1942 - 2023
Jon Povey, the long-time Pretty Things’ stalwart, musical co-conspirator and close friend, and I met when we started playing in bands together in the very, very early 60s - for sure it was 1961, and could even have been 1960. He lived nearby but we had to wait until music drew us together. Curiously, the first few bands we joined were exclusively instrumental group. The Echoes and The Marshalls were two of the early combos that come to mind. Jon was always the drummer, and I was what they used to call back in the day: a rhythm guitarist. We used to play the interval spots at Crayford Town Hall every Saturday night - it was basically a weekly ‘Big Band’ event, the local ‘hop’ and was very popular with people who liked ballroom dancing and the younger ones used to enjoy jiving when we did our spot half-way through the evening. Other local bands were envious of our regular ‘high profile’ gigs at the Town Hall.
Eventually, Jon and I wound up in what was effectively a local super-group, when the pick of all the local bands were gathered together into one unit - we were called “Bern Elliott and the Fenmen”, and vocals and vocal backing was very much on the agenda. Jon had a unique and very distinctive silky smooth falsetto range (that had no doubt been honed many years before during his years as a choir-boy - butter wouldn’t melt ?). As for me, singing in public was a new experience, and I had a somewhat gravelly bottom end sort of voice. But for no rhyme or reason when we sang together it sounded good.
Before too long our reputation as a band had spread throughout the whole of Kent, and we started to travel further afield. In October 1962 we found ourselves in Hamburg for a month - we played at the same club where The Beatles had played when they first came to Hamburg. October 1962 will forever be remembered for the Cuban Missile Crisis. In Hamburg we were perilously close to the former East German border, part of the Iron Curtain. As we went to bed one night, the whole world was holding its breath - Russian ships bearing missiles for Cuba, (right under America’s nose) were steaming straight towards the USA naval blockade. Ultimatums had been issued, and the stage was set.
In the event JFK stood firm, and Krushchev it was who blinked first - and the world as we knew it could continue. We returned to Hamburg the following year and this time we played at the famous Star Club where we joined a celebrated roster of artists that included Bill Haley & The Comets. Jon and I were a natural duo all through our career as Fenmen, and beyond we used to hang out together most of the time - so many adventures - and we used to get into any manner of mischief together.
Later that year (1963), Peter Sullivan, a successful record producer for Decca Records (Tom Jones, Lulu, etc.,) invited us to do a recording audition.
We did four or five songs and at the end it was the classic “Don’t call us, We’ll Call You” situation. One of the songs we did was “Do You Love Me” which Decca promptly gave to Brian Poole & The Tremeloes, and as the months went by we heard nothing, until The Beatles’ second album came out, and on it was a song called “Money”, another song we had done on our recording test. Peter Sullivan remembered he had recorded this song on our audition - he quickly mixed-up our 4-track audition tape, and rang us to tell us to come in and sign the contracts - we were going to be ‘recording artists’. In a matter of weeks we were in the charts - an E.P. and another single followed and we also did some live recordings for Decca at Liverpool’s Cavern Club.
Things seemed to be going OK, but out of the blue one day, Bern Elliott, goaded on by the manager decided he was going to be a superstar, and he didn’t need any grubby musicians. The four of us remaining Fenmen realised that there was only one way for us to go - we were going to be a specialised vocal-harmony band, and for the next few years we learned our trade. It was this expertise that Jon and I took into The Pretty Things along with our other various musical abilities and creativity.
Back in Jon’s formative years he had some piano tuition, which he had to put to good use once he reached The Pretty Things, as the drum stool already had an occupant ! How brave of Phil May was it for him to take on Jon Povey who had never played rock keyboards before, and me who had never played bass before ? So we took our place alongside Phil, guitarist Dick Taylor and drummer Skip Alan - and that was the new Pretty Things’ line-up. A lot of people thought Phil had lost his mind - but I like to think that we didn’t let him down.
Jon’s enthusiasm and natural ebullience was such an asset to the PTs when we were looking for new directions in those heady days of early 1967 and we both became more immersed and involved with The Pretty Things’ psyche, which was being re-invented day by day. Our recorded output told the story quite succinctly.
Jon was a strong member of the PTs’ line-up that went through the EMI years which produced our classics ‘SF Sorrow’ and ‘Parachute’ and the Swan Song years. A period of uncertainty followed that era, that was finally brought to an end when we re-formed to make another album for Warner Brothers - “Cross Talk”. It just seemed like business as usual, albeit with different musical horizons for us. There was always something comfortingly familiar whenever Jon, Phil and myself sang together - it had become part of our ‘signature output’, we could slot back into it almost without thinking - it was second nature to us, and always with Jon’s unmistakeable falsetto on top being the icing on the cake.
“Love Is Good”, is probably the most important song that Jon wrote for The Pretty Things. It came on an album called “Freeway Madness” that I produced for Warner Brothers in 1972. I always thought that Jon had tremendous potential as a song writer, but for some reason he didn’t seem to give it his full attention.
Through all the years Jon and I remained close and true to our roots, and frequently embarked on joint projects together - it was a strong bond, and as in the case of Phil May, I still feel connected.
In this brief tribute, I have barely scratched the surface of our life-long friendship, but I’m happy to report that Jon recently completed his autobiography, and although I haven’t read it, I understand that it is ready for publication, and I’m sure that many of the gaps I left will be filled in that book.
On the 9th May, 2023, Jon Povey, the long-standing keyboard player with “The Pretty Things” died, in Spain, where he had been based for many years, after a long battle with cancer. He was 80 years of age.
He had a long and important career in music, contributing to many significant recordings, particularly “The Pretty Things” 1968 classic – “S. F. Sorrow” – which is regularly cited as one of the Top 100 albums of all time. The record was made at Abbey Road, at the same time as The Beatles, “Sgt. Pepper. The Pink Floyd’s “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” and The Zombies “Odyssey and Oracle”.
He was a driving force in the seminal Pretty Things’ 1970’s recorded output, when the band were the first artists to be signed to Swansong Records, Led Zeppelin’s record label, and where his trademark driving keyboard style and high falsetto vocals contributed much to the band’s sound. In all, Povey featured on 9 of the band’s 13 studio albums over four decades between 1967 and 2007.
More recently he performed with “The Pretty Things” at their last live performance, in November, 2018 at London’s O2, accompanied by David Gilmour and Van Morrison.
He is survived by his long-term wife, Rogie, and two sons, Aaron and Christian.
The Pretty Things Announce Career Spanning Thirteen Album Set
Madfish are proud to present, for the first time in one set, the complete studio album recordings of The Pretty Things across 13-LPs and 2-10”s.
Limited to 1,000 copies Worldwide and housed inside a deluxe, slipcase style box; every album has been remastered especially for vinyl release with the original artwork faithfully recreated throughout. Each album within the set comes with an individual, record specific four-page insert with rare photographs, original single sleeves and words from Dick Taylor, Mike Stax and Mark St. John. Fans will also find an exclusive, high quality pull-out print of the band in their prime.
1944 – 2020
Mark St John, Manager of The Pretty Things:
On May the 15th 2020, Phil May, the lead singer with “The Pretty Things” died…. Despite his well-documented ill-health, his death was unexpected and resulted from a tragic accident and not his embedded health condition. His is a catastrophic loss and has been felt and acknowledged across the world of music and the arts.
At the time of his death, he was hugely excited and enthused about the impending release of the first-ever, all-acoustic “Pretty Things” album, which had been completed before his death.
I wrote the words below, on the 5th May, just nine days before he died. We have left it unchanged – it remains as relevant to the record - and particularly to Phil and his connection to it, as it was while he was still alive and looking forward to performing these dark songs live and walking a new tightrope of performance.
They will now never be heard live with Phil’s voice, and maybe never at all, but that does not diminish this remarkable record which will stand as a final tribute to one of the most significant artists of his generation, and beyond.
THE PRETTY THINGS – “BARE AS BONE, BRIGHT AS BLOOD” – THE NEW ALBUM.
On December 13th, 2018, following a sold-out show at London’s O2 Indigo, The Pretty Things retired from live, electric performances, after 55 years of touring and recording, due to the ill-health of lead singer, Phil May.
This was not something that the band, or their fans, wanted, but it was unavoidable, given the circumstances. At the time, there was already a new, electric album well underway, but this was shelved as it was clear that the band would never be able to perform any of these recordings.
At the time of the retirement, some sort of return, possibly in a stripped-down, acoustic format was not entirely discounted, but it was not expected, due to the health issues, surrounding Phil May and also to the general lack of appetite that the bands’ two principals - Phil May and Dick Taylor - had always shown for acoustic performance as a mainstay for their work.
However, during 2019 there was a significant sea change in attitude within the band and, early in the year, the band, together with manager and producer, Mark St. John, returned to the studio and took the first, tentative steps toward the making of a new album, this time in an entirely acoustic format. The album - now completed and entitled “Bare As Bone, Bright As Blood” – is a genuine first for a band that has been knocking down the walls with their aggressive and memorable, electric live performances for more than 55 years.
This record has little in common with their past work, save that, like so many “Pretty Things” records and projects, it is wholly unique and an absolute first. Arguably, this record is as ground-breaking as the band’s seminal Rock Opera and psychedelic masterpiece – “S. F. Sorrow” – which is acknowledged as rock music’s first Rock Opera. The levels of inspiration, imagination, originality and musicality displayed are at an equivalent high; in many ways, perhaps, because the whole record is a totally exposed, stripped down, acoustic project, principally featuring only the two band members. For them, this was an arduous and unfamiliar task, relying solely on their fundamental talents and undertaken without the support, comfort and benefit of the thundering band that had underpinned their work for so many years.
This is work stripped bare and reflects the frailties and insecurities of gathering age, ill health, painful failure and memorable success. It is a reflection on two long, long lives in art and music that have always been at the cutting edge, and that have always worked as they did at the very start, in their teenage years.
“Bare As Bone, Bright As Blood” does not allow for that luxury. This is not a pair of old rockers, still the oldest swingers in town. This is the work of two, old men, who are acting their age, maybe for the first time ever. If their health and energy is depleted, their skill, insight and experience is not, with the result that they have made a remarkable, exciting, unexpected and thought-provoking record, that is, against all the odds, another singular “first” for The Pretty Things.
It was a very sad day when we said an enforced goodbye to the astounding electric band that was The Pretty Things in December 2018. It is a very happy day to see them back, finally as the old men they truly are, and finally comfortable to release the young men that, for such a long, long time, they were.
“Bare as Bone, Bright as Blood” – the remarkable and unexpected new album by The Pretty Things, still the tainted, dark royalty, banished from the rock establishment.
‘Bare As Bone, Bright As Blood’ will be released on CD, gatefold 2xLP on red vinyl and digitally and is available to pre-order