Small Faces Biography

Formed in London during 1965, this mod-influenced group initially comprised Steve Marriott (30 January 1947, London, England, d. 20 April 1991, Essex, England; vocals, guitar), Ronnie Lane aka ‘Plonk’ (b. Ronald Frederick, Lane, 1 April 1946, Plaistow, London, England, d. 4 June 1997, Trinidad, Colorado, USA; bass/vocals), Jimmy Winston (b. James Langwith, 20 April 1945, Stratford, London, England; organ) and Kenny Jones (b. Kenneth Thomas Jones, 16 September 1948, Stepney, London, England; drums). Fronted by former child actor Marriott, the group signed to Don Arden’s Contemporary Records management and production and their product was licensed to Decca Records. Their debut, ‘Whatcha Gonna Do About It’, an in-house composition/production by Ian Samwell (formerly of Cliff Richard’s Drifters) was a vibrant piece of Solomon Burke -influenced R&B that brought them into the UK Top 20. Within weeks of their chart entry, organist Winston was replaced by Ian McLagan (b. 12 May 1945, Hounslow, Middlesex, England; organ/piano), a former member of the Muleskinners and Boz And The Boz People. While their first release had been heavily hyped, the second, ‘I Got Mine’, surprisingly failed to chart. Arden responded to this setback by recruiting hit songwriters Kenny Lynch and Mort Shuman, whose catchy ‘Sha La La La Lee’ gave the group a UK Top 3 hit. The Marriott/Lane-composed ‘Hey Girl’ reinforced their chart credibility, which reached its apogee with the striking Arden-produced ‘All Or Nothing’. The latter was their most raucous single to date; its strident chords and impassioned vocal from Marriott ensuring the disc classic status in the annals of mid-60s UK white soul.

The festive ‘My Mind’s Eye’ brought a change of style, which coincided with disagreements with their record company. By early 1967, they were in litigation with their manager and found themselves banned from the prestigious UK television programme Top Of The Pops after Marriott insulted its producer. A final two singles for Decca, ‘I Can’t Make It’ and ‘Patterns’, proved unsuccessful. Meanwhile, the group underwent a series of short-term management agreements with Harold Davison, Robert Wace and Andrew Loog Oldham. The Rolling Stones’ manager signed them to his label Immediate Records and this coincided with their metamorphosis into a quasi-psychedelic ensemble. The drug-influenced ‘Here Comes The Nice’ was followed by the experimental and slightly parodic ‘Itchycoo Park’. With their Top 10 status reaffirmed, the group returned to their blues style with the powerful ‘Tin Soldier’, which featured P.P. Arnold on backing vocals and a lengthy moody intro, combining McLagen’s organ and wurlitzer piano. For ‘Lazy Sunday’ the group combined their cockney charm with an alluring paean to hippie indolence; it was a strange combination of magnificent working-class music-hall wit and drug-influenced mind expansion. Those same uneasy elements were at work on their chart-topping Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, which won several design awards for its innovative round cover in the shape of a tobacco tin. They also enlisted the bizarre nonsense wordsmith Stanley Unwin for the spoken word links on the album’s second side. For their final single, the band bowed out with the chaotic ‘The Universal’ and the posthumous hit ‘Afterglow Of Your Love’.

In February 1969, Marriott decided to join Peter Frampton of the Herd in a new group, which emerged as Humble Pie. The Small Faces then disbanded only to re-emerge as the Faces with the addition of Rod Stewart (vocals) and Ron Wood (guitar/vocals). Successful reissues of ‘Itchycoo Park’ and ‘Lazy Sunday’ in the mid-70s persuaded Marriott, Jones, McLagan and new boy Rick Wills to revive the Small Faces name for two albums, neither of which was well received. Subsequently, Jones joined the Who, Wills teamed up with Foreigner, McLagan played live with the Rolling Stones and Marriott reverted to playing small pubs in London. In 1989, Marriott recorded 30 Seconds To Midnight, but was unable to forge a fully successful solo career. He perished in a fire in his Essex home in 1991. Lane was slowly deteriorating with multiple sclerosis from his base in the USA and died in 1997.

Over the past three decades, the Small Faces, probably more than any other band, have been victims of ruthless reissues. Using inferior master tapes, reduced in quality by generation upon generation of duplicating, a superb catalogue of songs (that the band does not own) has been passed like a hot potato between just about every mid-price record company in existence. During the ‘Britpop’ explosion of the mid-90s, the band was favourably reappraised. Much of the chirpy exuberance of bands such as Blur, Supergrass, Cast and the Candyskins is indebted to the Small Faces.

In 1995 Jones started litigation, attempting to recover substantial missing and unpaid royalties from the previous 25 years. The same year, a UK television documentary and a box set, The Immediate Years, were produced. Bowing to public (or at least music business) pressure, Castle Communications paid a six-figure sum to the members of the band in 1996, together with a future royalty stream. Ian McLagan’s book All The Rage is an excellent starting point for newcomers to this most excellent and talented 60s band who rivalled the Who for their ‘modness’, dress sense and hip songwriting talent.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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