|The Pretty Things, Rough Trade East, Bethnal Green (Thanks to Gray Newell for photo).|
Booking midnight to six men The Pretty Things for an event billed as running from seven to nine always had the potential for confusion and so it proved. As I sauntered into Rough Trade East off Brick Lane at 7.25pm to celebrate the 50th issue of Shindig! magazine the star attraction were already halfway through their set and into ‘SF Sorrow Is Born’ followed by ‘She Says Good Morning’.
It’s a slightly weird sensation watching a band in what feels like the late afternoon, in a record shop, stone cold sober so it took a while to acclimatise but after a couple of tracks from their new LP – ‘The Same Sun’ and Turn My Head’ – they had me clicking a Cuban heel in appreciation to the rhythm and bruise hat-trick: ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’, ‘Midnight To Six Man’ and ‘Rosalyn’. Founding members Phil May and Dick Taylor cut familiar figures. Dick, hunched over his guitar, playing searching solos, spectacles perched on the end of his nose, never seeming to age having looked his 72 years since 1971; and maraca shaking Phil still wearing his hair long, only with a wider centre parting. The pair were joined by Frank Holland on guitar, George Woosey on bass and Jack Greenwood giving it some youthful stick on the drums. They can still pack a punch.
The lights came on briefly before Pretties manager Mark St. John jumped on stage to say they’d love to do another song, if we wanted. We did. St. John also used the opportunity to plug the new album, The Sweet Pretty Things (Are In Bed Now, Of Course…), saying it was available on vinyl and that was still the correct way to purchase music; “everything else is just storage”. His argument might need tweaking but one gets the gist. A feisty version of ‘Roadrunner’ was dispatched and the Pretties set up shop to sign a long queue of LP purchases and chat to admirers. Phil, from previous experience, loves to gas and was bang on form as usual.
I’m listening to my (signed, obviously) copy of the album now and enjoying it. It sounds like the Pretty Things, a good thing, and not a million miles from SF Sorrow. Fifty years from their debut LP it must be said they make a better fist of new material than, say, The Who. Eight original tracks - 'And I Do' and the aforementioned 'Turn My Head' standing out after first few plays - plus covers of The Byrds’ ‘Renaissance Fair’ and an obscure 1972 Sky Saxon/Seeds song ‘You Took Me By Surprise’. They get a bonus point for that last one. Rest Sky's soul.
Anyway, after the Pretties left the limelight, tipsy Shindig! editors Jon Mills and Andy Morten grabbed the mic to say a few words. Well, Andy said a few words, Jon said plenty more, thanking contributors and readers alike in a speech pitched somewhere between a milked Oscar acceptance, a censored Derek and Clive routine and a tenth pint you’re-my-best-mate-you-are session in a Salisbury pub. With hirsute seven-foot Jon clutching his little pal Andy under his arm he looked like a big mama bear protecting baby bear. Fifty issues of Shindig! celebrated with fifty years of Pretty Things albums. Congratulations to them both.