Original Sixties rockers prove they are still Pretty after all these years

Timothy Barber
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WHEN you are talking with Phil May, the lead singer of the Pretty Things, the classic tales of Sixties rock excess come thick and fast. There&rsquo;s the story of how he and the band rented a house from the Duke of Westminster on Chester Street overlooking Buckingham Palace. &ldquo;All the local lords and ladies made a petition to kick us out,&rdquo; he chuckles in his lived-in Cockney drawl. &ldquo;There&rsquo;d be a party and we&rsquo;d leave to do some gigs, come back four days later, the party would still be going on. There&rsquo;d be people in our beds who weren&rsquo;t even there when we left.&rdquo;<br /><br />Then there&rsquo;s the one about Rolling Stone Brian Jones living with Anita Pallenberg in The Pretty Things&rsquo; basement. &ldquo;Brian was having a hard time with the Stones, but we were the Stones&rsquo; number one enemy. It was like being Arsenal midfield player having to have digs with the Spurs team.&rdquo;<br /><br />It&rsquo;s fair to say that when the Sixties swung, The Pretty Things were among those making it move. As the Stones were named after a track by bluesman Muddy Waters, so they took their name from Bo Diddley&rsquo;s You Pretty Thing. (&ldquo;It was a very gay, dangerous thing to call ourselves, not that we really realised it. We didn&rsquo;t think it would bring the kind of hostility it did, which was wonderful.&rdquo;)<br /><br />Their album Parachute was voted Rolling Stone magazine&rsquo;s record of the year in 1971 and their influence on rock was massive: the Sex Pistols said the band were the fathers of punk and Steve Tyler of Aerosmith said that they formed the band after hearing their version of Roadrunner.<br /><br />They might have been around since the start of modern rock, but the band is still going strong. On Monday, the Pretty Things will headline the Childline Rocks charity gig at the O2, and then head off to Aylesbury where they will play the 40th anniversary of a venue where they played the opening night.<br /><br />They will be presented with the Mojo Magazine Hero Award on 11 June, and later in the summer they are also playing Isle of Wight festival Bestival.<br /><br /><strong>COMMERCIAL HEAD</strong><br />Unlike contemporaries like the Stones the Pretty Things never became multimillionaires. &ldquo;We&rsquo;ve never had a very good commercial head, not intentionally, but always made very uncommercial decisions,&rdquo; May says. &ldquo;Maybe there was a bit of obstinacy, we&rsquo;ve done what we thought we should do. Maybe to our detriment to some extent.&rdquo;<br /><br />Which of today&rsquo;s musicians does he rate? &ldquo;I think Jack White is fantastic, he&rsquo;s like Kurt Cobain and John Lennon combined.&rdquo; Kasabian and &nbsp;Green Day also get the thumbs-up.&rdquo; I think there&rsquo;s some really good bands out there, although 80 per cent of it is complete rubbish. Now there&rsquo;s 80 different kinds of music, some touch you, some don&rsquo;t. We were all part of the same thing back then, no matter how diverse the music. It&rsquo;s people like Simon Cowell who drive this mediocrity.&rdquo;<br /><br />So, any regrets? &ldquo;It&rsquo;s been fantastic and never dull. I don&rsquo;t think anyone who reaches this age could have made all the right decisions, you&rsquo;d be a disillusioned idiot. Still, I could have been a worse thing, I could have worked in a bank.&rdquo; And with that, it&rsquo;s on to the anecdote about the time the band&rsquo;s bodyguard had to frighten off an aggressive audience with a rifle.<br /><br />Childline Rocks is at the IndigO2 on Monday 1 June. Steve Harley, Jon Lord and Hot Leg are also playing. Tickets for the show are &pound;200 for VIP, &pound;40 for seated and &pound;25 standing, available from www.wegottickets.com.