Conservative New Plymouth residents of 1965 had no idea what they were in for when the British pop band The Pretty Things flew into town.
Band members walking across the tarmac at the airport raised eyebrows and ire the moment they stepped into view and it was mainly the length of their hair that did it. The Taranaki Daily News printed a photo of the band with the headline "These, believe it or not, are men."
The rain wasn't enough to deter one of the long-haired group wearing sunglasses and a leopard-skin fez hat and their way-out clothes were described as worse than charity shop items. One even had a ginger beard. A letter to the editor from an outraged reader bemoaned the fact "these people were even allowed into the country".
NZ Truth headlined the act on their front page, titled "Pretty Things Shock Exhibition", then "Shocked police found long- haired, drunken members of English pop group The Pretty Things swigging whiskey only minutes before their performance in New Plymouth last week." The band played in a lineup with other performers.
It continued: "Unprecedented in the town's Opera House's 50 year history were scenes of wild behaviour . . . the long-haired 'musicians' broke chairs, lit fires backstage and abused officials." Vivian Prince, the band's "unshaven" drummer known as Viv, received most of the written attention for his antics, most famously for bringing a flaming torch of newspaper onto the stage and waving it around dangerously close to the backdrop curtain during "heart throb" Eden Kane's performance.
A bucket of water was thrown over Viv from the wings, putting out the fire. He had earlier rolled out some carpet, demanding the singer, resplendent in a white suit, stand on it, which he refused to do. Later, just before English folk singer Sandie Shaw's performance, (whom the paper called an "English Sweetie"), Viv brought out bottles and pieces of carpet moments before the curtain rose, with Sandie ordering him offstage.
Viv drank a lot. He was seen with alcohol dribbling from his mouth, down his chin and onto the floor by one reporter. During another band's performance, he ran on stage and "disgorged a mouthful of the liquid. Hundreds of young people saw the ugly incident". While drumming in the Pretty Things act, Viv continued drinking then took off a shoe, poured drink into it and walked around the stage drinking from it.
Police sergeant L R Able later said he had been asked to control fans before but never the performers.
"How in the world those bums are making money is more than I can believe." He wondered if "those young hooligans" knew they had almost caused a tragedy, after waving around lit newspaper.
"It was only luck the whole place wasn't burned down."
Much of the publicity the band gained, especially from their New Plymouth show, was focused on their drunken and drug-fuelled antics, rather than their music, which guitarist Dick Taylor recently discussed in an interview with Kim Hill on Radio NZ.
He said the press blew it into something it wasn't. At one point (for the first time Dick could remember seeing), Viv was drinking a large glass of water when a reporter, seeing this, asked him what he was drinking. Viv said as a joke it was meths. The following headline stated "Pretty Things Drink Meths on Stage".
Members of the band had been drinking alcohol and eating crayfish at their hotel before the concert which was observed by the city's own groupies of the day, Bruce Hookham and Gary Hine. The pair of young men considered themselves experts at finding members of bands and getting to meet them to discuss musicmaking.
They'd already met the Rolling Stones, who played in Auckland during one week. The lads had taken time off from work and gone to Auckland where they hung around the hotel the Stones were staying in until they saw them. "It was easy to get to meet them to talk about music," Hookham says.
When they heard the Pretty Things (whose guitarist Dick Taylor had been a founding member of the Rolling Stones) were coming to play in New Plymouth, they found out which hotel they would be staying in and booked the last room available for themselves. The opportunity to speak with band members soon arose and they spent quite some time in the foyer chatting while Viv drank. Asked what the guys were like, Bruce says: "They were like any little Pommy pop group at the time you'd have to say. They were hard case guys, but musically they were down the rung from the Rolling Stones, Manfred Man, the Animals and that sort of thing, they weren't hard core rhythm and blues."
The Pretty Things were considered hard core by at least one mother.
"Disgusted Mother" wrote a vehement letter to the editor of the City Express. Her two teenaged sons went to the concert with the eldest telling her: "Mum I swear a couple of them were tight." She made the point that if the Government let "such creatures" into the country, why was there such a fuss made over the notorious entertainer Mandy Rice- Davies coming to New Zealand?
She admitted she didn't mind listening to some of the Beatles' music, "but I'm a real square when it comes to these Pretty Things. They can't sing and from what I hear they are even worse actors".
A following letter to the editor was from a young woman who had sat and chatted with the band after their concert until 4.30am. She defended the antics of drummer Viv, saying the misunderstood man was actually ill with a sore throat, a sore hand and was homesick.
Dick Taylor told Kim Hill that Viv retired from drumming some years ago and said he was brilliant as a drummer but blew it by drinking. He said it's amazing he is still alive.
The fuss about the band in NZ led them to give Australia a miss but they toured the United States in the 1970s. The band has continued to play their music, new and old ever since, with various changes in members.
The Pretty Things were banned from NZ after that 1965 tour, but this week returned after 47 years to play one show. It wasn't in New Plymouth.
Auckland's Power Station was the venue last Tuesday and reviewer Graham Reid described the night as nostalgia mixed with unabashed enthusiasm to a small crowd of mostly greybeards with some young people. He wrote that original band members Phil May and Dick Taylor, now in their late 60s, played with an energy that belied their age.
Puke Ariki's kete website has more information about the band's visit to NP and several links to follow: http:/ /ketenewplymouth.peoplesnetworknz.info/en/the_taranaki_music_scene/topics/show/1300-the-pretty-things-concert-new-plymouth-26-august-1965
You can listen to Kim Hill's interview with Pretty Thing's band member Dick Taylor on Radio New Zealand at http:/ /www.radionz.co.nz/audio/ remote-player?id=2534053
A book written by Mike Stax, Andy Neill and John Baker about the 1965 tour is called Don't Bring me Down . . .Under: The Pretty Things in New Zealand, and has a chapter on the notorious NP show.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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