While I know this is a question you've been asked many times, how do you feel about whether S.F. Sorrow influenced the Who's Tommy? S.F Sorrow came out first in the UK, although it wasn't too well known at the time, and it came out after Tommy in the States because of a delay.
I know that when they were coming out in America with Tommy, they were very worried that S.F. Sorrow still wasn't out by Tamla/Motown [at that time the Pretty Things' US label] in America. Daltrey and Kit Lambert and Pete Townshend kept saying, for christ's sake, don't let us come out in America before you, it'll be a disaster. You've got to get it out. So I would then tell EMI, EMI would telex Tamla, yeh yeh yeh it's coming out. It came out three months after Tommy . And we got slaughtered in America for jumping on the Tommy bandwagon. I think that cast a sort of, almost made history be sort of scrambled. Because at that point in America, the concept was that S.F. Sorrow was after Tommy. And I think in a lot of people's psyche, even though it was made 14 months before Tommy, it will never change. It's just something like a really bad fact you learn in history turns out to be false, but you're taught early enough, and it stays. And alright, you've read so many things since saying it wasn't.
Suddenly he [Pete Townshend] had a change of heart. Because in so many write-ups, he always said that S.F. Sorrow influenced Tommy. Just recently, Townshend's been apparently denying any knowledge. He said he never heard S.F. Sorrow before he wrote Tommy. Never heard on that radio, never heard it anywhere. And it's such a sort of precise thing to say -- "I never heard S.F. Sorrow, even on the radio, never came across it at all." Having been for years, I always thought it was very sweet of him, just to make it very clear -- "hang on, we were inspired by S.F. Sorrow to write Tommy." No problem. You know, there's room for Tommy and S.F. Sorrow. It's never been a problem for me, but suddenly, it's like, it almost sounded like a lawyer's statement. You know, "we want to categorically deny we ever heard any copy of S.F Sorrow."
When I heard Tommy, I loved the Who, and it's great. I had no problem -- "oh shit, they're getting more recognition [for] Tommy." Townshend always seemed to be doing the right thing as a mate, and then suddenly switched. And it's really sad. It's not just me, it's not my idea that he's said it. Journalists come to me and say, "Pete Townshend, in Rolling Stone, in so-and-so and so-and-so, says, this is a quote, S.F. Sorrow's been the influence in Tommy." He said it so many times, and now he's denying he ever heard it. It just seems to me a kind of...something maybe happens to you later in your life, you want to change it. "Hang on, I shouldn't have said that." (laughs)
How was the next album, Parachute , different from S.F. Sorrow for you?
It [S.F. Sorrow] was so radical at the time. It kind of cemented the band, it set out our picture. It gave us a way going into the next five years, I mean, we didn't know any more than two years. Suddenly, it freed us from this pop loop we were in. And I felt that we could always make Pretty Things albums like that again, which we always kind of had done really. Parachute is two halves, a sort of an urban hymn and a pastoral hymn [on] either side. And suddenly gave us a way of going in to make albums as something special, not like a collection of songs. An urban hymn on one side, and a sort of rural hymn on the other. It's that whole struggle that's going on. And so many people were leaving town and getting a farm, which I hated the idea of.
You did some soundtrack and mood music recordings in the late 1960s, in the Electric Banana series, that sometimes had songs or ideas you used on your LPs. What was the purpose of those?
It was a good way to try something out. And then we snatched it back, because, you know, it tended to be a kind of graveyard for all the things we didn't want to use. But things done for specific films, we couldn't take that back. It was really a way of us earning money, because we were under so many contracts. We'd have had to pay half of anything, so we had to go under a pseudonym.
It's only when some kids who worked at the company started selling them out the back door that that whole thing blew. Nobody knew who it was. Unless you were a director or producer of television or radio or film, you wouldn't have seen a copy of this record anywhere. It was sent out to directors, the people who were doing the music for films and TV and adverts. And you had to be kind of in that business to have been sent a copy. If DeWolfe [the label that issued these] sent you 20 records of all their catalog, you'd pick the music you were going to use. But the kids got sharp and started getting a good trade. They were doing like 50 copies a week up in Camden Market. And suddenly, we're in the rock encyclopedia, listing all the Pretty Things things, then it goes on to this Electric Banana, like it's just a normal continuation. And we were under contract to people. We could have gotten sued.
Are those ever going to get reissued on CD legitimately?
The legal thing needs to be sorted out. I think, when we get the whole catalog out, and when we've edited the video of S.F. Sorrow...you know, there's still quite a lot to do. Maybe when we've finished the next album, then it'll be time to say look...it's a lot of bases to cover.
What's the story behind that album you did in the late 1960s with the French guy, Phillipe DeBarge, doing all the singing? That never came out, but it's been bootlegged.
Again, it was another moneymaking job. Wally and I just wrote a bunch of songs for this French guy, who was a millionaire, and he flew us down to his villa in St. Tropez. It was really bizarre, because what we'd do is, I would sing a song for him on the backing track. He would go back to the Hilton, and lie on his pillow with a Walkman, learning how to sing the song, and the phrasing. And then he'd come back to the studio the next day to sing it, having learned how to sing it. No kind of falseness about [him being] a musician. He just wanted to make a record with the Pretty Things. And he was prepared to pay. So it was like, we led him through it completely. And it was an interesting experience.
But I think, you know, because of the sort of people involved, it could only be, certainly, limited. Because there was restrictions in the fact that the guy who was Phillipe DeBarge, he had minimal talent. We'd play the backing track loud, and I'd sing into his Dictaphone so he could hear how to phrase it. There's some music on it, but it goes far because it didn't have a lead vocal delivery, because he'd never sung before. He had no way...he still was learning. It was a learning curve thing. His English wasn't that good, so [he] had to paraphrase my English phrases.
Dick Taylor [lead guitarist and song co-writer] left the band at the end of the 1960s, right before Parachute. Do you think the Pretty Things' records would have been any different had he stayed longer?
I don't think Parachute would have been any different. 'Cause Parachute was up and running when Dick was leaving. While he was packing, we kind of almost got Parachute together. It was one of those rare times where Wally [Waller] and I, just two people, wrote the whole album. I think it was the only time we've ever done demos up to a point...some of the Parachute demos are better than what we ended up with. Because they have a certain something.
I won't ever do any kind of demos, or record, until you have to in the studio. 'Cause I think, you get to a certain amount of time when you play a song, and you kill it. You can never do it fresh again. You're starting to change it already, because you're bored with the way it's been for the last month, so you're already in your head. So I'll never a finish a song. I'll have an idea what the lyrics are about. I won't even write the final lyrics until the day I'm actually doing the vocals, or we're actually cutting the track.
The last thing [album we recorded], we did everything live as much as we could. And on that day that we did that song, I would finish the lyrics. So when I read/sang them, they were fresh to me. It's just the way I choose to work. I can't live with the lyrics for a long time, polish it up. Because if it doesn't come as a surprise to me...I like it when there's words, I try to sing 'em, I don't know how they're going to fit in it. Because then something happens musically. It's not just what the text is saying, it's how the word sounds, and the instrumentation.
Was it a big adjustment when Dick left, since he was the only other original member left?
It was quite a shock, but again, people have always left this band for reasons of their own. People in this band all have a life first. I don't disagree with that. Life is more important than being in the band. Parachute wouldn't have changed, because that was already up and running. But after that, the next big change was getting Pete Tolson in. That was quite an ingredient. And really helped change the direction of the band again. Not the direction, but added another element. Pete's rhythmical guitar playing, he was one of the most rhythmic soloists I've ever heard. One of the greatest guitarists I've ever heard. Some of his solos, you know.
And what's interesting is, these people like Jimmy Page, Dave Gilmour think he's probably one of the best unsung guitarists ever. And the sad thing is, he doesn't play the guitar anymore. He was invited back into this lineup, and he rehearsed with us for about six, eight weeks, and couldn't handle the pressure. I suppose if Dick had stayed, Peter wouldn't have come in. So it's very hard to say. Peter was very much about the next phase, the Freeway Madness, Silk Torpedo, Savage Eye [albums].
What was your favorite Pretty Things lineup?
The initial lineup kind of gave birth to the whole thing anyway, so that was terribly important. Then I think, probably, the S.F. Sorrow lineup. And then I think, I also have a lot of affection...with the Swan Song [label] band [in the 1970s], it was like ESP. I've never been with a bunch of, five other people, where we'd change things onstage midway through a song. We'd suddenly go into something completely different. It was so sharp, the feeling. The band was so tight. I don't think I've ever played with such a tight band, it was scary.
To some extent, it was a trap, because we got American slick. We were that sharp. And it's something I've always resisted about a lot of American bands, is that it gets too slick, too clever. But it was just this joy of playing stuff. The harmonies were right there. And we lived it, it was our life, 24 hours a day with no stop, just playing live and doing 53 cities. It was unbelievable. But, you know, for different reasons. There's moments on Silk Torpedo and Savage Eye which I think I really enjoy. It was just six people working really well together. For that experience alone, that lineup means quite a lot.
Did you have to change your live performances significantly as your material evolved so much?
I don't know whether we did really change, the live band. That was much less...if you're doing, say, harmonies, there's certain restrictions on movement anyway. People can't be dashing all over the place. You gotta be near a mike. There are certain things that come into play. But I think the aggression and the kind of slight sort of anarchic approach has always been...I mean, we've never had a stage show like written out. Obviously, as I say, when you're doing fairly complicated stuff, you have to be a little bit more together, or something that allows you to be a little more together, to get through it. Otherwise you wouldn't be able to hang on to the tail of the thing, and you'd lose it. Sometimes you did. When we took many drugs.
I think people who went to see the Pretty Things got used to certain things happening. Somebody climbing up the side of the speakers...both Skip and Twink [who replaced Alan in the group for a while in the late 1960s] killed themselves many times. There was always this element of danger. And for us, too. We didn't know what was going to happen until it happened, and then you had to go with the flow. It's just something that evolved. I think later shows, maybe people have gotten used to the sort of outrageous...but we've never gone onstage with any kind of preconcept of what's going to happen. I'm quite mesmerized sometimes. Suddenly somebody whistles past me who's meant to be behind the drumkit, who's now standing next to me, and John's now playing drums, it's like, oh, fuck, here we go. So we won't be able to end this number, because he's meant to end it on the keyboards. What the fuck are we going to do when we get there? Something happens, we go into another number. But I don't know what's going to happen. That's great, because it stops you getting stale.
Do you think the Pretty Things have had much influence on other bands?
I found out the other day that Johnny Rotten was taken by...his mom was a big Pretty Things fan. And he was taken from the age of 12 to see all the Pretty Things concerts. They've always said they were influenced by the Pretty Things. That's what they say. The reason I probably like Nirvana was I liked their, I thought their attitude was very Pretty Things. It seemed to be completely [the] antithesis of corporations. If they went to an awards ceremony, it was on their terms, it wasn't like...they didn't suck up. I thought some of the songwriting was great, like Lennon could have written them. I thought [Cobain] was very talented.
Then I got more into Nirvana when I heard the Unplugged album. 'Cause I realized, the songs were fucking beautiful. Really well-crafted, really exciting songs. Covered possibly by the production of the originals. But underneath, it was a really nice song. Nice changes, and I thought, their attitude was great. They had lots of attitude.
I think David Bowie was influenced by the Pretty Things. He was also playing R&B when he was starting in the mid-1960s, and he covered a couple of early Pretty Things songs on his Pin-Ups album.
He [Bowie] used to come to all the early concerts. He used to come to all the gigs, and we were at the same art school. He was a year behind me, and Keith and Dick were a year ahead of me. Dave's another kindred spirit, somebody trying to do something different.
We got involved in this business, and suddenly there seemed to be all these rules, how you make a single and how you make a B-side. It's like, where's this written? Why are we going to do this again? We've done that for three albums. There seemed to be a formula for everything. But nobody can explain why that formula was there, that that's what you did. We always said, "Show me where it's written down!" And because they could never show you where it was written down, they said, "well, because that's what you do."
How did the 30th anniversary concert of S.F. Sorrow, done at Abbey Road and broadcast live on the internet, happen?
Originally, it was going to be done at the Roundhouse, or the 30th anniversary of the Summer of Love. And Mark, the manager, worked very hard to try and get this Summer of Love festival 30th anniversary. And the corporation council were really difficult. So, having rehearsed to do this, it then seemed it wasn't going to happen.
So Dougie from the record company said, wouldn't it be great if we could find somewhere else to do S.F. Sorrow, that has a relevance? So he said, how about if we could hire Abbey Road and do it there, because that would be relevant. The Roundhouse was relevant, because that was the London center of the Summer of Love. So without a venue, it didn't seem a place to play S.F. Sorrow. But when Dougie came up with the idea of getting..."if I can get Abbey Road and we put it on the internet, would you do it?"
So we went back into rehearsals, and finished rehearsing it, and that's how it happened.
How did David Gilmour and Arthur Brown end up playing with you on the concert?
David was there because the record company said to me, would you like to invite any guests? And I said, not particularly. And I said, if there's anybody who's any relevance to this, it's Gilmour, 'cause he was in the studio next door. And the whole Floyd/Pretty Things relationship was quite strong. So David was invited, and then we ended up with Skip's son playing, covering the extra percussion. And Arthur doing the narration.
Had you ever done S.F. Sorrow start-to-finish live before?
We'd done a mime show with it, where I narrated and the band and girlfriends mimed to the songs. But we'd never done it completely through live. It's the only time the thing's ever been played live, that time, from beginning to end. 'Cause it was never played all the way through in rehearsal [in 1998]. We'd never gotten rehearsals where we had everybody together. Either Gilmour was missing, or Arthur was missing. So we never played it all the way through with everybody.
In those kind of things, you need so much luck. If an amp had blown, or a string had broken, bass string had gone, it would have really killed the flow. Because we were all right on the edge. We were actually doing something we'd never done before, for the first time ever, on world television, world internet. When I think back on it now, it frightens the fucking life out of me. But when I walked down the stairs to do it, I felt really weird. It was like I was on some drug. It was partly being in the building, which was pretty weird. It was unbelievable. This strange effect, a real kind of stuff coming out of the walls, it was amazing. I hadn't really been in there...I'd been in there once, I think, since we finished recording with EMI. It's just one of those kind of establishments, it's like Winterland [or] something. It just has a special vibe about it. When you look at it, it's a shithole. But something happens.
Abbey Road was like a ministry, government ministerial building. They could have been doing, I don't know, insecticides department there. So un-rock'n'roll. And yet inside the walls, it was fucking all sorts of stuff going on, which is unbelievable. In contrast to the outside of the building. You don't even get any vibe off the outside that this is anything.
But then on acid, you could be anywhere. You were wherever you were on acid. Surroundings were not involved. I mean, that was the great thing about acid. You were there, in a pub, in a middle of a field, you were on acid, not in Abbey Road.
How did Gilmour feel about playing with you guys?
One of his producers, Bob Ezrin, was in the audience. And he said, he can't remember when he'd seen Dave have such a good time. And also Storm [Thorgerson], who did Hipgnosis, who did all the Floyd and Pretty Things covers, one of the half of Hipgnosis, he was there, and he said to me, we've gotta get Dave out more often. He said he really had a good time just playing his guitar. I think it was great for him maybe to come outside of the Floyd machine.
He's a much better guitarist than people give him credit for. Either you're a Floydie and you like Dave Gilmour, or people who aren't Floydies don't see that he's actually an incredibly talented musician. He could play with anybody. He happens to be a really nice bloke. He's somebody who...he knows how he's been lucky, and he appreciates other musicians who he knows, with a bit of luck, would be where he is. I mean in this business, you have to realize, it's a lot to do with luck. There's some great musicians out there who, you know, who one's seen walking to a club up north and heard somebody sing or play, and six months later, nobody will hear of them again. Maybe they're in Portugal somewhere.
It seems like the band's more active now, both in terms of touring and recording, then it's been since the 1970s.
In the Pretty Things, life's always been first. And if people have been available, or wanted to do it, we've done it. We could have just put the whole back catalog out, and that was it, and let it sell. But I thought it was very important that, when we got the back catalog back, if it's gonna come out, that we should support it. And I wanted this lineup to be back together to launch it, to play gigs around it. Catalog with a live band is much better than catalog with a defunct band. So to me, it was very important. That if the guys became involved in the whole process, then they should go out on the road and support it.
What's next for you, recording-wise?
When we finished the last album [Rage Before Beauty], there was already the next album ready, in terms of songs. But they'll be old hat, they'll get turned over by the time we start recording. New stuff's coming through all the time, but that's the trouble. I don't want a whole backlog of stuff that I've got too used to. As I say, there was enough for another album when we finished recording this one. When we finished Rage Before Beauty, there was a whole, about another 15 songs we hadn't gotten round to even looking to see whether they'd work for the album. We'll listen to 'em in three or four months time, and start recording again. Or it'll be all new stuff anyway, I don't know.
How does it feel to be able to tour the States now and get a lot more recognition than you got the first time this lineup was together, thirty years ago?
You can't be choosy. One could be slightly hard about it and say, well, you know, fuck you, you missed it. What was great at Coney Island High [the New York venue] was a lot of the kids were like fifteen, sixteen, and whatever. There were a few oldies from the beginning, but not many. To them, it's fresh. I don't think half the people there knew what the band had done before, so I think it's just great, it's another audience. And I don't care whether people bought Rage Before Beauty without knowing anything about "Don't Bring Me Down" or "Honey I Need." It doesn't matter. It's even better, in some ways. Because then, maybe, they can discover that stuff later.
It's like paintings that nobody sees. That's not what you do it for. When we make a record, the idea is to get as many ears on it as you can. Whether people like it or not is...nothing you can do about that. But what you can do is be heard. And if you can be heard, then I think that's all you can ask for.
I genuinely believe if we'd gone to the States in '64 or '65, I'd be dead now, or the band would not have gone on anywhere. They would have blown itself up. I don't have any regrets, really. It would be very nice to see a lot of material recognized for the worth, whatever worth it has. S.F. Sorrow's getting recognition now which it didn't get at the time. If the whole catalog, the whole body of work, is given some ears, that would be enough, you couldn't ask anymore. I don't want to play Shea Stadium. It's not that kind of deal. If we get new ears listening to Pretty Things stuff, brilliant.
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