Sunday, January 3, 2021


The saying always was that only the bad girls liked the Rolling Stones, which then needed a whole further category for the Pretty Things, as their reputation made the Stones, by comparison, seem like Herman's Hermits. With longer hair, tighter trousers and a r'n'b* so raw it could make you flinch, these 60's rockers were making hell long before Jagger et al were shocking the nation. How was it that I, at the age of eight, could be their number one fan?

I should add I probably wasn't, but they certainly made an impact on my formative and future tastes. I may have stated here before how recorded music first entered my reckoning, my elder sister coercing my parents into the purchase of a dansette record player. It was either second hand, or on special offer, as it came with a stack of 45s, many of which I have to this day. Mostly staid early 60s fare, Bobby's Darren and Vee, the big O, Gene Pitney, some Elvis ballads and probably an early Beatle or two. But within the stash of paper sleeved parlophones, derams and regal zonophones, there was a cardboard sleeved disc. With photos of scowling youth on the cover. Two tracks on either side! This was an EP.

I played it to death, the two main cuts, 'Rosalyn' and 'Don't Bring Me Down' being peculiarly affecting. All snarled vocals, rudimentary backing and more attitude than was ever allowed back then. Already a precocious reader of the musical press, having access to the Disc and Musical Echo, I learnt about the band. In truth I only cared about the singer, Phil May, having, probably,  a big pre-teen crush. He had the longest hair in London, I learnt, that being enough for me, shackled then in to my schoolboy compulsory short back and sides for a good many years yet. However I also being confused by one of the band having a beard, something I associated with jazzmen and my brother, and being the opposite of cool. Even discovering this was Dick Taylor, who had left the Rolling Stones nascent line-up to form this band, still sat oddly. He just looked so old.

The years went by and I became a teenager. I was now a creature of underground tastes, 'underground' the name for proto-progressive and heavy metal: hard rock as we called it. Whilst I learnt Phil May still had the longest hair in London, their first wave had peaked, necessitating a huge change in direction. I confess I was no longer on the bus at this stage, as, whilst familiar with S.F. Sorrow and Parachute, I had bigger fish to fry. S.F. Sorrow may have been the first rock opera, but I was busy listening to Tommy. The Pretty's just became another rock band on the fringes, well regarded, prolific, a bit like Savoy Brown, just nothing to bother my ears with. I even caught them live, in the 70s, if by mistake. Newly signed to Led Zeppelin's Swansong label, the one with the logo of Robert Plant with wings, a rumour spread that Zeppelin would be playing London's tiny basement Marquee Club, as a support to their new signing. Well, the Pretties played, but nobody else. Silk Torpedo was the album being promoted. I didn't buy.

I guess David Bowie gave me my renewed interest, his Pin Ups album including both the songs I had loved so much from the EP. I should declare here I abhorred these Bowie versions, my inner rock snob near fully formed, having 'preferred his earlier stuff' of Hunky-Dory. This also gave me the opportunity to whip out that EP and play it loud to my largely indifferent friends.

Years go by, decades go by, marriages, children and respectability wax and wane. And still the Pretty Things play on. It was probably about 2012 I started again to go to festivals, my tent having had a good rest for most of the decade or so ahead. One such was Lunar Festival, 2016, at Tanworth-in-Arden, near Stratford-on-Avon. One of the clinchers of my going was that the Pretties were on the bill, the other being it's nearness to where I was living. The hippy years had come and gone for the band, fame had further beckoned but never quite delivered, and they were reliant as much on their longevity as their talent. Back more to a more bluesy garage band clatter, wailing harmonica, black suits and skinny ties, they were distinctly survivors. May and Taylor, the latter back in the band having passed on some of the hippy dream, the front men alongside some younger blood, some of whom had been with the band for decades. Taylor, still with beard, looked positively ancient, but kept a tight hand on the tight Chicago blues, whilst May, thinner on top, a little paunchy, sang like a man possessed. It was wonderful, my day capped by being able to thank Mr May personally for his years of my musical pleasure, he happy to roam the crowd after the performance. 

I think it was 2019 I learnt the pair were beginning to wind down the band, emphysema playing havoc with May's singing. But there remained a promise of a lower-key acoustic version remaining a possibility. So it was a shock to learn of May's passing, in May, aged 75. Not covid, praise be, but from complications of hip surgery. Hardly rock'n'roll but hardly surprising. Making then for a surprise, as that promised material appears, the first couple of tracks a week after his death, the rest of the album, 'Bare as Bone, Bright as Blood', dropping in September. Well worth a punt.

R.I.P., big fella!

(*That's R'n'b not r'n'b, definitely not!!!!)

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