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Heavy Load: Phil May

Phil May says there is no God. Bowie would disagree.

Phil May’s band The Pretty Things were one of the great British R&B groups of the early 60s. Their off-stage antics outstripped their friends and rivals the Rolling Stones – to the point where Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant considered them “unmanageable” (that didn’t prevent them being signed to Zep’s Swan Song label though).

With his long hair and urchin swagger, the singer was such a revolutionary figure that early fan David Bowie scribbled the word ‘God!’ next to his name in an address book. May has spent 52 of his 70 years fronting the Pretties, and won’t be hanging up his winklepickers just yet.

What was it like growing up on a council estate in Erith, Kent in the forties and fifties?

I think of it as a magic time. There was a certain community spirit, and you really could leave your back door open. But at the age of ten it was quite a shock to discover that Charlie and Flo, who’d brought me up, weren’t my real parents, and having to go and live with my mother and stepfather.

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