The Pretty Things are an English rock and roll band from London. They pioneered a raw approach to rhythm and blues that influenced a number of key bands of the 1960s British invasion, including The Rolling Stones. David Bowie covered two of their songs on his album Pin Ups.
The Pretty Things were preceded by Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys, which consisted of Dick Taylor, fellow Sidcup Art College student Keith Richards, and Mick Jagger. When Brian Jones joined the band on guitar, Taylor was pushed from guitar to bass and the band changed its name to the Rollin' Stones.
Taylor (born Richard Clifford Taylor, 28 January 1943, in Dartford, Kent) quit the Stones several months later when he was accepted at the London Central School of Art, where he met Phil May (born Phillip Arthur Dennis Wadey, on 9 November 1944, in Dartford, Kent) and they formed The Pretty Things.
Taylor was once again playing guitar, with May singing and playing harmonica. They recruited Brian Pendleton (born 13 April 1944 in Wolverhampton – died 16 May 2001 in Maidstone, Kent) on rhythm guitar; John Stax (born John Edward Lee Fullegar, 6 April 1944 in Crayford, Kent) on bass; and Pete Kitley, replaced by Viv Broughton (on drums) and then by Viv Prince (born Vivian St John Prince, 9 August 1941, in Loughborough, Leicestershire) on drums.
The Pretty Things caused a sensation in England, and their first three singles — "Rosalyn" #41, "Don't Bring Me Down" #10, and the self-penned "Honey I Need" at #13 — appeared in the UK singles chart in 1964-1965. They never had a hit in the United States, but had considerable success in their native United Kingdom and in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and the Netherlands in the middle of the decade. However, in the U.S. they, along with The Yardbirds and Van Morrison's Them, were a huge influence on hundreds of garage bands, including the MC5 and The Seeds.
Their early material consisted of hard-edged blues-rock influenced by Bo Diddley (they took their name from Diddley's 1955 song "Pretty Thing") and Jimmy Reed. They were known for wild stage behaviour and edgy lyrical content; their song "Midnight to Six Man" defined the mod lifestyle. Around this time, the first of what would be many personnel changes over the years also began, with Prince the first to go late in 1965. He was replaced by Skip Alan (born 11 June 1948 in London). Brian Pendleton left late in 1966, and was not initially replaced. Stax quit early in 1967. Jon Povey and Wally Waller joined to make the band a five piece once again.
After a flirtation with mainstream pop on the Emotions album in 1967, they embraced psychedelia, producing the concept album S.F. Sorrow during 1967-68. This album, released in late 1968, is one of the first rock operas, preceding the release of The Who's Tommy in April 1969 by a few months. It was recorded over several months during 1967 at EMI's famous Abbey Road Studios in London, during the same period when The Beatles and Pink Floyd were recording Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn respectively. These albums share a similar late-1960s psychedelic sound, and the Floyd and Pretty Things albums were both produced by the late Norman Smith, who had engineered most of the Beatles' recordings until 1966.
S.F. Sorrow was commercially unsuccessful, with no immediate release in the US. The album was subsequently picked up by Motown Records and issued with a different cover on its Rare Earth label. The work received only modest support from EMI, and its depressing narrative probably did not help sales.
S.F. Sorrow was followed by the highly-acclaimed album Parachute, which kept the psychedelic sound and was named "Album of the Year" in 1970 by Rolling Stone. During this period they also recorded an album for a young French millionaire Philippe DeBarge, which was intended only to be circulated among his social circle. The acetate has since been bootlegged.
During the late 1960s, the band made some extra money by recording a number of songs for low-budget films including What's Good For the Goose (1969), Haunted House of Horror (1969),The Monster Club(1981) and even a couple of softcore porn films. Not intended for official release, these songs were later compiled on a number of records and released under the alias Electric Banana: Electric Banana (1967), More Electric Banana (1968), Even More Electric Banana (1969), Hot Licks (1970), and Return of the Electric Banana (1978). The initial releases featured one side of vocal and one side of instrumental tracks. Subsequent releases of these albums generally keep the true identity of the band secret. An episode of ITV's "Minder" titled "A Star is Gorn" featured the track "Take Me Home" by Zac Zolar and The Electric Banana.
By late 1970, the group had gone their separate ways due to commercial failures, and Skip Alan was in a group called Sunshine. In 1971, Alan was driving with manager Bill Shepherd when he put on a tape of Parachute; Shepherd loved it, and asked who the band was. When Alan told him it was his last group, Shepherd asked what had happened to them and vowed to get them back together. Within three months, Shepherd had assembled May, Povey, Alan, Peter Tolson, and Stuart Brooks, and the group signed with Warner Bros. Records.
From this point on, the group enjoyed little commercial success, but won the devotion of a strong cult following, especially with critics and other rock musicians. Their material in the early 1970s tended towards blues, hard rock and early heavy metal, as for example the album Silk Torpedo, released in 1974. By this time they were being managed by Led Zeppelin's Peter Grant. In fact Silk Torpedo was the first album release on Zeppelin's own label Swan Song, which Grant and the band set up to release their own pet projects. Silk Torpedo also earned the band their first US album chart entry. 1980s Cross Talk saw them incorporating influences of punk and new wave into their hard rock sound; like most of their records during this period, it was not a commercial success.
With a new manager, Mark St. John, they performed sporadically during the 1980s. By the end of the decade their profile had almost disappeared. May and Taylor reformed the band for a successful European blues tour in late 1990 with Stan Webb's Chicken Shack and Luther Allison. This outfit included drummer Hans Waterman (formerly of Dutch rock group Solution), bassist Roelf ter Velt and guitarist/keyboardist Barkley McKay (Waco Brothers and Pine Valley Cosmonauts with Jon Langford of Mekons fame). This line up regularly toured the European mainland, playing a revitalised set that showcased their earlier, rootsy blues and R&B material, until late 1994. Phil May and Dick Taylor, together with former Yardbirds drummer Jim McCarty, recorded two albums in Chicago as The Pretty Things Yardbirds Blues Band "The Chicago Blues Tapes 1991" and "Wine, Women, Whiskey", both produced by George Paulus. By 1995, they reformed the Cross Talk line-up and added Frank Holland on guitar in place of Peter Tolson. Their label, Snapper Music, issued remastered CDs with many bonus tracks, plus a DVD of a live netcast re-recording of S.F. Sorrow at Abbey Road Studios (with David Gilmour and Arthur Brown as guest players). They played a tour of the U.S. for the first time in decades.
Original rhythm guitarist Brian Pendleton died of lung cancer on 16 May 2001. The following year ex-keyboard player Gordon Edwards died of a drug overdose.
Viv Prince is also deceased; date/cause unknown. He released an instrumental drum solo/orchestrally backed single for Columbia Records in 1966/67 titled "The Light Of The Charge Brigade"/"Minuet For Ringo". Despite what it says above Phil May assures me that Viv is still very much alive!
In 1999 they released the studio album Rage Before Beauty and in the early 2000s, they released several compilation albums, a live album and a live DVD.
In 2003, Alan Lakey's biography of the band, Growing Old Disgracefully, was published by Firefly. The book dealt with the long and involved history of the band, and paid special attention to the legal proceedings issued against EMI in the 1990s. An extensively re-written version is to be published at the end of 2009 with, on this occasion, the full co-operation of May and manager Mark St John. According to Phil this is a completely new book that has nothing to do with 'Growing Old Disgracefully'
In mid 2007, The Pretty Things released their eleventh studio album Balboa Island on Côte Basque record label. The album contains a number of Pretty Things originals, as well as paying homage to their R & B roots. Illness has caused the band to restrict live appearances with Jack Greenwood replacing Skip Allan on drums in 2008, a year which also saw the death of former producer, Norman Smith.
December 2008 brought the re-release on Ugly Things Records of the 1969 album Phillipe DeBarge and the Pretty Things.[citation needed
The band has now decided that it should proceed as a touring band without Wally Waller, Jon Povey and Skip Allan. Malchicks guitarist George Perez fills in on bass and harmonies with manager Mark St John adding percussion and vocals. This touring band is not dissimilar to the Euro-band of the 1990s which kept the PT name alive and the members active and financially rewarded. Interestingly, Manager Mark St John hated the Euro band which he christened "bolt-ons", stating they had no soul.
June 2009 saw them receive the 'Heroes' award at the annual Mojo Awards ceremony.
The Pretty Things (1965) - UK Number 6
Get the Picture (1965)
S.F. Sorrow (1968)
Parachute (1970) - UK Number 43
Freeway Madness (1972)
Silk Torpedo (1974)
Savage Eye (1975)
Cross Talk (1980)
Out of the Island (1987)
Rage... Before Beauty (1999)
Balboa Island (2007)