Guide to British Music of the 1960s

June 2004

Book Review

Steve Marriott All Too Beautiful by Paulo Hewitt & John Hellier

Steve Marriott was one of the most important figures in British rock and pop music in the 1960s and 1970s but also one of the least celebrated. Like Steve Winwood, his amazing white soul voice belied his youth or size. His writing partnership with Ronnie Lane in the Small Faces produced some of the best singles of the decade and one of the most idiosyncratic albums in Ogden's Nut Gone Flake. In aspects other than his height, Steve Marriott was huge.

So a complete appraisal of Marriott's life and work is well overdue. Paulo Hewitt is already the author of several notable biographies including one on the Small Faces. John Hellier has authored works on the Small Faces but is also the publisher of Darlings of Wapping Wharf Launderette, one of the country's best-selling fanzines as well as promoter of the recent Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane memorial concerts. Consequently, the biography has been entrusted to two writers who know their subject and are passionate about it.

First it should be said that this is a superb piece of work that even uncovers new things about the Small Faces as well as Humble Pie and Marriott's later "career" on the pub circuit in the UK. There is little doubt that Steve Marriott was highly talented and was widely respected for this. However, underneath all this was a different character. The schizophrenia that was exaggerated by the cocktails of drinks and drugs meant that, from time to time, another character appeared, not Marriott but Melvin the bald-headed wrestler. Ultimately, this other side was his downfall, the source of his marriage break-ups and, finally, his early death. Even those who worked with Marriott found his hyperactivity and playing of pranks very difficult and wearing. Not just his marriages broke down but also his relationships with former colleagues such as Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan, Peter Frampton.

John and Paulo have conducted extensive research for the book. This has involved interviews with people from the whole of Marriott's life. This makes it clear that his hyper-personality did not develop as a result of his massive fame at an early age but it was always there. Even at school, Marriott was hyperactive and a difficult person to be around. The stardom and the drink and drugs that came with it simply served to fuel the hyperactivity.

Steve Marriott's passion was music. He had a love of American R&B such as Ray Charles and Bobby Bland and this was clearly audible in his own work, not just in the Small Faces but also in latter incarnations of Humble Pie and later groups such as Packet of Three. He knew he was good at what he did but he always recognised where his roots were. This may be part of the reason that he seemed to be uncomfortable with his fame. Marriott received the plaudits that, possibly, other deserved. This situation was reversed later. Marriott had seen many of his contemporaries, indeed those who were clearly behind him in the talent pecking order (Rod Stewart, David Bowie, etc) receiving the critical acclaim and financial rewards when he was collecting empty bottles to return just to pay the rent or playing pubs night after night while others were in stadia. He was bitter about this. His former colleagues on the Small Faces had linked up with Stewart and Ronnie Wood to form the Faces. Marriott remarked that it took two to replace him. Many, including Marriott, would remark that Stewart is a strong frontman and a great singer but hardly in Marriott's class.

Like his colleagues in the Small Faces and Humble Pie, Marriott did not receive the rewards due to him because of the way in which the music business operated. It was controlled by managers and record companies and the artists were seen as largely disposable. In many cases they signed their first contracts when they were happy to be making a record and so less concerned about how much they earned from it. Suddenly, they were bound by these contracts and not in control of what was released. They may be viewed as great singles today but the Small Faces did not want My Mind's Eye or Lazy Sunday released as singles. The former was intended as a demo only! Even in Humble Pie it was the manager Dee Anthony who pulled the strings. The members of the band were simply employees of a corporation and were paid a wage. Possibly this explains why, after this, Marriott appeared to be a control freak, dictating and determining what his bands did. He was the one that people came to listen to after all. Maybe he just wanted to ensure that control was not given to those who do not have the musicians' best interests or even the music at heart.

All in all, All Too Beautiful is an excellent biography of one of music's greatest talents. There was no doubt that he was extremely gifted as a songwriter, a singer, a guitarist and as a performer. However, his problems with drinks & drugs, the Inland Revenue and money in general meant that he did not enjoy the rewards of his success.

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