Pretty Things rock opera ‘SF Sorrow’ album predates The Who’s ‘Tommy’ by six months but to this day Pete Townshend has not cited The Pretty Things classic as an inspiration.
“The real fact of the matter is that I have never heard that, not that he copied it, but he admired it,” says founding Pretty Things member and bass player Dick Taylor. “There are plenty of people who have told me that Pete has said a lot of time “that was a great album and a inspiration.” That is hearsay. I haven’t heard him say it myself”.
While Townshend hasn’t credited ‘SF Sorrow’ as an inspiration Taylor says that he once threatened legal action if they said it inspired Tommy. “When we played ‘SF Sorrow’ at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Phil (May) got a letter from Pete Townshend and opened it. He went “how nice”. It was letter saying “good luck chaps”. But then he said, because Phil had said he said it was an inspiration because it was common knowledge he said that, the letter went on to say basically “Good luck, but to my knowledge I have never heard ‘SF Sorrow’ so please desist from saying it inspired Tommy or otherwise I will reach for my lawyer’.”
Taylor said that regardless, they went on with the show. “It was upsetting. Poor Phil, it was a nice letter, oh God. It really put a bit of a downer on the experience but we still went on and did a good show”.
Despite the album being released in 1968, Pretty Things did not perform the rock opera as a complete piece until 30 years later in 1998. “We did in in 1998 live at Abbey Road Studios,” Dick said. “We assembled most of the band who played on ‘SF Sorrow’. We talked about whether it was feasible to do it. We did it with Arthur Brown doing the narrating and David Gilmour doing the guitar bits. We did it one more time with Arthur and David and then several times with just the core band. It goes down pretty well”.
“We didn’t perform it back in the day. We mimed to it once. That was an odd one. We did a mime show with all of us acting the various characters. I was cast as Sorrow’s dad I think and my soon to be wife was Mrs Sorrow. We never performed the whole thing but we did songs from it”.
The original album was produced by Norman Smith who in the 70s had his own fame as Hurricane Smith and the hits ‘Oh Babe What Would You Say’ and ‘Who Was It’. “He had hits in Australia,” Dick said. “To say that it was out of character for Norman, he was a very respectable middle-class looking guy. He was a glider pilot in the Second Word War. He was as straight as a dye in appearance and speech but he was very much into quite avant-guard music. He picked up on us when we sent demos to record companies. Norman heard this stuff and it was due to him we got signed to EMI”.
Pretty Things will tour Australia for the last time in October. Taylor is now 75, May 73. This is their last tour.
Fans in Melbourne will be treated to one complete performance of SF Sorrow on October 6.
The Pretty Things Australian Dates
October 3, Sydney, Factory Theatre
October 4, Brisbane, The Zoo
October 6, Melbourne, Thornbury Theatre (performing SF Sorrow)
October 7, Melbourne, Caravan Clun
October 10, Geelong, Barwon Club
October 12, Melbourne, The Tote
October 13, Adelaide, Fowlers Live
October 14, Perth, The Charles Hotel