in limousines.
Not even two bikes, but the two of you in one bike, plus it’s a girl’s bike! Now that’s real rock’n’roll!
Yeah! (laughs) I think so.
What about your nickname? Other than you, the only other “Honest” I knew was, once again, Ronnie Wood, who they’d refer to as “Honest Ron Wood” in the ‘70s.
Because the Boys were gonna go on tour, and for some strange reason, I went to NEMS Records to pick up the cash for the tour, you know, to pay for everything, but I put the money on a horse!
Oh you were gambling. You bet on a horse!
Yeah yeah, a lot of money, for the whole tour. And the horse came second! I lost everything, so the manager at the time sent me back to get some more cash, and that’s why they call me “Honest”, ‘cause I’m not! (laughs)
What do you remember from the London punk scene in the ‘70s? Were there any rivalries between bands?
No, no rivalries, as far as I’m concerned. They might have had some but I didn’t. I remember the first day of Punk. The Boys were the first punk band to sign. And Mick Jones of The Clash used to rehearse at Matt Dangerfield’s place in Maida Vale, and I just remember the first day I opened the door there and Mick Jones had very long hair at the time, and then suddenly it went to a crooked cut, with strange clothes on. And I went “fuck it, what’s happening, mate?” And he goes “it’s Punk, innit?”
So that was the way you were introduced to Punk.
That’s how I was introduced to, ‘cause I’d never considered The Boys punk anyway. You know, we got that reputation but that’s how I found out what Punk was about.
Then why they’d consider you a punk band anyway? I mean, you were just a band who was very much into the ‘60s pop and rock music, and that’s it.
Yeah, I have no idea. But that’s how wee got to support the Ramones, because we were supposed to be punk. I’m not saying we were supposed to be punk, we played what we played.
And it was the same in New York at the time. It didn’t have a name. They called it “New York Rock” or whatever, and all of a sudden they started calling it “Punk Rock” and everybody was a punk.
Yeah, and that’s why I didn’t get involved with it.
In fact, I think that Punk never existed, you know what I mean.
Of course. You know, Johnny Rotten owns five fuckin’ hotels in New York. What’s punk about that?
You used to play drums in Generation X at the very beginning of the band.
Yes, they were rehearsing where I lived with Matt Dangerfield, and they didn’t have a drummer at the time. And Billy Idol was playing drums, but when I started to play, he started to sing. And I said “you know, Billy, you should be the fuckin’ vocalist”, ‘cause they were looking for a vocalist. I said “you sing great, so why don’t you sing?” And he went “let me think of that” And next thing I knew, he was up there.
You helped everybody!
It’s all down to me mate! (laughs) Why punk is so famous, it’s down to me!
You’ve been in many bands throughout your career, staring with The Boys and the Crybabys, but also London SS, The Lurkers, the Mannish Boys, or Pete Stride. Which one gave you the best times, and which one gave you the worst ones, if any?
None of them gave me a worst time, that’s a fact, but the best time was with The Boys. Because when we are on the road, we have a laugh. I love Casino, I love Matt, I love Jack, and I love Duncan. We were a family, you know.
Why they disbanded in 1982?
I have no idea, I really can’t tell you. It wasn’t anything to do with me, you know. Today, I still don’t know why it disbanded. I know that Matt and Duncan fell out, but I still don’t know why.
5 years ago you recorded another of the “And Friends” albums with guests like Darrell, Die Toten Hosen, Glen Matlock, Martin Chambers and Sami Yaffa and Michael Monroe of Hanoi Rocks. How did you assemble the project and what happened to it, as I believe only the ‘Never Listen To Rumours’ video saw the light.
The album is finished now but for some reason the guy who was paid all this money to put it out is not putting it out. That would be my latest solo album.
It’s a bit confusing sometimes because there’s the ‘Honest John Plain and Friends’ album, the ‘Honest John Plain y Amigos’ one, then another one called ‘Honest John Plain and The Amigos’, and then the one you just mentioned, which wasn’t released yet.
Yes, and I don’t understand why the new one hasn’t been put out, as it’s fantastic, you know.
So how did you assemble the project?
Oh you never do anything!
No, I never do anything. The guy that has put the money for it got in touch with everybody, and they all wanted to do it. If you see the ‘Never Listen To Rumours’ video, everybody there is on the album.
So once again, after you did the ‘Honest John Plain y Amigos’ album in Argentina in 2003, you released another one by Honest John Plain and The Amigos named “One More and We’re Staying” So you have a lot of “amigos” all over the world.
Yeah, I owe money to so many people, you know (laughs)
And you still have them around, because they’re going after the money…
Oh yeah, of course!
You were here in Buenos Aires 2003 to produce Katarro Vandalico’s album “Llegando al Límite”, and then came back again The Boys. Could you ever imagine in the ‘70s or ‘80s going to South America to play or to produce an album?
Of course not! It’s always been a shock how much I travelled, but it’s always because of The Boys.
So what are your future plans now? Are you going back to London?
I’ve got to go back to London, but them I’m going to Norway again, as it’s the first Boys gig in a long time, a big festival in Oslo this month.
Very much looking forward to The Boys’ comeback and, needless to say, it’s been great talking to you John.
Oh my pleasure too! And thanks for the questions, you’re definitely qualified!