Interview: John Bottomley catches up with Dick Taylor and Phil May of The Pretty Things . . .
Posted on: Tuesday, Oct 27, 2015
A rare Merseyside gig for the rejuvenated Pretty Things saw founder members Dick Taylor and Phil May gamely exchange hazy details of North West club gigs some 50 years ago.
“Jamming with Jagger? Yeah, we had a photograph of the two of us on the stage… was it the Oasis or The Cavern?… we used to play The Jungfrau, The Cavern, The Oasis… and… er… Twisted Wheel… yeah, The Twisted Wheel… we didn’t play The Twisted Wheel that often but that was where Viv decided he wasn’t going to… no, that wasn’t Twisted Wheel….that was Stockport Manor Lounge… it was, it was, it was in the pub opposite…. I thought it was in Manchester… no, Stockport. It was!.. that was Stockport?… that was where the hotel was… yeah, I know exactly where Stockport is… and he was late because they wouldn’t serve him cos he’d smashed the place up with The Kinks the night before… he didn’t realise the hotel and the pub were one and the same!”
Blues In The North West caught up with the pair just before the band’s triumphant gig in the back lounge of The Cavern a couple of weeks ago, a show which reinforced the conviction of their lasting appeal on the back of a year which has seen the release of a box set retrospective to end all box set retrospectives and the excellent ‘The Sweet Pretty Things (Are In Bed Of course)’, their first new album in years.
But (and despite their name in a brick on the wall opposite) they don’t recall playing The Cavern in their wild, young days. It was the other Cavern, the one that’s now flattened somewhere under Manchester’s Arndale Centre they recall, alongside the wild antics of drummer Viv Prince, who was merely the most unpredictable of a generally unruly bunch. Merseyside memories are mainly of gigs at New Brighton’s Tower Ballroom. “The daughter of the people who ran it fancied me,” recalls Phil. Hardly anyone attended one show though because of a ferry strike they knew nothing about.
Back then they were serving up the likes of “Honey I Need” and “Midnight To Six”, their own brand of breakneck rhythm n’ blues, alongside near-definitive renditions of Bo Diddley and Jimmy Reed, all still seamlessly sounding the business today. They also still revisit the era when the psychedelics kicked in, with a trio of songs from ‘SF Sorrow’, the first ‘rock-opera’, an album they seem as proud of as much as anything in their multi-faceted stop-start career and recorded at Abbey Road.
“We were all very aware of the power of the place. It was fantastic. But when we played the demos to our manager Bryan Morrison, his first thoughts were, especially about ‘Defecting Grey’ was “yeah, I told you those ******* drugs you smoke would **** you up” (much laughter). He said ‘so how can I get a deal with this?’
Their continued existence owes much to an injection of youthful enthusiasm from bass player George Woosey and powerhouse drummer Jack Greenwood, at least equal stars of the show. Taylor, the Stones original bass player of course, is an excellent guitarist, soaked in the blues, with long-time member Frank Holland adding more guitar and harmonica.
But the two irrepressible art school veterans have certainly put in the big shift. Says May: “Dick always thought he would be a professional musician. I thought it would be something to do until I started painting again …but here I am 50 years later. I still think I’m a gifted amateur. I don’t consider myself a musician in the way Dick is. It’s like I know a lot but I don’t have any of the paperwork to prove it. I wake up every morning on the road and it’s (sings) ‘Hey Mama..’ I don’t know whether I can sing, I have to test it out. This isn’t bullshit, I’ve never had that confidence. When I took lots of purple hearts and speed, like everybody I was very flash and arrogant. Not about my talent. That’s just how you felt, like you could take the world on.
“We’ve been lucky, we’ve had nods from the likes of Aerosmith, The Ramones and Jack White. I remember Frankie Miller saying to me that he saw us at Glasgow Barrowlands and that ‘it wasn’t so much your singing, it was that you had six maracas in one hand and a bottle of whisky in the other…and (puts on Scottish accent) I knew I just wanted to be a ****** lead singer!’ (laughs).
But what do these guys themselves listen to now? It transpires May never goes on tour without “Blue” by Joni Mitchell, CSN&Y, Dylan, Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed whereas Taylor is never happier than when he is rediscovering the likes of Big Bill Broonzy on Spotify. “I like typing in a genre and seeing where it takes me,” he says. “It’s very interesting. I hadn’t listened to Broonzy for years and years and years, literally since the early ‘60s. He’s kind of got lost somewhere. He’s not really hard blues I suppose but he’s an amazing player, listening to him again after all these years, it’s just extraordinary.”
And, indeed, that is the story. The beat goes on.
(Many thanks to Phil and Dick and also to Alan Robinson at Indiscreet PR for his invaluable assistance).
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