What can you say about The
Pretty Things? They played the second ever Friars gig in 1969, played
again in 1973 and 36 years later they are back for the Friars 40th
anniversary concert. Contemporaries of the Rolling Stones (of which Dick
Taylor was an original member), they are still playing today. They are
well known for their classic S F Sorrow which came out before Tommy and
is considered the original 'rock opera' or 'concept' album. They will be
playing tracks from this at the Friars gig on June 1st. Last year, the
band commemorated the 41st anniversary of the release of S F Sorrow by
returning to Abbey Road for a special gig where they had recorded their
The Pretty Things had a
great effect on a young David Bowie who recorded two Pretty Things
tracks on his 'Pin Ups' album and was inspired to write 'Oh You Pretty
By playing on June 1st,
The Pretty Things join a very select band of artists who will have
played all three Friars phases.
Our grateful thanks to
Dick and Phil for taking the time to talk to us - they were two
tremendously enjoyable conversations.
Friars Aylesbury Website:
I imagine it must be an honour headlining the first Friars concert in 25
years? You must be quite pleased about it!
Dick Taylor: Well...it's an honour for us, don't know if it is for you
Phil May: Yes, we've
played so many venues over the forty years, it's nice to celebrate
something that has been going...there's other celebratory concerts we've
done too. When you play places that became temples (of the R&B movement)
like the 100 Club or The Marquee, it's great to play places that were
part of the explosion in the first place
It is an honour! It's an
interesting line up, as you know we have three great bands from that
first year of Friars, yourselves, The Groundhogs and the Edgar Broughton
Band, you all know each other, it's going to be a great feeling..
It should be fun, yes
Also it depends what
people like from the Pretty Things, the R&B stuff, the psychedelic
stuff. So many people have come in and found out about us halfway
through (our career) or have just heard the last album...and turn up and
find out about us.
I was talking to some of
the original Friars members who turned up in their hordes a couple of
weeks back for tickets, and the feeling is that it's going to be a great
buzz...it also went out on BBC News
Yes, they picked up on the
vibe and interviewed people.
I hope it's full!
On to the Pretty Things
Friars history, you played the second ever gig in June 1969, so it's
very apt that you're playing the 40th anniversary concert.....
I would have played that one, I left the band after that.
It was a chemical year!
The gigs do tend to blur and people come up to you and ask if you
remember a particular gig but we played so many...I guess we were there!
We were doing so many gigs at that time? We were doing five or six gigs
a week and recording Parachute at the time so we were always on the
The other one was in
I'd like to say I remember it well...It's unusual for me because I do
usually remember these.
Even so, I remember doing my last gig (at that point) with the band
around that time, but yes I would have done Friars without doubt (in
1969) but not the 1973 one.
Yes I would have been
there, I'm the only constant in the band, although Dick in the
intervening years did some lights for us. We never lost contact, we were
just like a big family and we went off and did other things. Other
members like Skip came back.
And 36 years later, you're
back! and so is Friars!
Will this be a regular occurrence?
Probably not. Aside the
one June 1st, there may be one or two other gigs in 2009 to celebrate
the 40th anniversary.
We've been doing things recently that have been very well attended and
there's a lot of enthusiasm. We just did the Le Beat Bespoke thing in
Great Portland Street, part of the University of London, but it was a 'moddy'
gig and it was crammed. The last time we did the 100 Club, they turned
away a lot of people. Despite the current doom and gloom, people were
still getting off their arses to see us! (laughs). I would have thought
the same would have applied to other (bands) of that era.
I must ask, it's Friars
40th this year, why did you do S F Sorrow last year (at Abbey Road) on
its 41st anniversary?!
(laughs) The 40th didn't quite work out despite us intending to do it.
It just didn't work out. There were various constraints with conception,
rehearsal, availability of Abbey Road etc. When it came to rehearsing to
do it, we thought it was going to be difficult but when we started
playing, it was quite easy really.
It was circumstances.
We wanted to do it at the Roundhouse, but there were issues with Camden
Council. But we did end up doing it there and the Festival Hall in the
When you did the 41st
anniversary gig at Abbey Road, you had a certain David Gilmour guesting
with you. Are you going to bring him with you to Aylesbury?
Er..no (laughs), but ask Phil as David is Phil's son's godfather.
It was great that he
joined us at Abbey Road. The reason for that was when we recorded S F
Sorrow, they (Pink Floyd) were the other side of us (recording Piper At
The Gates Of Dawn) and the Beatles on the other side (recording Sgt
Pepper) and we were sharing the same management and agency. We did a lot
of shows with Pink Floyd in the UFO club and the Oxford and Cambridge
balls which were a bit mad. A lot of experimental bands played at
Cambridge and places like UFO. It was very underground having been
overground and commercial (prior to S F Sorrow). Venues had to be
invented to cope with the style and staying up all night...it was
totally against convention. It spawned its own thing. People like Joe
Boyd came over from America and was captured by what he saw. That kind
of vision. There was a whole film made of the Imogen Festival where we
amongst other bands like Pink Floyd and Soft Machine played. The musical
director every night was Frank Zappa and he would jam at the end every
night with all the band and he jammed on Cries From The Midnight Circus.
This was all filmed, but unfortunately they went underground tried to
release the film without anyone's agreement or contracts. It was tracked
down to Australia where it was a kind of bootleg and it was stopped. It
was a pity as it was fantastic. A copy must exist somewhere and it would
be great to see it. Us playing with Zappa and Victor Unitt from the Edgar
I was hoping to get the
exclusive angle on this!
Actually Phil and I used to do a pub gig and David regularly played the
pub gig with us in the 1980s. Extraordinary, thinking that members of
Pink Floyd were on stage with us in a pub in Little Venice. We used to
do this every week and this led to the revival of the Pretty Things.
David was quite happy to do this.
In terms of your career
you go way back to working with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in the
early Rolling Stones..and then at one point in the sixties you and the
Stones were as big as each other weren't you?
Well....we were kind of rivals. I think they had a more powerful machine
and they had hit records. I'll be the first to admit we didn't write
Satisfaction which makes a difference.
The rivalry was stoked
up by the press. We had Brian Jones living in our house, which made a
mockery of the rivalry but put some pressure on Brian in some ways. The
press coloured him as sleeping with the enemy so he got a bit paranoid,
so we'd come home sometimes and found he'd trashed something! (laughs).
One night we got home before him and were listening to some
music....Brian got stoned and thought we were taking the mickey out of
the music and wrapped a guitar round Viv Prince's head! We thought the
Stones were great. They sung with us in Manchester. Definitely rivalry
and not animosity. It pushed us to make a great record. Stimulation.
Dick, any pangs of regret
about leaving the Stones?
The only pangs of regret I have are that I am always asked that
I appreciate it's not the
most original question(!)
No offence! It is a very asked question and I have two replies...one is
I could have ended up face down in a swimming pool and second is I could
have been Bill Wyman which is probably worse!
But you made the choices
you are happy with....
Absolutely! It's also one of those questions that's a bit like
regretting not doing (the right numbers) on the lottery. Life is what it
is. I've no problem being asked the question, but I just don't think
about it! I saw Keith (Richards) at the Isle of Wight Festival last year
and had a chat with him and it was so nice to see him, a really pleasant
meeting. But I do not regret...I wouldn't swap places. He's a really
nice guy and in a good place. But having that amount of glare around
you, it's an inescapable thing particularly for Keith as he is not the
most outgoing personality. For both Mick and Keith really. Keith is a
really shy guy. Back in the very early days he was too shy to ask to
rehearse with Mick and myself and some friends when I was at art school
(with Mick). It was years later when I found out from Keith's mum that
he had been too shy back then to ask and sit in and rehearse. When you
think of him on stage, it's remarkable.
I remember seeing Keith on
the Whistle Test interviewed by Bob Harris in the 70s and he is kicking
the table because he was so nervous.
So back to The Pretty
Things and 'Rosalyn' - this is where it all started to take off, that
must have been a great time back in 1964/1965?
Your feet didn't touch the ground most of the time. We were doing loads
and loads of gigs and often not just one a night! We were all over the
place. A very good time.
It was a rollercoaster!
In that period, we played a thousand gigs, sometimes two or three a day.
I well remember going past Blue Boars (motorway service stations) at 2am
after gigs and you'd end up with five or six bands all in there having
egg and chips and you ended up chatting about the gigs you played. I
remember Roger Daltrey chatting for a while. People talked! Very much
mutual respect as we were all in the same boat. Dodgy press with planted
press stories and pressure from the establishment.
It's not surprising some
of this is a blur - so many gigs, singles and an album in 12 months and
twenty different countries. We couldn't have kept with that work rate,
so that's where the drugs came in. It would have killed you, that work
rate along with the drug intake.
In today's terms, that
three to four years! So this pushed each act to raise it's own game...
Yes, it was competition
to push the envelope. But whatever club you went to you met everyone.
Hendrix would be there, it was this cross fertilisation....a lot of
jamming and often we'd go back to people's flats. There would be three
cars going on to the next gig and each car had members of different
bands. A couple of Tremeloes, a couple of others.
Well, June 1st is like
going back to the sixties as you are playing two gigs that night as
well! You're playing the Childline concert at London's O2 and then
you've got to get to Aylesbury! All I will say is...good luck!
We could get motorbikes!
We'll need a very fast
So it was all starting to
I remember, like Phil said, one week we played the Cavern (in Manchester
not Liverpool) and Mick and Keith came and sat in with us as they were
playing nearby Belle Vue. We all ended up on the same circuit, the
Animals as well. It was good.
Throughout the sixties you
were embracing different types of music, then you came up with S F
Sorrow, the first rock opera of its time predating Tommy. A concept
In a way. Without sounding pretentious, if anything we got the idea from
the likes of (John Coltrane's) A Love Supreme where he played over a
whole side. I didn't think of the idea for the story, Phil did.
There was a lot of R&B
in S F Sorrow. When we made an album we had to keep ourselves interested
by broadening our horizons taking on board things we had heard or had
influenced us. We used harmonies for the first time on S F Sorrow. It
was more paint on the palette we hadn't used. It was why we got John
Walley in. The idea of making S F Sorrow, we needed as many colours (as
This idea of the Sebastian
F Sorrow character...
We had written a couple of the songs and then the idea of the themed
album came up and Phil then wrote the story and then kind of wrote the
songs round, but a couple of the songs like Bracelets of Fingers and I
See You. Also at that time we were kind of pirates - we wrote film
soundtracks under the name of the Electric Banana and some of that got
incorporated into S F Sorrow
We had done 5 A sides
and 5 B sides, in other words a complete album. Why did an album have to
be a collection of A and B sides? Why couldn't it be a thing on its own
that was a big single? We looked at classical music and it was a life
cycle on a record. I had written a story at the time about the Zeppelin
crash but not in a specific time frame...this was about stimulation. If
we were going to spend a year of making this, it had to get the juices
going and stimulate us. I took that story and introduced characters and
it became S F Sorrow. It was a self stimulation album. We'd gone past
the three or four minute song. The first track we did was Defecting Grey
- a narrative thing of someone's life. It was about the people who wore
suits and were called 'greys' at the time and defecting from life. It
lasted about nine and half minutes with about eight different musical
ideas in it. When we took this to Norman Smith and explained (the
concept of) S F Sorrow, he jumped on it as he understood what we were
trying to do. Then we went to EMI for a very bad advance, it was really
just to get into Abbey Road. So we signed for Abbey Road rather than
EMI. Norman Smith championed it, but EMI weren't ready for it and were
very confused and even more confused when we did Parachute saying it was
different. Yes it was, one side was about urban living and also about
the musician escaping to the countryside and the parachute as a safety
You did a few Electric
About five altogether I think, I was involved in three of them.
That was spread over about
ten years wasn't it?
Yes, one track was used in an ITV series No More Heroes.
It was good for us as
we really enjoyed being in the studio. Once you had done your album
which may have taken 12-14 months, there was another two year period
where we could make another one as the one we just did had yet to come
out and be promoted. We were still writing..we did it as a money making
exercise. We were getting cash in hand and were like session musicians.
The music ended up in films and television. We had to call ourselves
something else as we were not allowed to record for anybody else. These
records were not meant to come out. They were only sent to directors,
advertising agencies etc and you would get paid for a track used. But
some found their way to record shops and it started a cult movement for
the first couple of albums which meant pressing more.
S F Sorrow didn't sell
that well at the time?
It's probably sold more now than it did then, but we don't know exactly
how many because of America
No, it sold nothing,
because EMI just put it out as just another album. They didn't know what
they had I don't think. They asked to remove the story off of the cover
because of the printing costs, so we knew they definitely didn't get the
idea and charged us out of royalties to print the story which didn't
exist anyway (the royalties). So we paid for the story to be printed!
So what happened with S F
Sorrow in America?
It was released in America by Motown on their Rare
Earth label. We never did know how many it actually did sell. They made
a cover which was semi circular which made it almost invisible in the
record shop racks. It wasn't a success for Rare Earth, or at least we
don't think it was. This led to a row later on with EMI and agreements
being reached (which for legal reasons cannot be published here)
No, they never produced
any figures which did lead to a big row with EMI. There was never any
figures revealed about sales. And they were putting us in lots of Tamla
Motown record shops which was no good for a white English psychedelic
rock band. They (EMI) were using us as a guinea pig for Rare Earth and
they got a lot of things wrong with Rare Earth which screwed the albums
up in America. The contracts were very imbalanced. Ten pages about the
management and one about the artist. It has to have balance.
S F Sorrow seems to be an
album that's been fully appreciated when reviewed retrospectively?
Yes, I think so. Over the years, it became highly prized, but now
it's all re-released and the sales have been good. It does seem much
more well regarded. It got good reviews at the time but there was so
many things going on. If it had done well in America.....The Who said to
us, very kindly that we should get S F Sorrow out before Tommy in
America but that didn't happen and Tommy got the plaudits and sales. If
S F Sorrow had been on the right label, promoted properly and come out
before Tommy, it would have sold well. But Pete Townshend can't remember
the album now which is a bit odd.
Yes, everyone you meet
and you speak to or are interviewed by in America and Canada 'got' it
the day it came out.
The Pretty Things seem to
have had a big influence on a certain D Jones of Brixton?
Yes, probably more
Bromley than Brixton. He was a nice young lad. I thought he was a
stalker first of all, he behaved in a very strange way, but he was
sponge with music and was no ordinary fan and he would ask you loads of
questions. He was more than a fan.
Consequently he covered
two Pretty Things tracks on his Pin Ups (1973) album
Yes, Rosalyn and Don't
Bring Me Down.
Having a Bowie track
called Oh You The Pretty Things must have been nice!
Yes, he wrote about us
and driving your mamas and papas insane. He would turn up to all these
gigs in Bromley and Sidcup and art school gigs we did and even then
there was something about him that set him apart. It's alright saying
that in hindsight, but he did. Then he played as David Jones and the
Lower Third. He was on the same agency as us. Then he changed his name
to David Bowie. He was erudite and shy, but he asked the right
questions, not the normal what's your favourite questions...he was after
Phil, I heard somewhere
that Bowie had you in his address book under G for God...
true. Very embarrassing. It was embarrassing for him. I asked him for
the book - as I wasn't going to give out my number when we were
surrounded by fans - so I could put my number in and he handed it over
without saying anything. I saw the entry and thought 'oh shit!' and
didn't say anything back. I just added my new number in and crossed the
old one out. I think it was embarrassing for both of us as it was like
looking in someone's diary.
Dick, you played Aylesbury
in 1969 and then you left the Pretty Things....
Yes, I went into production - Hawkwind, Skin Alley and others. I only
did one album with Hawkwind, that was enough for anybody! (laughs). I
really liked the Hawkwind guys. When I saw them (live) at that time, I
thought they made an interesting noise. They were raw, rough and ready
like we were when we started out. Just as The Clash were. I remember
seeing them, that gave me a kick up the arse musically....it reminded us
of our early days in the 100 Club. The attitude.
The Pretty Things played
again in due course, what did you do in the meantime?
I had a bit of a gap and was involved with The Mekons. They were an
interesting bunch of people. Before that, I had a brief career in a band
called Auntie and The Men from Uncle which was great fun! We did gigs
with The Dammed and Splodgenessabounds and the outer edges of the punk
circuit. By this point (just after the punk explosion) the Pretty Things
had parted company and someone suggested we did a reunion gig in Holland
with most of those involved in 1966. So apart from a small gap in the
1970s, I've always been involved with the Pretty Things.
There were a few
periods where we stopped gigging and people were working on other things
like producing and getting involved in studios. Then the phone calls
started up, from people like Bill Sheppard, having heard Parachute and
not understanding why we weren't playing, and the band came back
together and then we made Freeway Madness. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant
came calling as well as they were interested so it was new impetus. We
got Norman Smith back as well and made Silk Torpedo on Swan Song (Led
Zeppelin's record label)
So enjoying being back in
the limelight with the Pretty Things? I mean it's amazing that all the
bands playing on June 1st at Friars are still playing. What can we
expect from you on the night - Rosalyn, S F Sorrow...?
Tony (McPhee) and I looked very cloned at one point, we really looked
Yes there will be
Rosalyn and S F Sorrow and hopefully a couple of things from Balboa
Island too (most recent album from 2007)
You've enjoyed your whole
career by the sounds of it!
Oh God, yes! Enjoyment. I think if you did music just for money, you'd
be terminally stupid. If you make money, great. Even the Stones at the
outset thought 'money, what's that' but Brian Jones did like money but
was into music for the pure love of it. I remember Phil and I
discovering that the Stones had been paid £25 for a gig and we thought
'hang on, we could do that!' That's a whole fiver each!
Dick and Phil, thanks very
much for your time.
This interview and its content
are © 2009 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and may not be used
in whole or in part without permission.