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Phil May, frontman of riotous band the Pretty Things who were acclaimed peers of David Bowie and the Rolling Stones, has died aged 75.
He died in hospital in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, from complications following hip surgery after a cycling accident, that are not related to coronavirus.
Born in Dartford, Kent, May formed the Pretty Things in 1963 with guitarist Dick Taylor, who had recently left the nascent Rolling Stones. The band’s lineup coalesced with John Stax, Brian Pendleton and Viv Andrews, with May as frontman.
The group became a key part of the London blues-rock scene who were in thrall to US blues players but were also bringing in new elements of pop and psychedelia. They had an early Top 10 hit in Don’t Bring Me Down and other moderately successful songs like Honey I Need and Cry to Me, and became known for their drug-taking and raucous on-stage behaviour.
May was bisexual, wore his hair long and marked himself out as a countercultural figure. He remembered in a Guardian interview in 2018: “By the time the Pretty Things hit the TV screens, I was used to being abused and spat at and getting into punch-ups, because it had happened when we were art students. We’d done our apprenticeship at being outsiders.”
The band earned their most enduring fame for their 1968 album SF Sorrow. It is regarded as the first rock opera album, a tale of the life of the fictional Sebastian F Sorrow, ahead of similar experiments like the Who’s album Tommy. The record was released by Motown offshoot Rare Earth, making them Motown’s first ever UK signing, though it was a flop on release and only later became a cult favourite.
They were revered by artists as diverse as Jimi Hendrix, Aerosmith, the Ramones and Kasabian, and while there were spells of inactivity, the band never split up, enjoying a 55-year career. They played their final concert in 2018, with guest appearances by David Gilmour and Van Morrison.
May also released a solo blues-rock album as Phil May & the Fallen Angels in 1976, which had a fraught gestation – half the album was written and performed with band members from Fleetwood Mac and Humble Pie, who later quit, leaving May to finish it with a fresh set of personnel.
In 2014, he was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema, and took a break from touring. He recovered, and the following year the band released their most recent album, The Sweet Pretty Things (Are in Bed Now, of Course…). An album of new material is slated for release this year.
He is survived by his son Paris, daughter Sorrel, and partner Colin Graham.
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