Miller wasn't the only one in Norwich to get into rock'n'roll, so he formed a band.
Then, he joined another band, and played with Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran and toured with the Beatles and played his guitar behind his head.
Then in 1965 he recorded what has been called Britain's first psychedelic single, "Baby I've Got News For You" (as 'Miller'). He went on to write and record dozens of songs (only now being released, thanks to the ever-astute Tenth Planet label)
in his custom-outfitted home studio, and made the Big Boy Pete 45 - two sides of demented pop that the word "wiggy" seems invented for.
Peter has always managed to do things his own way, which has led to the unceremonious smashing of a few shitty guitars as well as some great stories.
Ugly Things was pleased to sit down with the man for some pleasant conversation and constructive beer drinking in his Marina district home/studio.
PM: I went to public school - which in fact means a private school in England - and it was very academic, very anti - rock'n'roll, but there were some kids in the class that grooved -
listened to records and all that. David Wilson was in my class, and we started out playing Elvis songs at each others' houses.
We found a drummer; then we found a rhythm guitar player, a singer - then we got a gig! And thus the Offbeats were born. (laughs) Same old story.
I have listed all the Offbeats gigs that we ever did; we played about a gig a week from July 17,1959 to March 16,1961. And that's when I joined the Jaywalkers.
UT: The Offbeats released an EP, right? How did that come about?
PM: It was a London label, we just had the tape, and sent it off, and that was the end of it.
I mean, we didn't know anything about the record business in those days. I remember seeing and getting a copy, but I don't recall how many were pressed or anything. I don't know anybody who has one.
It was an instrumental EP, six songs, all originals.
Miller still has a handwritten copy of the titles it included. Although "Tribute to Hank B" reflects the rampant Shadows-mania gripping England at the time, "Clump" and "Warble in a Persian Harem" suggest the presence of a not-entirely-sane mind at work behind the scenes.
Photos of the Offbeats show Miller and Wilson to be rather accomplished luthiers, crafting numerous basses and guitars (including a double-neck!).
PM: It was really more of a point that we didn't have any money, we couldn't really afford to go out and buy those things. I've still got one of 'em. I'd like to remake it onee of these days.
UT: How did you come to join the Jaywalkers?
PM: The Offbeats and the Jays played a dance together, February 10, 1961. That was when Pete Jay decided that he was gonna steal me from the Offbeats.
He contacted me and said, "Yon must meet me in the Wimpy Bar in Norwich." It was all kind of secret, we snurk into the back of the room, 'cause there were other musicians hanging around, and you were kind of unfaithful if you started talking to another band...
UT: Was that the musician's hangout in Norwich? You went from the Wimpy bar to the Soho coffee houses?
PM: Yeah, from the Wimpy's to the Giaconda.
The Jaywalkers became a seven-piece with the addition of Miller. The large line-up allowed "Snowy" Larke to alternate between sec-ond lead guitar and second bass, while "Lolly" Lloyd took on both piano and sax duties.
Yes, they all had nicknames (Miller's was "Buzz"). The rest of the line-up was ''Napoleon" Webster (rhythm), "Seaweed" Moss (ac. bass) and "Toots"' Mclntyre (tenor sax), with Jay behind the drum kit. With his father, a second-generation theatre impresario, acting as their "mentor and advisor", they were fast becoming an ever more popular live act.
This was due in part to their stage show, which involved dance steps, skits and occasional behind-the-head guitar pyrotechnics from Peter. This attention to image extended to clothes as well.
|Peter Jay & the Jaywalkers, 1962.
Peter Miller first Vox on the left
PM: We always used to wear suits that were made by the same person - Billy Fury/Marty Wilde, the Jays, Tornadoes - we'd all wear Dougie Millings suits, he had a shop down in Soho.
Beautiful Italian silk suits, and he would do one thing only for musicians: Inside on the right at the top he would put a tiny little pocket, a'pick pocket. We'd all wear different colors - yellow, red, green, Pete'd often wear silver - they were great suits!
The Jaywalkers already had something of a "name" when Miller joined, and were soon attracting attention from high places. With Larry Parnes as their agent they were soon playing and touring with some of the biggest names in pre- (and post) Beatles England. Between the summer of 1961 and late '65, when he left the band. Miller worked non-stop, playing 300 nights a year, often in different cities each day.
PM: It was a pretty hectic affair. Every year there was a spring tour, which would last a cou-ple of months, and then the summer season would come along, that would take 14 to 16 weeks, and then we'd go out on the autumn tour, which would take us up to the end of November.
And in between we'd be recording TV shows and photo shoots, and loads of ball-room gigs, just single nights in these big dance-halls: Meccas, Sloughs, Hammersmith Palais. We liked the ballroom gigs 'cause we got to play longer. On the tours we'd only get to play like 13-14 minutes of our own set -although we'd be backing most of the acts on the bill, so we'd be onstage all night.
On a ballroom gig we would always be the main attraction, there would be one or two local bands, and we'd get 45 minutes.
Our first single was recorded at Decca studios in London, in a large studio where they would record symphony orchestras. We did "Can Can" in there, with Joe Meek producing. He just didn't get along with the engineers, couldn't get the sounds he wanted. After that session he decided he was gonna do it in his own place from then on. Our second single was "Totem Pole."
We were in Joe's house in the morning, on Holloway Road, and I think he didn't like the B-side that we'd prepared, and decided that he wanted to do something else. So he sent the boys down to the pub and asked me if I would stay and write the B-side with him. I was fiddling around with the guitar coming up with lines, and it came together as "Jaywalking."
It only took about 20 minutes or so; I remember at the time I was kind of surprised that he would let me get away with some of the lines I was doing - there were some "inside" kinds of guitar things on there. Then the boys came back and we recorded it.
This was, in a sense, the start of Miller's recording "education". When touring permitted, he would often be found on Holloway Road, hanging around, helping out, and taking it all in.
|On tour with the Jaywalkers, circa 1963-64
UT: Was that ever a problem? He's gotten a reputation for being somewhat secretive.
PM: No, 'cause actually I'd be helping him. Not doing much, just this and that. But I think all of that didn't develop until a little later on, I didn't notice that in him.
UT: Who would sing for the Jays on a number like "Kansas City?"
PM: That was me and Mac, the sax player. I guess that was the last one we did with Joe. Our next single was "If You Love Me," an old Edith Piaf song. Nice melody.
That was produced by Ivor Raymonde, because there were strings and French horns and things, and Joe didn't deal with that kind of stuff.
UT: Well they probably wouldn't all fit in his house!
PM: Then we went to Piccadilly, or Pye, and worked under the production of John Schroeder.
We just weren't happy with the way Decca was marketing us, and they didn't want to release our records in America, and we wanted 'em out over here. By that time bands like the Stones were getting popular.
We said we needed a new image, 'cause we weren't getting so many records in the charts by those days.
UT: I notice (in the photos) your hair's getting a bit longer...
PM: It was basically a conscious decision, we were changing horses midstream, really.
I remember seeing the Pretty Things, in Scotland, Glasgow probably, and I was amazed. It was like looking at a Hammer movie, a Fellini movie or something! They were doing R&B, and the music was fine,
but it was something brand new, and it just made me say "What is this?!?" British bands up to that point were very clean-cut and professional, no fuckin' around; same with the Americans that we had worked with at the time.
Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly. Real professional - came on, did their set. It was a whole different attitude than we'd ever seen, and it blew us all away.
UT: Did that have anything to do with your leaving?
|The Jaywalkers, circa '65.
Pete in shades.
PM: Well, in those days the roads were really bad, the roadwork was a killer.
It was fun, we worked with a lot of people, but it's hard when you've got a six-piece band living out of each others' suitcases. You deal with it. We had very little time off to socialize anyway;
we were lucky to make it home to London once a week for a night. Quite often we would not book hotels, er, some of us wouldn't.
We'd just wait and see if there were any young ladies outside the stage door who would take pity on a homeless musician for a night and take us home - which often happened.
Sometimes it didn't - I remember sleepin' in the back of a theatre, the back of a bus... quite a few nights just walking the streets waiting for morning to come.
But we'd been going for nearly five years. I could only take so much of it.
UT: Were you writing for the Jaywalkers?
PM: I wrote "Solitaire," and co-wrote "Caroline," "Jaywalker," and I think "Red Cabbage." My first song was "Time Has No Meaning."
I wrote that with Tony ("Napoleon") Webster, rhythm guitarist for the Jays. It took about three years, to get to where I was able to say, "That's a finished song." It's on Summerland.
By good fortune, we took it to a London publisher, and he fell in love with it and published it, and that was the start.
UT: Were you still with the Jaywalkers when you recorded "Baby I've Got News For You?"
PM: Yes, actually I recorded it surreptitiously, in the summer of '65, and it came out in October. It was recorded at RG Jones, in Morden, Surrey.
You couldn't record at Decca or Columbia unless you were signed to them, so I went to RG Jones, made the record there, and then got signed to Columbia for release. The guys who backed me were members of The Herd, people like Peter Frampton, Andy Bown.
I think Mickey Waller played drums, I'm not sure. But it was essentially the Herd, who were friends of mine.
UT: And you quit the Jays around the time the record came out?
PM: Yeah, October, I think that's about right. And then I stayed in London through probably March of '66.
I was living in Maida Vale, writing songs; did some live gigs as Miller, and I was doin' a lot of sessions. God knows what they were - you don't remember 'em. I do remember one thing, I was doin' a lot of ska, bluebeat stuff.
Alan Caddy, the lead guitar player from the Tornadoes, was doing a lot of production in those days, and he used me on a lot of that stuff.
UT: Would that have been with Jamaican artists?
PM: Yeah, Millie, those kinda people, and some English artists who were trying to do it, 'cause it was beginning to get popular.
I remember that after three hours of hopping up and down to that kind of guitar rhythm you'd go down the fuckin' street like that when you left the studio! I had developed a style by that point, so if producers wanted that style I would get called in to work.
It was fun. I thought I may have been able to make a living out of it but it was real tough to get enough sessions.
UT: You played out as Miller?
PM: I played at the Marquee, on Wardour Street, at the Hammersmith Palais, and I did a live broadcast for Radio Luxembourg, though I can't recall where that was from.
UT: With The Herd as your backing band?
PM: Uh-huh. And probably a couple of other places I forget now. But then I said, "Fuck this. I've been on the road for five years now, and I don't wanna do this anymore."
UT: And then it was back to Norwich?
PM: Yeah, when I got back home, summer of '66,I formed this band called the Fuzz, probably my most favorite band I've ever worked with, 'cause we did all the rock'n'roll shit that I loved -
Chuck Berry, Elvis, Larry Williams.
UT: Were you recording with the Fuzz?
PM: "Cold Turkey" was the Fuzz. I mean, it was called Big Boy Pete but that was the record label anyway.
That was the four members of the Fuzz: George Parsons on bass, Derek Shepherd on electric piano, Clive Monen on drums. They wanted me to tour behind it, but I'd had enough of that. They got someone else - don't know who.
I've got the video. He looks cool, makes the right moves. Yeah, we rocked. But then the News offered me a job, and I decided to go with them. The Fuzz only lasted three or four months.
Then in the last part of '66 and '67 I went to work at this strip club-cum-casino/cabaret club in the rural area outside of Norwich, The Washington Club.
I led the house band there for awhile, for the strippers, the singers and comedians, and then for dancing. We would do Jimmy Smith kinds of stuff, Stones, anything. It was a very easy gig.
I would go there five hours a night, hang around with the strippers, smoke hashish, drink barrels of beer, get in loads of trouble, and then go home and write all the songs now coming out.
I'd get up the next afternoon, go to my studio and start recording them. It would happen like that six, seven nights a week; it was almost like a regimented procedure in those days. We could play whatever we wanted to.
They didn't give a hell. They just wanted to see the tits.
There must have been a revolving stage door down at the Washington Club, with members of both the Fuzz and the News working with Miller at different times, as well as a Hammond player named Peter London.
All of them (along with an occasional ex-Offbeat) wound up playing on the recordings Miller was making in his rapidly expanding home studio. He was still in contact with the publishers he'd met before leaving London, and was sending "about 15 songs a month" for them to place with other artists.
Although none of them were major hits, Freddie & the Dreamers' "Playboy" (see Ugly Things #9) and the Knack's "Stop! Before You Get Me Going," to name but two, are fine examples of British pop.
UT: How would it work with your writing?
Was it always with the charts in mind, or for yourself ?
PM: In those days I would write songs for commercial reasons, or what I thought were commercial reasons. It was my attempt to get a hit record, essentially.
Finally I turned around to my publisher one night and said, "That's it, fuck it. I've done what you wanted for the last two years, and you haven't got me a hit record, so now I'm gonna do something that I want to do.
And I don't give a shit if you like it or not, but you'll have to wait about a year, and then I'll play it for you." I started it around March of '67, and I finished it in March of '68.
It took three months to write, initially, and then nine months to revise, rewrite and record. It's a real... strange piece, really involved.
|The Peter London Trio.
Left to right: Robert Newton, Pete London, Pete Miller
UT: Did you use the same guys for that?
PM: No, it was essentially all me. Multitracking.
There were three or four other musicians playing in different places, but it was essentially a multitrack deal.
Peter is talking about "WWIV: A Symphonic Poem", a 46 minute long piece (in six movements) that he worked on from early '67 through early '68.
He describes it as "intentionally strange, really involved". It is expected to be on the fifth volume of Miller's recordings released on Tenth Planet.
PM: When I finally played it for my publisher he listened to it and said, "Ooookay... what am I gonna do with THAT?!"
I don't know; that's your job. He said, "Well, leave it here," and somehow John Lennon got a hold of it and expressed an interest in putting it out on Apple. I'd first met him when he'd come back from Hamburg.
I pursued it to a certain degree but then I got caught up in the excitement of getting out of England, and just dropped it.
UT: I remember you saying that you considered coming here (San Francisco) at that time.
PM: I was enamored with the flower power situation here, I thought it was wonderful.
There were two or three different occasions where I came close to just sayin' "Fuck it" and booking a flight here to be a part of it.
UT: Did you like the music that was coming out of the Bay Area?
PM: Ah...(thinks hard) very little of it, to be honest. Most of it left me cold, the music. It was too rambling.
UT: So instead of sunny San Francisco, you went to Thailand. How did that come about?
PM: It was through the Washington Club. At that stage we were all trying to get out of England...
We were all getting bored - not so much disillusioned with the scene, but bored with the scene. And we all wanted something exciting and new to do.
I met this chef at the club, who was a medical mercenary, and who had been working in the Congo in Africa. He was planning on making a trip to Thailand and he was gonna go by land. We thought, Oh, that sounds like a good idea.
We thought, OK, let's do that, we'll get a hold of a bus and we'll drive to Thailand, and we'll play over there. Stupid idea, right? 10 000 miles away, through God knows how many weird countries, at that time, right?
Turkey, Afghanistan, Burma, India - not to mention all of Eastern Europe. But we were gonna do it. We got a Land Rover, but it was too damned uncomfortable. Have you ever been in a Land Rover? No springs on the seats or anything.
So the bunch of wimpy musicians that we were, we tried a VW bus and liked that much better, but thought, let's do a test to make sure this is going to work.
Let's take everything as if it's the real trip, and just drive around France for three or four weeks. 'Cause we knew that once we got out there, to Istanbul, and from there on, if something went wrong we were dead.
So me and Robert loaded it up, drove to the coast, went across the channel, got to France. It was late so we just drove 10-20 miles into the countryside and stopped for the night. We cooked up some curry, smoked some hash, and went to sleep.
The next morning we said, "Oh, we gotta go get some wine and food from the local market," but we'd slept late and that day all the stores closed up at noon, so we couldn't get any wine.
So we just drove around for another 6 - 700 miles, got up the next morning and said, "Now, let's get some wine". And it was a public holiday, and all the stores were closed again.
Finally, on the third or fourth day, we got up really early, went down to the market, got a whole case of wine, French bread, butter, cheese... Aah, alright, let's go party.
I was driving, and about 10-15 miles outside of town a wine bottle got caught under the clutch or the accelerator, and when I leant down to get it I just drove off the road.
Totaled the VW. We somersaulted about four times and landed about 30 feet into a minefield from WW2. We tiptoed back to the road, successfully, and figured out a path and got some of the stuff out of the van -
the rest of it was strewn up and down the road 'cause we'd rolled some 70 or 80 yards. The van was obviously destroyed, so we just left her there. And we just sat and waited for someone to come along - no one did for like five or six hours.
UT: At least you had some wine...
PM: We had wine and hash, and cooked up some more curry. We finally got a lift to the local town, made our way out to the coast and got back home.
So that was our, ah, car trip to Bangkok, it became a total disaster! But luckily, the mercenary doctor, who had been a chef in the strip club, had already made his trip out there, safely, and wrote to me.
He'd got involved with this Thai movie making company, and talked them into importing an English band to play for the GI's there. I said, "Great! Alright. Send us four tickets, and we'll be right there."
It took two or three months, but finally they sent us the tickets and we did get out. And that was it; that was the end of the English thing.
UT: And you ended up going over in...?
|The News in full Shagadelic mode, 1967
Left to right: Harvey Platt, Clive Monen, Paul Gunnell, Pete Miller
PM: '69, July 2nd, '69. We did two years in Thailand, and one year in Singapore.
When we first got there they had a tour set up of the American bases, which were scattered throughout the jungles. Your American government gave us a list of songs we couldn't play over there.
PM: "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place." And we said, "Why not? We like that song." And they said, "You play it, and you're out of here."
UT: Didn't want you filling their heads with ideas, huh?
PM: Oh, no. But some of those bases were in very difficult to reach places.
There was one called NKP (Nakhon Phanom) which was right on the border with Laos, and we would have to leave Bangkok at like six in the evening to play there the next night, it was a 24 hour drive, and it could reach 120 in the sun there.
UT: Now that's real jungle out there.
PM: Oh, yes. We had elephants blocking the road, snakes, monkeys... and the Viet Cong.
UT: You'd run into them out there?
|The News, prior to leaving for Thailand
Left to right: Robert Newton, Paul Gunnell, Harvey Platt, Pete Miller
PM: Oh yeah. Sometimes it was just shots comin' from nowhere, comin' from the jungle. Sometimes it was, like, face to face.
What really mattered was letting 'em know that your weren't soldiers, 'cause they'd get paid really well for the dog tags.
UT: That must have taken a lot of balls.
PM: Oh, it took a lot of hashish, it took a lot of grass. We'd pay five dollars for two kilos of what they called "best Buddha grass," so naturally we didn't know what was goin' on half the time.
Memories. But I kept a diary while I was there, and I've got a lot of memorabilia. But that's another interview.
From Singapore, Miller continued east to Ha-waii. He spent his time painting and writing songs, "I went there with a girlfriend, who I'd supported for the better part of two years back in the Far East.
I said, "Well, now it's your turn", so she paid the bills for the six months we were there. I wrote about 48 songs there. It's a great place to write". Although he then returned to England, he was soon off again, to San Francisco where he opened a recording studio.
Apart from the carpeting on the walls (for the neighbors' sake) his studio looks something like a mad scientists lab from an old Masked Avenger serial, with massive spring reverb units and tweed amps lining the walls.
Along with his own music, which these days reflects the rock'n'roll sounds he fell in love with some 40 years ago, he produces, engineers and masters for other artists, covering everything from Ramblin' Jack Eliot to skate-punk.
He also runs a respected course teaching the basics of the recording arts, and has recently completed a script, which draws on his experiences touring England and the Far East.
Thanks to Peter Miller and Nick Rossi
for helping to make this article possible.