Small Faces Story Part 4
Up until this point, the band still had daytime jobs. Kenney had a job in Selmers musical equipment factory fixing the amplification cabinets. Ronnie also worked there in quality control until Steve unwittingly got Plonk the sack. Ronnie was caught shouting "testing free PA for Marriott". Every time an amplifier he tested was passed down the conveyor belt in the factory. (Incidentally, Ronnie was a gifted cartoonist and he invented his own Cockney cartoon character Albert Frigg! When the Small Faces first broke big in 1966, he had planned to release a book based on his cartoons but this never materialised. While at Selmers, Ronnie covered the walls with drawings of Albert Frigg and other characters. These were preserved by his old work mates when the Small Faces became famous.)
Ronnie then got a job with Steve as chief washer-up at Lyons Corner House. this only lasted a few days, as our heroes were sick of their hands turning brown through washing up with bleach! This, along with Steve dropping a crateful of china plates, gave them a good enough excuse to split!
Undeterred, Plonk got a job as a messenger for the Ministry of Defence (MOD!). One day, while meeting Steve in a café in the West End, the pair of them had spilt coffee over the plans and designs for a nuclear submarine which was in a folder Ronnie was meant to deliver. They also managed a few brown sauce stains, as well as breaking the Official Secrets Act in the process.
Sick of dead end jobs that went nowhere fast, the boys decided to turn professional and really go for the big time. Steve had already decided to drop his acting career, much against his parents' wishes, to make it big in the pop world. Maurice King got the boys a resident gig at the West End's Leicester Square Cavern. With their act getting tighter and Steve becoming more proficient at lead guitar (he was still at the learning stage) word started to spread about their live performances and the band was beginning to get rave reviews.
Sonny and Cher were ever-present at these early gigs after first stumbling upon them in Sheffield.
Steve: "Sonny and Cher gave us a tremendous boost, offering advice and encouragement. We never forget that" Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were also seen checking the boys out and Radio One disc jockey Anne Nightingale once recalled Jagger telling her "if you don't like the Small Faces you must be getting old!"
The Who's manager Kit Lambert certainly did take a liking to the band and attempted to sign them. Lambert even managed to get the Scene Club's disc jockey Guy Stevens to supply the band with tapes of the latest American R 'n' B imports for them to cover in their live set. Lambert failed to get the Small Faces' signatures but Don Arden, an entrepreneur of legendary status due to the fact of his style and methods being likened to Al Capone, did managed to sign the band from under the nose of Maurice King. Arden probably used heavy tactics to steal the boys from King, all oblivious to the Small Faces.
The members of the band were young and naïve and according to Steve: "We thought we'll go with whoever offers the most dough." Arden managed to phone Steve's mum and persuade her that the boys would benefit by signing with him and recording for the Decca label. There were in good company at Decca for, after all, the Rolling Stones recorded for the label. Arden offered the boys £20 a week, which was quite a substantial wage in the mid-1960s and also offered them accounts in every clothes boutique in Carnaby Street. This was an irresistible offer for four young clothes-conscious mods. The Small Faces recalled later that they spent around twelve grand (£12,000) on clothes during 1966. What they didn't know was that the money was coming out of their earnings from the countless gigs they played up and down the country and across Europe, leaving them, apart from their weekly wage, virtually penniless from all their hard graft.
Ronnie: "We were like old women at a jumble sale. Half the stuff we got, we never even wore. We'd get home and think, 'What did I but that for?'"
In part five: Jimmy out and Mac comes in
Previously published in Darlings of Wapping Wharf Launderette Issue 3
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