‘‘When I left the band after S.F. Sorrow, I thought we had made a really good album,” says guitarist Dick Taylor. “But it wasn’t about disappointment over the sales, which is what people think. ‘Oh did you leave because it should have been a hit?’ In fact, I left before it hadn’t started not selling, when it could still have been a hit.
“I left because I’d made an album I was really proud of, and I didn’t think we’d ever improve on it. And that’s how I feel about the new one. I’m happy about Bare as Bone, Bright as Blood being our last one, because I’m very pleased with this one, as well.”
It’s six months since Phil May, founder member and vocalist with The Pretty Things, passed away (on May 15), and Taylor still finds it difficult to keep the emotion out of his voice as he recalls his fallen friend. Because they were friends, had been since they met at Sidcup Art School, in 1961 or so.
Taylor was already in a band, a little outfit called the Rollin’ Stones (the “g” came later); he quit around the same time he and May moved up to the Central School of Design and Art, and decided to form their own band. They called it The Pretty Things because… they weren’t.
We don’t have time to discuss every legend that ever grew up around the Pretties. How they were the ugliest, hairiest, lewdest, loudest, rudest and rowdiest band that the London scene had ever seen — or ever would, until the advent of punk and The Sex Pistols 15 years later. In fact, it was punk that drew Taylor back to music, and back to the Pretties, close to a decade after he put it all behind him.
“I went to see The Clash and I thought it was much more like when we started than what the whole scene had become, with people chasing advances, out of touch with reality and people, and the fact that musicians had to be absolutely staggering virtuosos when really, the sort of music which they should be playing, and which we’d been playing, was far more related to real people.”
Between 1964 and 1969, when Taylor left the band, the Pretties released four albums. Four more followed before he returned, and four more between then and the day he and Taylor sat down to discuss making one more record.
They’d already played their final live show, at London’s O2 Arena, in December 2018, a decision brought on by May’s increasingly frail health.
“He’d been ill for the last few years,” says Taylor. “It must be six or seven years ago he was diagnosed with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and then fully-fledged emphysema. I saw him when he was first diagnosed, and I thought ‘He’s not going to survive this.’ We were on tour in Spain, and I went to see him in the hospital in Zaragoza, lying there with a face mask on, unconscious, and I wondered then, ‘Am I ever going to see him again?’ So, in the end, he had some good borrowed years.”
Very good. There was a new album, the wonderfully titled and brilliantly schemed The Sweet Pretty Things (Are in Bed Now, of Course…) in 2015, and right up until that last show, it was impossible to believe that May had a single care in the world, even as Taylor recalls, “he was finding it increasingly difficult to tour. Not so much the actual gigs, but the travelling and all the stuff that went with it.
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