THE PRETTY THINGS The X-Press Interview

The Pretty Things may sport a former Rolling Stones member but in their own right they are one of the most influential British rock/R&B bands of the 60s. As an original R&B band prominent amongst London clubs and the mod scene, their sound developed to encompass a stronger garage rock sound, and they became pioneers of the British psychedelic rock scene. Their fourth record S.F. Sorrow was one of the very first concept albums of the time and popularised the new and original idea of capturing a story and theme in a single album, which was followed soon after by the likes of The Who and Pink Floyd. The Pretty Things will be performing at The Charles Hotel on Sunday, October 14, as part of their farewell tour. ALEXIA LARCHER spoke with one time Rolling Stones bassist Dick Taylor (who made way for Bill Wyman in 1962) about The Pretty Things’ influences, style and final shows.

In your time together as a band, this is the first time The Pretty Things have toured Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide and Geelong. Have you been enjoying the shows and your time here so far?

Oh yeah, absolutely. So far we have done the Factory Theatre in Sydney and Brisbane and both of them were really good fun, I must say.

The Pretty Things have been established as a band for 55 years and will be will be discontinuing on December 18 this year. What does it feel like to be playing these final shows?

The band is performing very well at the moment. Unfortunately, Phil May is finding it very difficult to tour, so the intensive touring needs to come to a hold. But we might do some festivals and what have you if anyone twists our arm enough and offers us enough cash basically.

When you formed The Pretty Things, what artists and albums inspired you to produce your raw rhythm and blues sound at the time?

Originally we were very much into people like Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry and all the Chicago, urban bluesy stuff. But also music that fit a little bit more into the rock and roll scene, like 60s R&B which developed to become British R&B, and was taken up by a lot of English bands. That was our original inspiration largely. But we tended to sound more rough and fast.

In early days The Pretty Things were also classified by a garage rock sound. Were you aware of this classification and did you try to popularise this new upcoming genre and sound at the time? Or did it just sort of happen?

Well we didn’t know there was such a genre to be honest. We were just doing what we were doing. It was only later on that people started going “you’ve inspired us”, and then we started realising that we were part of the first wave of that scene of garage rock. And now when you hear something similar by modern American and even Australian bands, you can hear that we have sort of been very influential. We had no idea there was a genre called garage. I’ve noticed that it was only really later on that music got squashed into categories.

In the early 1960s, you were in a band called Little Boy Blue and the Blues Boys with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and eventually Brian Jones. How did you end up joining this early formation of The Rolling Stones?

Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys is what preceded The Rolling Stones. We weren’t even called Little Boy Blue and the Blues Boys at the time, we didn’t have a name because we were just rehearsing. Mick and I went to school together and it was just us and two others who used to get together and play. And then at age 16, I went to art school with Keith – we met up totally by accident. Keith had known Mick for a while though. I’d been playing guitar with Keith in art school, and he was too shy to ask me if he could come around and join our rehearsals. And then Mick and I started talking about Keith, and we eventually invited him around. Then we met independently with Brian Jones. He had a band, and invited Mick to come along for rehearsals, who took Keith with him. And then Brian asked me if I would play bass in the band consisting of Mick, Keith and himself. It was at that point that we were named The Rolling Stones.

What was it like playing alongside Jagger, Richards and Jones, and why did you leave the group?

It was really great fun. I only did a few gigs, it was mostly rehearsals. But I wanted to do two things: I wanted to play guitar instead of bass, and I wanted to get into Royal College of Art. Phil May, who was in art school with Keith and I, told me that I should start another band to complete those two things. I asked Phil what instruments he could play, but told me he couldn’t really play anything, so we decided that he better be the singer. And that was how The Pretty Things started really.

Released in 1968, the album S.F. Sorrow was dubbed the first rock opera/ concept album of the time. What inspired you to produce an album which depicted a sense of continuity, a structured song cycle and concept?

Well, we had done an album before that which was called Emotions, which was supposed to have a loose feel to it. But when we swapped record companies we wanted to do an album which had even more of a theme. We started recording and then Phil May started writing a story, and we thought that maybe the story could become the theme of the album. The two things then kind of developed into one and that’s how it started. We didn’t realise it was particularly grand at the time, but we were very happy with the album. We wanted to put the story on the sleeve of the album, but the record company didn’t want to produce that. We had to pay to get the story covered on the gatefold.

There have been rumours that Pete Townshend had been inspired by S.F. Sorrow to write Tommy. Do you think Townshend was inspired by the album?

I’m not allowed to say anything (laughs). I never heard him say that he was inspired by it, but people have told me that he had said he was. Phil May mentioned it in an interview once, and he got a letter from Pete saying “I’ve never really heard the album” and “I will reach for my lawyer if you say that I was inspired by it to write Tommy“. And we were like, alright. Pete knows, that’s why I can’t really comment on that.

The Pretty Things were also pioneers of the British psychedelic rock scene. What inspired the band to change your raw R&B sound and become more psychedelic-sounding? What made you want to change your image? Were you aware of this?

Yes and no. When we were on stage we used to do a lot of experimenting and a lot of improvisation, and we started to not really reflect our records on stage. We’d finished our contract with Fontana Records, and did some demos where we could do exactly what we wanted, rather than what the record company wanted. And that’s when we started experimenting really. We did a single called Defecting Grey which was four songs wrapped into one and other stuff which was much more psychedelic. The whole scene was in the wind at the time, if you know what I mean. We were just doing what we wanted to do. We became part of the underground scene which was really big at the time. There was one club called UFO, another called Middle Earth and there was a lot of stuff going on in places like London. And the start of the early festivals and everything. We were really part of that scene which was great. I guess our sound just developed and changed over a period of time. If we had kept going on with the same R&B/garage rock style over and over we would have probably got bored.

In the early 60s, the band was right in the middle of the mod movement, popularised by bands such as The Who. Were you inspired by this youth music/ fashion movement? Did you classify the band as part of the mod scene? Did it influence your sound?

Kind of, you couldn’t help it. The funny thing is that we used to play mod clubs quite a lot, and then when we went up to north of England to play rocker clubs, the people up there would tell us to stop playing those mod bars (laughs). But you know it was part of the scene. We were most definitely on the London scene. Our hair was longer than most mods, but it was acceptable for bands to have longer hair even though the mod fashion was much sharper really.

As a prominent band of the 1960s, you would have had a lot of competition music-wise, with bands such as The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, and The Beatles dominating the music scene. How did you try to distinguish yourselves from these bands and their sound?

I don’t think we consciously did try to distinguish ourselves, we were who we were. It’s funny you use the word competition because it’s almost like we were really friendly with a lot of them. I was really friendly with Dave Davies and that. So there was plenty of space for these bands.

Throughout the band’s career, what bands have you enjoyed playing alongside the most?

When we did the very first Isle of Wight Festival we played with a lot of great bands. Arthur Brown was always fantastic. Lots of people in that era really. We played with Small Faces a lot who were great.

What can be expect in terms of a set list for your Perth show?

We do quite a spread of the years. We are quite heavy on the S.F. Sorrow album. But early stuff as well. And some later stuff too.

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