Phil May is a vocalist. He gained fame during the mid 1960s as the lead singer of the band The Pretty Things, of which he was a founding member. The band exists to this day and is touring through Europe.
Before I get the chance to pose my first question, Phil launches into pop-idol-interview-mode by saying that they have released a new studio album called ‘The Sweet Pretty Things Are in Bed Now of Course’. And the band has released a box set, Bouquets from a Cloudy Sky, of all their albums plus extra’s. ‘It’s taken a lot of work, a lot of research. There is a whole DVD in there, a whole booklet and we are planning a tour as well. We had to cancel the Dutch tour by the way. I collapsed right after a show.’
You probably haven’t been living on orange juice all these years?
‘I have done well but I stopped smoking because that was the main cause. So much carbon monoxide compared to blood. I had more petrol fields than blood going through my veins. It was just strange because I’d just done a two and a half hour set on a big square at a festival. I didn’t feel great, went down the back of the stage, I collapsed and ended up seven days in Zaragoza Hospital. I moved back to London and the doctor put me straight in the hospital here. Well, that is fifty years payback.’
Is that what you call a rock and roll life?
‘Most people think that being on the road is just fun. But they don’t realize you that there are nights without sleep, that it is bad for your health. I’m lucky: I only need four or five hours of sleep. When you are on drugs, you don’t need sleep at all, but once you get passed 35 – 40, it starts to catch up.’
You travelled so much through Europe; you might have a different perspective on Europa than most English. Do you feel European?
‘I love Europe! My favourite towns are Rome, Paris obviously, Amsterdam, Milan, Berlin. When I am in Europe, I feel at home. It really feels like a home, a big house with different rooms.’
What about London? It seems to me that London has become more European.
‘Yes, it has lost its London-like swing identity. There are not many English people in the centre, I am a sort of dinosaur here. A friend of mine has a Brazilian boyfriend, Eddy, whom he hoped would learn to speak English here. After a month Eddy said: “nobody speaks English here!” It’s Polish, it’s Russian, Armenian.’
Are you into politics?
‘No, I suppose I am an atheist: I don’t believe in anything so I don’t believe in politics: it’s crap and it is venal. You see some of the worst of human behaviour in politics: I started seeing the way people behave when I was a nine-year old kid, growing up on the playground. Even at that age you get that somebody is a bully, somebody is a virtual liar or somebody will do anything to get good marks. And, you know, when you see it when you get older in The House Of Parliaments it’s even more disgusting. Because the people have experience in life and still they behave like they’ve invented the world. I mean: you had Michael Portillo here, who was possibly a potential prime minister, and because he said he’d had a gay experience, they ripped him apart.’
Britain joined the EU in 1973, what in your opinion has changed since then?
‘Once again, a lot of the countries had different economic circumstances when they joined. Germany had this huge European-fuelled revival, because every country gave money to move them back up. Guilt payments, or whatever it was. We’d had the post-war depression and then the sixties and all came up and they get down again. One of the reasons why there has always been problems is everybody was joining.’
‘I think Europe has got a real headache in terms of the next five, ten years to rate up. I think the economy is based on a lot of policies as well. We don’t really produce very much across Europe: what is Spain going to do? And what about Greece… what does Greece produce?’
Last question. America’s got this American Dream. Could you imagine a European Dream, what could this continent look like?
‘Well… one of the strange things about Europe has always been the understanding of the world. The Portuguese, the Dutch, the English, the French, they have all gone everywhere. That is very European. In America, only 33% of the people have passports; they don’t want to go anywhere. Europeans want to travel, we are inquisitive and we always wanted to explore, or exploit. And I think that is the European Dream. Some of it is unethical, but you’re dreaming of the rest of the world. So I think: the European Dream is a duality.’
(interview by Mark, written by Philip de Liagre Böhl)