Phil May, chic chaos – Culture / Next

Disappeared Friday at age 75 in Norfolk following a bicycle accident, Phil May, the leader and singer of Pretty Things, appeared for a time in the repertoire of David Bowie: not to the letter M but to the letter G , for “God”, that is to say God. Bowie may have understood something from Philip Arthur Dennis Kattner, born in Dartford (Kent), but then he was one of the few: in their time of splendor, between 1963 and 1969, the Pretty Things, sold as a way of Rolling Stones (the weight of rhythm’n’blues, in their respective initial impulses) in worse, were a contradictory and conflicting crucible, at the same time wilder than the wildest (the Who), finer than the finest ( the Beatles or the Kinks), more stupid than the stupidest. And walking in the heart of Swinging London an absence of calculation and, ultimately, an innocence which carried them even until the XXIe century.

They have a completely enveloping understanding of chaos, without any attention to detail, really unruly“Said manager Phil May and his guitarist Phil Taylor to a reporter for the Guardian a few years ago. At a time when artists spoke of drugs indirectly, White rabbit for the Jefferson Airplane or Space Oddity for Bowie later, Phil May stood up: Tripping, Mister Evasion or LSD. In the mid-1960s, the New Zealand Parliament banned them from territory, the price of the chaos of their live performances and the sudden impulse of May evoking the Maori question to heat the audience to white – the police exfilted them every night outside the city. One of their centerpiece, Reincarnation, was never burned to disc, laziness or distraction: there remains however a filmed trace which sees the drummer Skip Alan completely “gone” wandering in the middle of the public by typing like a primitive on a cymbal while mimicking a kind of dance of the seven veils with his scarf. Meanwhile, Phil May, feminine to die, waddles in her corner, radiant, illuminated.

Flood of instruments, effects and rumblings

By a mirror effect, another of their key work, Defecting Gray, if it was recorded at the London studios Southern Sound on Denmark Street, was never played in concert: telling the hypersensitive ballad of an acid type in a square, the song had been constructed by May as a 4’31 ‘symphony ‘with a deluge of instruments, effects (flanger, bands passed upside down …) and rumblings, making de facto a creature of the studio. The model of one of the most beautiful fairies of all English vernacular music and even beyond, a disc that the rock dictionary of Michka Assayas holds for the equal of Pet sounds Beach Boys or the cult Forever Changes from Love: SF Sorrow in 1968, the very first rock opera – a story from the first to the last piece – and a work which, curiously, has since been found in many obituaries (including in Release) or engraved on the tombstones, as if you wanted to take him beyond.

We didn’t stick to conventional instrumentsexplained May. We made sound with everything that came our way. We experimented with crossfades, interchangeable tempos; multiplied the narrative points of view – up to four – which come and go in the same song. We pushed all the limits. There is a lot of me in SF Sorrow, intimate truths hidden in my subconscious since childhood came back up and the chosen themes became a cathartic experience during the recording. I had to get rid of something. I certainly needed it.His excess baggage: the Baron Samedi of Haitian folklore who slits with a knife, a burning Zeppelin over the Atlantic, onanism (“Bracelets of Fingers”), disarray … For the very first time, the psychedelia is associated with death drives and madness, inevitable exit points in a musical genre carried by the culture of drugs. The disc will sell poorly.

Radiant brightness specific to the psyche

And the rest will be difficult. The next album, Parachute (“To dampen the descent”, said May), will however be voted disc of the year by the magazine Rolling Stones and it contains a manifest superpower (Cries from the Midnight Circus) for all lost children burned in the lights of the late sixties. Last notable milestone before an active but gently sloping end of career, to receive late tributes in successive waves: at the origin of the metal style, of this, of that … In truth, Phil May and SF Sorrow have opened just about every door, from dreamlike to the prescience of death in rock, to the radiant radiance of the psyche. And they closed them so quickly. “I think, said May at the end of her life, that you have to be careful not to believe that a rock band should be cursed. Because if you believe it, that’s what will happen to you. “

Grégory Schneider


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