RAY MCVEIGH in conversation with Phil Singleton
Ray McVeigh was enlisted into The Professionals by Steve Jones & Paul Cook in late 1980, to augment Steve's fearsome guitar. Along with bassist Paul Myers, Ray would go on to record the band's classic "I Didn't See It Coming" album and help cement their formidable live sound. Ray speaks exclusively to Kick Down The Doors.
Phil: Who inspired you to pick up a guitar?
Ray: This is a weird one, because I have a photo of me, in a fucking nappy standing holding some 2 bob acoustic, in front of the outside toilet circa 1961, so before I could even take a shit outside of my pants I was clinging onto a sixstring! Not a lot has changed you might say.
But as for really being inspired - to the notion of playing a guitar and being in a band, The Monkees when I was about 6/7 - when that was one of the only musical programmes you got. So I got the Woolies special with the tuppence amp included ("I promise I'll do my homework and not fuck up, Dad") and pranced around to the TV, thinking this was the coolest looking bollocks ever - which then led me to start noticing how it could really look right and sound awesome
Age 8-10. Playing along to my parents' Lonnie Donegan, Cliff Richards/Shadows, Jim Reeves, Johnny Cash, Elvis, Gene Vincent & Eddie Cochran records.
Then it exploded - Mick Ronson, he was everything a guitar hero should be - killer look, sound, shapes and on top of it just a fucking unbelievably down- to-earth man. He made the guitar stand out so much, and had that cool looking Les Paul. Jimmy Page - my older brothers listened to endless heavy rock but it was obvious this was the real guvnor, he looked awesome and had all the shapes and sounds as well. The Les Paul was starting to look more appealing than my little Woolies special at this point. Marc Bolan - the whole mystical fairy stuff was a little bendy for me, but he rocked and always looked like the bollocks on Top Of The Pops (and there was that Les Paul again and I got my first real one in 1973.) Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music) the weird man with the fly wraparounds in 1974, just off the wall sonically & visually - that band started me thinking. Zal Cleminson (Sensational Alex Harvey Band) another weird one, but the wahwah and the tunes were so hard you had to be mad for it. Brian Robertson (Thin Lizzy) he was that young and in the best band around, and was the big inspiration to 'be that geezer' and really try and get my playing to the next level, and in the end turned out to be the impetus behind me doing it, and the stepping stone to actually doing it.
What made you decide to make a career out of being a musician?
From early teens I was growing up in & out of England, living in Germany a lot (Berlin when Zeppelin played the Stadium show in the nazi clobber!) and I used to go and see every band that played and blag my way backstage to meet them, pretending to be part of the band crew, "I'm English, mate, of course I'm with the band", and I was really feeling like this was what I should be doing - out of all the musicians I met, I really hit it off with Phil Lynott and Brian Robertson ("Robbo"), and ran away from home to carry bits of gear for Lizzy, "I can carry that, gis a job" and after being nicked by the German old bill and carted back home, I set my mind on getting out of school and going to London to do it, which I did and met up and ended up working / living with Robbo.
I was on my way to being another heavy rock guitar hero, 16 and hanging out with all the right faces - and then the Pistols happened and I was around it because of Lynott's friendship with the boys and my own sudden interest in this revolution that seemed to be happening - I met Steve & Paul and the rest is just a slippery slope I have been sliding down ever since.
Can you tell us a little about early groups you were involved with?
As in involved but not playing in, really Thin Lizzy in the glory days, and then bang I was in The Professionals, they really were the first band I played in where I was in the band. I was never in a band, as I was only 17 then, and before I could do the whole 'my little band idea' I was working with the bollocks. Once I was in The Profs, there was a whole world of bands I was mates with - The Skids, The Rich Kids, The Ruts, Gen X, BowWowWow, Killing Joke, The Angelic Upstarts, Stiff Little Fingers, Buzzcocks, Tenpole Tudor, early Simple Minds, when they had the punk/Roxy Music vibe, and too many others to mention - it was THE time, everything was happening so fast and furiously.
You mention meeting Steve & Paul through their links with Phil Lynott. Was this during The Greedies period?
Before, well before, - they were still full on with the Pistols when I first met them, especially Steve I used to see out a lot. The Greedies I was semi-involved in, because I also had links to Gary Moore (don't forget I am actually a Belfast boy, like Gary & Eric Bell, the original Lizzy guitarist), and by The Greedies it was all changing, and I think the first mention of me coming down and having a play came up around that time possibly.
Steve & Paul were hanging around with a lot of legendary rock 'n' rollers, such as Johnny Thunders, Joan Jett etc. What was the feeling in the Steve & Paul camp at the time?
These were all people that hung at the same places - The Speakeasy, Frank's Place, etc. etc. - and Steve & Paul were considered much more as players by this point. Everybody wanted to collaborate with them, and so I think they were really optimistic about actually getting a band together without all the media frenzy and chaos that had crippled the Pistols. They wanted to be able to be a band and play, which those two especially had realised they were meant to be doing - it was a bright spot for them, I think, to get out from under all the madness and prove they were more than a cartoon in the tabloids, or some contrived anarchists. They needed to do what they did best - which was lay down the bollocks, basically.
Were you privvy to any of their other projects at the time, like the aborted Sham Pistols venture?
I was aware of it, because again, all of the same people hung out, so it was kind of common knowledge, as was the notion that Pursey wanted to front the Profs, and Geldof too - thank fuck none of which happened. It was a time of ambitious ideas and new projects. Steve & Paul had been dabbling with producing other bands, The Lightning Raiders, The Physicals and some others, and playing on other shit (Steve with Gen X; Dancing With Myself etc.) and they were getting a feel for the right move for themselves to make.
Professionals, of course, started as a 3 piece, with Andy Allen on bass.
When did you become aware that things weren't working out, & that
new/additional recruits were required?
I honestly thought that when Steve asked me to come down to Denmark St. rehearsals for a play that that was the starting point for the band, and that the early recordings were almost a dry run for those two to see how they worked as a team in the studio. It was never a question of "well we have this geezer but he's not working out", it always seemed like, "Okay, we have some tunes done, so now we want to put a full two guitar band together, so come down and let's see how it sounds."
Coincidentally, the day I went down to have a listen they were checking out Paul Myers, from Subway Sect, and more importantly 1/2 Maltese like myself, so you had 2 Pistols and 2 Maltesers, which was how it panned out. I don't think they ever checked anyone else out, (though there were always rumours from losers saying they were asked), and the next thing I knew we were in NME/Melody Maker and re-recording the album and touring. It never seemed like they were a band and it wasn't working so they replaced people, it seemed like they had done some solo recording with a couple of other players - Ronnie Biggs, Silly Thing, Just Another Dream, 123, and so on, and now they wanted to put a band together for this new venture. Fuck everyone else anyway, we were the best and only real live Profs line up - ask the female population of the States, and anyone that REALLY did see us tour, (much like with the Pistols there are now some 10 million people that say they did...). And from the day I started playing with them my whole perspective on music was radically altered - Steve was THE guitar hero for those times, and still is as far as I give a shit.
No one can argue with that! Ray, many thanks.
Florentine Gardens, Hollywood, photographs © Phil Holmes 2003 / www.cookandjones.co.uk