Monday, 23 July 2018

Cat Stevens: Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions


I don't know about you, dear reader, but so far this book/website has seemed awfully studio-bound: yes there are the odd live albums dotted round in the discographies but a touring life was usually as important if not more so to our AAA artists. Even we can't go through every gig they ever played however, so what we've decided to do instead is bring you five particularly important gigs with a run-down of what was played, where and when and why we consider these gigs so important. Think of these as a sort of 'highlights' covering from first to last, to whet your appetite and to avoid ignoring a band's live work completely! Cat Stevens isn’t well known for his live performances. He only went on one major world tour – which we’ve included as number three on our list – plus one package tour with Jimi Hendrix and The Walker Brothers and played maybe 300 performances total (two hundred as Cat Stevens and a hundred as Yusuf). Even so there are some powerful Cat Stevens shows out there – sadly many of them only on bootleg or as the soundtrack to obscure VHs videos that have never been re-issued (keep an eye out for ‘Tea and the Tillerman Live’), with the one official live record ‘Majikat – Earth Tour’ not everything it might have been.

1)  Where: Roundhouse, London When: February 1st 1967 Why: Breakthrough Gig  Setlist: Unknown

It’s hard to work out where Cat’s first gig was and nobody, including the artist himself, seems to remember. What we do know is that his earliest gigs were under the pseudonym ‘Steve Adams’ in 1965 while Stevens was studying art at the Hammersmith School Of Art. Chances are it was a gig in or around the college itself, where Cat could test his musical talents in a familiar surrounding with arty friends around him. Unfortunately, because his original replacement name was such a common one, we can’t find any evidence for any gigs actually taking place. The first gig under the name Cat Stevens? That’s one we were looking at in only our last book, when Cat joined The Small Faces in a charity fundraiser for the victims of the Aberfan Disaster held at The Royal Albert Hall on December 15th 1966(a mere fortnight before the release of the song [2] ‘Matthew and Son’). So for the sake of variation we’re going to jump ahead in time and go to the first ‘big’ Cat played two months later. With that number one single only just beginning to drop out the charts, Cat found himself in big demand suddenly and without having really played much at all in front of people found himself headlining a show in one of London’s biggest arenas. Cat was having a busy old time of it; just that very morning he’d been putting the finishing touches to his debut album (named after his hit single) with his last day of recordings and then there he was, singing a whole load of untested material for a crowd of three thousand people (which must have seemed like one hell of a lot to the young singer, still aged only nineteen). We don’t know what Cat played that night but [2] ‘Matthew and Son’ and predecessor single [3] ‘I Love My Dog’ were sure to be in there somewhere; I would imagine that [4] ‘Here Comes My Baby’ – a top ten hit for The Tremeloes a mere fortnight before this gig – would be part of the setlist too. Cat’s other live favourites of the period were [10] ‘Granny’ and [29]‘School Is Out’ so I’m going to guess at those too! Cat was relieved at how well the show went over: he’d got some savage attacks in the press for a Christmas ‘pantomime’ gig at the end of 1966 where, with all the acts asked to vamp and improvise, he’d hit upon the idea of a puppet with stomach ache, trying to rub his tummy with Thunderbirds style strings. It didn’t go down with the crowd – or the music press, who started their uneasy alliance with Cat here. Not at the Roundhouse though where all the testimonials were glowing.  Back in the days before Alun Davies Cat mostly played in front of an orchestra to replicate the sound of his singles – an expensive necessity in his first career (when he played some sixty-five between 1966 and 1968). This gig was successful enough to get Cat signed up to a package tour with The Walker Brothers, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and, err, Englebert Humperdinck in April 1967! Cat returned to the same Roundhouse venue for the second time in 2010. Both artist and concert hall had been refurbished and Cat (or Yusuf as he was then) was one of the first performers to play the revived engine shed as part of an expensive refit by the BBC for their ‘Electric Proms’ series.

2)  Where: Gaslight Café, New York When: March 29th 1970 Why: First Comeback Gig Setlist: [73] Moonshadow [59] On The Road To Find Out [53] Wild World [57] Longer Boats [41] Maybe You’re Right [54] Sad Lisa [55] Miles From Nowhere [52] Hard Headed Woman [74] Peace Train [60] Father and Son [68] Changes IV

This was Cat’s ‘comeback’ gig after more than a two year gap (following what had been his last gig – almost literally after his brush with death – on January 20th 1968 at the Winter Garden Pavilions in Weston-Super-Mere; rumours abound that he supported The Who at a one-off gig in February 1969, but that seems unlikely given that he was still deathly sick at the time). Wanting to start afresh, he launched his career in an entirely new country in a club known for its folk singer-songwriters where Cat felt most at home. Particularly with the unknown singer who was also at the bottom of the bill, Carly Simon, with the two dating for nine months or so after their first meeting. What a show it must have been: though the audience didn’t know it, they were being treated to the first live performances of some of the most famous songs of the 1970s, with tracks that would appear on three unreleased albums: ‘Mona Bone Jakon’ ‘Tea For The Tillerman’ and ‘Teaser and The Firecat’. Cat wants to make a complete break with his past and doesn’t sing a single song he’d played in public before, ignoring all his old songs (even his hits) in favour for eleven brand new songs. Little does Cat know it, but he’ll still be singing many of these songs forty years later with only one or two exceptions as this little collection includes three big hits amongst them. Cat was deeply nervous – a lot was resting on this concert and with this his second chance at fame he knew he might not get a third. The show seems to have gone down very well indeed and he was quickly invited back for more, alongside his new girlfriend Carly. New fan favourites, a regular paying gig and a girlfriend – not a bad outcome from a single show! Sadly no footage exists, but we do have audio for Cat’s third ‘comeback’ concert and his first in the UK at the Plumpton Jazz and Blues Festival on August 8th 1970. Cat now has even more songs, adding [51] ‘Where Do The Children Play?’ and [40] ‘Lady D’arbanville’ to his ever-growing pile of classics. For the most part the audience seem restless, unwilling to listen to this quiet but intense acoustic singer-songwriters when they could be rocking out  (the ‘jazz’ in the title was a bit of a misnomer; Black Sabbath and Deep Purple were the headliners that year to give you a flavour).

3)  Where: Scandinavium, Gothenberg, Sweden When: November 30th 1975 Why: Start Of Majikat Tour Setlist: [60] Father And Son [107] Banapple Gas [105] Majik Of Majiks [94] Oh Very Young [84] O Caritas [89] The Hurt [93] Music [40] Lady D’arbanville [74] Peace Train [71] Morning Has Broken [54] Sad Lisa [102] Another Saturday Night [70] Tuesday’s Dead [99] King Of Trees

After that we had five years of only occasional gigs here and there and no full tour, Cat scared that it might all become a bit too overwhelming and not wanting the level of fame he could have had if he had truly grabbed the opportunity and made the most of his popularity in 1971 and 1972. By 1975 though his star had fallen slightly with the poor sales for his concept album ‘Numbers’. He had also secretly converted to his Muslim religion and was already counting down the clock to the point where he could quietly be released from his record contract and take up his new life full-time (with three albums left to go: one padded out with a ‘Greatest Hits’ set and the other two with the rather distracted albums ‘Izitso?’ and ‘Back To Earth’). I would like to think that Cat was already preparing to bow out and wanted to leave fans around the world with a memory, so he embarked on his only substantial tour. Known officially as ‘The Earth Tour’ but usually referred to by fans as ‘Majikat’ after the strapline on the posters, this was a very big deal indeed. Forty gigs were played, split between America and Europe. The shows featured Cat alongside his regular friends Alun Davies, Gerry Conway, Bruce Lynch and Jean Roussel alongside newbies Larry Warner, Chico Batera and Larry Steel. The fifth show in Paris was broadcast on local radio while the show in Virginia on February 22nd 1976 was recorded for possible live release at the time (finally seeing the light of day as a DVD and shortened CD on its thirtieth anniversary in 2004).

4)  Where: Wembley Stadium, London When: November 22nd 1979 Why: Last Gig Setlist: [65] The Wind [59] On The Road To Find Out [125] Just Another Night [126] Daytime [51] Where Do The Children Play?  [60] Father and Son [71] Morning Has Broken [74] Peace Train [124] A Child For A Day

Cat never made it ‘official’ that this would be his last show, but fans kind of assumed it would be. His last gig had been at the end of the ‘Majikat’ tour on May 27th 1976 (in Vienna) and this was the only gig until the comeback where he was billed as ‘Yusuf’. Fans got quite a shock when they same him (Cat hadn’t done any TV work in the interim either, so the only pictures we got were on album covers), walking on with a long beard and with his hair cut short., almost unrecognisable until he opened his mouth. Cat seemed edgy all night – he was always a nervous performer but it seemed more than that somehow, as if he felt that he didn’t belong here on stage anymore. So what prompted him out of retirement just as he was preparing to bow out quietly? Cat had always had close links with the Unicef charity for disadvantaged children around the world from his first career. When Unicef decided on a big launch of a new campaign in 1979 (making it the international ‘year of the child’, calling for adults to cease all wars and think of the children) Cat was an obvious artists to go to. ‘It’s been a long time’ Cat says in his only speech all night ‘Every night I try to do the right thing and reflect something in my life so that its real and I’m not giving you a bunch of lies.It seemed at one time I was full of myself and that maybe be a problem of someone that happens to someone when they are a star – this is something that may have happened a way ago when I first made it’ before launching into his only live performance of ‘Just Another Night’ (which sounds lovely with just a guitar and piano). Cat was moved enough to compose the event’s ‘signature’ song ‘A Child For A Day’ which became his set closer while he sang many other kiddie-orientated songs that night too (most memorably segueing from the hopeful new song ‘Daytime’ to old handwringing classic ‘Where Do The Children Play?’) David Essex and Richard Thompson turned up as special guests on the last song. It was the last time he would sing in public for twenty-two years. The programme for the tour is the first real mention of Cat’s conversion to the outside world (It reads ‘Though he grew his beard a very long time ago, it was symbolic of the future. Four years ago his brother David gave Cat a copy of the holy Qu’ran. It was the truth he had been searching for and his heart was soon filled with love for Allah. On September 9th he married. She is Muslim. He prays to Allah five times a day and is studying Arabic. He is real, at peace and full of love’. The show was filmed and broadcast in a few countries (though not the US or UK) with nine of the songs currently doing the rounds on bootleg and/or youtube. They reveal an artist who is now trying to remember these songs rather than living them, doing his best not to make contact with the audience but still putting together a strong performance that’s full of heart. It’s a worthy farewell – worthier than an anonymous Austrian gig would have been!

5)  Where: Oslo Spektrum, Norway When: December 9th 2006 Why: Nobel Peace Prize! Setlist: [   ] Midday-City After Dark [74] Peace Train [  ] Heaven-Where True Love Goes

Cat’s first post-conversion comeback came in late 2001 when he was invited to take part in the 9/11 ‘Heroes’ concerts that had been organised that October on the month anniversary. Unwilling to appear in public (and perhaps fearful of being the only Muslim on stage) but wanting to be involved, Yusuf dusted down his guitar for the first time in over two decades and shot a simple video of him singing his old war horse ‘Peace Train’. Screened during part of the show, it was a moving gesture and its positive reception led to Yusuf considering his place in music. The world needed him and he had missed the world, but he wasn’t yet ready to go back to recording mere pop ditties or to appear on stage in front of a full audience. So he bided his time, with this minor key University gig his first appearance in front of the public (discounting the odd school assembly at the Islamia School in London Cat had established in 1983). It must have been a very different feeling to the Uncif show, which was probably a distant memory by 2002. Yusuf only played one song, unbilled at that, but the fact that he had got up in front of strangers and sang for the first time was a huge step. Waiting a year, Yusuf rehearsed a full show and played his first ‘full’ gig at The Concert For Cape Town in South Africa on November 29th 2003 before a one-off gig in Berlin and then an almighty fourth show. Cat/Yusuf remains the only AAA member ever to play at the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize concerts, held each year for the winner (which that year was banker Muhammad Yunus). Admittedly Cat won the role more for his charity work than his music (but isn’t that what a lot of music is in the end anyway, helping those without feel wanted and needed and giving them a voice?) Cat performed three songs – two new songs and an ‘oldie’. Giving a moving speech he says that ‘It’s been a long time since I have been doing this sort of work, education and relief work, which I am so pleased to be here for a man who has done so much work at relieving poverty. Eradicating poverty is definitely the way to do with peace and I’d like to do a song that is linked in some way to that’. One of the better ‘Peace Trains’ on record then follows, with an ever-nervous Cat getting better and better with each verse as he gets his confidence back singing in front of people. This was quite some year for Cat, who had a comeback album and would have performed more gigs in America had he not appeared mysteriously on an American ‘watch list’ in 2004 and been deported (it turned out later that his name had been confused with someone else who had been funding Islamic terrorists, but that always sounded like a face saving operation to me!) Footage of the three-song set exists on youtube and very good it is too.


Sometimes when artists pick up that musical baton they pay tribute to their heroes by covering their favourite songs. Here are three covers that we consider to be amongst the very best out of the ones we've heard (and no we haven't heard them all - do you know how many AAA albums out there are out there even without adding cover songs as well?!) There are a quite astonishing amount of Cat Stevens songs out there. Whether it’s because people started having hits with his songs so early (including the first entry on this list back when Cat had only released one single himself), the fact that he disappeared for so long between 1979-2005 or whether his music just speaks to so many musicians, there are a lot of cover songs we could have included in this list. Like you all probably are, though, I’m sick of sitting through so many dozens of versions of famous tracks like [53] ‘Wild World’  [71] ‘Morning Has Broken’ [73] ‘Moonshadow’ and especially [60] ‘Father and Son’ that seem to miss the point (Even Johnny Cash mangles this one, while the Boyzone cover was so bad it made me start liking The Spice Girls!) So they aren’t here in this list – instead here are three songs that all find new ways of doing things to Cat’s songs and making them sparkle.
1)  [4] Here Comes My Baby (The Tremeloes, A-Side, 1967)
I’m never quite sure if this ‘partying’ production of Cat’s tale of heartbreak misses the point entirely or gets it spot on. The narrator is sad that he’s let a girl go and feels the pangs of jealousy as he sees her with another boy. It is, you could say, one of Cat’s saddest songs, full of thoughts of what might have been as he remembers how ignored he felt in the relationship. In Cat’s hands it’s sung with a slight swing, while a brass band play just over his shoulder as if from another room, while he tries to get on with his life. The Tremeloes, though, are having a ball. Heavy drumming, handclaps, a full orchestra and even whistling, they pick up on this song’s pretty little riff and make it dance a twirl in the middle of the song. Their massed harmonies also make the narrator sound far less alone than he used to. So are they trying to get by and pretend to be upbeat and that the scene of their ex having fun isn’t getting to them at all? Or have they completely missed the point of the song? What’s interesting is that to the public it was probably Cat who sounded as if he’d missed the point. The Tremeloes single was a big hit in January 1967 (a #4 hit in the UK); Cat didn’t even record his own version until February, while the album ‘New Masters’ wouldn’t feature it until 1968. Even so, this version has a great beat to it and sounds like an instant hit single in a way Cat’s more reverent reading never quite does.
2)  [22] The First Cut Is The Deepest (PP Arnold, A-Side, 1967)
Patricia Ann Cole (PP to you and me) had just escaped an abusive first marriage when she ran away to become a backing singer for Ike and Tina Turner (maybe she spotted the similarities in the stars’ marriage?) While on tour in the UK she fell in love with London, developed a friendship with Mick Jagger and through him got a contract with Andrew Loog Oldham’s ‘Immediate’ label where she became particularly close to The Small Faces who were often working next door. While she was waiting for them to write her a hit (‘If You Think You’re Groovy’ which was, kinda sorta), she discovered a pile of demo tapes including one by Cat from 1965, the year before he’d made his own breakthrough. Cat had forgotten all about ‘First Cut’, written deliberately as a song to give away to other people to help launch his own singing career and hadn’t yet recorded his own version. P P loved it and got in touch asking to buy the song off him; expecting it to sink without trace he sold it to her for £30, not much for a song even back then. P P’s version was extraordinary though: she knew what heartbreak was a little more than the seventeen year old youth who’d written it and she poured her heart and soul into this song. Already involved in a stormy second relationship with Small Face Steve Marriott, this sounds in retrospect as if P P is ‘replying’ to his own track ‘Tin Soldier’, closely modelled on the intensity and drama. P P emphasises the shift back from the chorus into the second verse where she intones that ‘I still want you by my side’, a line that’s rather thrown away in Cat’s own version. Adding harpsichord and strings and backing singers of her own, P P turns a humble song into a tour de force and even gives it a gospel-soul swing, closer in keeping to her own background. The result, released as a single in May 1967, is a triumph that deserved to do so much better than #18 in the UK singles chart.
3)  [44] Trouble (Kristen Hersh, ‘Sunny Border Blue’, 2001)
Lead composer with not one but two alt rock bands (‘Throwing Muses’ and ‘50FootWave’) Kristin Hersh needed songs from nobody. But a rare cover of this relatively obscure Cat Stevens gem from his years in bed with TB is one of her shining moments, taken from the fifth album of her solo career. ‘Trouble’ as it stood on ‘Mona Bone Jakon’ was much the way Cat would have sung it in bed: too poorly to play with a full band there’s no one else but him, a guitar and a spooky vibe. Here, though, ‘Trouble’ has brought his demon forces with him. Kristin’s naturally quiet, breathy voice is desperately trying to hang onto sanity, but the sudden crash of the drums into the chorus signals a louder, more desperate passage of the song where several ghostly voices intone behind her. Brought to the depths of despair, she sounds desperate here, pulled up only by the addition of an organ solo that rises upwards from the floor and vainly pulls at the sky for remorse, before a quick acoustic guitar solo tries to banish all the bad luck. This doesn’t work though and we end up back where we started for the quiet repeat of the first verse. X Factor actress Gillian Andersen once nominated this as her ‘favourite song’ with particular reference to this version, saying that it ‘was a song that worked for many different times in your life’. This sounds like one of the worst – proof perhaps that the first cut isn’t always the deepest!
Other Cat Stevens articles from this site you might enjoy reading:

'Matthew and Son' (1967) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/cat-stevens-matthew-and-son-1967.html

'New Masters' (1968)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/news-views-and-music-issue-114-cat.html

'Mona Bone Jakon' (1970)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-35-cat-stevens-mona-bone-jakon.html

'Tea For The Tillerman' (1970)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/review-41-cat-stevens-tea-for-tillerman.html
‘Teaser and the Firecat’ (1971) https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/09/cat-stevens-teaser-and-firecat-1971.html
'Back To Earth' (1978) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/cat-stevens-back-to-earth-1978.html
'An Other Cup' (2006) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2016/05/yusufcat-stevens-other-cup-2006.html

'Roadsinger' (2009)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/05/news-views-and-music-issue-31-yusuf-aka.html

'Tell 'Em I'm Gone' (2014)
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/yusuf-cat-stevens-tell-em-im-gone-2014.html
‘The Laughing Apple’ (2017)  https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/cat-stevens-laughing-apple-2017.html
Surviving TV Appearances 1967-2015 https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/cat-stevensyusuf-surviving-tv.html
The Best Unreleased Recordings 1969-2009 https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/cat-stevensyusuf-best-unreleased.html
Non-Album Recordings 1966-2014 https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/cat-stevensyusuf-non-album-recordings.html
Compilations, Box sets and Alun Davies LPs Part One 1963-1990
https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/cat-stevens-compilationslive-lps-part.html

Compilations, Box Sets and Religious Works Part Two 1995-2012 https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/cat-stevens-compilationsbox-sets-and.html



The Small Faces: Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions


I don't know about you, dear reader, but so far this book/website has seemed awfully studio-bound: yes there are the odd live albums dotted round in the discographies but a touring life was usually as important if not more so to our AAA artists. Even we can't go through every gig they ever played however, so what we've decided to do instead is bring you five particularly important gigs with a run-down of what was played, where and when and why we consider these gigs so important. Think of these as a sort of 'highlights' covering from first to last, to whet your appetite and to avoid ignoring a band's live work completely! The Small Faces didn’t hang around long enough to become a legendary live band. In total they probably only played around five hundred shows, around a fifth of an AAA band’s average. They weren’t a particularly happy touring band either, splitting after a particularly disastrous gig on New Year’s Eve gig in 1968. The fact that they didn’t get to make a full live album (with a few odds and ends thrown on the end of ‘The Autumn Stone’ posthumous compilation all we’ve got – and then in awful sound) has given posterity the idea that The Small Faces were a studio band. And yet when you see the few precious bits of live Small Faces TV studio (see our TV column**) they sound like the greatest band in the world.

1)  Where: The King Mojo Club, Sheffield When: July (?) 1965 Why: Breakthrough Gig Setlist: ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ ‘Please Please Please’ [13] E Too D [23] You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me ‘Stand By Me’ [4] Come On Children ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ [2] Jump Back (setlist incomplete)

The ‘real’ first Small Faces concert – indeed the first dozen – all took place at   ‘The Ruskin Arms’. The venue sounds grand, but it was really a humble pub in Manor Park, London, that wasn’t exactly known for local music. The owners couldn’t really put up much of a challenge though as it was their son Jimmy Winstun playing the keyboards in the band alongside his mates Steve, Ronnie and Kenney. The Small Faces had only been in existence a matter of weeks by the time they took to the stage and unlike pretty much every other AAA band by the time of their first performance hadn’t gone through endless torturous line-up changes (they did that in public instead when Winstun got kicked out of the band a year in!) Steve and Ronnie had only known each other a few weeks after Lane dropped in to the local guitar-shop where Marriott was working and spent hours talking about bass guitars. They had all four of them met up for the first time at rehearsals but they quickly bashed together a setlist based on the R and B records common to all four record collections and a couple of early screaming Marriott originals.  On the basis of the few gigs played here The Small Faces got the chance to play a few other pubs and clubs in the same postal code, where they were spotted at one unknown date by the singer Elkie Brooks, who tipped off her own manager Maurice King about how good she thought they were. Excited at having a real live rock and roll act to manage, King got them lots of gigs out of town. Only, in his haste and confusion, he misunderstood what The Small Faces were all about. The band were already mod through and through, playing smart versions of smart R and B songs in smart suits. They really didn’t belong in the dingy workingman’s club where they’d been booked to play to a group of snarling Teddy Boys and things went from bad to worse. Opening song ‘Baby What Do You Want Me To Do?’ went down like a lead balloon. The slower ‘Please Please Please’ went down worse. Worried that they were getting no applause but not sure what to do, the band launched into their original [13] ‘E Too D’ but, a few bars in, the manager pulled the plug, kicking the band out of the club and refusing to pay them money. Dejected at failure so soon in their career plan, they talked about giving up – but then they recognised the name of a club named ‘The King Mojo’. ‘This sounds more like us!’ they thought and they noticed that inside all the kids were wearing their sort of clothes. They pleaded with the manager Peter Stringfellow, later to become famous as an impresario in his own right, to let them perform for free – impressed by their dedication and with a slot free he paid them anyway. The Small Faces were a smash success and even though they weren’t local the venue became synonymous with their name the way ‘The Cavern Club’ was with The Beatles, the band returning several times and playing there more than any other place before finally outgrowing it in 1966. Their setlist never changed during these early months and included two original songs and one cover that would all appear on their debut record the following year, plus radio favourite ‘Jump Back’ and a number of other cover songs. Every band in the era seemed to do traditional blues song ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ and James Brown’s ‘Please Please Please’. The more unusual choices that sadly the band never put on record are Ben E King’s ‘Stand By Me’ long before John Lennon became famous for singing it (which must have sounded great with a charging Marriott vocal!) and ‘Sweet Home Chicago’, an intense Robert Johnson blues number that would have suited the singer to a tee too. On this night at least, it’s a winning combination, offering mod audiences song they would have known and loved but in a quite different style. The Small Faces had arrived and on the strength of this one gig were booked for a UK concert tour in August and September that brought their branch of R and B to a number of Northern towns.

2)  Where: Wembley Stadium, London When: May 1st 1966 Why: Biggest Gig? Setlist: Unknown

The NME Pollwinner’s Concerts, which ran between 1959 and 1972, were a big deal. Especially in the mid-1960s when they offered a rare chance for bands to get a bit of TV exposure (though limited more often than not to a half hour highlights show). Sadly The Small Faces’ segment doesn’t seem to have been broadcast for this, their breakthrough year, but that only shows you how intense the competition was, with sets by The Beatles (their final UK show), The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Herman’s Hermits, Dusty Springfield and The Who. For a band who had only been going a year and whose first LP release was a still a week away, it was a huge achievement – especially as The Small Faces were chosen to kickstart the event in a coveted spot. With so many of their famous peers hearing them for the first time and the biggest crowd they had played to by that point around ten-fold, plus the presence of cameras whether what they sang was broadcast or not, it must have been a highly nerve-wracking event! We don’t know what they played on this day but were probably restricted to two songs at most: my guess is they’d have performed their last two singles [15] ‘Hey Girl’ and [14] ‘Sha La La La Lee’.

3)  Where: Royal Albert Hall, London When: December 15th 1966 Why: Most Moving Gig? Setlist: Unknown

One of the world’s first music charity events, certainly in the rock and roll world, lies forgotten. The Aberfan Disaster saw the deaths of 116 Welsh children and 28 staff after the debris of a Welsh mine collapsed without warning, swamping a primary school located nearby on October 21st 1966. The date was deliberately held for the day before the results of an official ‘inquiry’ when the disaster was back in the news again, with reports that many people working at the mine had offered ‘warni9ngs’ that something like this could happen. Very much a ‘young person’s tragedy’ in a landscape where the news was full of ‘adult’ concerns (the cold war mostly), it inspired a lot of youngsters to take up activism and environmental concerns. Inevitably the youth movement of the day – rock and roll – was a good place to turn when raising money for the families of those left behind and the organisers started big: they harangued Brian Epstein and The Beatles’ office, pleading with them to play, perhaps not realising how serious their retirement really was (the last Beatle concert had been in August that year). Epstein was deeply sympathetic but knew that his charges were scattered around the world and didn’t have the time to rehearse; instead he got out his contact book, with The Small Faces one of three acts who said ‘yes’ alongside Cat Stevens and a Salvation Army band named ‘The Joystrings’. While not as big as the organisers might have hoped, the event did fill out The Royal Albert Hall – another leap in size for The Small Faces – and all helped with their public profile. The Small Faces are said to have been quite moved by the show – and it may well have contributed to their growing need to leave Decca and join Immediate as ‘life is too short’.  In the end £1.75 million was raised through the gig and other fundraising events by the start of1967, a then record on British soil. Again, we don’t know what was played – very little seems to survive about this gig at all – but my guess would be that the band must have done their recent #1 hit [17] ‘All Or Nothing’, which would have sounded incredibly poignant given the circumstances (‘I thought you’d listen to my reasoning…’)

4)  Where: Woburn Abbey When: August 26th 1967 Why: Strangest Gig? Setlist: [  ] (festival of the flower children)

In June 1967 California had ‘The Monterey Pop Festival’, a three day meeting of minds and music where careers were established, everyone came in the name of love and the weather was great, putting the ‘summer’ into the ‘summer of love’. Two months later Britain had…a load of kids gathered in strange clothes on the grounds of Woburn Abbey. Not many people remember this festival, one of many hastily arranged around the world in the wake of Monterey. However for AAA fans it looks great: alongside The Small Faces were The Kinks, Denny Laine, Eric Burdon and The New Animals, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Bee Gees, The Alan Price Set, Tomorrow, the great under-rated short-lived psych band Dantalion’s Chariot, Jeff Beck and Marmalade. Not a bad return for thirty shillings! Lots of footage exists, but frustratingly a lot more was taken of the crowd than the performers (though there is a fun clip of a stunning ‘Hey Gyp, the best song in ‘The New Animals’ setlist) and most of it is silent (albeit usually given a studio recording overdub by Youtubers!)  The biggest differences between this and most concerts are the vintage cars left around the venue for customers to get where they needed to go, the giant hot air balloon full of people throwing out flowers (?) and the Abbey itself, which looks grand and historical (how on earth did the organisers get permission to play here of all places?!? Well, rumour has it that the hippie committee sold it to the passionate Duchess of Besford as a real-life ‘flower’ festival full of horticulture. Mind you, the then-owner The Duke of Besford said they were all ‘lovely people’, so this may have all been for the papers – and good on him!) Alas the show didn’t go entirely to plan. Marmalade, playing at night, decided they wanted the audience to light up the skies with a few lit sparklers, without seeming to realise the mayhem this would cause to the front rows. The audience, naturally, lobbed them back at the band – some missed, but they did get the canopy at the back of the stage which burnt down and came close to damaging the centuries old Abbey! Oops…What most people remember, though, were the clothes, especially that worn by the band on stage. Legend has it that Steve Marriott was wearing what looked like a nightgown. No pictures of it seem to exist though – I’m not sure whether to be pleased about that or disappointed!

5)  Where: Alexandra Palace, London When: December 31st 1968 Why: Breakup Gig Setlist: Unknown

Small Faces fans probably had New Year’s Eve 1968 down as the end of one hell of a great year – alongside Pink Floyd their favourite band were appearing on the TV show ‘Surprise Partie’. The band had finished the year as one of the best selling recording acts thanks to ‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’. 1969 was surely going to be even better! And then filtered back the news: The Small Faces had split, right in the middle of a tour. Something hadn’t felt right about the band for months. A combination of the runaway success of [59] ‘Lazy Sunday’ (a great song that lumbered them with exactly the kind of image they had been trying to break free from), disagreements over how to follow-up Ogdens and Marriott’s requests to add hotshot guitarist Peter Frampton and some permanent girl singers had driven a wedge between them all. After three years of constant touring, despite barely knowing each other when they’d started, what the band probably needed was a long rest. Instead they had just come off an exhausting month long UK tour and were facing another around the world at the start of the new year. Marriott was furious that the technology used at these gigs just wasn’t keeping up with their music (the thing that had killed off The Beatles’ live career) and frustrated that he had to go back to playing the band’s poppier material after his ‘breakthrough’ complex songs. However, unlike The Beatles or The Stones (who had called it a day after Brian Jones’ many drug busts) The Small Faces didn’t have the luxury of stopping. Ripped off by managers and watching the Immediate label crumble, taking their money with them, they had to tour to take money – and indeed Marriott will see out his commitments for a further twenty shows after announcing his split, unable to afford to break his contract. Technically, then, this isn’t the final Small Faces show (that was one at Jersey’s Springfield Hall on March 8th 1969, at least until the reunion years without Ronnie seven years later), but it is the one that broke the band, Marriott so disgusted at the sound problems that he threw down his guitar after the last song and yelling ‘I quit!’ into the microphone. Unlike other bands who did the same (The Kinks and The Who amongst them), he never changed his mind. He was already hatching a new band with Peter Frampton and believed it would bring him fame and fortune, especially fortune. You do wonder if he ever secretly regretted it, though, as ‘Humble Pie’ may have got the sales but were never quite as respected or loved as much as The Small Faces. Annoyingly so little was ever written about their live shows we don’t even know what the last song he played on stage was – chances are it was [49] ‘Tin Soldier’ (the last song The Small Faces had been able to replicate live), or some old cutesy single like [47] ‘Itchycoo Park’ or [17] ‘All Or Nothing’. Live recordings of this period also feature an exclusive rarity from these period shows, a snazzy version of [79] ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ and the only song ever performed from the ‘Happiness Stan’ side of ‘Ogden’s, [61] ‘Rollin’ Over’.

Sometimes when artists pick up that musical baton they pay tribute to their heroes by covering their favourite songs. Here are three covers that we consider to be amongst the very best out of the ones we've heard (and no we haven't heard them all - do you know how many AAA albums out there are out there even without adding cover songs as well?!) I have to say, considering how few albums they released, how impressed I am with the range and quality of Small Faces covers out there. Many of them, admittedly, were made especially for the 1995 various artists tribute album ‘Long Agos and Worlds Apart’ which was released at the perfect time in 1995 just as Britpop was taking off and featured many future and past stars including Paul Weller, Ocean Colours Scene and old friend P P Arnold. One of the better AAA tribute albums around, it’s an excellent purchase if you like that sort of thing. Even aside from that, though, you can’t move for cover versions of [17] ‘All Or Nothing’ [47] ‘Itchycoo Park’ and [59] ‘Lazy Sunday’ and for a band who only ever recorded eighty-odd songs in the 1960s anyway I’m impressed at just how many of their songs have been recorded by somebody (around thirty-five by my research!) Here’s our guide to the best ones:

1)  [49] Tin Soldier (Sopworth Camel, ‘Under Age’ 1973)

Named after an unlikely type of WW2 spitfighter plane, Sopworth Camel were a prog rock band who made Pink Floyd seem normal and The Moody Blues seemed compact. Formed in San Francisco in 1965 but fell out of favour after the end of psychedelia and only really found success when re-forming in 1971. It’s a great shame that they only ever released two albums (one in 1967, one in 1973) as this was a band with a lot of promise. I always dread hearing a cover version of a song that’s really special to me because there are so many opportunities for ruining what made the original special or at best it just makes you long to hear the original. This very 1970s reading of what is a very 1960s song sounds great though, with thick and heavy drumming, a stabbing guitar playing what Mac’s organ does on the original and there’s a moody opening made up of whispering voices and clattered cutlery that makes the sudden bearish pawing of the opening chords all the more intense and dramatic (they even seem to re0create the ‘ooh! Aah!’ of The Small Faces’ cover of [3] ‘Shake!’). However the band do keep the fierceness of Marriott’s vocals without sacrificing the precision, the stunning harmonies and the big thick sound of The Small Faces’ masterpiece. The only bit they lose out on in the dramatic build-up near the end, but for three-quarters of it this cover is quite brilliant, exactly the way the heavier-built Humble Pie should have been singing it come the late 1970s.

2)  [45] Here Come The Nice (Rich Kids, B-side 1978)

The Small Faces were big all over again in the late 1970s when the dew mod scene made them their own, even more than The Who (it helped that they’d split when most of them had barely come of age, unlike the ‘orrible ‘Oo who’d done the worst thing you could do as mods and become middle-aged). The snappy dress sense and compact singles no doubt helped too. There are a dozen examples from 1978-1980 I could have chosen, by famous bands like The Jam or Quiet Riot (who do a very noisy [55] ‘Afterglow’). However my favourite by far is by the short-lived (even by Small Faces standards!) band ‘Rich Kids’, formed by Glen Matlock after the death of The Sex Pistols (he was always the band member with the best taste!), who turn ‘Here Comes  The Nice’ from a cute psychedelic song about drugs into a power-cry for young and disaffected youth. In this version no one seems to have told the band The Nice are really drug-dealers leaching off the youth – they sound more like the cool gang everyone wants to join. ‘You don’t need money to be rich!’ ad libs a pre-fame Midge Ure the year before he formed Ultravox, and that’s the theme of this song – escapism, a way out of poverty, of hunger and desperation. Good on the young band for picking up on the barely-there theme hidden in the original who only ever released three singles before splitting (this is the B-side to the middle one ‘Marching Men’, although a Peel radio session version is even better to my ears). Together with the twin heavy-hitting guitars, the quicker tempo and the chance of ni-i-i-ce’ into a Jam/’David Watts style taunt of ‘na-ee-ice!’ this is a great cover, one of the best out there.

3)  [18] Understanding (P P Arnold and Primal Scream, ‘Long Agos and Worlds Apart’ 1996)

Most tribute albums suck – the bands taking part are in this more for their careers than the bands they’re covering and its basically a chance to show off what you can do, not what they can do. ‘Long Ago and Worlds Apart’ is that rare thing, a record that asks not what do other people sound like singing Small Faces songs but what might The Small Faces themselves sound like if they were still making music in the present day? 1995 was closer to the distinctive Small Faces style than many people might realise – being young, trendy, British and talented was cool again, as were smartly dressed guitar bands who looked cute but made a BIG noise! Primal Scream knew their 1960s better than most, with their swirling updated surf guitars and their blistering fuzz basses not that far removed from a 1960s sound anyway. They didn’t really sound like The Small Faces vocally though – but they knew someone who did. Then in her forties, P P Arnold sounds remarkably like she did eighteen years earlier – soulful, passionate and powerful. She nails this overlooked Small Faces B-side that could have been written for her and is very much in keeping with her gospel-training. Dropping the la-la-las in favour of a wild guitar solo that just goes on and on is a good move, while the rest of the arrangement is very much like the record, only ‘tidier’, with handclaps and horns emphasising the beats in the song. The result is a triumph, an old friend and new fans doing a great group the favour of making them sound contemporary all over again. It’s this song and album, as much as Marriott and Lane’s sad deaths and Paul Weller’s obssession, that temporarily made this band the coolest thing on the planet all over again.
Other Small Faces related articles from this site you might be interested in reading:

'Small Faces' (Decca) (1966) http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-small-faces-decca-album-1966-album.html


’78 In the Shade’ (1978) https://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/the-small-faces-78-in-shade-1978.html

Ian McLagan Tribute Special
http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/rip-ian-mac-mclagan-aaa-obituary.html

Surviving TV Clips 1965-1977 and Unreleased Recordings http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/the-small-faces-surviving-tv.html

Non-Album Songs 1965-1990 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/the-small-facesfaceshumble-pie-non.html

Live/Solo/Compilation/Humble Pie/Faces Part One: 1967-1971 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/small-faceshumble-piefaces-albums-part.html

Live/Solo/Compilation/Humble Pie/Faces Part Two: 1971-1975 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/the-small-faces-livesolocompilationhumb.html

Live/Solo/Compilation/Humble Pie/Faces Part Three: 1976-1981 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/the-small-faces-livesolocompilationhumb_22.html

Live/Solo/Compilation/Humble Pie/Faces Part Four: 1982-2015 http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/the-small-faces-livesolocompilationhumb_29.html