For me, like many others, The Small Faces were the ultimate pop group. They were proper young ‘real’ Mods who formed a band, and as an added bonus, they were even the same height.
Five foot five as you’re asking.
They formed in 1965 with one time child actor, Steve Marriott up front on lead vocal and guitar, Ronnie ‘Plonk’ Lane on bass, Kenney Jones on drums with, originally Jimmy Winston on keyboards, who was later replaced by Ian ‘Mac’ McLagan.
A child actor of film, TV and the stage – he appeared in the Lionel Bart musical ‘Oliver!’ as Stephen Marriott- his first attempt at a pop career had faltered. As a result, he found himself working at the J60 Music Bar in Manor Park. One fateful day, in walked Lane looking to buy a bass guitar. The pair hit off immediately and they then teamed up with friends Jones and Winston, rehearsing at the nearby Ruskin Arms, a pub owned by Winston’s parents.
Steve’s girlfriend of the time, Annabel, commented that they all had small faces. With Face being slang for a top mod and they all being well, small, the name stuck. The four worshipped the R’n’B greats like Otis Redding, James Brown and a whole raft of Blues performers. The term ‘blue eyed soul’ could have been invented for these boys as they, especially Marriott with his amazing voice emanating from such a small frame, tried their best to emulate their heroes.
As well as covering well known songs, Steve and Ronnie had begun to write their own material. After the usual round of gigs in pubs and small venues, they picked up a residency at a club in London’s Leicester Square. The very real buzz about the band reached the ears of Don Arden and before long they had signed a deal with him as their manager and Decca Records, as their record label.
Their debut single ‘Whatcha Gonna Do About It’ reached the top twenty in the charts. The self-composed follow up ‘I’ve Got Mine’ flopped however, despite a promo appearance in the film ‘Dateline Diamonds’. Performing the song.
Winston then left the band, to be replaced by ‘Mac’. ‘Sha La La La Lee’ was next up in early 1966 and this got the band back on track, hitting the top five in the charts, which was quickly followed by their debut album, the creatively titled ‘Small Faces’.
The coveted number one spot was then achieved with the song ‘All Or Nothing’. On the back of this, they hit the road and toured all the UK and Europe constantly.
With clothing accounts in nearly every boutique in Carnaby Street, they also soon became fashion leaders, with their innate mod style being featured in the glossy magazines of the day.
Denied a chance to tour the USA due to a drug charge hanging over Mac, the band ploughed on becoming massive in the UK. Despite this, financially they were no better off and a break with Arden and Decca was inevitable.
They were picked up by the new Immediate label, run by former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham. Afforded prolonged studio time, The Small Faces flourished, and produced a string of fantastic singles and again, a self-titled, and highly influential album. Their song ‘Here Comes The Nice’ paved the way for ‘Itchycoo Park’, which went top twenty in the USA.
Next up, the classic ‘Tin Soldier’ with legendary soul singer P.P. Arnold on backing vocals. On any given day, this would appear in my top ten singles of all time. 1968 saw the sing-a-long ‘Lazy Sunday’ released, again achieving top ten status. Mid 1968 also saw the release of their Ogdens Nut Gone Flake album, which came in an innovative round album sleeve, designed to resemble an old tobacco tin.
Actor Stanley Unwin provided a running ‘gobbledegook’ story in between the tracks on side two. It stayed at number one in the album charts for six weeks and the band performed songs from it on a lgendary ‘Colour Me Pop’ TV show.
Marriott though was frustrated with just being seen as a pop performer and after the relative failure of the single ‘The Universal’ he quit the band on New Years Eve 1968, going on to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton.
Jones, McLagan and Lane later teamed up with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood in The Faces. Ronnie later went solo and had decent success with the songs ‘How Come’ and ‘The Poacher’ amongst others.
The Small Faces reunited briefly in the mid 1970’s, but it was an ill-fated move and Lane soon left. Tragically, Marriott died in a fire at his home in Essex in 1991 aged just 44 and Ronnie Lane succumbed to Multiple Sclerosis in 1997 aged just 51.
Kenney went on to tour as the replacement for Keith Moon in The Who, and he continues to play the occasional gig within his Jones Gang line up. Ian McLagan recorded under his own name, as well alongside The Rolling Stones and Billy Bragg. He died in 2014 aged 69.
Big interest in The Small Faces peaked again in the Brit-Pop era of the mid 90s, with the likes of Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher citing the band as a major influence. If he had lived, it is without doubt Steve Marriott would have been lauded as a musical great for that generation. Whether he would have welcomed such attention however, we’ll sadly never know
A City of Westminster plaque commemorating the band was unveiled on their former stomping ground of Carnaby Street, in 2007.
There were but four Small Faces, and small in stature they may have been, but their legacy is massive and it is one that is still fondly remembered.
The Mumper of SE5