Guide to British Music of the 1960s
|The Small Faces|
Guitar/vocals- Steve Marriott, bass/vocals- Ronnie Lane, drums- Kenney Jones, organ/guitar/vocals- Jimmy Winston
The Small Faces, the East-End's fab four, created an enduring legacy during a brief career so much so they not only do they remain highly respected but they continue to attract a young fan base and are widely cited as influences by major artists today including Paul Weller, Oasis, Blur and Supergrass. They became "special" because they were essentially music fans playing the music they loved. They were genuine Mods and so the audience identified with them more than with groups like the Who. Typically when being complimented on his songs, Marriott would suggest that the person in question should listen to the originals instead.
They had charismatic front men in Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane who also became a superb songwriting partnership. These two had met when Lane came into Jim Marshall's music store where Marriott was working, looking for a new bass. He was playing with the Outcasts with Kenney Jones at the time. Marriott had been on the London stage as the Artful Dodger in Oliver and had been in a band called the Frantics, followed by the Moments who had released a couple of singles. They hit it off and discovered that they shared an interest in American R&B.
The group was named the Small Faces as they were all short and were true Mods. The top Mods were always known as "faces." They started to rehearse in the Ruskin Arms in East Ham which was run by Jimmy Winston's parents. The group made their debut at Peter Stringfellow's Mojo club in Sheffield and in London at the Cavern Club in Leicester Square. Manager Don Arden had been persuaded to check them out and they signed to his company. They were rewarded with a wage of £20 per week and accounts at the major clothes shops in Carnaby Street. They also signed to Decca Records. The debut single What'Cha Gonna Do About It was essentially a rewrite of Everybody Needs Somebody to Love. This put the band in the charts. At this time the band was becoming disillusioned with organ player Jimmy Winston who appeared to be hogging the limelight from Marriott on TV appearances and he was told to leave. It has also been suggested that he was too tall!
Winston was replaced by Ian "Mac" McLagan who had been in Boz & the Boz People and the Muleskinners. He fitted into the group perfectly, not only because of his size but also because of his love of the same music. The band's second single was I've Got Mine, penned by Marriott and Lane. This failed to chart and Don Arden turned to songwriters Kenny Lynch and Mort Schuman for the next single. Sha La La La Lee is a very catchy tune that took the band back into the charts. The band continued to have hits with Hey Girl and All or Nothing, the latter making number one in the UK. The album Small Faces was released and showed the band at their R&B best. However, the band was becoming disenchanted with Don Arden and were attracted to the Immediate record label by promises of plenty of studio time to experiment. Immediate had been set up by Andrew Loog Oldham and Tony Calder.
The band went through a transformation at Immediate. The space they were given helped them change from a pop band into one that was pushing at the frontiers of music. The first single released on Immediate was Here Come The Nice, a song about drug dealers that seemed to pass the censors with no problem. At the same time, Decca released Patterns intended as a spoiler and this was not promoted by the band. Here Come The Nice put the band back in the charts though. Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane were not only writing wonderful songs but they were also taking the role of in-house producers at Immediate and writing for other artists.
The second single on Immediate has become a classic of its time. Itchycoo Park also made some impression on the charts in America. The park itself was Manor Park in East London that was renowned for its stinging nettles (itchy) and courting couples (coo). The single was followed by the second "official" album. Small Faces showed just how far the band had come with the songs moving beyond pop or even the band's R&B roots to show more inventiveness.
The Small Faces were at their creative peak. This was best highlighted in the next single. Tin Soldier features fellow Immediate star PP Arnold on backing vocals. Tin Soldier ranks as one of the greatest singles ever released.
The band undertook a tour of Australia and New Zealand with the Who and Paul Jones at the beginning of 1968. The media were unfriendly towards the artists and this led to hostility from audiences. Tensions grew during the tour. Marriott introduced Keith Moon to the art of hotel room smashing. In addition, Marriott and Ronnie Lane started to drift apart. Lane had become very friendly with Pete Townshend who introduced him to spirituality through Meher Baba. The Small Faces also felt that, while they were creating amazing pieces in the studio, they were being left behind on stage, especially when compared with the new-found confidence of the Who.
By now the group was working in studio completing what was to become their best-known album and, possibly, the first genuine concept album. Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake was different before it had even been played. It had an unusual cover that opened out but it was also round, creating problems for record retailers trying to keep it on the shelf! Unlike Small Faces it contained two singles, Lazy Sunday and the wonderful Afterglow. However, it is side two of the record that contains the concept. The story of Happiness Stan and his search for the other half of the moon is narrated by Stanley Unwin in his inimitable style and features a number of Small Faces songs that illustrate this simple story, amongst them the heavy Rollin' Over. The album reached number one in the charts in June 1968 and still receives plaudits for its inventiveness many years later. Afterglow (of Your Love) had originally been written for Immediate stable-mate PP Arnold. She was so impressed with the track that Marriott kept it for the Small Faces. The story came together after the band had undertaken a boat trip on the River Thames and Mac managed to collide with another boat. Sitting around a campfire and stoned Ronnie Lane saw a half moon and wondered what had happened to the other half of the moon.
While the band were breaking new ground in the studio, they were still attracting the teenage following and this meant young girls screaming at the band on stage rather than listening to the music. This is evident on the live tracks from Newcastle City Hall that appeared on the posthumous The Autumn Stone. The Small Faces had already released some heavier tracks such as Ronnie Lane's Song of a Baker and Rollin' Over. Steve Marriott also tried to introduce The Herd's Peter Frampton as the principal guitarist so he could concentrate on his vocals. The rest of the band dismissed the idea although Frampton did line-up with the Small Faces for some sessions completed in Paris with Johnny Halliday.
However, tensions were rising again. The band did not want Lazy Sunday released as a single as they believed it would turn them into a comedy group. In addition, they were caught between being a "teenypop" band and a serious group. They couldn't play Ogden'' Nut Gone Flake live and their gigs were still much of the old set. And the money pressures were building up, largely because the band had never received any royalties.
The next single was The Universal which was mostly recorded by Marriott in his garden and finished in the studio. This was not a big success, adding to the pressures on the band. The Autumn Stone was recorded as a prospective single. Its acoustic tones clashed with Marriott's heavy Wham Bam Thank You Mam as the b-side. More tracks were also recorded for a fourth album.
Everything came to a head on New Year's Eve 1968 while the band was playing at Alexandra Palace. Marriott was becoming increasingly disillusioned and wanted to be treated as a serious musician. He brought in Alexis Korner, the king of British blues, as a guest artist on Lazy Sunday. He walked off the stage before the encore and never returned that evening. However, the band did complete some gigs around Europe that had been scheduled for 1969. The Autumn Stone was sidelined as a single but the Ogdens' track Afterglow was released with Wham Bam Thank You Mam on the reverse.
Marriott went on to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton although he did return for a brief Small Faces reunion in the mid-1970s and recorded with Ronnie Lane. The remainder of the band formed the very brief Quiet Melon before teaming up with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood to become the Faces.
Steve Marriott died in a house fire at his Essex home in 1991. Ronnie Lane had been suffering from multiple sclerosis and died in June 1997. Keyboard player Ian McLagan died in November 2014.
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