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The Pretty Things

Thursday 13th December 2018

The IndigO2, London

The Pretty Things are an English Rock band, formed in 1963 in Sidcup, Kent, by Phil May and Dick Taylor. They took their name from Willie Dixon's 1955 song ‘Pretty Thing’, which was initially recorded by Bo Diddley. The Pretty Things were preceded by Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys, which consisted of Dick Taylor on bass, fellow Sidcup Art College student Keith Richards on guitar and Mick Jagger on vocals. When Brian Jones was recruiting for his own band, all three joined Jones and Ian Stewart and were dubbed the "Rollin' Stones" by Jones in June 1962. Taylor quit the Stones five months later, when he was accepted at the Central School of Art and Design in London. It was there that Taylor met Phil May and The Pretty Things were born. They recruited John Stax on bass, Brian Pendleton on rhythm guitar and Pete Kitley on drums. Kitley was soon replaced by Viv Prince, followed by Twink and then Skip Alan, Alan being their longest serving drummer. Over the last fifty-five years the band have had about thirty six different members pass through their ranks.

A pure Rhythm and Blues band in their early years, with several singles charting in the UK including ‘Rosalyn’ no. 41, ‘Don't Bring Me Down’ no. 10, and ‘Honey I Need’ no. 13, they later embraced other genres such as Psychedelic Rock in the late 1960’s, with albums such as ‘Emotions’ in 1967, ‘S.F. Sorrow’ in 1968 and ‘Parachute’ in 1970, and then Hard Rock in the early 1970’s with albums ‘Freeway Madness’ in 1972, ‘Silk Torpedo’ in 1974 and ‘Savage Eye’ in 1976. The Pretty Things were one of the first acts signed by Swan Song Records in 1974, the label created by Led Zeppelin and Peter Grant, who then became their manager.

Dick Taylor left the group in 1969 and was replaced by Pete Tolson for their Hard Rock period. The band disintegrated after the ‘Savage Eye’ album in 1976, only to be resurrected in 1980 for the studio album ‘Cross Talk’. Throughout the 1980’s, May and Taylor kept the band's name alive with a rotating cast of supporting musicians, touring extensively in continental Europe, especially Germany where they retained a loyal fan base.

In September 1998 the classic ‘S.F. Sorrow’ line-up of Phil May, Dick Taylor, Wally Waller, Jon Povey and Skip Alan got back together with new guitarist Frank Holland, for the live netcast re-recording of ‘S.F. Sorrow’ at Abbey Road Studios. David Gilmour and Arthur Brown guested with the band for this special event. In 1999, the ‘S.F. Sorrow’ line-up released their tenth studio album ‘Rage Before Beauty’ on Snapper Music. A solid return to form with well-crafted songs and exceptional warm sound produced by their manager Mark St. John.

In mid-2007, The Pretty Things released their eleventh studio album ‘Balboa Island’ on St. John's Côte Basque record label. Another exceptional release with high quality songs and stunningly clear sound - an extremely under-rated album. Due to illness Skip Alan, Jon Povey and Wally Waller stepped down from live work and so a new line-up emerged around May and Taylor with Frank Holland on guitar, Jack Greenwood on drums and George Woosey on bass.

The band's last studio album, ‘The Sweet Pretty Things (Are In Bed Now, Of Course...)’, was released in July 2015 on Repertoire Records. Produced by Mark St. John, the album’s overall direction leans towards a more Psychedelic sound, reminiscent of their late 60’s output. This is also the first album recorded with touring members Jack Greenwood and George Woosey. Another exceptional album with strong compositions and a rich warm sound.

In 2018, the band announced that they were retiring from the road at the end of the year. All dates throughout 2018 were billed as a farewell tour, culminating with this final bow at The IndigO2 London. Despite being diagnosed in 2014 with chronic emphysema, May continued to tour extensively, he even commented that he found singing actually helped ease his condition.

This gig at the IndigO2 was sold out for months, and the anticipation was palpable. Special guests billed included Pink Floyd's David Gilmour and the one and only legendary Van Morrison! Bill Nighy was supposed to introduce the band to the stage, but he was unable to attend due to filming commitments, that honour went to the Pretty Things long serving manager, and the reason the Pretty Things exist at all, Mark St. John. This was a good move as his words were not scripted but straight from the heart. His passion for the music and business drive has kept the Pretty Things a going concern for the last thirty years.

This was a monumental and mammoth show split over three sets. Set one kicked off with the current touring line-up of May on vocals and percussion, Taylor on lead guitar, Frank Holland on rhythm guitar, Jack Greenwood on drums and George Woosey on bass. Getting things of to a good start was 'Honey, I Need', a top twenty hit in 1965, hot footing it into 'Don't Bring Me Down', a top ten hit in 1964. May omitted the swearing line this time, probably due to the fact the show was being recorded. 'Buzz the Jerk' came next, a rare live outing from the 1965 'Get The Picture?' album. 'Mama Keep Your Big Mouth Shut' from the 1965 self-titled debut album, was performed with unbattered attitude and snarling venom! Another rare live outing came next, 'Get the Picture?' from the 1965 album of the same name. Not the strongest of songs, but an interesting rendition none the less. The only newer song played was the enticing 'The Same Sun' from the 2015 studio album ‘The Sweet Pretty Things (Are In Bed Now, Of Course...)’, a cosmic Psychedelic gem of a track! Up next to delight our ears was 'Alexander' from the 1967 'The Electric Banana' album, another trippy Psychedelic behemoth and a welcome surprise to the set, segueing nicely into 'Defecting Grey', a colourful kaleidoscopic Psychedelic pastiche, which was released as a single in 1967. 'Big Boss Man' a 1960 Blues song written by Luther Dixon and Al Smith and first recorded by Jimmy Reed, jumped and skipped along with gravitas. 'Midnight To Six Man' originally recorded in 1965 was played with energetic speed and unbridled gusto. The first set concluded with 'Mr. Evasion', a cracking track recorded around the same time as the 1967 'S.F. Sorrow' album, but didn't appear on the album.

The second set proved to be extra special with a 'S.F. Sorrow' band reunion and guest guitarist David Gilmour! Joining May, Taylor and current band was Jon Povey on keyboards, Wally Waller on bass and Skip Alan on drums. Kicking of the set in style with 'Scene One' from the 1970 'Parachute' album, before diving headlong into five tracks from the 1968 album 'S.F. Sorrow'. Starting with the eminent and vibrant 'S.F. Sorrow Is Born', moving onto the delectable and illustrious 'She Says Good Morning', with David Gilmour entering the stage for the remainder of the set to embellish the tracks with his trademark guitar licks. The glorious 'Baron Saturday' sees Taylor step up to the mic to bark out the lyrics. A bit croaky, but delivered with enthusiasm and zeal! 'Trust' gels nicely with all the band locking in. The breath-taking and beguiling 'I See You' shifted everything up a notch, with some fine jamming and guitar noodling from Taylor and Gilmour! The second set concluded with the astounding epic 'Cries From the Midnight Circus' from the 1970 album 'Parachute'. Gilmour raised the bar and lifted the song into the stratosphere with some magisterial fretwork!

After a short break the third set got under way with a mini acoustic set that included the brilliant Muddy Waters song 'I Can't Be Satisfied' and the excellent Robert Johnson song 'Come On in My Kitchen' with snippets of Willie Dixon's 'Little Red Rooster'. May was clearly in his element and seemed to be savouring the moment, with Taylor playing his ass off!

Time for another guest, the legendary Van Morrison joined them for three songs, including the Joe Williams' Washboard Blues Singer's 'Baby, Please Don't Go', with Taylor on bass and Woosey on guitar, swiftly moving onto Bo Diddley's 'I Can Tell'. May's voice seemed to get stronger as the evening progressed, and at times out singing Morrison! Another Bo Diddley song 'You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover' was played with unfettered determination and bounding energy. 'Come See Me', a 1966 single, kept the energy levels up before going back to Bo Diddley territory with a medley built around 'Mona', including snippets of 'Who Do You Love' and 'I Wish You Would'. The band were cookin' and continued to escalate the passion and enthusiasm to grand proportions! The Pretty Things secret weapon has to be drummer Jack Greenwood, without a doubt one of the best drummers I have ever witnessed! He played a stormin' drum solo during 'Mona', full of twists and turns and interesting shades of rhythm. Captivating and never boring!

The third set drew to a close with the monstrous and gritty 'L.S.D.', originally a B-side to the 1966 single 'Come See Me', with Gilmour joining midway through to pepper the song with delightful string bending and impeccable chord action. Proceedings escalated further into the realms of ecstasy as the band segued into 'Old Man Going' from the 'S.F. Sorrow' album, with some exceptional and mesmerizing guitar interplay between Taylor and Gilmour. The atmosphere was electric and the crowd were focused and attentive, riding with the band all the way though this phenomenal musical journey.

The time had come for the first of two encores, 'Rosalyn', their first single from 1964 and an obvious copy of the Bo Diddley beat, slammed in hard with punch, before Morrison and Gilmour joined in for a rather messy rendition of Bo Diddley's 'Road Runner'. Morrison looked a bit lost on this one for some reason and Gilmour managed to fluff a few notes! For the second encore we got a very emotional May and Taylor acoustic performance of 'Loneliest Person' from the 'S.F. Sorrow' album. Hardly a dry eye in the house! A triumphant gig by The Pretty Things and a very fitting way to sign off from live work.

Steven C. Gilbert

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