The Pretty Things
Tuesday 11 December 2012
'BANNED' from NZ for 47 years ... THE PRETTY THINGS ARE BACK!
The Pretty Things have always been '4 Real'. Attitude with a capital A. Real accents and bolshy attitudes to match, 'the Pretties' eschewed the Sixties pop scene to carve their own niche of hard blues rock. While the Rolling Stones Stones took non-conformity and turned it into a commodity, flirting with drugs and the odd public piss against a garage wall, the Pretty Things weren't content to play the game, setting out and succeeding in breaking all the rules throughout a career that now spans six decades. While the world was supposed to be opening up in the Britain of the mid Sixties, the Pretty Things found themselves banned from venues, hotels and TV shows, thanks to their unrepentant attitude and the longest hair of any band to emerge from the British beat explosion. Such was their vile nature that questions were asked about the band in the Houses of Parliament. Even their roadie created headlines when brought before the law for wielding a sawn-off shotgun to expediently quell a disturbance following another incendiary performance.
Their tour of NZ in August 1965 caused much consternation and hand-wringing in the national press. Disparaged by 'squares' and 'olds' who found them too 'loud', too 'drunk', too 'destructive' and worst of all, too 'hairy', they were subject to public scrutiny by the national tabloid of the time , the 'Truth' (who went by the motto 'Above All for New Zealand) and banned from ever performing in Godzone again... until now.
The impact of that tour on the virtually comatose NZ music scene was seismic. Shockwaves were felt particularly in Invercargill where a group of noisy ne'er-do-wells named their band The Unknown Blues (after a Pretty Things song) and began blowing minds all over Invercargill and elsewhere (not an easy task in the sleepy ol' NZ of the 1960s). Seminal Christchurch band Chants R&B in particular took The Pretty Things to heart and created some of the rawest, most vital music ever heard on our islands, as did fellow travellers The Breakaways and Sandy Edmonds.
Legendary among their contemporaries, Pretty Things guitarist Dick Taylor, whose guitar sound has influenced everyone from Jimmy Page to Jack White, did time in the earliest line-up of The Rolling Stones. David Bowie recorded versions of the Pretty Things most well-known songs, 'Rosalyn' and 'Don't Bring Me Down' on his 1973 Pin Ups album. Bowie was a huge Pretties fan and some say his entire persona was based around singer Phil May's outrageously camp onstage antics. Legend has it that the future Ziggy Stardust kept Phil's phone number in his address book under the sobriquet 'God'.
The Pretty Things' 1968 rock opera SF Sorrow was the first of its kind, pre-dating The Who's Tommy by a good six months. Its bleak song cycle featured madness, war; tragedy and the inevitable decline of old age. Absolutely no one 'sure played a mean pinball’ and the album was a commercial disaster. Needless to say it is now viewed as something of a high water mark of sixties culture.
During the Seventies legendary Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant took the band on at his gilded charges' specific request but even Grant couldn't handle the Pretties' prodigious appetites. On to the present and The Pretty Things particular brand of hard blues-rock is as vital as ever. While revered as 60s R&B, freak-beat and psychedelic Gods by connoisseurs, their music is accessible to all due to its unmediated blazing intensity and raw honesty. Recent shows have seen the band perform a 'fast, stripped back and kick-ass' show to wildly appreciative audiences regardless of age.
Joining the bill will be our own exponents of tough R&B from the halcyon days of 1965 & 1966. All of whom, owe a shaggy nod to the Pretties.
THE SHUTDOWN 66 REVUE with Larry Morris, Midge Marsden & Dave Hurley will perform material from the earliest parts of their careers - when R&B meant songs cribbed from UK groups with names like the Stones, Yardbirds, Things, & Sect. It also meant growing your hair long which invited much public ridicule and derision not to mention a good hiding in the provinces. Returned servicemen would tell them disapprovingly ‘We fought the war for you!' The hair ain't as long as it once was - but the fire still burns.
Fuelling the fire will be The Mystic Eyes. They've backed Ray(s) Columbus and Woolf, and Wanda Jackson even, and will set the tone to overdrive for the night.
THE (AUSTRALIAN) PLEAZERS
Arriving in NZ the same time as the Pretties did in August 65, when they opened Auckland's Galaxie nightspot (after owner local svengali Eldred Stebbing had made them paint the joint) The Pleazers caused many a jaw to drop, with their two lead singers, the longest hair in town, and a scorching set of R&B honed in Brisbane and Sydney. The intuitive Stebbing was looking for an act to replace Ray Columbus & The Invaders on his roster and brought the group to NZ. "What has god wrought?" was the reaction. A live television performance in September of Bald Headed Woman with howling feedback and snarling original singer Bob London (who hadn't seen a barber in some years) caused mothers and fathers of the nation to protest muchly in the local papers. Bob left the group under mysterious circumstances and was replaced by UK immigrant Shane (real name: Trevor) Hales, who brought his impish energy to the group. During their tenure at Zodiac between 1965 and 1967 Stebbing recorded excellent singles, a face-melting EP, and an LP. Eleven years before the Sex Pistols The Pleazers recorded Dave Berry's Don't Gimmie No Lip Child not to mention the ball mashing backing on the Pretty Things Come See Me they laid down for blonde songstress Sandy Edmonds for her mid 66 release. Their appetite for off-stage antics was infamous. Shacked up in a Northland St house, the 'goings-on' - séances, ghosts, naked women riding horses through the backyard, not to mention their nick names Speedy, Phantom, Bunt and Shagger only added to their reputation.
Cut to 2012 and The Pleazers are back. Last seen in Auckland in 2007, once again singers Shane & Bill Bacon, rhythm Peter 'Bunt' Newing, lead - Bruce 'Phantom' Robinson, drummer - Denis 'Speedy' Gilmore and bassist Ronnie Peel bring their R&B to town.