On Friday, THE PRETTY THINGS were announced to be returning to New Zealand this December. The last time they played here was in 1965 – and they were banned. For life.
Cheese on Toast got one of the biggest PRETTY THINGS fans we know, Jake Harding from Thee Rum Coves, to have a chat with Dick Taylor and here’s the result…
It’s that moment; the moment when you’re about to meet one of your heroes. Someone whose music set you on the course that lead to the experiences that defined your life. These moments can be a bit nerve wracking as you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get.
This particular hero is Dick Taylor. Lead guitar player and song writer for The Pretty Things. This man has credentials. This is a man who formed The Rolling Stones as the bass player along with his mate Brian Jones, only to leave the band to study art and to start up a band with a better name with his other mate, Phil May. A ridiculous decision, some would say. A moment of genius, others would say. I’m in the latter camp.
The Pretty Things. The most outrageous band of the whole British R&B scene. The Stones had the reputation as bad boys. The Pretty Things went way beyond reputation and lived out their vicious take on Blues and R&B in the most visceral and in-your-face way possible. The Beatles had long hair in 1965. The Pretty Things had the longest hair in Britain… in 1964. In
1965 1966 they released a song on their second album called LSD (edit : LSD was a B-side and was recorded in 1966. Let me say that again… in 1965 1966!
Also in 1965, and in typically contrary fashion, they toured New Zealand instead of going to the States when it was primed and ready for the British Invasion and The Pretties, in particular. By the end of the two weeks in NZ they were not only banned from the country for life, yes FOR LIFE, but they had left a trail of destruction, screaming headlines and outraged authority. They were also banned from visiting Australia for good measure. This band was not just outrageous; they were more punk than punk.
So, here I am waiting for the phone to ring. Then it does. Turns out I shouldn’t have worried. Mr Taylor is a lovely fella.
“Alright. Nice to meet you. What time is it there?” He says by way of introduction and we’re off…
JH: So, the last time you were here was for the infamous tour of 1965. You were once quoted as saying the tour was “like waking up in a Dali painting with no escape to reality”. What do you remember most about that tour?”
DT: It was pretty wild actually. We were on tour with Eden Kane and Sandy Shaw, which was odd really as I’m not sure that the Eden Kane fans wanted to see The Pretty Things and vice versa. And Sandy Shaw was, well, Sandy Shaw. We were cited as being so outrageous and yet one morning I was walking out of the hotel and there is Eden Kane standing naked there. I thought “hello, what’s he up to”. But Viv (Prince, The Pretty Things drummer and top nutter) was…. Erm… pretty much out there. Toting a dead crayfish around with him, which must have stunk to high heaven and spreading out a blanket and sitting in the street and declaring himself King of the World.
You could never be sure what the gigs were going to sound like either. I had a problem as I kept blowing up all of the New Zealand made amps so I’d have to have a couple of spares there all the time. But the crowds were wild and the birds were great. It was a very special tour and there was a lot of interest as I don’t think many people went to New Zealand at the time. I’m not sure what bands had been out there before us.
JH: The outrage and aggro that surrounded the band, was that something you deliberately cultivated or was it just a bunch of young guys having fun?
DT: I think it was a bit of both actually. When we started out, the image thing, we just grew our hair because that’s the way we wanted to be. We were art school and we looked how we wanted to look and sounded the way we wanted to sound because we wanted it to be a bit more tough and also because that was the only way we knew how to play. You can only really play how you feel it, can’t you?
Also, the Stones had made a splash and so the publicity kind of built up around us, you know, “You’ve seen the Stones and if you thought they were dangerous you should see The Pretty Things”. It all kind of built on what we’d started, then it got amplified and we also played on it, to a certain extend. But, we did what we wanted to do, our way, and that was it. We were only going to play what we wanted. The fact that we did actually become pretty popular was down to hard work. We were doing it ‘on the hoof’, if you know what I mean. We were playing gigs and learning how to play gigs all at the same time.
JH: If you look at the punk scene, they were really rebelling against the likes of the Stones and all the bloated 70’s rock stuff but the punks could relate to The Pretty Things. You were one of the bands it was ok to like.
DT: Well I think so. Remember that just prior to the punks coming out there was loads of stuff like Yes and Genesis, and what have you. The Prog rock thing… (the clear sound of distaste in his voice)… Rock music had become so self-satisfied. What was the most intricate arrangement you could play? And all that nonsense. I think the punk thing was a breath of fresh air and was like we were. It wasn’t about classical arrangements, it was like, fuck it, let’s just do it! That was what we did and I think the punks looked at us and saw we’d stayed true to our beginnings.
The funny thing was that our first residency was at the 100 Club in Oxford Street on a Tuesday, the same that night that became ‘punk night’ in 1976. The punks liked us. We still play there now so it’s always been part of our story.
JH: If you look at the history of the Beatles and Stones there is a whole mythology about how they turned into song writers, such as Mick and Keith being locked in a kitchen and only let out when they’d finished a song. No such fuss with you guys. Did song writing come easy for you?
DT: Well, I’ll tell you how it worked, funnily enough. One of our managers realised that a B-side sells as many as an A-side so you can get some royalties by writing your own B-sides! I ended up writing a riff for something and giving it to Phil to put lyrics to it. It just happened. It’s also a matter of pride to write your own songs. The second album was pretty much self-penned and then by the third album it was expected that you’d have all your own original material.
It was an organic thing really… No one did lock us in the bathroom but perhaps someone should have I might have written more!
JH: If you look at the sounds and the songs from the first album (1965) and compare to SF Sorrow (recorded 1967, released 1968) there is such a profound shift from the R&B blues stuff to the psych and psychedelia sounds of an album only recorded a couple of years later. What was it like to be part of such significant shifts in music and popular culture?
DT: Do you know what? I’m sure that time was extended back then! Time took longer to elapse. Haha. One of the things was that we weren’t doing anything else. We were making some kind of living out of it but we actually had time to do stuff and music was changing so much and the music scene relied a lot on change and looking out for what’s coming out next. Also, it really did seem that we’d been doing things for a while before we moved on. So it was an evolution, but evolution on stage! And we were listening to lots of other things and you don’t realise in advance what you’re doing and that it’s different or new. You’re just doing it.
JH: Lots of bands have cited you as an influence, like Nirvana, Oasis, Jack White but what bands do you see that have carried on the lineage of The Pretty Things?
DT: I think the whole punk thing had part of us. I started playing again because I saw the Clash and they had the same energy as we had way back when. Even the likes of Kasabian. We’ve been an inspiration to and seem to have connection with guys like that.
JH: What about bands from the States like MC5?
It’s funny because at the time we weren’t aware of that much of what was going on in America. We were aware of things like the Kingsmen’s Louie Louie, which was out before us, I believe, and then there were people like The Sonics and the MC5, and of course The Seeds, who were highly related to what we were doing. But we weren’t that aware of the American garage scene at that time. It was later that we realised all those bands were related to us and apparently we were influencing them.
JH: So, what can we expect from The Pretty Things when you’re here in December?
DT: The main thing is that we’ve got a new… well, young… rhythm section and they’re brilliant and really kick arse. We’re doing a lot of the 60’s stuff, SF Sorrow and the like, so hopefully quite a bit of the stuff will be songs from when we were in New Zealand last time so it’s really just a continuation of our tour of 1965. Just with a small hiatus in between!
And then we were done…
So, Dick Taylor has just told me that this is a continuation of the tour of ’65. The tour of outraged authorities, with threats to burn down the opera house in New Plymouth, the tour of dead, stinking crayfish, of prayer mats and the King of the World, of newspaper headlines screaming of the threat to New Zealand’s youth posed by this bunch of long haired, rebellious proto punks. I don’t know about you but I’m excited!
It turns out its good to meet your heroes.
by Jake Harding from Thee Rum Coves
See you December 11th at Auckland’s Powerstation for the band that is more punk than punk.