THE SMALL FACES
I feel inclined to blow my mind-
Get hung up, feed the ducks with a bun.
They all come out to groove about,
Be nice and have fun in the sun.
This is the story of Steve, Ronnie, Scotty and me.
Steve and Ronnie were two boys from the East End of London who made some
of the greatest pop music ever. Scotty is my best mate.
Scotty and I spent a large part of our early teens holed up in each others
bedrooms smoking fags out of the window, fantasising about sex and playing
records. On my fourteenth birthday, Scotty gave me a much-coveted copy
of Itchycoo Park, the Small Faces classic from 1967, backed
with My Way of Giving. No one else in our class had heard
of the Small Faces, which seemed criminal given the greatness of the music,
but it also made us feel like a select cognoscenti.
The two tracks together are an excellent example of Steve Marriott and
Ronnie Lanes song writing versatility. Itchycoo Park
is essentially a humourous take on the flower power scene of the time
and kicks off with a rollicking acoustic guitar riff which heads into
2.47 minutes of aural delight featuring the first phased drums on record
and ends with the joyously tongue-in-cheek sing-along chorus "Its
all too beautiful." On the flipside, My way of Giving
is a moody, bluesy ballad that shows off Marriotts pain-wracked
soulful voice to optimum effect.
There was a condition attached to the gift- I had to give it back to him
on his birthday. So a tradition started, with the record being swapped
on each birthday for the next eleven years until Scotty lost it when he
was squatting in London. He still denies this but its true.
I was sad to lose such a sentimental item, but by that time I had the
tracks on LP and Ive now got them on CD too. In fact, Ive
got the tracks several times over on various limited edition re-issues
and greatest hits packages. The Small Faces and their derivations (the
Faces, Humble Pie, solo albums) form a sizeable chunk of my music collection,
and its still growing as new compilations keep coming out. The latest
is a remastered collectors edition heavyweight vinyl copy of the
bands first Immediate album The Small Faces, first issued
in June 1967, with five bonus tracks.
My wife doesnt get it. She points out that Ive got the album
already on CD and the bonus tracks too on other albums. But this is vinyl,
with the original artwork, I explain to deaf ears. The only other person
who gets the Small Faces to the same obsessional extent is
Weve had our musical differences. Scotty evolved into a hardcore
skinhead punk, then quickly devolved again after a black woman declined
to sit next to him on the bus, despite it being the only seat left. I
had a brief flirtation with punkdom that came to an end after I had to
cut off my padlocked trousers, a traumatic experience which, Im
afraid to say, helped send me down my older sisters rocky road of
air guitars and patchouli oil.
But throughout all our aberrations, we always stuck true to the Small
Faces, a devotion which usually mystified others. In his best mans
speech at my wedding, Scotty talked about the Small Faces to blank looks
from the audience. He spoke of my stag night in Brighton when we stumbled
across a club playing sixties music with pictures of Steve and Ronnie
on the wall. This for us had a great significance but despite his efforts
he couldnt convey it.
A couple of days later a friend who was there asked what it was with the
Small Faces obsession? Steve Marriott was a good singer, but
SINGER?! I cried. He was only the best blue-eyed soul singer ever! And
I proceeded to bore this chap who knew a lot about music but still didnt
I know what its like. In the eighties nearly all my friends were
heavily into the Talking Heads. I could appreciate the technical merit
and cleverness of their finely crafted songs, but they just left me cold.
Its the same with most of the dance music around these days- I cant
find the heart in it.
Heart is something Steve Marriott had in abundance. The first time I saw
him and his band at Leeds Irish Centre he was half an hour late. Shuffling
onto the stage he muttered "Sorry, we got held up- that Dick Turpins
a bastard!" and proceeded to unleash a set of unbridled brilliance
incorporating blues standards, Humble Pie tracks and yes! - Small
Faces numbers that had the hundred or so honoured few who still remembered
that this guy was a genius going wild with delight. "Can you please
all get up and dance- itll seem like theres more people here."
Another time, in Birmingham there were a few more people there, maybe
two hundred, including a guy I knew from work called Geoff Horner. Geoff
had been a bit of a Face himself in sixties London and was still smarting
twenty years later from an encounter with Marriotts acerbic tongue.
Apparently, a devilish alter ego, which Steve called Melvin, would sometimes
surface after he had imbibed a certain amount of booze, and woe betide
anyone who crossed his path. This seemed at odds with the chirpy cockney
geezer up on the stage.
Another person not to have forgotten or forgiven such an encounter with
Melvin was the disc jockey John Peel. It is unfortunate then that Peel
was one of the main obituary writers when Steve died in April 1991. Marriott
was portrayed as a loser, a man who had never come to terms with his fall
from stardom. Some of the newspapers even suggested that the house fire
he died in was self-inflicted, that he had both professionally and literally
It goes without saying that none of these journalists
had paid him any attention for years. If they had ventured to a single
gig on his tireless touring schedule they would have witnessed one of
the greatest of living legends, still very much in control of his powers,
still with a voice that was, as Bobby Gillespie said "As sweet
and soulful as Otis or Aretha." He just came home from the States
jetlagged one day, lay down with a cigarette and moved out of our lives
Ronnies death in June 1997 was less of a surprise, coming as it
did at the end of a gradual surrender to Multiple Sclerosis. It was
still a shock though, as it is when a hero dies.
Id followed Ronnies career for years, until such time as
it petered out due to his deteriorating health. Ronnies solo career
had yielded, in the mid-seventies, some sweetly mesmeric music that
blended RnB, country, bluegrass and music hall, which he
took around the country in a big top. The performance included real
circus acts and can-can girls and was called The Passing Show.
The venture was organised by Ronnies dad Stan and, despite being
rightly lauded by the critics, was a financial disaster. Interestingly
though, I see the idea has been revived this year by Radiohead.
I met Ronnie at Glastonbury Festival, in the days when it was easy to
get back stage. He was hanging around outside his caravan looking miserable.
"You were the best band all weekend." I told him, truthfully.
"That dont say much for the rest of em then does it?"
He replied laconically. "Why are you so miserable?" Asked
the girl I was with. "Cos Im a miserable bastard."
Ronnie said, poker-faced. Stuck for words, I shook his hand and assured
him it was an honour to meet him. He looked like he didnt believe
It wasnt until some time afterwards that I found out he had recently
been diagnosed with MS, split up with his wife and had been given the
boot by his record company. No wonder he was miserable.
Financially, the Small Faces story is one of tragedy too. Steve, Ronnie
and the other band members Kenney Jones and Ian Mclagan were badly ripped
off by unscrupulous managers and record companies leaving them virtually
penniless when the band split up in 1969. The small print in their contracts
has also meant that subsequent royalties were not nearly as big as they
should have been. They certainly paid a high price for being the pioneers
of British pop music.
I dont see Scotty very often these days, but when I do we inevitably
end up drinking too much, staying up too late and dancing around the
room to Small Faces records. Were not such a select cognoscenti
anymore though, as Steve and Ronnie have posthumously found a new generation
of admirers. After they passed away, they were hailed as a seminal influence
on the Britpop movement and now you can find clubs up and down the country
playing their music. And every once in a blue moon you might just see
two older blokes on the dance floor leaping around amongst the kids
to Itchycoo Park.
©John Peters 08/2000
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