The Pretty Things are a puzzle...a band that had the attitude, the looks, the tunes and musicianship but that never quite gained the long-term fame (or the wealth) of their contemporaries. Ahead of their storming performance at Oxford's Bullingdon venue early in October, Mark St John, the band's manager and sometime drummer talked about how they have remained one of the enigmas of British rock.

“It was the Pretty Things rather than the Rolling Stones who were the original British bad boys of rock, you know,” Mark says. “Mick and Keith may have grabbed more headlines but it was the Pretty Things who were the hard core bad boys. They spawned a generation of psychedelic acts and many younger bands and 45 years on they remain a challenging force. They are still uncompromising and are not for the faint-hearted.”

The Pretty Things were the creation of original Rolling Stones guitarist Dick Taylor (who was Bill Wyman's predecessor) and the band were arguably the world's first “garage band”. Amongst the many citing them as a major influence are the Ramones, Iggy Pop, the Sex Pistols, Nirvana, The Libertines and the Who - Pete Townshend once said the 'S.F. Sorrow' rock opera by the Pretty Things was the model for 'Tommy'.

The classic album 'Parachute' by the Pretty Things - recorded at Abbey Road and released on the Motown label - was 'Rolling Stone' magazine's first ever Record of The Year, beating Neil Young, the Stones, the Who and Led Zeppelin. In fact subsequently Robert Plant and Jimmy Page signed the Pretty Things as the first artists on Led Zeppelin's own Swansong label and they have been friends and collaborators with the band ever since. Other long-term fans are Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie and Aerosmith's Stephen Tyler - plus the late John Peel who memorably said, “The Beatles were cute, the Stones were students but the Pretty Things were plain frightening...their power was enormous.”

The band were also very heavily into drugs earlier than most others and were the target of the first rock drugs bust. On one occasion they were stopped by police in Brian Jones's Bentley with Judy Garland and Rudolph Nureyev also aboard. They were also banned for life from visiting Australia and New Zealand after causing a fire on an aeroplane.

“Yes, all of that stuff is true,” concedes Mark St John. “But more importantly, the Pretty Things are underrated and overlooked. They have had a seminal influence on rock music. But despite their veteran status they have great contemporary relevance, undiminished energy, an uncompromising fearlessness and an inspirational commitment that inspires emerging generations of artists and fans whilst still retaining the devotion of their earlier fanatical fan-base. They have had countless imitators, many of whom have enjoyed more commercial success. But the Pretty Things remain original and of this country's most exciting live acts.”

As Mark also commented ahead of the band's Oxford performance, this was also a rare chance to see a Rolling Stone (Dick Taylor) without paying a fortune. And the band did perform strongly - to an appreciative (and surprisingly youthful) audience. By the end of the evening many would have agreed with another of Mark's comments...that the Pretty Things should be a secret that everybody knows about!

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