However, it would be fair to say that The Small Faces may not be a household name like their contemporaries from the same decade; The Beatles , The Who and The Rolling Stones, yet their music (a combination of rhythm and blues, soul, rock and pop with a distinctive sixties sound), spawned many hit singles Tin Soldier, Hey Girl and the boys even shared the number one spot with the Fab Four ; 5th September 1966 with All or Nothing, whilst the lovable Moptops were top of the hit parade with Yellow Submarine.
Moreover, with an annual Small Faces convention and a successful independent fanzine The Darlings of Wapping Wharf Launderette, both run by original Small Faces fan, John Hellier, and Paolo Hewitt’s highly successful Small Faces biography, The Young Mods Forgotten Story and his biography on front man Steve Marriott: All Too Beautiful, is proof enough that The Small Faces are still held in high regard and cited by many as a major influence, not just by musicians but also followers of fashion.
Originally signed to Decca in 1965, then moving to Andrew Loog Oldham’s (former Rolling Stones manager) Immediate Records label in 1967, before their first split at the Alexander Palace New Year’s Eve 1969. The Small Faces did re-form in 1975, which has been deemed a failure, and the original bass player Ronnie Lane only stayed until 1976. Unlike today, in the seventies bands re-forming was not big business, and exciting new acts were always on the horizon, again unlike today.
Maybe the reason why the band re-formed was that they were skint. Yes, they had a successful recording career with both labels, yet in terms of receiving royalties, especially from Immediate, The Small Faces did not see the fruits of their success. In addition, the only way they could receive what was rightly theirs was to go to court, which turned out to be a lengthy battle, spanning many decades . Sadly the only two surviving members of The Small Faces, Kenney Jones and Ian McLagan, received the money that was due to them. Ronnie Lane passed away on 7th June 1997 due to pneumonia caused by an advanced state of multiple sclerosis, whilst Steve Marriot died 20th April 1991 from smoke inhalation caused by apparently Marriott falling asleep with a lighted cigarette in bed whilst drunk.
Marriott’s death by fire is quite symbolic, as he was expelled from Manor School (East London) as he was blamed for starting a fire, even though it wasn’t proved. The expulsion led to Marriott pursuing an acting career which in turn led to the formation of The Small Faces and a chance meeting with Ronnie Lane and Kenney Jones in an East London music shop where Marriot was working as a sales assistant in between acting jobs. As the story goes, Lane had entered the shop to purchase a guitar but was persuaded by the cheeky Marriott to buy a bass as Marriott felt bass players were never out of work. They then found they had a mutual love of the blues and soul, jammed that night and the rest, as they say, is history.
Moreover, Marriott’s relationship with fire has been noted by actress and playwright Carol Harrison (Eastenders, Brush Strokes) “Marriott was the sort of person that played with fire””. Harrison adds, “I first met Steve at the age of six. As he was so small I thought he was the same age as me, but he was ten years older”. Her association with Marriott goes much further than a schoolgirl crush, as she has written a play, some people might call it a musical, but no it is a play about The Small Faces with their music, “People don’t burst into song. It is just another way to tell their story. I do love musicals, but this is gritty drama with comedy, with the songs of Marriott and Lane to enhance the action.” The play opens with the school fire, and Harrison believes that “with someone like Marriott and The Small Faces there is so much to write about, so you choose snapshots and images that conjure up an emotional experience”. The opening scene certainly does set the pace of the play, which Harrison hopes will be staged in 2013, investment pending. “I have got some fund raisers, they want to come on board as they love the project, want to become executive producers,”
The show All Or Nothing will tour, build up its audience and then go into the West End”. “Like Blood Brothers, it will build by word of mouth then everyone will want to see it, it’s not mainstream, it’s more edgy than that. “
Marriott was the sort of person that played with fire
A fitting tribute to The Small Faces, as they did have an edge and an attitude. What is also appealing about the band is, unlike The Beatles, The Who and even The Rolling Stones, Marriot and the boys were not told what to wear in their early days. As Mod Ace Faces clothes were important to them, and a big reason why they appealed to the Mods, even more than The Who, is that they were Mods before they formed a band. There was common ground, and one of the aspects of Mod, was to better yourself and break from the norm, something Harrison feels very strongly about and wishes to outline in her play. “I was compelled to write it, and to tell people about the East End, the sixties, Mods, poverty and social issues. Having an attitude, breaking moulds and believing in your music, believing in yourself and you can change.” Which takes the play to another level, and is not just homage to the band. In addition, poverty was still very common in England of the early sixties, and Harrison experienced that herself. “My mum was a single parent, she would get a rabbit, we would eat the rabbit and then out of the fur she would make gloves for me. It wasn’t just me, it was that poor.'' So the story of The Small Faces is a classic story of from rags to riches. As mentioned earlier, they didn’t actually see any of their money but they were given a house in Pimlico and an account in all the major shops in Carnaby Street, and of course the trappings of fame. “They got fame really quickly, they weren’t famous for being famous, they worked at it “, adds Harrison.
Another of the key features of The Small Faces was Marriott’s amazing voice, a pure white soul voice, which has rarely been bettered, “It will be a hard task to find someone, but it will be a challenge. ” Whoever lands both parts will surely have a job on their hands, but a rewarding one.
Prior to signing to Andrew Loog Oldham’s label, The Small Faces were under the management of Don Arden, who called himself “The Al Capone of Pop", notorious for being heavy handed and who conducted business like a gangster from the US 30’s prohibition, he even implied to The Small Faces’ parents that the band were drug addicts. A classic case of reverse psychology so he could come across as the good guy and maintain control. “Everything written by Don Arden has been documented, even his dialogue. There is nothing to dispute; it is not defamatory. Even in his own book, he was proud to have been called the Al Capone of Pop”.
Harrison has key names attached to the project, like Keith Allan, Danny Dyer and John Altman AKA Nasty Nick Cotton from East Enders. One wonders if Altman would be the perfect choice for the Al Capone of Pop “ John is a huge fan of Stanley Unwin” The famous narrator of The Small Faces’ number one Psychedelic Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake album, where he narrated in his trademark Unwinese’ gobbledegook in between fine Small Faces songs like Lazy Sunday and Afterglow. When pressed what parts Harrison has in mind for Allan and Dyer, she politely refused to comment.
To further the status of her play, Harrison has the support of the surviving members of The Small Faces. “I met Kenney Jones later on in life, get on with him and he and Ian like the play”. Moreover, from a money making venture, Universal Music, who own all The Small Faces back catalogue, will surely profit in terms of CD and download sales and merchandise, if the play goes ahead. Something Harrison is fully aware of is this “the lawyers are talking to Universal, I can’t say any more than that, but look at the success of Dreamboats and Petticoats, in terms of merchandise sales, which was the result of the album first, then followed by the musical”. Like Harrison, I hope Universal see the huge potential, but who knows what goes on inside corporate minds.
So in 2013, we might see a great play about The Small Faces, which could be a smash. From speaking to Harrison, she is focused and determined to make this work. As we parted I decided to ask a cliché question, and something I always try to avoid, favourite Small Faces? “I love Tin Soldier, a mixture of emotion, but to me it’s All or Nothing, because it sums up my life. “. With that wonderful song as her driving force it is sure to be a success. © Words – Matteo Sedazzari