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The Pretty Things !    


DPRP is doing well. The material which is offered for a thorough study can hardly be processed by the editors. Nowadays, the more well-known artists also find their way to these pages. Even the so-called back-catalogues get attention. Elsewhere in the CD Review Archive you'll find sections on the albums of Fish and a large part of the Ozric Tentacles catalogue. Here you are treted to the "Fontana- en Swan Song years" of The Pretty Things, re-released by the Snapper Music label. A retrospective view on the sixties and early seventies, with the brand new "Resurrection" album to top it off; a live performance of the legendaric concept album and first ever rock opera "S.F. Sorrow". Special thanks to Ed Sander for his translation into the English language.

First of all, I'd like to praise the full collection for its excellent packaging. It's not just a case of throwing the music on a silver disk, wrapping it in a scrap of paper and cashing the money, as is often the case with re-releases. No, the music has been remastered, every CD has additional bonus tracks and sometimes even video footage has been added. The original album covers have been nicely conserved and printed on the booklet, with additional extensive liner notes by Paul Du Noyer (Fontana releases) and Mark St John (Swan Song releases) accompanied by old pictures.
Several decades after The Pretty Things have been pressed in vinyl, Paul and Mark haven spoken to the old Pretties, Phil May and Dick Taylor, who currently still get up on stage to play. With every CD they give an account of these conversations and tell about the time the recordings were first released.
I myself wasn't even a teenager when The Pretty Things were formed, half way through the sixties. Still, the wonderful cover of the 1976 release "Savage Eye" is displayed in my record chest. A fine example why you should never sell the old vinyl. In that period it became popular to also use the inner sleeves for artwork and/or lyrics. The inner sleeve of the "Savage Eye" contains an illustration of a beautiful green eye iris. This illustration has been printed on the disc of the 1998 release, resulting in a beautiful picture disc. Every album in this series has been conserved in such a way and is certainly interesting for the fans.

Paul du Noyer's and Mark St John's writings are so fascinating that I don't want to withhold their quotes from you. They form the 'skeleton' of this review and have been printed in italics. But first The Pretty Things' discography. Have fun!



DISCOGRAPHY
1965/03 - The Pretty Things
1965/12 - Get The Picture?
1967/05 - Emotions
1968/12 - S.F. Sorrow
1970/06 - Parachute
1972/12 - Freeway Madness
1974/10 - Silk Torpedo
1976/05 - Savage Eye
1980/08 - Cross Talk
1998/09 - Resurrection


  THE PRETTY THINGS
The Pretty Things
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UK
CD
Snapper Music
SMMCD 548
1998, August
1965, March (Fontana)
49:01
Bobby Graham
Mark St John & Andy Pearce

Phil May, Dick Taylor, Brian Pendleton, John Stax & Viv Prince


Tracklisting: Roadrunner / Judgement Day / 13, Chester Street / Big City / Unknown Blues / Mama, Keep Your Big Mouth Shut / Honey, I Need / Oh Baby Doll / She's Fine She's Mine / Don't Lie To Me / The Moon Is Rising / Pretty Thing / Rosalyn / Big Boss Mann / Don't Bring Me Down / We'll Be Together / I Can Never Say
Bonustrack: Get Yourself Home
Video footage: Rosalyn

A lot of air-play resulted in The Pretty Things' first hit singles ("Rosalyn", "Don't Bring Me Down" and "Honey I Need"). "Don't Bring Me Down" climbed to an encouraging number 10 in the chart. Mainly because of this Fontana, a subsidiary of Philips, offered the band the possibility to record their first album.
In the LP they made during some frantic 48 hours, and especially in the clutch of the dramatic hit singles it contais, they defined a pivotal moment in rocks development. There was already a tradition of white acts making hits from smoothed-out versions of black originals, but the Pretties could actually sound more savage than the models they copied. They were arguably the prototype for a whole generation of garage bands. Even more than their peers The Rolling Stones, The Pretty Things brought the raw intensity of black American music into the mainstream of British pop.
Their nameless debut contains no less than 18 short tracks, ranging from 2:00 minutes ("Honey I Need") to 4:24 minutes ("She's Fine She's Mine"), as was usual in the sixties. This certainly isn't a walhalla for the prog rock enthusiast. Nevertheless, many musicians got their inspiration from the more rough form of R&B, which without a doubt must have been an influence on the development of prog in the seventies. A document with music of which the spiritual godfather is really Bo Diddley. His writing credit (Ellas McDaniel) appears on several tracks, but his influence goes even further. The bands very name is taken from a Diddley composition, covered on this album.
This remastered CD has been completed with the bonus track "Get Yourself Home" and a Quicktime clip of "Rosalyn", unfortunately a newly recorded clip, which makes it slightly out of place on this authent album. A nice piece of trivia is that both "Rosalyn" and "Don't bring me down" were covered by David Bowie on his tribute to this era, "Pin-Ups".
- Rating: 8- out of 10


  GET THE PICTURE?
Get The Picture?
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UK
CD
Snapper Music
SMMCD 549
1998, August
1965, December (Fontana)
46:09
Bobby Graham
Mark St John & Andy Pearce

Phil May, Dick Taylor, Brian Pendleton, John Stax & Viv Prince/Skip Alan/Bobby Graham


Tracklisting:
You Don't Believe Me / Buzz The Jerk / Get The Picture? / Can't Stand the Pain / Rainin' In Mey Heart / We'll Play House / You'll Never Do It Baby / I Had A Dream / I Want Your Laove / London Town / Cry To Me / Gonna Find Me A Substitute / Get A Buzz / Sittin' All Alone / Midnight To Six Man / Me Needing You / Come See Me
Bonustrack: £.S.D.
Video footage: On Film

Get The Picture is a logical follow-up for the debut, although this time without the possibly highly necessary hit singles.They were allowed a magnificent four days to record this 2nd album. The sound is therefore more polished (guitars), and here and there influences of The Beatles can be detected. There are lots of backing vocals and the scratchy sound of the first album has disappeared. The fruits of their new familiarity with the studio can be heard on a track like "Can't Stand The Pain": echoey and atmospheric, it's ultra-sophisticated by early Pretties standards, conceived directly for recording, rather than adapted from the live set. After the bruising blues-rock of their first efforts, "Get The Picture" displays the beginnings of stylistic diversity. Taylor's "London Town" has a quasi-folk feel to it, perhaps, but the biggest new influence was soul music. Even so, as their current producer/manager Mark St John observers: "Nobody worried much about production then. These first couple of albums are real attacking, monster records. You can hear exactly what was happening, because there was no way to mask anything".
It was still an era when records were considered secondary to the real business of touring. Both the debut album and this follow-up have been released in mono versions. Hence, with "Get The Picture" in the can, the band was once more shivering the timbers of dance clubs, ballrooms and provincial cinemas. The enhanced CD section of this disc contains rare footage of the group doing just that, in London's 100 Club.
The Pretty Things, as it happened, were nearing some of the sharpest corners of their career. They did not, of course, slow down. Their next stop would be the enchanted garden of psychedelia. And the flower children would not know what the hell had hit them...
- Rating: 7 out of 10


  EMOTIONS
Emotions
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UK
CD
Snapper Music
SMMCD 550
1998, August
1967, May (Fontana)
53:42
Steve Rowland & Reg Tilsley
Mark St John

Phil May, Dick Taylor, Skip Alan, John Povey & Wally "Waller" Allen


Tracklisting:
Death Of A Socialite / Children / The Sun / There Will Never Be Another Day / House Of Ten / Out In The Night / One Long Glance / Growing In My Mind / Photographer / Bright Lights Of The City / Tripping / My Time / A House In The Country (bonus) / Progress (bonus) / Photographer (bonus) / There Will Never Be Another Day (bonus)
Bonustracks: My Time / The sun / Progress

And here is this enchanted garden of psychedelia. The Pretty Things' third album has its admirers - but The Pretty Things are not among them. Released in May of 1967, "Emotions" saw this stubborn band embarking, just for once, on a path that was not of their choosing. Doubtful of the Pretty Things' place in a changing music scene, Fontana's hierarchy thought the beat group formula was fading and needed dressing up with mainstream pop arrangements. So they summoned new producer Steve Rowland. But the most radical colouring of the Pretties' sound was done by another outsider, one Reg Tilsey, who overdubbed the elaborate arrangements, much to the bands disgust. On this CD you can hear the original tracks and judge if they were the aberrations that the band consider them. But thanks to the helping of bonus tracks, that are a feature of this Snapper series, you can also hear some of the "Emotions" sessions as nature intended them - free of the poppy brass and string embellishments imposed upon the music. However to neutral ears, the record sounds rather charming - a period of transition from the bands blistering R&B roots to full flowering of psychedelia. It's surely true the songs themselves were softer than before. The "Emotions" material has, at least, a definite leaning towards the wistful. As May says "we were using personal incidents to make the songs out of. Normally someone would get a musical idea and the lyrics would be made to fit that, but these were lyric-led songs. It was a completely different way of writing".
Also, stero had become 'good'. Listening to the album with headphones will drive you insane in no time. Whereas common sense is used to create a stereo sound nowadays, at the end of the sixties the preference was to pull everything apart as much as possible. There are numerous examples of this, just think of the albums of The Beatles, but also the first two albums of the prog giant Yes.
- Rating: 7.5 out of 10

After the setback of "Emotions" the band moved to EMI, and found themselves at work in the Abbey Road studios alongside The Beatles and Pink Floyd. They went down on to make the classic record "S.F. Sorrow".


  SILK TORPEDO
Silk Torpedo
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UK
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Snapper Music
SMMCD 559
1998, September
1974, October (Swan Song)
56:56
Norman Smith
Mark St John

Phil May, Peter Tolson, John Povey, Skip Alan, Gordon Edwards, Jack Green


Tracklisting:
Dream/Joey / Maybe You Treid / Atlanta / L.A.N.T.A. / Is It Only Love / Come Home Momma / Bridge Of God / Singapore Silk Torpedo / Belfast Cowboys
Live bonustracks: Singapore Silk Torpedo / Dream/Joey

By the mid 1970's British rock & roll spanned the globe like a Collossus. At the top of the pile, by a very wide margin was Led Zeppelin, who had taken England by storm in 1968 and conquered the U.S.A. and the rest of the world shortly after. It was announced that they were setting up their own label in 1973 and that the label would specialise in "pet" projects by the band. It was common knowledge that band's "own labels" were always just a vanity. So why would it be different for Zeppelin? Swansong Records was set up - the first signing was Bad Company, the first release record was "Can't Get Enough" and the rest, as they say, is history.
Well the second Swansong signing was "The Pretty Things" and that should have been enough to sink the ship. "The Pretty Things" bad luck was legendary, only it didn't quite go like that. The first album they recorded for Swansong was this "Silk Torpedo" and that was the Pretties first US album chart entry. And... Led Zeppelin had the most successful label ever owned by an artist a record which stands to this day.
This album showed a significant change from the previous direction of the band. there was a size and scope to the material which was a thousand years removed from the original "R&B" band and the later psychedelic EMI recordings. This was now very much a "grown up" band with an album of material which was entirely relevant to its era. The image had also undergone a serious change. The insolent arrogance of "Pretty Things" youth had been replaced with a casual confidence; the faces looking out from the original sleeve photo are fearless, but focussed. These songs are effortlessly, pure, timeless '70's rock. They were absolutely representative of their time at every stage of their career.

On this album some influences can be detected. For instance, the title track of the album "Singapore Silk Torpedo" has clearly been inspired by Tommy's "Pinball Wizard" of The Who. What's more, for the song "Is It Only Love" it seems like they hired the brass band of "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band". And maybe something of Swansong's bad fellow-companions rubbed off on the band as well. Nevertheless, the pure, somewhat raw voice of Phil May can easily be recognised among thousands and clearly puts an enormous stamp on the sound of The Pretty Things. The album mainly has up-tempo rock with a substantial dosis of roll. An execption is "L.A.N.T.A.", a piece of experimental percussion, rather unusual for a rock act of that era. Progressive ?
I never really ran into the album in the record stores in the seventies. If I'd seen it, it would have been mine: another pretty cover. Strange, but the credits for the artwork cannot be found anywhere. As an added bonus to the original album, there are two live tracks included from a gig at Santa Monica Auditorium, recorded in 1974, when the band were supporting The Kinks. Skip Alan: "When the curtain went back there was the whole of Zeppelin; Jimmy, Robert, Bonzo and JPJ sat in the front row, Granty (Peter Grant, manager for Swansong) was in the wings... We tore the fucking arse out of the gig and over ran by 45 minutes. The crowd wouldn't let us go and by the time The Kinks got on, there was nothing left to play but the bones..."
Rating: 8 out of 10


  SAVAGE EYE
Savage Eye
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UK
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Snapper Music
SMMCD 560
1998, September
1976, May (Swan Song)
49:25
Norman Smith
Mark St John

Phil May, Peter Tolson, John Povey, Skip Alan, Gordon Edwards & Jack Green


Tracklisting:
Under The Vulcano / My Song / Sad Eye / Remember That Boy / It Isn't Rock 'n' Roll / I'm Keeping / It's Been So Long / Drowned Man / Theme For Michelle
bonustracks: Tonight / Love Me A Little / Dance All Night

The Pretty Things achieved their first ever US Billboard hit album last year with "Silk Torpedo", their first release for Swansong, Led Zeppelin's highly successful own label. Now the pressure is on to go one better. Time passes, habits form, trouble brews. The notoriously difficult next album is well underway. It is probably the lost masterpiece of "The Pretty Things" collection. The freshness and assurance of the "Silk Torpedo" days have given way to a kind of cynical confidence. There is a loss of innocence and a certain mounting tension audible within the "new" line-up. The stress and tension has, if anything, sharpened the music and set the songs in an even harder frame of production. There are distinct flavours in the songs and the feel of the record is totally unique. The album would be a classic today if it weren't for the prejudices of the current "Music Police". They were at the eye of a storm, like "Queen" without the fancy dress and toting a gun, loaded with live ammunition and not blanks. There is authenticity here and as the habits kick in and the problems deepen, that black side of the "Good Old 1970's" is exposed for the totally uncontrolled fuck-up it really was.
And that's where I came in. To be honest, I wasn't very familiar with the music of The Pretty Things; although I was a big fan of Zeppelin and therefore interested in the releases on the Swanson label. After seeing the "Savage Eye" cover I was sold. And I was pleasantly surprised by the renewing sound. As a lover of hard rock and prog rock, I now heard a sort of sophisticated rock with the beautiful ballads ballads "My Song" and "Sad Eye". Not being familiar with the history of the band, I now understand that these two songs were not sung by frontman May, but by one of the newcomers. Which doesn't say anything about the quality of May; he just "speaks" much better in the more up-tempo songs.
As with every album of The Pretty Things this one also contains compact, complete tracks. Every song has its own character and cannot be compared to the others but merge on this album to a rela classic with rock (& roll), (rhythm &) blues, ballads & psychedelia. None of the musicians shows real virtuosity, but their way of playing is unsurpassed by the power of the compositions. A perfect example is "Drowned Man", in which Skip Alan doesn't put a beat down with his drums, but a composed groove. With such an outspoken feel to it I have never come across again since then: An easy, rolling, gentle swing from a drummer in complete synch with drums and rhythm.
Listen to this beautifully recorded Wurlitzer piano and some rich, deep organic sound that was never a bass guitar but sits way, way down below it in "It's Been So Long". The piano plays a major part on this album anyway, like int het solo of the no more than two minutes long "Theme for Michelle", much to short by the way. Resuming, I cannot compare this album to any artists whatsoever. These are plainly The Pretty Things with their classic.
The three bonus tracks are a fine addition because they have been recorded in the same period. "Tonight" could have been stayed in the closet, as far as May is concerned; it never reaches the quality of the original album.
Rating: 9 out of 10 (Be aware: not suited for diehard prog-only fans!)


  RESURRECTION
  Live performance of S.F. Sorrow

S.F. Sorrow
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UK
CD
Snapper Music
SMMCD 558
1998, September
1968, December (Columbia)
59:38
Norman Smith
Mark St John & Andy Pearce

Phil May, Dick Taylor, Skip Alan, John Povey & Wally "Waller" Allen,
with special guests Arthur Brown & Dave Gilmour


Tracklisting:
S.F. Sorrow Is Born / Bracelets Of Fingers / She Says Good Morning / Private Sorrow / Balloon Burning / Death / Baron Saturday / The Journey / I See You / Well Of Destiny / Trust / Old Man Song / Loneliest Person

Phil May states:
"It's sometime after 10.30pm on Sunday 6th September '98, I'm in the artist suite at the Abbey Road Studios, London, that deceptive Victorian edifice that at some point in the mid 1960's became the second Liverpool cathedral. As the first ever live performance of S.F. Sorrow fades away down these hallowed corridors the memories kick in. Twist, Shout, Help soaked deep into the brickwork. 1967, Beatles on one side, Pink Floyd on the other and with Norman Smith as fellow traveller we are incarcerated here for almost a year in Studio 2 turning a short story of mine into the first rock opera, "S.F. Sorrow."
Fuelled on acid, night bleeding into day we worked on an idea and a direction that we hoped would give us a reason for staying on and playing on in a business that had become narrow and stale.
That's the past, the present has just happened. After the big hand has swept across 30 rainbow years, the original cast reassembled with Mark St John in place of Norman Smith plus added family and friends. Tonight we finally got through the universal communication of the internet, to dot the I's and cross the T's... scatter the seeds with Bracelets of Fingers and in front of an audience made up of a scrapbook of faces from the journey performed S.F. Sorrow live."

And Arthur Brown:
"In fact chronologies are never simple. For instance at the time of writing the concept album which became "The Crazy World" album, I was in contact with Pete Townsend who was associate producer for the project. I had the idea of a concept album for some time. When I went round to his house I found to my surprise he has also been independently working on that same idea, a piece called Rael (I believe it was about China). It became, eventually "Tommy". The fact is, we all influence each other. Certainly S.F. Sorrow preceded Tommy in time, it is, to my mind possible the first story told over the length of a rock album. Pete may well have drawn on it in his creation of Tommy. This is not to detract from his originality - he took his piece one step further and gave it seperate characters, more towards an opera. Anyway S.F. Sorrow is one of the seminal psychedelic works of English rock.
Abbey Road was where a lot of psychedelic bands of the sixties recorded. The Harvest label had its home here. EMI were always in the forefront of technical experiment and of course psychedelic bands pushed the frontiers in that erea. The Pink Floyd were, I believe the first English underground band to chart. They were around when The Pretty Things underwent their 6 month LSD experiment that gave rise to S.F. Sorrow. It is therefore fitting that the current leading light of the Floyd should join The Pretties on guitar. As for myself, I was aware of The Pretties from early times. I played on several concerts with them in 67-72. For instance we were on the bill together, along with Jefferson Airplane and Marc Bolan for the first Isle of Wight Festival in 1968."

"Resurrection" is a new album with a complete registration of the rock opera "S.F. Sorrow" played live. This album might be interesting for prog rock fans because of the presence of Floyd's Dave Gilmour. This opera tels the story of the son of a British labourer "Sebastian F. Sorrow" ("Nobody knows what the F. stands for") just before World War II.
The atmosphere of the end of the sixties is conjured up perfectly on this album, without ever sounding oldfashioned. A comparison with The Who probably comes closest, although one shouldn't automatically think of the symphonic "Tommy", but more about an album like "Live At Leeds". After all, it still are regular compact songs on "S.F. Sorrow/Ressurection", as we saw through the whole career of The Pretty Things. Although this certainly isn't an unplugged album, the performance sound very acoustic. The reason probably is the numerous use of percussion and acoustic guitar. My only critisiscm is the excess of the use of bongo's, conga's, you name it on some tracks. It's a bit overdone. The concert was recorded in the presence of friends and family and has an exuberant feel, without ever being boring or oldfashioned. Our oldies are swept up to an excellent performance. Still every now and then it's noticeable that the years are beginning to count.
Rating: 8- out of 10