As the summer of 1966 drew to a close, Britain’s first Polaris submarine, HMS Revolution, was launched in Barrow-in-Furness, and two days later the Oberon-class submarine HMCS Okanagan was launched at Chatham Dockyard. It was the last ship to be built there. On 19 September, Scotland Yard arrested Ronald ‘Buster’ Edwards for his part in the Great Train Robbery of 1963.
The number 1 at the time was All or Nothing. This was the only chart-topper for east London mod rockers Small Faces, one of the best groups of the period, who had only formed a year previous.
Singer and guitarist Steve Marriott, born in East Ham, London in January 1947, came from a working class background. His father Bill was a dab hand on a pub piano, and he bought Steve a ukelele and harmonica. Marriott joined his first band, the Wheels, in 1959. He was a huge Buddy Holly fan, like so many at the time. In 1960, the 13-year-old joined the cast of Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver! as the Artful Dodger. One of his audition songs was Connie Francis’s number 1, Who’s Sorry Now? From 1961 he was gaining lots of work in television, film and radio, often typecast as a cheeky cockney lad. A family rift ensued when he decided to concentrate on music, and he moved away from home.
From 1963 onwards Marriott attempted solo success and fame with several bands, including the Frantiks (later the Moments) and the Checkpoints. By 1965 Marriott was working in a music shop when he first met Ronnie Lane, who came in looking for a bass guitar. The duo bonded and went back to Marriott’s to listen to records. they decided to form a band and Lane’s friends, drummer Kenney Jones and guitarist Jimmy Winston, who switched to the organ, as Marriott wanted to play and sing. Thanks largely to Marriott’s attention-grabbing, powerful vocal prowess and a strong bluesy sound, they quickly progressed from pub gigs to the club circuit and christened themselves Small Faces. Back then, a ‘face’ was a mod term, for special, cool bastards, and the quartet were all small in stature. It was the perfect name.
The Small Faces’ early sets were made up of US soul and R’n’B covers, all mod staples, and early compositions from Marriott and Lane. Singer Elkie Brooks was very impressed with Marriott’s stage presence, and thanks to her recommendation to an agent, the band started finding work outside of London. Their first gig in the north, at a working men’s club in Sheffield, went disastrously. They finished early and offered to play at a nearby mod club, King Mojo Club, owned by Peter Stringfellow. They went down a storm. Soon after they had a residency at Leicester Square’s Cavern Club, and among their support acts at the time were Sonny & Cher.
Around this time, Small Faces signed with the impressario Don Arden, who helped snag them a contract with Decca Records. Debut single, Whatcha Gonna Do About It, featured lyrics by Ian Samwell, a former member of the Drifters (later the Shadows), who was responsible for Cliff Richard’s legendary debut record, Move It. Although it reached the top 20, second release I’ve Got Mine bombed.
Winston chose to leave the group, according to Jones, because he started pushing to replace Marriott as star of the band. He was replaced by Ian MacLagan, another shortarse. They were back on track with their third single. The upbeat pop track Sha-La-La-La-Lee was written by Elvis songwriter Mort Shuman and British entertainer Kenny Lynch. Their debut, eponymous album also did well. They were gaining traction.
Marriott and Lane came up with fifth single All Or Nothing. According to Marriott’s mother Kay, her son’s lyrics were inspired by his split with his fiancee Sue Oliver. However, his first wife Jenny Rylance claimed he told her it was about her split from future Faces singer Rod Stewart.
For such small guys, this band could really make a racket. Opening with a fade-in of Jones’s drums, All Or Nothing is a great slice of mod power-pop, soul and rock. The riff has an appealing, plaintive, elegiac sound, and it’s that and Marriott’s stunning vocal that must have caught the public’s imagination. Some say the lyrics are dated and sexist, but to me it’s either simply a very young man who’s desperate to get his end away, or, digging deeper, the lyrics perhaps hint at the singer trying to persuade his lover to leave their partner for him, for good. However, it’s not Small Faces’ best single, and it surprises me that some of their other tracks couldn’t outdo it commercially.
After All Or Nothing toppled Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine, they were one of the biggest bands in the country, but were unable to tour the US initially due to MacLagan’s recent drug conviction. By the end of 1966, they were still broke, and confronted manager and producer Arden over money. He tried to scare the parents of the band by telling them they were all on drugs. They left Arden and Decca and in 1967 they signed with Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label. Their next single, Here Come the Nice, explicitly referred to drugs, yet performed well, and they released a second, eponymous album. Were they too stoned to come up with a name?
The next two singles are classics. Itchycoo Park, released during the ‘Summer of Love’, was full on lysergic pop, featuring flanging and an ecstatic chorus. Tin Soldier, released at the end of the year, took the sound of All or Nothing and outdid it, with PP Arnold bolstering a superior 60s rock anthem. Although Immediate released Lazy Sunday against their wishes in 1968, and many find it grating, I think it’s great, and Marriott unleashes his full-on cockney to great effect.
Also that year came the album that raises Small Faces reputation above that of a great singles band. Contained in a round replica antique tobacco tin, Ogden’s’ Nut Gone Flake was their psychedelic opus. The opening title track hints at what might have been if they’d stayed together and become a progressive rock act, and Afterglow and Song of a Baker are further great slabs of soul-rock. The second side is a surreal fairytale about Happiness Stan, narrated by Stanley Unwin (Spike Milligan having been the original choice).
Sadly, things began to fall apart, and the increasingly frustrated Marriott recorded most of their final official single, the folk-influenced The Universal, in his back garden, with his dogs barking in the background. He had got bored with pop, and he walked off stage that New year’s Eve, shouting ‘I quit!’.
Soon after, he announced he had formed a new supergroup, Humble Pie, featuring guitarist Peter Frampton, who went on to great success. Meanwhile, the remaining trio teamed up with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Lane from the Jeff Beck Group and became, simply, Faces. Treading further down the ‘lad rock’ path that Marriott wanted no part of, they became one of the biggest acts of the early 70s, thanks to hits such as Stay with Me and Ooh La La, and also made a megastar of Rod Stewart.
Once Faces broke up in 1975, Small Faces resumed with the classic line-up. Sadly they didn’t last long. Lane was beginning to show signs of multiple sclerosis, but the other three thought he had a drink problem. Former Roxy Music bassist Rick Mills soon replaced him. Two albums – Playmates in 1977 and 78 In the Shade a year later, but the magic was gone. This final album also featured Jimmy McCulloch, who had recently left Wings. The following year he sadly died from a heroin overdose.
Upon the Small Faces’ split, Kenney Jones joined the Who to fill the huge hole left after Keith Moon’s death. He stayed with them until the late-80s. In 2001, he worked with Wills once more in his own group, the Jones Gang. MacLagan toured with top artists including Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, now featuring former Faces’ bandmate Ronnie Wood. He died from a stroke in 2014. Lane’s MS curtailed his musical output, but he battled on until 1997. Marriott had reformed Humble Pie in 1980, but went solo in 1982. In 1991 he tragically died in his sleep when a lit cigarette set fire to his house. All or Nothing was played as the requiem at his funeral.
Despite their brief time together, Small Faces burnt bright and went on to influence the Jam in the 70s and many Britpop groups in the mid-90s. It’s a shame they split just as things were getting really interesting. Marriott is much underrated, and is up there with rock giants like Robert Plant. They seem to have fallen out of fashion again since, which is a great shame. I’m sure their time will come again.
Written by: Steve Marriott & Ronnie Lane
Producer: Don Arden
Weeks at number 1: 1 (15-21 September)