In Conversation With The Pretty Things' Dick Taylor

Chris Lockie
By Chris Lockie Last edited 45 months ago
In Conversation With The Pretty Things' Dick Taylor

Image of Dick Taylor (left) and Phil May courtesy of Diego Sideburns via Flickr

Dick Taylor has some tales to tell. As an original member of the Rolling Stones many of those tales revolve around youthful shenanigans with Mick and Keef, but having left the band in 1962 to go to college, Taylor's musical journey began in earnest when, in 1963, he and Phil May formed another of London's famous rock and roll acts, The Pretty Things.

The Pretty Things are also influential things - they've been covered by David Bowie on his famous Pin Ups album (twice in fact). They also wrote one of rock's first ever concept albums, the originally underrated but subsequently revisited S.F. Sorrow, which was released in 1968 and preceded the curiously similar Tommy by The Who by a year. Taylor's band have been name-checked by countless acts in the last half century, and in 2009 received the Hero Award from the MOJO committee.

Though there have been a few gaps along the way, Dick, Phil and various members of the Pretty Things family are still performing regularly and have a show at the Borderline coming up on 4 December. Londonist caught up with Dick to ask him about his 50 years on the London music scene and his memories of various superstars and much-missed old venues.

The Pretty Things started at the Central School of Art, is that right?

That's right. I was with Mick and Keith at Sidcup Art College, then came up to the Central School of Art, and met Phil there. We started playing a few gigs around the art colleges, even played the Royal Academy once, no idea how that came about. And we had a residency at the 100 Club. We've played more there than any other venue in London, great venue.

Where in London did you live after college?

All over the place. Fulham, Chelsea, Kensington for a bit, Earl's Court, Putney, Wimbledon, Ealing, Acton, Shepherd's Bush. Oh and Highgate. We wrote Honey I Need [the band's 1965 hit] up there, in a place near the tube station. And then I moved down to a place just round the corner from the Blaises Club, Ashburn Place it was, near Gloucester Road.

The Blaises Club?

We used to play there, and see all these great bands there. There was this agent, guy by the name of Tony Houghton, used to be able to get some great shows on in the Blaises Club. Lee Dorsey, Wilson Pickett, saw The Byrds in there, Ike and Tina. It's amazing to be sweated over by Tina Turner. I mean obviously now she's become a bit of a parody, but back then she was just amazing.

You left the band at the end of the 1960s — what did you do next?

I had a bit of a holiday, from 1969 to 1978. I did a bit of work with Hawkwind when they were starting up. Then in 1978 I was asked to do a reunion gig and we just sort of got back together. We did one gig and an album called Cross Talk, and after that it kind of died down but then Phil got involved with putting on shows at a place called the Bridge House, in Little Venice, and that was amazing. You'd be on stage and you'd look across and [Pink Floyd guitarist] Dave Gilmour would be there. Really great drummers, Raphael Ravenscroft who did the sax solo on Baker Street, Stephen Dale Petit who was just starting to make a name for himself at the time. It was such fun. And the band just sort of included people along the way, with me and Phil in the middle.

How many people have you had in the Pretty Things over the years?

Jesus, I don't know. Not vast numbers, but there was a steady turnover at times. Phil always talks about it like it's a family, you know, once you've joined the family you'll always be a member. I played with The Mekons for a while; we've not as many people as they've had over the years.

How did you end up playing with The Mekons?

A guy called Terry Nelson, a journalist, I did an interview with him and he got talking about this band. They were playing a tiny little place called The Living Room in Shoreditch. Place was absolutely rammed. And I got involved with them through that, just like all kinds of people did. Great fun.

What are your other favourite London venues you've played over the years?

The 100 Club obviously. The Clarendon in Hammersmith, God bless its soul. I used to play in a band called Auntie and the Men From Uncle in there. The Clarendon was such a great place. The Music Machine [now KOKO], that's fantastic, and Hammersmith Odeon, as it was then. Obviously the Half Moon in Putney. Way back when there were places like the UFO and Middle Earth. And the Roundhouse. Actually of all the venues in London the best is probably the Roundhouse. Such an amazing space, great to play.

Your last album was 2007's Balboa Island. Do you have any plans to go back into the studio?

We've actually got a live album coming out on vinyl that we're quite excited about. We recorded a show at the 100 Club in one hit, about three years ago, so that's coming out soon. There's a new studio album coming too, and a huge box set early next year with nearly everything we've ever done in it. I think the box set costs about as much as my car.

Our thanks to Dick for some superb insights into London's musical backstory. The Pretty Things play the Borderline on 4 December, tickets priced £17.50 plus fees are available from See Tickets. You can pre-order the Pretty Things' huge box set from the Madfish Store, at not quite the price of a car (£125).

Last Updated 27 November 2014