The Small Faces Beginnings
After limited success with The Moments, Steve Marriott first met Ronnie Lane in 1965 while he was working in the J60 Music Bar after Ronnie had come in to buy a new bass guitar. Ronnie recognized Steve from when Ronnie’s band, The Outcasts, had played the support slot for the Moments a year earlier.
Marriott and Lane soon became good friends and after recruiting Kenney Jones – from Lane’s previous band – on drums and Jimmy Winston on keyboards the Small Faces were born.
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For the full Small Faces discography click here.
With a set built on classic soul/R&B and their own songs, The Small Faces soon became a big hit on the mod/soul gig circuit. Although their first gig outside of London was a celebrated disaster when they were booked to play a working men’s club in Sheffield.
Unsurprisingly the audience of teddy boys and boozy steelworkers were not too impressed with their performance and halfway through their rendition of James Brown’s “Please, Please, Please” the plugs were pulled and the band paid off. Luckily the band found Peter Stringfellow’s mod orientated King Mojo Club and after offering to play for free the first Small Faces fans outside of London were born in the King Mojo Club that night.
After further building their fanbase with a residency at Leicester Square’s Cavern Club, as well as other gigs on the mod scene in London, the band signed a management contract with Don Arden and a recording contract with Decca soon followed.
The contract signed with Arden gave the lads £20 a week wages and, perhaps more importantly to the style-conscious mods that were the Small Faces, open accounts at the best clothes shops in London.
The Decca Years
Powered by a riff lifted from Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love”. “Whatcha Gonna Do About It” was the bands first single on Decca in 1965 which was a Top 20 hit.
Their second single, “I’ve Got Mine”, was released on 5 November 1965 but it failed to chart despite Arden securing the band a role in the crime film “Dateline Diamonds” when the film’s release was delayed.
Shortly after the release of “I’ve Got Mine” Jimmy Winston left the band and was replaced by Ian McLagan. The first single to feature Mac on the keyboards was “Sha-La-La-La-Lee” released in January 1966. After the disappointment of the second single’s lack of success, this was a cracking return to form reaching number three on the UK charts.
Decca released the band’s self-titled album in May 1966. Although the cover picture showed the new line-up the recordings featured Winston on all of the tracks except “Sha-La-La-La-Lee”. The week before the release of the album, Decca released the top 10 single “Hey Girl”. The band felt that “Sha-La-La-La-Lee” had not been representative of their R&B sound and the single was a compromise between Arden’s desire for a commercial hit and the band wanting to stay true to their roots.
By this time the band were starting to notice that there chart success was not translating into money in their pockets. Others in the industry too were starting to notice that the Small Faces were becoming big business in the charts. A common story has it that Don Arden had a couple of heavies hang Robert Stigwood out of a window to scare him off from trying to take over from Arden as the band’s manager.
On 15 September 1966, the Small Faces had their first number one in the UK when the Steve Marriott penned “All Or Nothing” hit the top spot two weeks after it’s release. Off the back of this success Arden arranged for the band to go on a tour of the United States but this was scrapped due to details of Ian McLagan’s drug conviction leaking. This lack of touring probably contributed to the band’s inability to “crack” America when other British bands were going down a storm in the States.
When Don Arden authorised, without the band’s agreement, the release of a demo version of “My Minds Eye” the writing was on the wall for their business relationship with Arden and Decca. Although the single was a top ten hit the cracks were beginning to show and the Small Faces were looking for a way out of the straitjacket of their contract with Arden.
An Immediate Improvement
By the time Decca released “I Can’t Make It” in March 1967 the band had split with Arden and signed with former Rolling Stones manager, Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate label. “I Can’t Make It” was released as a contractual obligation before Immediate could release anything from the new batch of recordings that the band were working on with engineer Glyn Johns.
Immediate released their first Small Faces single, “Here Comes The Nice”, in June 1967, Decca had also brought out a compilation album called “From The Beginning”. Also in June 1967 Immediate released the band’s second studio album, confusingly titled “Small Faces” like their first for Decca the year before. In the US, this album was released as “There Are But Four Small Faces” with a different track order to the UK version.
With it’s highest chart position of 12, “Here Comes The Nice” just missed the UK Top Ten. Their next single, “Itchycoo Park” was released in August 1967. Although it failed to get to Number One, peaking at number 3, it is one of the Small Faces most famous songs. “Itchycoo Park” was also the bands first single to make an impression in the United States, with a Billboard chart high of 16.
The next single followed in the Winter of 1967/68. “Tin Soldier” released in December 1967, featuring P.P Arnold on backing vocals. “Tin Soldier” was another Top Ten hit in the UK and also the second Small Faces single to break into the Billboard Hot 100.
By this time the band were working on what was to become their most celebrated album, “Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake” and the first single off that album was “Lazy Sunday” released in April 1968.
“Lazy Sunday” reached number 2 in the British charts, despite Immediate releasing the single against the band’s wishes. Written by Marriott and inspired by feuds with his neighbours, the song is probably one of the Small Faces most popular and familiar songs.
Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake
On 24 May 1968, the Small Faces released their fourth album, Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake. The album was the most complex album they had released and moved the band away from their mod roots and incorporating a mix of heavy rock, psychedelia and soul. Side 2 of the album was a, largely instrumental based, concept piece telling the story of “Happiness Stan” with the music linked together with narration by Stanley Unwin in his trademark “gobbledegook” style. The album spent six weeks, from 29 June 1968, at the top of the UK album charts.
The album was originally released in a round metal tin, aping the packaging of the tobacco brand that the album took its title from. This original packaging was expensive to produce, however, and the album was soon released in a round cardboard sleeve.
“Ogdens'” sold well but the band was faced with a problem in that the complex album was virtually impossible to perform live. In fact, the whole album was only ever performed live once, in a studio recording of the BBC programme, Colour Me Pop.
The difficulties of performing live the complex songs of “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake” and the band’s inability to shake off their early “teen-pop” image led to Steve Marriott’s growing frustration and halfway through a live gig on New Year’s Eve 1968, he walked offstage and out of the band.
Afterglow (of the band)
Following Marriott’s departure from the band, Immediate released, in the UK, the compilation album, “The Autumn Stone”, a collection of earlier Decca and Immediate singles, live tracks and unreleased material. The single from album “Afterglow (of your love)” was also released.
Steve Marriott went on to join Humble Pie and the remaining Small Faces grew a little in stature after hiring former Jeff Beck group members, Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood and renaming themselves the Faces.
In 1975 the Small Faces reformed but without original bassist and songwriter Ronnie Lane (he was replaced by Rick Wills, formerly of Roxy Music). The reunion was prompted by the success of the reissued “Itchycoo Park”. This incarnation of the band released two albums, 1977’s “Playmates” and “78 in the Shade” in 1978, but the reception was lukewarm and the band split again.