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The Small Faces - A Biography
 

Over the last quarter of a century, the Mod movement has been reborn, bringing with it a new generation of musical heroes and helping the original Mod heroes, like the Who and the Small Faces to get back into the public eye.    The Small Faces, in particular, are probably remembered more for their Mod connections than for anything else, but they were one of the few Mod bands to become more than a cult and to keep completely in touch with the changing times through their music.  By the time they finally split in 1969, they had encompassed R&B, psychedelia, comedy and music-hall, yet without ever falling into the trap of pretentiousness that afflicted so many of their contemporaries.   Their best records still provide a breath of fresh air, and sum up the musical adventurousness and confidence that made the Sixties such an exciting era in pop history.

The Small Faces rise to the top was meteoric.   They formed in early 1965 and within six weeks had landed a contract with Decca, “Watcha Gonna Do About It”, was soon riding high in the charts.   The original line-up consisted of Steve Marriott (guitar, vocals), Ronnie Lane (bass), Jimmy Winston (Organ and guitar) and Kenney Jones (drums).    By 1965 Steve Marriott was no stranger to show business.    At the age of 12 he had starred in the stage musical “Oliver” and as a result Decca had shown an interest in promoting Steve as a recording artist.   His first release was a single “Give Her My Regards”, which is now almost impossible to get hold of – though the song was included on Decca’s excellent “Hard-Up Heroes” compilation set in the early Seventies.

“Give Her My Regards” was very much in the Buddy Holly (or at least, Buddy Holly imitator) vein.   Steve’s own interests were elsewhere, however, as he showed by forming an R&B group called Steve Marriott and the Frantik Ones (later shortened to the Frantiks).   Within a few months they changed their name again (to the Moments) and were able to release a single (in America only!) on the World Artist label – a cover version of the Kink’s hit, “You Really Got Me”.  

In 1965 Marriott put together the original Small Faces line up.    They played their first gig in Sheffield and quickly followed this with concerts in East Ham.   They secured a one-off booking at the Cavern, Leicester Square – and went down so well that they booked for a five-week session.   Don Arden became their manager and persuaded Decca to offer them a recording contract.    Their first single “Watcha Gonna Do About It” was superb, a Samwell/Potter composition, which was heavily influenced by Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love”.   It reached no. 14 in the British charts, the first of many hit singles.

Their second release “I’ve Got Mine”, didn’t chart.   It was a less commercial number, and the Faces weren’t established enough to be able to get away with it at that early stage in their career.  

After  “I’ve Got Mine”, Jimmy Winston left the group, to pursue a solo career.   His first release was a single called “Sorry She’s Mine”/Its Not What You Do”, but that flopped and his later career never really got off the ground.   Winston was replaced by Ian McLagan, who had been with a group called Boz and the Boz People.   This completed the line-up that recorded their third single, “Sha La La La Lee”, released in January 1966.   It was a very commercial song with a catchy hook line and it picked up a lot of airplay, which helped it to No.3 in the charts.

The bands success story continued that May, with the release of another single and their first album.   The LP was entitled “Small Faces”. and was a great debut, with Steve Marriott’s voice showcased by the excellent instrumental work.   It took its influences mainly from the American R&B scene, which had a huge impact on many London groups.   Perhaps the best example is the song “You Need Loving”, credited to Marriott and Lane, which is very similar to Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love”.   Amongst the many people who have recorded versions of the song are Led Zeppelin, who named it “Whole Lotta Love” as the highlight of their second album.  

The next single was called “Hey Girl”, another Marriott/Lane composition, which gave them, a Top Ten hit in the summer of 1966.   It was followed by the groups only No.1 “All Or Nothing” musically similar to their previous releases, but with an even stronger hook line and riff.

Christmas 1966 saw the release of “My Minds Eye”, parts of which sound a little like a Christmas carol!   Perhaps it wasn’t as strong as its predecessor but it still made No.4.   Yet in many ways the Small Faces seemed to have stopped progressing.   Certainly their first 45 of 1967 “I Can’t Make It”, wasn’t a patch on the previous singles and only just scrapped into the Top Thirty.   The general feeling of boredom was heightened by the flipside, “Just Passing”, which was a throwaway song lasting just under one minute.

Immediately after the release of “I Can’t Make It” the band left Decca for Andrew Oldham’s new Immediate label, Decca were obviously peeved by this and they rushed out another single “E To D”/”Patterns” which flopped completely and is now pretty hard to find.

That June saw the release of two albums by the group, on different labels.    Decca called their album “From The Beginning” and included some old material, some unreleased songs, a couple of hit singles and a slightly different version of “My Minds Eye”.    The highlights of the album were “My Way Of Giving” (later to be covered by Chris Farlowe and Rod Stewart) and a superb version of “Baby Don’t You Do It”.

At the same time Immediate released a LP confusingly called “Small Faces” for some strange reason.    “My Way Of Giving” and “Tell Me Have You Ever Seen Me” turned up on both the albums.    “Small Faces” was a smashing album but possibly lacked the energy and drive of the Decca release.    Both made the charts however “From The Beginning” peaked at No,17 while “Small Faces” reached No.12.

The Small Faces first single on Immediate was the superb “Here Comes The Nice”, proof that artistically Marriott and Lane were feeling the benefits of a new contract and label.   Although the song seemed to celebrate the use of drugs it was obscure enough to escape a BBC ban and gained a lot of airplay, helping it to No.12 in the charts.   This single was also the first real sign that the band was beginning to react to the changing music scene.    1967 was the year of “Sgt Pepper”, studio effects and psychedelia.    The next single “Itchycoo Park” was another massive British hit and incidentally was their only US chart entry.  

It was followed by the equally commercial “Tin Soldier” which was one of the very few singles from the period to be issued in a picture sleeve, which featured an out of focus shot of the group.

As a taster for their new album “Lazy Sunday” was released as a single in early 1968.   It featured just about every sound that you could imagine, from toilets flushing to church bells ringing and managed to digest all the excitement of the period without losing the humour and directness that marked all of the bands best records.     Deservedly “Lazy Sunday” reached No.2.

The album followed in May.    “Ogdens Nut Gone Flake” initially created a lot of publicity because of its round sleeve, carefully manufactured to represent a tobacco tin with all the layers of paper inside.    The first side of the album contained straightforward songs but the second side featured Stanley Unwin telling the story of Happiness Stan searching for the missing half of the moon, linking the musical tracks together.   The album went straight to No.1 and was to be the Small Faces greatest success.

Although the Small Faces were now enjoying their greatest period of success all was not well within the band.    By the time they recorded their next single “The Universal” they had to all intents and purposes split up.   Marriott recorded the single on a portable cassette recorder in his back garden, which accounts for many background noises which can be heard including the sound of Steve’s dogs barking.    It was released in September 1968 and reached No.16.    At the same time rumours of the groups split were announced.    A few months later Marriott left to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton while the others eventually formed the Faces with Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart from Jeff Becks group.   

Immediate records issued another single at the start of 1969 the totally superb “Afterglow” which turned out to be a comparative flop.    At about this time Immediate records ran into financial problems and confusion now surrounds many of their final releases.    Catalogue numbers were allotted to two Small Faces albums “In Memoriam” and “Autumn Stone”.   The first of these never got a UK release while “Autumn Stone” only received a very limited distribution.

The Small Faces story didn’t quite end there.    At first the Faces took over the old name.     They were billed as the Small Faces when they first toured America and an excellent bootleg exists where Rod Stewart introduces the group with the words “as no one else is going to do it we might as well introduce ourselves – we’re the Small Faces”.   A few months later they became simply the Faces – but that’s another story!

By 1976, following the collapse of both the Faces and Humble Pie, Steve Marriott reformed the Small Faces.   He had no trouble persuading Mac and Kenney to return to the line-up but Ronnie Lane, who had left the Faces to form his own band a couple of years before, didn’t want to be involved in the project.   His place was taken by bassist Rick Wills and on later tours Jimmy McCullough (ex-Wings) was added to the line-up.   They produced two albums “Playmates” and “78 In The Shade” but both received poor reviews and even worse sales.    In 1978 the reunion was abandoned.

The Small Faces were undoubtedly one of the best British groups of the sixties, but somehow they never made quite the same impact in the States, only becoming a cult band there after they split.    In Europe however they made a big impression, especially in Germany where they were chosen to take part in the countries first colour television transmission.   Over the years there reputation has steadily grown helped by the re-issue of singles, cds and Darlings of Wapping Wharf, of course.   Both “Itchycoo Park” and “Lazy Sunday” were British hits again in the seventies.

The recent revival of interest in all things Mod has only helped to consolidate their reputation as one of the most fascinating British bands of their time.

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