Phil May, singer for the Pretty Things, has died at the age of 75.
The band’s management confirmed the news, issuing a statement that read, “It is with very deep sadness that the management of the Pretty Things have to announce the death of the band’s lead singer, Phil May. Phil passed away at 7.05AM on Friday, May 15, at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Kings Lynn, Norfolk. He was 75. He had been locked down in Norfolk with his family and, during the week, Phil had suffered a fall from his bike and had undergone emergency hip surgery, after which complications set in.”
Known for their ferocious live performances, the Pretty Things emerged in the mid-’60s thanks to their distinctive blues rock sound. Hits included “Rosalyn,” “Honey I Need” and “Don’t Bring Me Down,” the latter of which peaked at No. 10 on the U.K. singles chart.
Watch the Pretty Things Perform ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’
The group was also notorious for its wild lifestyle. It’s members sported long hair, engaged in drug use and proudly displayed a counterculture attitude, a far cry from the normally stuffy English society at the time. May’s bisexuality also made him an unintentional early icon in the LGBTQ community.
In a 2018 interview with The Guardian, May said that bullying at school had prepared him to be a social outcast. “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,” he said. “We’d done our apprenticeship at being outsiders.”
The Pretty Things’ rambunctious ways were partially to blame for an inability to grow their fans beyond England’s shores. For example, a 1965 tour of New Zealand was cut short after May derided the country’s treatment of its native Maori population during a performance, with further arguments and confrontations continuing in local pubs following the set. The band was deported and the New Zealand parliament banned them from the country for life.
Watch the Pretty Things Perform ‘You Don’t Love Me (You Don’t Care)’
The 1968 LP S.F. Sorrow marked a stylistic change for the band. Often regarded as the first rock-opera album, the release saw the Pretty Things embracing a psychedelic sound. Though the LP sold poorly on release, it’s gone on to be regarded as a cult classic.
While the Pretty Things never scored a chart-topping hit, their influence was felt among many other artists. Jimi Hendrix, Aerosmith and the Ramones are just some of the musicians to have celebrated the Pretty Things’ work. David Bowie was also famously a fan, covering two of the band’s songs – “Rosalyn” and “Don’t Bring Me Down” – on his 1973 album Pin Ups.
In 2014, May was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema. Though the condition slowed the rocker, he continued touring and recording with the Pretty Things as often as possible. The band’s most recent album, The Sweet Pretty Things (Are in Bed Now, of Course … ), came out in 2015. Their last concert was in 2018, a performance at London’s O2 arena. The show was filmed for a live album and concert film titled The Final Bow. Van Morrison and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour were among the special guests to join the band onstage.
In 2019, May referred to The Final Bow performance as “a seismic, emotional blow and a genuine life loss,” noting that the group was forced to end its successful touring life because of health problems. Still, he viewed the last concert’s recording as “as a lasting tribute to the band I love, the life we have lived, and the way we have lived it, in music and performance, is unparalleled.”