The Pretty Things: Records that changed my life

The Pretty Things: Records that changed my life

Singer-songwriter, Phil May, and lead guitarist, Dick Taylor—of English rock band, The Pretty Things—reveal the music that influenced their career and lives 

"Jailhouse Rock" Elvis Presely

Phil: This was my first ever record I suppose, I must have been 12 or 13-years-old. I had a paper round, and I lived with my Grandmother at the time who only had one of those wind-up grammar phones. With my paper round money I bought “Jailhouse rock” on 45, but what I didn’t realise was when you played it on one of those old grammar phones, the arm was too heavy. Which meant I only played it once. I just watched the lacquer peel off and it never played again. If ever there’s a way of enjoying a piece of music, it’s when it’s disappearing [laughs]—it’s like those notes spies get with the writing that disappears. 


"Bo Diddley" Bo Diddley

Dick: There was a programme (on what became Radio Two) which in those days was the light programme on BBC radio. Every Saturday morning there was skiffle club and one day a guy called Chaz McDevitt was hosting—a Scottish guy who had a very significant skiffle group. It was really early, because skiffle was right there at the start of Rock ‘n Roll. I was in my parents back room with the radio on and Chaz said “I'd like to play ‘Bo Diddley’ by Bo Diddley”. I leapt across the room and turned the radio up full blast—it was total revelation, it was amazing, everything about it is so superb.


"Bring it to Jerome" Bo Diddley

Phil: This was a breakthrough record for me, it got me into music. Where we lived in Bexley Heath we had a music hall called Jennings Music Shop which had guitars and amplifiers. Every Saturday morning all the local would-be Shadows and Hank Marvins and things, would gather and swap licks and sit around. Then, one day this kid brought in a 45 of “Bring it to Jerome” by Bo Diddley. I’d never heard it before but from then on he made a huge mark—when we formed The Pretty Things at Sidcup Art school, around eight out of the twelve numbers in our set were Bo Diddley. That got me into music and thinking about being in music, “Jailhouse Rock” was from a little’uns point of view.


A Love Supreme John Coltrane

Dick: I was also into a lot of Jazz and A Love Supreme was great. A whole side of the album was literally one piece and that had an influence on what we did. When we did S.F. Sorrow it was a themed album, and the whole idea of an album not just being a collection of a few songs was something different—A Love Supreme was certainly that. I just thought it was such an amazing piece altogether.


Blue Joni Mitchell

Phil: I suppose this is the one that really took my breath away. [On it] she wrote the best love song that I’ve ever heard, called "A Case of You." When you listen to the lyrics it’s such a testimony to a love of another person—it’s just a great song.


"Smokestack Lightnin' " Howlin' Wolf

Dick: I remember first hearing it before art school and I realised that apart from it being amazing, I actually had a change of playing the guitar part. The guitarist was a guy called Hubert Sumlin, who I’m glad I saw a few years ago before he died and it was absolutely brilliant. He played with Howlin' Wolf for a while—I just loved the riffs and the fact that even someone who had sausage fingers like mine, could actually figure out how to play them.


About the S.F. Sorrow 50th anniversary boxset...

SF sorrow cover.jpg

Phil: It’s the S.F. Sorrow’s fiftieth birthday, and the boxset is pretty extraordinary. It’s got the early singles we made before getting into S.F. Sorrow. They were the forerunners for us getting to our “road to Damascus” moment when we realised the next thing would be an album which had a storyline that you started from cradle to grave. That built up by us finding a style of playing including harmonies and keyboards—we broadened our palette quite a lot in that work up period to starting S.F. Sorrow. But, by the time we got there we kind of knew what we wanted our future to be, or our immediate future. I think if we hadn’t found that, the band wouldn't have continued.

We’d had enough of being a pop-hit singles band doing our three minute singles—we got bored with that so we had to find a new direction. That came really through S.F. Sorrow, and the boxset is fantastic, really carefully put together.

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