Anarchy In The UK 1st Time Around – Rock & Roll’s Dirtiest Secret – “The Pretty Things”
For the last forty-five years, “The Pretty Things” have been pissing people off.< br/>
They started harmlessly enough – formed in 1964 by singer Phil May and guitarist Dick Taylor (straight after he left “The Rolling Stones”), they should have conformed to the suburban, white boy, proto-R&B ethic – but they didn’t. They weren’t middle-class, they were real working class with genuine street savvy.
They invested imported black R&B with serious English council house attitude and while all the other contenders were suitably respectful in their treatment of this hallowed genre, the fledgling “Pretty Things” already didn’t give a shit. With a line-up completed by two more from the “Dartford Delta” - bass player John Stax and guitarist Brian Pendleton, and completed by the certifiably insane drummer, Viv Prince - they were ready for action.
Predictable early ‘60’s R&B success followed. Big hits with “Rosalyn”, Don’t Bring Me Down” and ”Honey, I Need” set them up as the “next big thing….”
This was re-inforced by their vicious garage punk image, some genuinely disturbing behaviour and the most extreme live show in the world at the time. The young David Bowie (then Jones) would slavishly follow them from gig to gig, intently watching Phil May’s every androgynous camp move win over both sexes in his outrageous and extreme stage performances. In the young Bowie’s address book, Phil May’s no. was listed under “God”! Listen to the early live takes of the hit “Don’t Bring Me Down” – May is singing “I laid him on the ground” – waaaay out there in early ‘64. The way that Tony Calder (manager of “The Stones”, with Andrew Oldham) tells it, Jagger would never let “The Pretty Things” back on to “Ready Steady Go” after their first appearances – Calder recalls it verbatim: “He’s just too fucking pretty…He’s dangerous” Jagger’s views on May.
So Oldham and Calder were despatched to speak to Vicki Wickham and RSG never called “The Pretties” again…… By 1965 “The Pretty Things” weren’t just a threat to “The Stones” – they were a threat to society, too.......
While outrage “Stones” style was limited to tame schoolboy stuff - the press had a feeding frenzy when they took a piss against a garage wall - out there on the backstreets, “The Pretty Things” were busted for pulling out a sawn-off 12 guage shotgun to deal with some violent mob after a gig .
Significantly, they were the first to experiment with drugs and later, in 1965, they were deported and banned from Australia and New Zealand for setting fire to a commercial airliner in flight. This was all really heavy shit. Somehow, they never learned the trick of “the sizzle, not the steak” that was always Oldham and “The Stones” forte. They looked totally different, too. As early as 1964, May’s hair was really, really long – “just like a girl’s” screamed The News of The World, (years before they the Mars bar was an issue)… and their long-haired look kept them in big trouble daily. The press was awash with stories of their hair, their filth and their dirty habits – most of it not so far from the truth….
The insane Viv Prince (ten times the lunatic that Keith Moon, who idolised him, would later aspire to be) was a real problem and was seen by the powers that be as a true threat to society. (They fucked him up, of course, as only power and money can and he lives in a nightmare world now, drifting in and out of lucidity, but that’s another story). “too pretty” May, rudderless without parents and living with an elderly couple (ring any Lennon bells?) was billeted in working class Erith. Late back from gigs and rehearsals, he was in fights nightly and propped up the Magistrate’s Court rails most mornings.
No, there was never a celluloid gloss on “The Pretties” image - in those days that kind of shit stuck fast and inevitably the band was slowly driven down by the press and the establishment. < br/>
But with their peers and the critics, they could do no wrong - May and Taylor, alongside Brian Jones, Eric Burdon and the young Van Morrison would regularly hold court in the Ad Lib, surrounded by all the Young Turks. And when rock royalty in the form of Bob Dylan arrived in Britain for his fateful 1966 tour (immortalised in the movie, “Don’t Look back”), it was “The Pretty Things” that he wanted to meet. Their meeting is documented on “Tombstone Blues” recorded immediately he returned to New York, and appears on the first big electric Dylan album – “Highway 61” – they’re still the only band to have that honour.
As their ‘60’s developed, they were living in a kind of decayed grandeur in one of The Duke of Westminster’s properties in Chester Street.
And, in the way that doomed characters stick together, they adopted “The Stones” Brian Jones, who was an old friend. He lived with them, on and off until his excommunication from “The Stones” was all but complete – “the blind leading the fucking blind” Phil politely suggests.
Along the way Brian and Phil had some rare old times, blocked out of their minds, flying around Hyde Park in Jones’ Bentley with Judy Garland and “that woodentop Rudy” Nuryev (as Phil calls him), in tow - they all ended up in the same bed in The Dorchester.
They pretty much invented “Swinging London”, but notoriety always followed them around. They landed the first UK rock & roll drug scandal, when Viv was busted in Soho in ’65, loaded with weed and pills after some Diplomatic party. He was prosecuted and the others in the band duly followed suit in Scandinavia, not long after.
The ever-present violence took its toll, too, with guns, fistfights and fan riots pursuing them everywhere, they made more than 27 Court appearances in ’65 alone.
In ’66 they recorded their European drug anthem “L.S.D.” - a not too subtle reference to the preferred chemical drug of the day – a full year before The Beatles and Stones caught on. Somehow it was inevitable that they would be chosen as Society’s scapegoats for this dangerous, new, long-haired rebellion, and they were…
God, but they made great music, though – their first two albums are the best art school R&B that any white kid ever made. Rough, edgy, totally out of control, distorted, and completely honest, they are the gems from the ‘60’s R&B boom – and that was just the beginning…..
Prince was thrown out in late ’65 – always drunk or pilled-up, he became a liability. He couldn’t play any more and they spent more time baling him out of trouble than working. On a Scandinavian tour early in that year he had been beaten half to death by the World Heavyweight contender Ingomar Johansenn – Viv couldn’t get in a nice fight with some local kid - he had to pick someone who had fought Ali!
But the real crunch came during their notorious tour of New Zealand – New Zealand, shit… only “The Pretty Things” (hotter than a pistol in ’65), could end up in New Zealand, instead of The States, where they were crying out for them…… The way that (then manager) Bryan Morrison tells it, he sent them there as payback, because they wouldn’t record “Mr. Tambourine Man”, which he had been offered by Dylan’s US publisher, & which he knew would be a big hit. They told him to fuck off, The Byrds got hold of it, & the rest is history – but I digress…..
While they were in NZ, the band was being flown across country on a scheduled flight and Viv, who had been carrying a rotting dead crayfish with him (presented weeks before by a drunken Australian fan), set fire to the paper bag the crayfish was kept in, after cabin staff and passengers complained of the disgusting smell emanating from the offending bag. At 30,00 feet that was a BIG DEAL. The fire was eventually put out. The band was quickly put down (at some tiny airport), the crew refusing to fly them. The next day, after a flight under armed military escort, they were all deported from New Zealand and banned for life from returning - a ban, which exists to this day. The next day’s headlines said it all – “British Pop group sets fire to airliner in flight” To add insult to injury, they bannd them from Australia too…. The entire continent – Australasia, as it then was! New Zealand still reeks of that deeply felt outrage, more than 40 years later.
There has even been a book, written about the incident - "Don't Bring Me Down.....Under" - it came out in 2006, and was penned by "White Stripes" production manager, Jon Baker & Mike Stax - strange days.... But that was the end for Viv......
They replaced him briefly, with Mitch Mitchell, but he was “too fucking straight” grunts May. Salvation came in the form of the angelic looking 17 year old Skip Allan, recruited to finish their second album - "Get The Picture" - and then they were off for round two. Further R&B recording success followed, but that phase was over for them, really – they were always looking for “something else” and after Pendleton, and later Stax left, they found it. With two more Dartford Delta drop-outs – John Povey and Wally Waller - on-board in early ’66, they started their third album with more than an ear to the future and never bothered to look back.
To this day, they all hate that "difficult" 3rd album – “Emotions” – but it’s actually great, “Swinging London” caught in the vivid flashbulb of pop’s unflinching gaze, like “The Kinks” with attitude. They even made a black & white ‘60’s art house movie to go with it – The Pretty Things On film” is a mythical cult gem, revered and spoken of by many – seen by few, like “Hard day’s night” meets “Blow Up” – check it out….< br/>
But “The Pretty Things” were still gathering speed, and by late 1966 the “Swinging Sixties” were already over. Of the first British R&B wave, only “The Pretty Things” realised this.
Abbey Road, 1967 – a new record deal with EMI and the band were ensconced in the famous studio alongside “The Beatles” (working on “Sgt. Pepper’s”) and “The Pink Floyd” (working on “Piper At The Gates of Dawn”). All of them united by the single thread of Norman “Hurricane” Smith - Beatles engineer since the start and now producer for the “Floyd” and the “Pretties”, as well.
Rising to the challenge, “The Pretty Things” had yet another “first” under their belts – this time for the first 6 minute plus 7” single, “Defecting Grey” - an astonishing barrage of sounds and ideas, which was, as Phil May always says, “the Marquette” for their next album, their fabled, long-lost masterpiece “S.F.Sorrow”. With acid, LSD, 20-hour studio days and the long, hot “Summer of Love” well under way outside; inside Abbey Road’s Studio 2, the great, lost album of that hazy “summer of love” was well under way, too. They started it with drummer Skip Allan in place and half the recording was completed, until he disappeared to Paris for a weekend and sent a message to the studio on Monday that he had got married to a French girl and wasn’t coming back. “Twink” from “Tomorrow” was hastily called in to complete the remaining handful of songs, but he didn’t last long. Bass player Waller took a violent dislike to him and knocked him out during a Roundhouse gig. Three months after his “French marriage” Skip Alan was back in place as if nothing had happened.
So “S.F. Sorrow” – undisputably the world’s first “rock opera”- was finally nearing completion and “The Pretty Things” had taken to psychedelia like a duck to water. Phil even found time to be the first person to hear “Sgt. Pepper’s”, when a desperate John Lennon – aching to play the masterpiece to someone, collared him late one night in the canteen & sat him down to listen to the masterpiece – “Like a meeting with the Gods” Phil says now….
With their shoulder to shoulder feud with “The Stones” old history, they were about to start another. This time with “The Who” whose razor sharp manager - Kit Lambert - was trying to find a way to revive their flagging career. Enter “the rock opera”, courtesy of “The Pretty Things” & “S.F. Sorrow”. Lambert saw the main chance, “Tommy” was released ahead of “S.F. Sorrow” in the States and the race was over. Still, it was only to be expected, “The Pretty Things” manager was the guy who sent them to New Zealand in ‘65’ when The States was SCREAMING for them…….< br/>
Smart call, Huh?
After their infamous mime performance of “S.F. Sorrow” at The Roundhouse, watched by Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Tariq Ali, the Stones, and the whole Attica bookshop, IT & OZ crew they were booked as a major part of the famous Technicolour Dream show, at Alexandra Palace. And at that moment, “The Pretty Things” were as fundamental to the psychedelic and progressive “first wave” as they had been to the R&B “first wave” – only “The Beatles” were so relevant throughout the period. “The Stones” slipped, “The Who” faltered, but “The Pretties” were right there, with “S.F.Sorrow” - a record as important as “Sgt. Pepper” and “Piper At The Gates of Dawn” – it’s just a pity that EMI didn’t realise it. Somehow, this great record was held for a year before it was released without any promotion in the UK and was so late in the USA (where they were the first ever “white-boy” rock group to be signed to Tamla Motown) that it sank without trace!
Exhausted, disheartened and totally embittered, guitarist Dick Taylor left in 1969, after meeting his new wife on the set of the weird psychedelic comedy film – “What’s Good For The Goose” in which the band appeared with Norman Wisdom? Weird!!! < br/> Without missing a beat, the band pressed on, recruiting guitarist Vic Unitt, from The Edgar Broughton Band and with continued support from “Beatles” stalwart, producer Norman Smith, rolled up their sleeves to soldier on.
May and Wally Waller locked themselves away in May’s Notting Hill flat and, three months later, they were back in Abbey Road recording the follow-up to “S.F. Sorrow” - “Parachute”.
Far from being a step back, after the pioneering “s.F. Sorrow” it was another astounding album. David Gilmour calls it the inspiration for “Dark Side of The Moon” check out “Grass” & you’ll know why. “Parachute” was voted Rolling Stone Record of the Year for 1970, beating some MAJOR opposition, & gave Berry Gordy the critical album acclaim he craved at the start of the 1970’s as his singles-driven Tamla Motown was beginning to flag, that’s the reason that tamla set up Rare earth and signed asll those little white boys….. but I digress!< br/>
In typical Pretty Things fashion, it is still the only Rolling Stone Record of the Year NOT to sell a million copies………… EMI just didn’t get it.< br/> Continually evolving (a trick they taught the young Bowie), they replaced the hapless Vic Unitt with Hendrix’s young protégé - teenage genius Peter Tolson, from Eire Apparent. Some great singles followed on EMI, but the dream was over and the band was looking to finally get to the USA, where they thought they would have some real support from Tamla (basking in their reflected “Rolling Stone” critical acclaim”) , but it didn’t quite work out like that!
Extricating themselves from their unhappy EMI/Tamla Motown contract, they were immediately signed by Warner Bros, but on the way they lost bass player Wally Waller, who had started a love affair with the recording studio & was being retained by EMI as a house producer. So, with new boy, Stuart Brooks on bass, they set about their first Warner’s album. Family ties with Waller were still strong, though – even though he was forbidden (by EMI) to work with them, he produced the new album, under the alias Asa Jones, and was involved in the writing and playing, too.
The new album, “Freeway Madness” led them to the States and, after adding guitarist/ keyboard player Gordon Edwards to augment the line-up, they finally undertook their first American tour (7 years too late), playing to rave reviews everywhere.
The new record and the US shows caught the attention of some very old friends and a big change was on the way for “The Pretty Things” – courtesy of the biggest band in the world, “Led Zeppelin”. Old friends, Jimmy Page, who had played on one or two cuts on the first album and Jimmy's famous manager Peter Grant, whom they had known since Club Noreek days, in Tottenham, ’63, wanted them for the new “Zeppelin” label – Swansong. “The Pretty Things” had their bags packed and ready before the ‘phone went down. Now with a new line-up, featuring old faithfuls, May, Alan and Povey, the wunderkind Tolson on guitar, and Gordon Edwards alongside new boy Jack Green (taking over from the departed Stuart Brooks), they were ready for part 3.
During "part three" they recorded two albums for Swansong – “Silk Torpedo” and “Savage Eye”, both of which charted in the US. They also toured extensively in the States, always to rave reviews, but they were still the masters of the “self-destruct” button. Even Peter Grant, who dealt daily with the excesses of Led Zeppelin remembered them as totally impossible to deal with and lacking any business sense whatsoever – “they couldn’t half get through the gear, though” he said fondly in 1995, just before he died – “they spent all of their advance on the old Colombian Marching Powder within three months…..and that was more than $150,000, a lot of money in 1974” When Sid & Nancy stayed in the Chateau Marmont in ’76, Nancy’s concerned parents had a question…. Who on earth are those terrifying looking guys by the pool….” Oh them…. That’s The Pretty Things…..” Nancy understood! Their US shows in the mid 1970’s re-defined cock-rock for the band, drinking, drugging, fucking and fighting their way across the USA alongside Zeppelin, where they were always going to either soar above the crowd or burn-out................ Predictably, they burned out.
By 1976 they were in disarray. May had finally left, (jumping out of a moving tour bus on the MI at 3am), the night before their Wembley Concert debut in front of Led Zeppelin. And the remainder (after unceremoniously dumping wild man, Jon Povey - the worst cokehead of them all) tried to move on with “Metropolis”. Of course it went nowhere without May and the essential “Pretty Things” spirit. One by one, they disappeared to lick their wounds. May made an aborted “solo” album with the Fallen Angels, featuring Mickey Finn and others, Jack Green went on to AOR success in Canada, Edwards and Tolson continued to improve on their massive drug intake, which quickly degenerated into smack addiction. Povey followed the sun to build surfboards and Skip Alan joined up in his father’s “Tin Leg” factory (they made artificial limbs).
The divorce didn’t hold for long. Fuelled by punk and the burning desire to “fuck everybody up some more”, they re-grouped for another last try. Encouraged by The Pretties’ bizarre movie appearance with Vincent Price in cult horror flick, “Monster Club” - Warner Brothers had put up a small advance for a new album. So a classic re-visit of the “S.F.Sorrow” line-up (with Tolson added for good measure) was assembled and they went to work in a flooded Soho basement studio on what was to be their last studio album for 19 years – “Crosstalk”. This brilliant piece of de-constructed post-punk was released in 1980. In a fabulous display of timing, Warner Bros. was charged with payola in the USA the day after release of the album and all their products were pulled off the shelves. When a copy could be found, “Crosstalk” had been pressed with the same songs on both sides. The next attempt saw the right songs on both sides, but with side 1’s label in place on both sides. Skip left in disgust, to be replaced by Simon Fox (Ex Be Bop De-Luxe), that line-up toured for a year or so, and tried some more recording (with current manager, Mark St. John) but the drugs, the attitude and the poverty bit too deep.
Povey, Tolson, Waller and Fox left, not to be seen for some time. May and Taylor picked up the pieces and set about creating a classic, pure R&B set that would tour Europe for the next few years with a variety of musicians. They made two, rootsy, organic, black R&B records in Chicago over that period and re-discovered their roots. Around 1988 they started to record again, back with (new manager), Mark St. John in the producer’s chair and new guitarist (and long time associate of St.John’s), Frank Holland on guitar. Slowly, the songs, the feeling and the history came back together. During the early 1990’s they were unique in fighting (and winning) Class Action Court cases with two major labels to gain control of their original albums. Driven on by St. John, the original band re-united to take on the majors, and the “oldest gunslingers in town” wore down the big corporations and became the full owners of the early Phillips and EMI recordings – unprecedented at that time. Long the way, & during the legal in-fighting, St.John had his car firebombed & Phil May was assaulted and beaten half to death in an unprecedented crowbar assault near his home. Disn’t stop ‘em though! In 1995, having their catalogue under their belts, the band prepared and released a milestone two CD box set – “Unrepentant” the anthology, featuring a horrific, hospital records, picture of Viv Prince on the cover. The set received rave reviews and sold out in three months. Later that year, they made a full-on comeback gig at London’s 100 Club. It was sold out. Members of the new Britpop young were much in evidence, Blur, Oasis et al rubbing shoulders with Van Morrison, Jeff Beck and “The Godfather” - Peter Grant, who had spent the day recording the video for “Rosalyn” with the band. Sadly, it was Peter’s last ever gig and his last photographs were taken alongside the band he had always loved best (after Zeppelin!); he died three weeks later and he is greatly missed. A new record deal with Snapper Music followed, and the band’s whole catalogue was re-mastered and slowly re-issued.
1998 was a busy year. Still at the cutting edge, the band - with friends David Gilmour and Arthur Brown - performed “S.F.Sorrow” live from Abbey Road Studio 2, where it had been recorded over thirty years earlier, alongside “Sgt. Pepper” and “Piper At The Gates of Dawn” The performance was the world’s first location Global Internet broadcast, and 100,000 “hits” on the site “took-out” the ISP three minutes into the performance.
Two weeks later the band went to New York for one gig, headlining the cult garage-rock Festival – “CaveStomp”. With 1100 people in a 565 capacity room, it was pretty crowded. The New York Times dubbed it the best gig of the year - after twenty-five years away, “The Pretty Things” were back....... in the USA. And finally, after nineteen years in the making, the band’s brand new album – “Rage Before Beauty” was released - showcasing the new “Pretty Things” writing team of May, Holland and St. John, with John Povey riding shotgun. Predictably, it received rave reviews everywhere.
To round off a busy year, Christmas saw the band were support old friend, Van Morrison, at the Rockpalast Christmas special, broadcast across Germany and Europe to more than 20 million people.< br/> 1999 saw “S.F.Sorrow” finally established as the “lost album of the summer of love” with catalogue sales topping 25,000 in the UK alone (making it the most successful Indie catalogue album of the year). If you could spend reviews, “The Pretty Things” would be the richest band on earth……
In September 1999 the band finally went back to The States, undertaking a full-on tour taking in the whole country. Covering the same venues as “The Who”, “Yes” and Robbie Williams, it was a massive success, with the band selling out pretty much everywhere and out-drawing Robbie at the three dates they both played. In L.A. old friend Steven Tyler, Slash, the “Kiss” boys, Molly Ringwald, Iggy and anyone else who was in town saw the band beat the place up….. “Just Monstrous” said the LA Times.
In dirty, downtown Detroit the band was supported by a young gtr/drums duo - The White Stripes, who supported them for three shows and started a strange friendship that endures to this day....< br/> Skip was arrested in San Francisco after breaking up a restaurant, and he missed the last gig because he had to be smuggled out of New York following a violent altercation with a security guard at New York’s Bowery Ballroom – the cops turned up at the band’s surreal New Jersey mafia hotel looking for him, but by then he was well away on a flight back to Blighty….pretty much business as usual, then.
In the year 2000 the band hit its first major European Tour for 21 years. Sell outs of major venues and ecstatic revues put even more gas in the tank, and their 1966 line-up was in full flow, with touring a major priority. UK record company, Snapper was doing a fantastic job on the re-issues, and the whole of the original catalogue was being restored and made available again, for the first time in years. By 2001, the band was keen to take on a new challenge or two, so naturally, they decided to hit London's Royal Festival Hall with a reprise of the Abbey Road performance of "S.F.Sorrow". Before an ecstatic, sold out auditorium, they absolutely soared and alongside David Gilmour and Arthur Brown (both again riding shotgun), they filled the aisles with dancing, and got the best reviews of their lives....
May was typically curt - "pity we didn't record that one, fuck's sight better than Abbey Road...." well….. there's no pleasing some people.
For the first time in years, the band was working principally as a live unit, and heading for places where they had never really clicked, before. Top of the list was France, "got everything, great grub, beautiful birds, and fine wine.." Fine Wine - Well that's Phil dealt with, then.
Every year after 2000 there had been US shows - always culty, spitty, groovy gigs, generally in rough NY clubs or LA downtown hideaways, but always attracting the leading US press and reviews and the eyes of some of the most interesting people in town. Two gigs at NY's "CaveStomp" Festival had cemented the Pretties love affair with the East Coast garage scene and, when long time fan and supporter of the band - Little Steven - called, it was just a short Atlantic Crossing to hit The Village Underground in the Village for two consecutive sell-out shows.
Fitting US gigs into the heavy schedule of sell out tours of France & Europe followed, culminating in shows at the historic "Ancienne Belgique" In Brusselles and "the Olympia" in Paris, both with Bill Wyman, whom they predictably "blew into the weeds" European frenzy took a hold and, by 2004 they were back in Germany, where Hamburg, Berlin and Munich all fell to the power of the Pretties... They were working a lot with Arthur Brown - another survivor basking in the glow of an unlikely renaissance - and anyone who's seen Phil & Arthur together on stage, preening and scratching for honours on "Hoochie Coochie Man" will be favoured indeed, two of the best, and most under-rated singers in the world, with Hell's Engine Room behind them and Dick's mercurial guitar... it's better than cheap sex in a hired car……
In between their European excursions, they found time, in 2005 to co-headline Little Steven's Randalls Island Festival, alongside Iggy, The (re-formed) New York Dolls & The Strokes. With typical Pretty Things timing, the festival co-incided with NY's worst hurricane (George!) on record, and the city fathers were on the point of pulling the plug just as the PT's were about to take the stage... A good deal of loud English abuse and threatened violence from manager St. John, and they were playing... close call, though!
They ended the year with another RockPalast headline gig, this time wihout any other artists, but as a solo act - no mean feat for a band in it's 40th working year.... Oh yes, they even found the time to record a 40th anniversary R&B gig in the UK at a secret location, before an invited audience, which was recorded on the mythical Ronnie Lane Airstream mobile (Houses of The Holy, Quadrophenia, Nod's As Good As a Wink, Goat’s Head Soup, etc), which was released last year to rave reviews and decent sales.
With recording on the agenda, they had recorded their new anthem “All Light Up” the pro – dope song of all time (possibly except for their 1967 offering – “L.S.D.”). Although still unreleased, the band was immediately in deep shit because they used the voices of young schoolchildren who were playing in the playground next to the car park, where the mobile was standing, on the song’s chorus. The National press was (predictably) outraged – The Independent featuring a well-mannered piece on Jagger’s divorce, alongside a shrieking headline rant against “The Pretty Things”. The school, Council and local press went mad, too - it’s good to know the old boys can still piss everyone off without even trying. Hypocrisy - it’s still the politicians friend……
Late In 2005 it was finally decided that the time had come to record a new album, May, in particular having always felt a concern about the idea - "Well exactly how much does the world need another fucking Pretty Things" record....." was a common refrain from the man with the longest hair in Britain! But all concerns aside, the search for material was started, and the idea, initially, of a purist, stripped down, blues album was kicked around. Several songs were recorded in this format, principally with May, Taylor, and Povey, but slowly the whole band became a little more involved and a new, seminal, rootsy and passionate, new blues record began to take shape. May & Taylor, together with "new boy" Holland had been working up an acoustic Pretties show for a while, occasionally augmented by Povey or Waller, and this new view of the music had really focused everyone's attention on the pure basics of the band and it's music and legacy. Recording, interspersed with touring, gigs and writing sessions, was predictably slow, but as 2005 gave way to 2006, the record was taking shape and the band's acoustic line-up was blazing a trail in Europe and the UK. By the summer of 2006 the record was in good shape, with only final mixes and sweetening outstanding. It was shaping up to be, maybe, their best album ever, with a huge, blazing sound, coupled with dark passion and deep authentic blues ("What a fucking drum sound man, where did you do that...." - Jack White). May has never sounded better, but everyone acquits themselves with honours. So, eventually the fabled "All Light Up" would finally see a major release and they could even have had a hit on their hands....... (Were it not for the smoking ban, which saw the song consigned quietly to radio’s “Mmm, better not take the chance ….” Bins upon release…..) but that’s another story – coming later!
2006 ended with a slew of single UK & European gigs, fitted around the completion of the record. Paris, London's 100 Club, Venue Blow Up, Rome, Greece and NY were all in the firing line for the year's end. The first band outing of 2007 was the Huge London ICA celebration of the “Technicolour Dream” at the Alexandra Palace, in London in 1967. As the only survivors (still intact!) from that show, where they played with The Floyd - The Pretty Things headlined… 40 years on and the reviews were still rave. 1 down, a few to go… < br/>
Finally, in October 2007 the new CD “Balboa Island” was released to rave reviews: 4 & 5 stars abound in “”Q” “Mojo”, The Word” and all the rest of the usual suspects… USA’s largest media publication - Entertainment Weekly gives it 4 stars & calls it “the album the Stones should have made….” How true, except they can’t!
Tours were set up for the New Year & high profile shows in Paris & Germany in October followed. The 18th October saw the band headline the 40th Anniversary celebrations for Le Gibus, Paris’ longest established rock venue. In the club’s first week of activity, in 1967, Hendrix played the opening night – the next night it was The Pretty Things…. 40 years on and Karl Lagerfeld, Vanessa Paradis, Johnny Depp & Brad Pitt all lined up alongside the band’s hardcore garage fans to soak up R&B history . 736 people were counted in – the club holds 400! Arte & Canal Plus both filmed for a documentary, released the following year. The next day it’s live TV for WDR in Germany – 6.5 million fans tune in to WDR’s Rockpalast Crossroads Festival… The Pretty Things headline, & bring the house down… “Age shall not wither her…”
In December, the band undertook a European tour, supported by delta blues, teen-age label-stablemates, The Malchicks. A Christmas party was planned for late in the year – two shows, one in The famous Eel Pie Club, and the next night in their favourite - 100 Club. Both sold out, both got the (predictable) rave reviews. Following the 100 Club gig, a fledgling BBC Radio DJ, and sometime guitar player, called Noel Gallagher, played “Baron Saturday” from “S.F. Sorrow” and confessed that he was “going to rip that off for our next album – magic stuff”…..
In March 2008 the band along with The Malchicks & Arthur Brown, were to undertake a huge US tour after headlining the SXSW Festival’s fabled Friday night. But sadly the tour was cancelled, due to the ill-health of Arthur Brown’s sidekick, & the serious illness of Pretties keyboard player, Jon Povey’s wife, with cancer. Undeterred, the band decided to release their first single for 25 years – “All Light Up” - and plan a major R&B assault on London & the Continent in June and July, followed by a huge French & German tour in October. But even now, as bus pass holders, they are never without a fair share of controversy, & The Pretty Things are still attracting unwanted attention – Lead singer Phil May had taken on a one man Crusade against the UK’s smoking ban… his personal website “All Light Up” was set up because “someone from rock & roll has got to stand up against this shitty piece of legislation, it may as well be me…” He’s been getting pissed off about The Dirty Pretty Things, too, "they've fucking stolen our name....." but always with a twinkle in his eye. "truth to tell, if they can make it to the big 40 and beyond, they deserve to fuckin' steal our name..." Predictably the effect on the smoking ban was nil, and the effect on the BBc’s fabled playlist was predictable…. Bye bye “All Light Up” – Ho Hum!
2009 & the band is off on the road again – A London show to warm up, followed by a couple of French Blues Festivals, and then off on a headline Spring EU tour in France & Germany – starting with an ecstatic, packed house in Paris’ influential Le Trabandou, for The Gloria, Indie Garage Club, supported by Ireland’s indie-babes, The Revillions, and then off for a further 9 whistle stop dates in packed venues across the continent. Back on the 7th April, the band is back in action on the 10th – headlining Le Beat Bespoke’s weekender at The Venue, performing their seminal rock opera – “S.F. Sorrow”- for just the third time & warming up for their performance of the same opera in London’s Hyde Park in July, alongside long time friend and fan – Little Steven & his boss – The Boss – Bruce Springsteen.
Also chosen to headline the 40th Anniversary of the famous “Friar’s” Club, in Aylesbury, on the 1st June 2009 (they’re playing an acoustic set at the O2 on the same night – followed by a high speed dash to Aylesbury), the band now has only late summer and early autumn to finish their seminal blues roots album, recorded exclusively on the famous Ronnie Lane Airstream Mobile Studio, in various weird and wonderful locations across the globe…….
The year moved on with The Pretty Things winning the first Ever Mojo magazine “ Hero” Award. Performing for the Awards with kasabian, and then having the award presented by Seasick Steve, The Bad Seeds and Kasabian, it was a big night! The year ended with recordings pressing on & 2010 opened with a bang, with the band’s first ever Japanese Tour – 5 dates across Tokyo, Osaka & Nagoya. Sold out, playing to very your audiences & with an 8 hour press and autograph signing day, for the growing army of very your fans! Another barrier broken down!
Sadly, like all the great, doomed campaigns, the list of missing in action is always increasing.. Add to Peter Grant, Brian Pendleton (original rythym guitarist), Tony Howard (their first agent and Marc Bolan's manager), Steve O'Rourke (their manager in the late '60's and then The Floyd's manager)…. they are all gone… and then the unexpected death, late in 2008, of dear friend Bryan Morrison, their first manager, (& The Floyd’s first manager, & George Michael’s publisher), and an old friend, who died after two years in a coma after falling from his Polo pony…. God Bless you, Brysie….
Yet somehow, the band themselves, always predicted to be early casualties, are still going strong, still drinking, fighting, laughing, fucking and fucking up...... and still the oldest gang in town. Never mind The Stones - if you REALLY want the goods, it's always been "The Pretty Things"
Bloody but unbowed – “The Pretty Things” – the longest serving rock band in the world.
Put the text in here