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PRETTY THINGS
Crossfire Club, 229 Great Portland Street, London, October 9 2010

Less than a year since I last saw them - and back again so soon? It would seem so, but as club organiser Rob Bailey is often keen to point out, the Grim Reaper has claimed a few of the old boysí network recently, so while bands like this, who practically invented British RíníB, garage and psych as we know it, are still alive and well, itís advisable to see them as often as you can...

Of course, founder members Phil May (vocals) and Dick ĎYoung Mr Graceí Taylor (guitar) have looked like theyíve diced with death for about 30 odd years now: true rock and roll survivors, and whereas other members have fallen by the wayside, fallen the way of all flesh, or have simply been unable to stay the course, Saarf East London/Norf Kentís other premier vocal and axe duo still seem- at almost 50 years into their career - unstoppable. That voice, full of American blues influence yet uniquely English. That shredding, jangling, swirling guitar sound like no other.

Not that this is in any way a two-man band: ace rhythm guitarist and blues harpist Frank Holland has been there for nearly 20 years now, as has percussionist/ vocalist/ manager Mark St John, and their harmonies and instrumentation are as much part of the setup as Skip Alan, Wally Waller or John Povey ever were.

New bassist George Perez looks about 12, especially with that haircut, and youíd be forgiven for thinking heíd be more suited to playing with Dirty Pretty Things, but his bass-playing (a Rickenbacker too - top marks, son) is amazing, his harmony vocals essential for reaching high notes other members no longer can, and similarly young drummer Jack Greenwood is, for once, someone who understands the jazzy, freerolling aesthetic essential to playing in bands of this vintage, eschewing any hackneyed attempts at stadium bombast or punk thrash. We need more like him in the world: Blue Oyster Cult could definitely do with one for a start...

Agreed (and most of my friends do seem to agree with me) the band arenít quite as on fire as they were at the 100 Club this Spring, and maybe the choice of material might be the heart of it.

They burst forth in spectacular fashion, with 'Iím A Road Runner' 'Donít Bring Me Down' 'SF Sorrow Is Born' 'She Says Good Morning' and a thrumbling, Taylor-fronted 'Baron Saturday', all of which seem like a practical masterclass in how to play music, period.

But a dip into slow acoustic blues in the middle - fine in a theatre, not so effective in a club rammed full of sweaty Mods and psychheads - loses the momentum in a way that, peculiarly light-sounding versions of 'Come See Me' and 'Get The Picture' (did the soundman temporarily blow a fuse at this juncture?) canít quite recover, and itís not until piledriving renditions of 'Midnight To Six Man' 'LSD' (yes, we know itís actually about 'old money', so donít bother to write in) and 'Old Man Going' give our ears the sound drubbing they deserve that we get back on course.

The vocals at this point are beyond compare, exploding into the stratosphere as Taylorís majestic riffs swirl and slash thin air, reminding you the truth of the whole unsung history of British rock in one fell swoop, conjuring images of a thousand girls in flowery dresses and velvet boots cavorting in Londonís parks while a film crew nearby shoots a scene involving a transvestual serial killer. Yes, at their best, they really are that good.

Sadly, 'Alexander' and 'Cries From The Midnight Circus' were nowhere to be found this time, but this is, lest we forget, the prelude to an all-night Mod bash courtesy of the New Untouchables organisation, and bands here are encouraged to play short, sharp and sweet sets to get the evening underway, so itís understandable that the encore should plant its Chelsea boot (via Erith and Slade Green) firmly back in the heart of British RíníB, with 'Rosalyn' and 'Bring It To Jerome' strutting cocksurely to the finish. If it wasnít for the slightly overpriced beer on sale, it could have almost been 1966'.

So where does the road lead for these almost-septuagenarians and their androgynous offspring? The good news is theyíre planning something a little bit special for 2011 - as guitarist Dick Taylor confirms outside, while 'SF Sorrow' (previously played in its entirety in this venue) may be the acknowledged classic, the popularity of their seminal 'Parachute' album hasnít gone unnoticed, and an in-full performance is mooted for sometime next year.

Best of all, though, was Phil Mayís comment when I asked him why they didnít play 'Whatís Good For The Goose' as a tribute to the recently departed Norman Wisdom: 'leave off, it was bad enough working with Ďim the first time round!!' Classic.

And, no, in case youíre wondering, they didnít play 'The Monster Club' either - although if I had my way it would be compulsory'.


Review by Darius Drewe Shimon


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