Pete Newnham Interview (Peter JH March 2005)

Many of us Steve Harley fans were also big fans of Cockney Rebel, the band. For us they were the dream ticket. In the early days of the group, what a few people are not aware of, is that although The Human Menagerie album didn't have any guitars, Cockney Rebel did in fact start out with a guitarist! This gentleman was Pete Newnham, who has kindly agreed to be interviewed about those 'heady' early days.

Who are you?

Briefly, my name is Pete Newnham, and I'm one of those people who, as soon as they've heard an electric guitar, wanted one! I was brought up in Heston near Heathrow, and sat next to Ian Mclagan (he of the diminutive face) at school. My musical career started when I got together with some buddies from school to form a band, and we played the local circuit.

Leaving school I got a job as a photographer, but having had a car crash on the way back from seeing Jimi Hendrix at the Isle Of Wight festival, my two weeks holiday turned into a six week absence! This in turn led to my holiday becoming permanent! I didn't mind though, as I was touring the American Airbases in Germany as a member of an all girl band called The Honey's!!

We had some great and eye-opening experiences. We visited all those weird clubs where most of the men were women, and a lot of the women were men! This young and innocent bass playing guitarist had many a close shave... one in particular with an English waiter... I mean, I didn't know did I? Ha Ha! Anyway, I survived with my sexuality intact, and was soon heading home to England in a van that had a broken drive shaft, and making a metallic shrieking noise that had traffic on the Autobahn pulling over, thinking that the police were coming!!

So what year are we at now? And where were you living?

1971 approx. I was living at 24 (I think) Redcliffe Gardens, Fulham, and I'd been playing in a band with Mike Desmarais a drummer, who left to join 'The Tyla Gang' (great rock band) and I worked on trying to form a new band myself.

How did you survive in those early days: what did you do for money?

Times being what they were, I had a part time job cleaning people's flats and houses. One of these places was Hattie Jacques place near Earle's Court Station. The first time I worked there, in came Hattie, dressed in a black coat and headscarf and absolutely insisted that I stay for lunch. This became a weekly event, and pretty much the only decent meal I had at that time! She always cooked and served, and was such a beautiful person. Anyway, she had two sons, Jake (a drummer) and Robin (a guitarist) and we became friends.

Being as they were musicians, were they playing in a band? Tell me more about them?

Going back to your second question, I do remember the day that John LeMesurier came round to Hattie's, and the news of the Olympic Terrorist attack interrupting his cricket on the television, so that must date the period. Jake and Robin? They were both very good musicians, and played in a band called 'Reign'. When Reign had no gigs Robin and Jake hired out their van and P.A. to other groups, and one day I remember Robin saying to me "We worked for this band yesterday and this one guy insisted on calling guitars 'banjos' all night." He added "I feel they are going to make it."

So how did you get involved with Cockney Rebel?

Well, one day I went round to Hattie's because she'd had a fire in the kitchen, and she'd asked me if I would clean up, as everywhere and everything was coated with black soot. Whilst I was cleaning in the kitchen, Hattie came in and told me that Robin had phoned over from France, because he had forgotten to tell me that the aforementioned band were looking for a guitarist. He'd left me a telephone number to ring. I'm pretty certain that Robin was in France at the time with Mike Batt of Wombles fame!

So you phoned?

I did phone, and was auditioned at a house just over the bridge, in the Wandsworth area (I think that John and Steve lived there). Steve, John and Stuart were there (if I remember rightly), and, when I'd heard the demo, there was no doubt in my mind either that this band were special, and were going places!!.

Was there a lot of people auditioned for the position?

Yes, Steve later told me that they'd auditioned '80 guitarists', but I was the one they wanted. I was then told the conditions of joining the band:

1. It was Steve's band and he didn't want any other writers - "Okay."
2. That Steve had a plan - "Okay."
3. That it involved telling no one what was going on, meaning complete secrecy and complete anonymity - "Okay."
4. A lot of hard work - "Okay."
5. And dressing up as clowns - "OKAY!!"
6. And the name of the band would be Cockney Rebel - "OKAY!!!!!"

 

 

So now you were officially a Cockney Rebel, did that make a difference to your life?

I suppose it did looking back, new set of musicians as friends, or is it the other way round? Rehearsals, songs we played, moving into a house with Steve, the gigs, quite a party...

And then, after the party I suppose it was 'chucking out time?'

Yes

So maybe we'll break here and deal with your brief life with Cockney Rebel for part 2?

Yes, that would be a pleasure. I also have some clippings and photos that you might like to use.

Back to Interviews page