UK R&B/psychedelic pioneers The Pretty Things are on a final lap of the world bringing their 55 years of touring to an end.
For guitarist, Dick Taylor, who left his position as bass player for the Rolling Stones to play guitar in and form The Pretty Things with vocalist, Phil May, it’s been surreal to perform shows knowing that it’s essentially a farewell to the stage.
“Well hopefully for me it’s not!” he laughs, “but as The Pretty Things yes, and there’s sort of an unreality to it, to be honest. It’s very hard to imagine… ‘oh, hang on, we’re gonna stop doing this’. So when we do the final show at the 02 we’ve been talking about a ritual suicide or something.”
“I’m joking! (laughs). It’s a very odd thing to consider; it’s still fun but it’s far more difficult for Phil to tour than it was even just a couple of years ago. But I must say, vocally, he’s doing great, all of the while.”
It’s a big, tough decision for a long-term band to break up. The line between complete dissolution and keeping an open mind about performing the odd show here and there can be a thin one.
“I think that’s probably gonna happen, you know?” Taylor admits. “I can’t see it being the end of the line. I think if someone asked us to play a big festival… in fact we’ve already been approached for a German festival (laughs) to which we haven’t exactly said no. So, you never know.”
Taylor agrees that this seems to be the nature of rock’n’roll farewells, but is adamant about the fact that the touring imply cannot go on.
“The thing is particularly sensitive in that we really don’t want to con people thinking it is the last opportunity. But to a certain extent it will be because it’s great playing small clubs, I love it, but when it starts to become fairly difficult for Phil to do these gigs in the sense that it’s hard just climbing up stairs…
“He gets onstage and he’s full of beans and everything, but it’s all the rest of the stuff which he finds really hard.”
Taylor speaks fondly and with affection for May. It’s a friendship that has lasted one of the toughest tests imaginable – half a century on the road together in a rock’n’roll band.
“We’ve always been friends,” he notes. “Luckily, we’re not in the position like some of those bands that go onstage but never speak to each other apart from that (laughs). We’re definitely not in that position. We’re very good friends.
“It’s very easy, not to fall out with people but to lose contact with them. In the period I wasn’t in the band (1970-77) I was still friends with Phil and will always continue to be so. We probably want to kill one another occasionally, but there you go.”
From the start, The Pretty Things were a go-to band for contemporaries from David Bowie (who covered Rosalyn and Don’t Bring Me Down on his Pin Ups album), Dave Gilmour and Van Morrison to all of the support bands on this Australian tour. One wonders what makes them such a band’s band?
“I don’t know, you’ll have to ask them!” Taylor laughs. “I guess it’s because musically we’re probably quite different from a lot of our contemporaries and not intentionally, we had a certain coolness, maybe. I think we always tried and played what we wanted to play, so maybe that’s what it’s all about.”
The early-mid ‘60s London music scene seems almost mythical to consider nowadays – Alexis Korner, Jimmy Page, The Beatles, Brian Jones (who already had a blues history before he began making rock history).
A hotspot of devotees to what was essentially an American form of music with so many of them being so damn good at it.
“To me it all happened just because of the love of the music,” Taylor says. “You’d listen to Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf and think, ‘Jesus, I wish I could do that’. The person who had the hardest job was always the vocalist, because you can play and it’s difficult to get that authentic sound, but the vocalists had the worst job because it’s very hard to assume a totally different identity.
“I think one of the reasons that we kind of came across a bit different is that Phil never tried to just be a slavish imitator of the black R&B artists. We kind of put our own slant on it in a way, which all of the bands who became successful did. But it’s the love of the music which made all of us want to do it. There’s no other reason, really. Certainly, when The Stones started, no one was doing it with the intention of becoming the world’s biggest ever band, we just did it because we loved doing it.”
Well, no one’s ever formed a band and said, ‘I wonder if we’ll still be going in 50 years’…
“No, exactly!” Taylor laughs. “Very true. It’s a shame, in a way, that we didn’t outlast The Stones… that would’ve been good.”
Indeed. Taylor recalls that at the time there was a lot of camaraderie between all the musicians in the London scene. The rivalry and petty jealousies came from management level.
“There was a TV show called Ready Steady Go,” he says. “We were on it a lot and The Stones were on it a lot. Literally the last time we were on it someone came up to me and said, ‘you’re not gonna be on this program again, ever’. I though, ‘what’s all that about?’ and what we discovered a lot, lot later is that it was a guy called Tony Court – who recently died – he was working with the Stones and basically Andrew (Loog) Oldham decided that we might be competition and told the people at Ready Steady Go that it was ‘either The Pretty Things or The Stones on the show. We don’t want The Pretty Things on the show if we’re going to appear on it’.
“At the same time, we’d be doing shows and Mick and Keith would come along and sit in with us. Personally, there was nothing really going on. I don’t know what Mick thought about it, but certain Andrew Oldham was pretty ruthless.”
History notes that the band’s manager at the time, Brian Morrison, sent The Pretty Things to play in New Zealand instead of considering offers made from the US. Unfortunately, the band ended up being deported from New Zealand (mostly due to the notorious behaviour of drummer, Viv Prince).
“Yes, well, we’ll draw a curtain over that one,” Taylor laughs. “But I think what it was is that a lot of bands went to America, but they lost money and one thing Brian didn’t like doing was parting with money. He didn’t have much money at that time, he went on to become a multi-millionaire. So it was, ‘we can’t go to America, but New Zealand want to pay’. It was a bit short-sighted, in a way, but you know…
“… one of the favourite questions that people like to ask me in interviews is, ‘Do you regret leaving The Stones?’ and my reply is I can’t imagine my life staying in The Stones. And the fact that we didn’t go to America is what is; you can’t change it, and if we had gone we might’ve ended up with some really nasty habits. Or dead, or whatever. So it is what it is.”
It’s been a colourful history that will close its touring chapter at The O2 in London in December. In the meantime, Taylor will be performing those irrepressible Pretty Things songs as the tour winds its way to that point.
Any personal favourites?
“To be honest, most of the stuff we do I just like playing it in front of an audience,” he says. “LSD’s fun because it gives us an opportunity to go off on a bit of a tangent at the end, so I love doing that. We do a blues section which I very much enjoy playing.
“I just like doing it (laughs) and playing stuff like Midnight To Six Man and Rosalyn is great.”
The Pretty Things hit the Charles Hotel on Sunday, October 14, with support from Datura4 and Rockin’ Hendy And The Roaring Mongrels. Tickets via flybynight.org/event/pretty-things-farewell-tour-2018/