pretty things - The I-94 Bar
Wreckless Eric. Zac Bonnell photo.
“I will never have anything said against that man!” Eric Goulden, aka Wreckless Eric, is waxing lyrical about a fellow traveller in the English rock’n’roll and pop scene.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Eric might be talking about the late Ian Dury, the iconoclastic poet-cum-musician who provided a rough template for Eric’s own career, or maybe one of the sundry punk rockers who attached themselves to Stiff Records around the same time Eric bounced into popular consciousness with the now classic "Whole World World". Maybe even Joe Strummer? Pete Shelley?
Dick Taylor, second from right, with the current Pretty Things.
Pretty Things guitarist Dick Taylor is down the line from Tunbridge Wells in the UK, ensconced at his mother-in-law's house, where he's preparing for a band rehearsal and in fine spirits.
Listen up if you’re proudly “collector scum”, a completist or just an appreciator of one of the greatest rock and roll bands to have walked the planet.
For more than 50 fifty years, The Pretty Things have proudly, unapologetically and righteously scorched their own, unique trail through contemporary music. A half-century (plus) of the raunchiest white-boy rhythm and blues, of punch-ups, dazzling highs and epic struggles, of innovation and exultation, lauded by their peers, vilified by authority, a crucial influence on successive generations of acts, The Pretty Things make it to the mid-20-teens with mojo intact and edge unblunted.
This epochal British rock 'n' roll band is justly being celebrated by way of “Bouquets From A Cloudy Sky”, a lavish multi-media box set due out in February in a limited edition of 2000.
Mike Stax, long-time singer for San Diego's long-running The Loons, is better known for Ugly Things, the magnificent magazine he runs, than his band. This double-headed pointer towards their forthcoming album suggests that needs to change.
“Miss Clara Regrets” is a fine slice of bustling freakbeat with a bassline that means business and guitars that demand to be heard. Stax delivers a fine vocal with punch and good range to tell a tale about an “It girl”. Twin guitars and a hook of in the tail that says it’s a pop song and it's exclusive to this single.
In the middle of 1968 The Pretty Things were seated in a conference room with EMI executives and production engineer Norman Smith at EMI’s corporate headquarters in Manchester Square, London. The Pretty Things were presenting their new album, and their first with EMI, a concept album based around the story of a fictional character by the name of Sebastian F Sorrow: SF Sorrow.
Standing at a lectern in the conference room, Smith, in-house engineer at Abbey Road studios where the album was recorded, read snippets from the story before the corresponding song on the album was played. But it was apparently immediately that the corporate stiffs had no empathy for The Pretty Things’ ground-breaking album.
“They’re all sitting there in their suits, looking a bit bemused,” recalls singer Phil May. “We weren’t sure how well it went down, so the next morning I get a phone call. Because we were going to have both the story and the lyrics on the cover, they rang me and asked me I really thought the story was important enough to print on the cover. I was gobsmacked. Why did we read it to them? What was the point of that whole exercise, and now you’re asking me ‘Was it important?’ Imagine if it came out with the story – it would have been really confusing! What the bloody hell is going on?”
Vic Conrad's band The First Third has a drummer who plays hard and owns the kit, a guitarist who knows how to dance in and out of a tune, a bass player who, like Vic, runs a record shop.
Vic himself sings, plays guitar and two keys. They're really damn good. Sixties structures sieved through to now. Apparently they'll have a new CD out soon.
But I'm here to see the Pretty Things.
As I left, the two original members and one of the more recent recruits were answering questions and signing merch, while the bassist and drummer were chatting at the exit with assorted fans. This is a band who are comfortable with their crowd. Because, to them, they're not that far removed.
Let's get rid of the "original members" thing. Like a lot of bands who came up through the R & B scene in the 1960s in England, not only was their lineup not always been stable, some of the band were linked to the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd and god knows who else.
Phil May, the vocalist (looks a bit like a movie star) and one of the band's songwriters, is one of the two members who've stayed the distance. The other is the incomparable guitarist Dick Taylor, picured right.
Pretty Things frontman Phil May has been diagnosed with the serious lung disease COPD after a lifetime of smoking and is hospital in London. The band’s busy touring schedule is on hold.
In true fashion, "Ugly Things" - the magazine that has championed the band throughout its second coming - is running a campaign to lift May’s spirits by calling for a barrage of supportive letters.
Iconic first wave British R&B and psychedelic cult heroes, The Pretty Things, will perform some of their final live performances in Australia in October.
The band has announced it will cease playing electric shows with a final hurrah in London on December 13, with special guests Special Guests David Gilmour, Van Morrison and Bill Nighy. Securign the Pretties for a run through Australia is a coup for promoter David Roy Williams.
Local legends – and massive Pretty Things fans - including Tumbleweed, The Sand Pebbles and The Living Eyes are onboard to help send them off.
The Pretty Things are waving goodbye. Be there to wave back....
Tickets are on sale from 10am (AEST) on Friday here.
Wednesday 3rd October - Sydney, FactoryTheatre
+ Tumbleweed + DJ Owen Penglis
Thursday 4th October - Brisbane, The Zoo
+ Golden Age of Ballooning
Saturday 6th October - Melbourne, Thornbury Theatre
+ Sand Pebbles + The Electric Guitars
Sunday 7th October - Melbourne, Caravan Club
+ The Breadmakers
Wednesday 10th October - Geelong, Barwon Club
+ The Living Eyes
Friday 12th October - Melbourne, The Tote
+ The Living Eyes + Banagun
Saturday 13th October - Adelaide, Fowlers Live
Sunday 14th October - Perth, The Charles Hotel
They’re entering the 53rd year of this career thing but guitarist Dick Taylor and his band, the Pretty Things, aren’t showing any signs of calling it a day.
With a vinyl only live record (“The Pretty Things Live at The 100 Club”) recently released and a new studio album ("The Sweet Pretty Things Are In Bed Now Of Course" ) in the wings, the Pretties have gone a step further by unleashing what’s probably the last word in box sets.
“Bouquets From A Cloudy Sky” (on Madfish through Snapper) does the band’s considerable legacy justice, bringing all of the 11 studio albums together, along with two documentaries and a brace of CDs of rare or previously unreleased material, beautifully presented in one compelling package.
Dick Taylor and Phil May of the Pretty Things.
Lou Reed posed the question: "What becomes a legend most?" and it's a fair bet that playing a Wednesday night in Sydney at theFactory Theatre wasn't an answer uppermost in his thoughts.
But that's the lot of the Pretty Things on this temperate Aussie evening. A fact of life for one of the original wave of British blues-rock bands and a band who were contemporaries of the Rolling Stones, briefly giving Mick and the boys their first bassist before they'd even settled on a name.
Let’s be provocative right up-front and say that The Pretty Things are not entitled to still be making records this good. Not after 50 years and not even allowing time off along the way for bad behaviour.
It’s not a disc full of instantly catchy “hits” by any stretch - and if it was nobody would listen anyway. The Pretties’ name is a total misnomer. Putting aside the baby-faced engine room, this is a band of three grizzled old men.
So let’s talk about what it is.