The Pretty Things Biography

One of the UK’s seminal R&B bands, the Pretty Things formed at Sidcup Art College, Kent, England, in September 1963. The original line-up featured a founder member of the Rolling Stones, Dick Taylor (Richard Clifford Taylor, 28 January 1943, Dartford, Kent, England; guitar), plus Phil May (b. Phillip Arthur Dennis Kattner, 9 November 1944, Dartford, Kent, England; vocals), Brian Pendleton (b. 13 April 1944, Wolverhampton, West Midlands, England, d. 16 May 2001, Maidstone, Kent, England; rhythm guitar), John Stax (b. John Edward Fulligan, 16 April 1944, Crayford, Kent, England; bass) and Peter Kitley (drums), although the latter was quickly replaced by Viv Andrews. The band secured a recording contract within months of their inception. Their label then insisted that the luckless Andrews be removed in favour of Viv Prince (b. Vivian St. John Prince, 9 August 1944, Loughborough, Leicestershire, England), an experienced musician and ex-member of Carter-Lewis And The Southerners.

The Pretty Things’ debut single, ‘Rosalyn’, scraped into the UK Top 50, but its unfettered power, coupled with the band’s controversial, unkempt appearance, ensured maximum publicity. Their brash, almost destructive, approach to R&B flourished with two exciting UK Top 20 singles, ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ and ‘Honey I Need’. The unit’s exuberant first album offered much of the same. Skip Alan (b. Alan Skipper, 11 June 1948, London, England) replaced the erratic Prince in November 1965. Although the Pretty Things’ commercial standing had declined, subsequent singles, ‘Midnight To Six Man’ and ‘Come See Me’, were arguably their finest works, combining power with purpose. However, first Pendleton, then Stax, left the band and sessions for a third album, Emotions, were completed with two former members of the Fenmen, Wally Allen (bass/vocals) and John Povey (b. 20 August 1944, London, England; keyboards/vocals). Initially hired on a temporary basis, the duo proved crucial to the Pretty Things’ subsequent development.

By late 1967 the quintet was immersed in the emergent underground scene. Their music combined harmonies with experimentation, and two exceptional singles, ‘Defecting Grey’ and ‘Talking About The Good Times’, are definitive examples of English ‘flower-power’ pop. The band’s new-found confidence flourished on 1968’s S.F. Sorrow, an ambitious concept album that reportedly influenced the Who’s own rock opera Tommy. The set was not a commercial success, and a recurring instability - Skip Alan was replaced by former Tomorrow drummer John ‘ Twink’ Alder - only to rejoin again, also proved detrimental. Dick Taylor’s departure in November 1969 was highly damaging, and although the band’s subsequent album, Parachute, was lauded in Rolling Stone magazine, his distinctive guitar sound was notably absent.

The Pretty Things collapsed in 1971, but re-formed under a core of May, Povey and Skip Alan to complete Freeway Madness. This trio remained central through the band’s subsequent changes until May embarked on a solo career in 1976. Two years later the Emotions line-up - May, Taylor, Povey, Allen and Alan - was reunited. The same quintet, plus guitarist Peter Tolson (b. 10 September 1951, Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, England), completed a studio album, Cross Talk in 1980. Ten years later, a revitalized unit released a rousing cover version of Barry McGuire’s 1965 US number 1 ‘Eve Of Destruction’. By the mid-90s they were still gigging, now under the watchful eye of manager Mark St. John. He had successfully won them back rights to songs and royalties.

In 1996, after dozens of changes of personnel and image the line-up was the same as the unit that recorded the stunning ‘Come See Me’; May, Taylor, Alan, Allan and Povey. S.F. Sorrow was given its live premiere at Abbey Road studios in September 1998, with Dave Gilmour guesting on guitar. A new studio album followed in 1999, together with a fine remastering and reissue programme from Snapper Music.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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