Monday, 23 July 2018

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

You can now buy 'All Our Yesterdays - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Small Faces' in e-book form by clicking here

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.


'Small Faces' (Decca) (1966)

’78 In the Shade’ (1978)

Ian McLagan Tribute Special

Surviving TV Clips 1965-1977 and Unreleased Recordings

Non-Album Songs 1965-1990

Live/Solo/Compilation/Humble Pie/Faces Part One: 1967-1971

Live/Solo/Compilation/Humble Pie/Faces Part Two: 1971-1975

Live/Solo/Compilation/Humble Pie/Faces Part Three: 1976-1981

Live/Solo/Compilation/Humble Pie/Faces Part Four: 1982-2015

Essay: Not All Or Nothing But Everything 

Landmark Concerts and Key Cover Versions:

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