Guide to British Music of the 1960s

March 2021

Book Review

All or Nothing The Authorised Story of Steve Marriott by Simon Spence

This new book takes the Steve Marriott story further than previous biographies. It takes the form of interviews, some from the archives and some by the author. These are arranged chronologically with explanatory notes in between. As such they are "raw" words as they were spoken. The book does not explore Steve Marriott's early years in detail but it does go on to provide more information about Steve's pre-Small Faces groups the Frantics, the Moonlites and the Moments as well as Marriott's solo career. It then goes on to the Small Faces, Humble Pie and the various groups that followed until he died in 1991.

Steve Marriott had an extraordinary life. There is little doubt that he had a massive talent even in such a small frame. He was an excellent musician and songwriter but when he opened his mouth he was one of the best vocalists around, so much so that people meeting him for the first time would be amazed, not only that he was white but also that he was so small. He was a performer too and even when struggling in other ways he could "nail it" on stage. He was also hyperactive and a workaholic. He would spend days in the recording studio and expected others to do the same. However, underlying everything was his drink and drugs addiction. This may have started with smoking joints which was not uncommon. The Small Faces were often stoned or as they would say "nice". Steve would always go the extra mile and his drug intake was no different. He became a heavy user of cocaine, especially when in America. Combined with the heavy drinking this had a major impact on his behaviour. At the worst times a character called Melvin the bald-headed wrestler would emerge. Everyone learned to keep well away when Melvin appeared. Of course, this side of him had a major impact on relationships, both personal and business. Steve also became a very hyperactive and controlling character. He was always on the go and this was exhausting for those around him, especially if they were not using the same stimulants as him. He was never one to relax.

When it came to music he was honest and never sold out. The Small Faces could have easily churned out chart hits but they wanted to be seen as musicians not pin-ups. They felt they were not performing well as they could not hear themselves on stage and, at the same time, record companies were releasing tracks that were either unfinished or not representative of where they were going as musicians. Marriott was particularly frustrated, walked out on the band and this caused a lot of ill-feeling that always remained. After forming Humble Pie with Peter Frampton, Greg Ridley and Jerry Shirley, Marriott was free to explore more. However, the contradiction was always there between what he wanted to do and what the record companies (and possibly the listeners) wanted him to do. Frampton left the band after Rockin' the Fillmore, leaving Marriott as the undisputed leader of Humble Pie. Although Marriott was an accomplished songwriter cover versions were still prevalent throughout his career. He wanted people to listen to great music even if he did not write it himself.

After Humble Pie Marriott formed or joined a number of bands but he never returned to the stadium rock that could have made him rich. Money he earned was disappearing in drink and drugs or he became unreliable or too difficult to work with. The mid-1970s Small Faces reunion did not work and, ultimately, acted more to help Marriott with his financial difficulties. He had burned too many bridges with his former bandmates, most notably Ronnie Lane. Some musicians such as Jim Leverton persevered with him and, to some extent, kept him together. Nevertheless, it did not seem that Marriott wanted fame. He was apparently happy playing the pub circuit where he could indulge in his passion of playing honest R&B with the occasional Small Faces or Humble Pie track to keep people happy. Incidentally on a personal note, the book has a quote from journalist Chris Welch who remarks that he was leaving the Blackwall Tunnel (Greenwich) when he saw a poster announcing that Steve Marriott's Packet of Three were playing the Mitre pub. I was at that gig and saw Packet of Three there on three occasions with both Fallon Williams and Jerry Shirley on the drums. The band was very tight and Marriott was on excellent vocal and guitar playing form. Little did I know then what troubles were in the background.

It is generally well-known that the Small Faces and Humble Pie did not receive the royalties they were due. While much of their earnings were accounted for by recording costs, clothes and other expenses - not that they were aware of this at the time - but management, promoters and record companies were often unscrupulous. Don Arden has taken a lot of criticism over the years but Steve did realise that, without Arden's initial work, the Small Faces would never have been successful. Nevertheless, Marriott became very distrusting of the music business and this may be part of the reason he did not want to go back to the stardom circuit. In common with many artists gig receipts were paid in cash and often this disappeared very quickly. Marriott, in particular, was supporting a cocaine habit that required immense quantities of cash, even to the extent that he would steal to support himself. Furthermore, the fact he was frequently penniless or centless was not just due to unscrupulous management and bad deals. At one stage he was taking back bottles to stores for the bottle deposit!

As previously stated, the way in which the book is written allows raw emotions to come to the surface. There is clearly quite a lot of bitterness exhibited by many towards Marriott or others. Often those at whom this is directed are unable to answer. Underlying there is a clear love and appreciation for his talents but an acceptance that this creative side was matched by a less desirable side. Marriott could wind people up, be rude and abusive and wholly unreliable. He was a musician, not a businessman. Also, he was not a family man. As well as a poor relationship with his mother, father and sister, he had three marriages as well as several short relationships and numerous flings. Consequently his own four children received little attention. The sudden nature of his death, the manner of which could be questioned after reading the different accounts contained here, ended up placing greater strain on relationships between different sides of his family. Even in death Marriott was winding people up.

This is far more than a classic story of sex, drugs and rock & roll. Add in organised crime, alleged greedy management and promoters, massive egos to an amazing talent and you have one of the most tragic stories of the music world. Marriott had far more talent than many of his contemporaries. He knew it and most of them did too but he was not only self-destructive but he could destroy those around him. A sad story and an incredible but difficult read.

Published: 18 March 2021

Omnibus Press

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