The Small Faces Story Part 3
Steve Marriott: "The term 'Face' was a top mod, a face about town, a respected chap! The name came from a girl called Annabelle I knew from Chelsea. I didn't know many from Chelsea but I knew this one! Anyway, she signed the hire purchase agreement for my amplifier. We were trying to think of a name and she said call yourselves the Small Faces 'coz she said we were all little and had little boat races. It was great for us because it fitted in with wanting to be faces anyway."
As the band were top mods and were all under average height, the name Small Faces became very apt and fitting. I say all, except for Jimmy that is, who was rather large compared with the diminutive features of Steve, Ronnie and Kenney.
Meanwhile Maurice King saw great potential in the Small Faces and went out of his way to get them gigs. King dropped an almighty large when acquiring their first gig though, when he booked the boys into a working men's club in the land of the cloth cap, Sheffield. The club was full of hard-drinking coal miners and middle-aged teddy boys waiting to be entertained by what they thought was a a cabaret circuit group singing oldies and a selection of "safe" chart material. Just what were these softy southerners playing at, sporting sculptured bouffant-styled haircuts, wearing window pane check button-down shirts, white Sta-press trousers, tonic trousers, Italian turquoise hand-made shoes and candy striped three button jackets with the waif-like teenage lead singer belting out the blues like an elderly black soul brother who had just found his way out of the Mississippi Delta?
Needless to say, the band went down about as well as a pork chop at a barmitzvha and after steaming through Jimmy Reed's Baby What You Want Me Do they had the plugs pulled out on them halfway through their faithful version of James Brown's Please Please Please. Undeterred, the boys stumbled across a club called the Mojo where the local species of mod hung out. When they arrived at the Mojo, they found that the place was packed with young hipsters dancing the night away in an amphetamine-induced heaven. Two brothers ran the club and Steve and Ronnie asked them if they could play there. The brothers gave the boys the go-ahead and the whole place went crazy.
Steve Marriott recalled the night they left the working men's club and found the Mojo: "Our stuff wasn't right for them. We were paid off after three numbers. We walked through the streets feeling utterly brought down. Then we came to the entrance of a club that looked bright and with it. We could see lots of young people going in. On the spur of the moment we went in and told the owners we would play for nothing. They agreed. We played for all we were worth, taking courage from the fact that the audience were mainly teenagers. All mods in fact. Well we went a bomb. The audience raved like mad and kept yelling for more. Although we told the owner we didn't want anything, he gave us a fiver each towards our expenses. So we went back to London happy. Or at least we started happy. What took the edge off things was that we ran out of petrol on the way back and had to wait for the filling station to open."
Kenney Jones on Sheffield: "One of our first fans was an old lady of sixty who knew all the James Brown numbers we were playing and kept asking for more. She knew 'em all."
Mods understood the Small Faces as the bands were mods themselves and seen as such. They also had a great gift for sending themselves up and, at their peak, had a lovely knack of bringing down pretentious pop stars a peg or two which gave them an approachable down-to-earth appeal without being banal. A bit like mischievous barrow boys who got lucky and were living life to the full.
It was due to their constant piss taking and leg pulling that most stars couldn't handle them! the leading mod band at the time, in the media's eyes at least, was the Who, who despite being a brilliant band with a great pop image weren't really mod at all.
They were being groomed as mods by a publicist called Pete Meaden. Now, Meaden was a mod and in the Who he saw a focal point for his movement. He needn't have looked any further than the Small Faces. Pete Townshend wrote about mods and probably the definitive mod/punk anthem My Generation. But it was the Small Faces who had their finger on the pulse because they were into the black R n B soul that their audience was into.
There's a famous photo of the late Keith Moon and Pete Townshend dancing "the block" (a mod dance step) in the Scene Club in 1965. But this was just another publicity stunt out together by Meaden to improve and reaffirm their image and status and leaders of the mod movement. The Small Faces didn't need to pull strokes like that, as they lived the lifestyle almost every night of the week.
Steve Marriott on being a mod: "Any money we got, or money we could hold onto, went on clothes. These used to be a little know of us from the East End and we would go down to Carnaby Street, which is nothing like it is now of course. It was a dowdy little street with very gloomy little shops. They were very small shops but very exclusive. They were also expensive but stylish with it."
Previously published in Darlings of Wapping Wharf Launderette Issue 3
© Darlings of Wapping Wharf Launderette / Making Time 1995-2021