The Small Faces

Note:  I wrote this a few years back, for the legendary indie/mod site Sohostrut.  I'm in a Small Faces mood today.  So I've decided to post it here as well.

The Small Faces were the ultimate mod band. They had the threads, the look, the attitude. And some fantastic tunes to boot. It is a much quoted fact that, unlike some of their peers, they were mods before they came together, the real deal. It is likely that this fact alone accounts for their authenticity and enduring fascination.

They were central to the London of the mid sixties. And like many great bands, they have their legends - particularly front man, East Ender Steve Marriott. How he used to busk at bus stops with a ukulele as a boy, starred as the Artful Dodger in the original version of Lionel Bart’s “Oliver” (it was here that he made his first record) and set fire to a building at school, after which his mother enrolled him at the Italia Conti Drama School. And how he and fellow cockney Ronnie “Plonk” Lane met in the J60 music shop, where Steve was working, in 1965. Ronnie was looking for a bass. He found much more.

Both Marriott and Lane had played in bands already, Steve in The Moonlights, Ronnie in The Outcasts. They clicked immediately. Ronnie took Steve along to a gig which his band of the time, The Pioneers - who had a drummer called Kenny Jones - were playing. Steve and Ronnie consumed copious amounts of whisky. And when Marriott joined the band for a jam, it was a complete riot, which led to the destruction of a piano. The result was that The Pioneers were no more and the three of them decided to get a band together themselves.

With the recruitment of keyboard player Jimmy Winston (who Steve knew from the J60 music bar) the first line up of the band was complete.  The Small Faces, as they were now known, on account of the height of the three founder members, embarked on various dates and were soon signed up by Don Arden, one of the key London figures of the sixties. As well as expense accounts at some of London’s most exclusive boutiques, they acquired a record deal with Decca and released their seminal first single on 6 August 1965 - the hard edged mod classic “What’cha Gonna Do About It”. It reached number 14 in the charts.

There was soon a change of personnel, with ex-Boz and the Boz People keyboard player Ian McLagan replacing Jimmy Winston. The reasons for the change are still debated to this day, although Winston was accomplished musically - especially on guitar - and had significant stage presence. The band continued its development and with both lineups produced some of the most accomplished and full on R&B ever played in the UK".  Listen to tunes such as “Shake” and “Come On Children” to get a feel of what their live show was all about. As well as Hammond instrumentals like “Grow Your Own”. And they unleashed singles such as “Sha La La La Lee“, “Hey Girl“ and “My Minds Eye“, along with an album “The Small Faces“.

This creative period arguably reached its pinnacle with their anthemic number one in August 1966 “All Or Nothing”, which was released on 5 August 1966, just a day short of a year (and a World Cup win) after their debut. It remains for me one of the defining moments of the band‘s career. But things were starting to cool with their management. There were financial arguments and they wanted more say in their creative output. In 1967 The Small Faces signed for Andrew Loog Oldham’s agency and Immediate record label. It was here that they developed their style, as they focussed less on playing live and more on their new found freedom in the studio. Their first single for Immediate was brilliant. “Here Comes The Nice” a drug referencing anthem, one of their most enduring tunes.

It was followed by a succession of classics. "Tin Soldier" was one of their towering achievements, an inspirational piece of soulful rock, with P P Arnold on backing vocals. "Itchycoo Park" became the band’s most famous tune, finding its way onto a host of compilations, in spite of its obvious drugs overtones. And then came their finest hour. "Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake" came packaged in a replica tobacco tin and was perfect for the Summer of 1967. In the wake of Sergeant Pepper, the concept album was the flavour of the period. "Ogdens’" told the story of Happiness Stan who was looking for the far side of the moon.

The music was perfection. The title track always sounds to me to be perhaps the first acid house tune. “Lazy Sunday” had its roots in the music hall song. “Happydaystoytown” was pure cockney singalong. “Afterglow (Of Your Love)” , “Song Of A Baker” and “Rollin’ Over” have gone down as gems. “Ogdens’” was a milestone in rock music, combining psychedelia with pure English eccentricity. It sounds just as good all these years later.

But things could not continue on a high. Although Immediate released one more album, a compilation of old and new songs, as well as the single “The Universal”, there were frustrations at not being able to play later “Ogdens” tracks live. And Marriott wanted to play real R&B again. He suggested that they should bring The Herd’s Peter Frampton into the band but this idea was rejected by the other three. Neither did he feel the band was playing together well live - with the result that stormed off stage at London’s Alexandra Palace on New Years Eve 1969, leaving the other three to play with Alexis Korner. Soon afterwards, Steve left The Small Faces and formed Humble Pie with Frampton.

The rest, as they say, is history. Immediate cashed in on the final recordings and released “The Autumn Stone” as a single. The other three looked for a new future. Sadly neither Marriott nor Lane are with us any longer. Steve died in a house fire in 1991, Ronnie was finally unable to fight his crippling illness, multiple sclerosis, which was diagnosed on 1981, and died in 1997. Both are greatly missed by music lovers everywhere.

But back then in 1969, a year that seems an age away to us early twenty first century ravers, it was destined to be different. A new world was waiting as on the scene appeared two spiky haired former mods. Each had a taste for alcohol. Each wanted to have it large. And in the end they did. But that is another story.

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