With 50 years in rock and roll behind him, Phil May remembers it all.
He’s fronted 60s bad boys the Pretty Things since the rhythm and blues boom of 1964 and with the band in the middle of a 50th anniversary tour and headed for Hebden Bridge Trades Club on Easter Sunday, he took time out to tell us one or two stories.
The vocalist, joined in the current line-up by the band’s other lynchpin, erstwhile Rolling Stone and lead guitarist Dick Taylor, is writing a book which probably helps but in a moment he can recall the stories even if these days they seem like another life.
These are tales of the Stones’ Brian Jones, needled by Mick ‘n’ Keith, lodging with the Pretties and indulging in a love-hate relationship which saw him fight the Things’ drummer, the equally volatile Viv Prince, with a penknife and later wrap a guitar around his head.
Or the time when, having signed to Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song label, Zep’s heavy manager Peter Grant insisted a limousine took him down to a shoe store to buy a $10 pair of plimsolls in the States.
Phil still walked, with it crawling along the road beside him.
The band were living thelifestyle of 60s and 70s rock and roll excess incarnate at times, willingly or not.
“It’s gone in a whirl,” he laughs. “It seems like another life and sometimes I feel ‘yeah, that was me’ and at other times if feels like a million miles away.”
“We came back off tour once and Brian had found all the Pretty Things’ singles, melted them and stuck them all over the mirrors!”
Ultimately, and why they are at a respected music venue like the Trades Club, it’s the music that counts and while they may not have been mega-sellers at the time, the Pretty Things cut some seriously good music in their time, and Phil promises a good sampling of it will be in the setlist.
They made their name, and scored top ten hits, with their bone-crunching take on rhythm and blues before cutting quintessential 45s like Midnight To Six Man and Come See Me by ‘66.
From 1967, they released cutting edge discs like Defecting Grey, a backwards-guitar-and-all psychedelic rock classic, and the first rock opera, the wonderful SF Sorrow, which beat the Who’s Tommy into the shops by some months.
Parachute was Rolling Stone magazine’s album of the year in 1970.
The band never sold out by joining nostalgia package tours, which is why they are playing quality rock clubs like the Trades to appreciative and often fairly young audiences.
“There are places which are centres of music and we are trying to do as many of those places as we can.
“One of the things we’ve found over the last ten years is that our audience is often three-quarters young. We’ve been lucky having groups like the Ramones liking you and giving you the nod. Blur were very big Pretty Things fans.
“If that’s the flavour of the day, their fans go to where it came from. That’s really nice,” he says.
Underneath the 60s media rows about the length of Phil’s hair, Viv Prince’s bizarre behaviour on a New Zealand tour and 70s excess while on Swan Song, the band are still playing quality gigs because of the strength of their songs.
They have written some great tunes and as the decades go by, more and younger people are realising it. Some, like choice cuts from SF Sorrow, are likely to be in the set, and other lost gems like the single October 26 are well worth seeking out.
“SF Sorrow has sold much more in the last ten years than the first few after it came out,” says Phil.
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