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An interview with Jimmy Winston


FROM THE BEGINNING:

JOHN HELLIER SPEAKS WITH JIMMY WINSTON (SEPT.1996)


 

Original Small Faces keyboard player Jimmy Winston tells of how the band evolved some forty years ago. This is the first interview that Jimmy has given since his departure from the band in late 1965, after just two singles.

JH  Jim, Starting right at the beginning, what did you do prior to forming the Small Faces?

JW Prior to joining the Small Faces I really wanted to be an actor. At about 17 or 18 I had started to appear in a few films as an extra and through doing that I really developed a taste for acting. As an extra you only get the odd line here and there and you end up doing loads and loads of nothing really. When I was 20 I ended up going to a theatre workshop drama school, got a grant and done a proper course. It was the very week that I left drama school that I first met Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane. I was doing a spot of compeering in my dad’s pub, the Ruskin Arms, and they came in.

JH How did the formation of the Small Faces come about?

JW As I said I’d done my training at the theatre workshop and was preparing to get an agent and do the things you do after drama school. Then one night I was in my dad’s pub and in came Steve and Ronnie. They were having a few beers and Steve wanted to get on stage with the resident group and play a bit of harmonica. He got up, played and was good. We then got chatting over a few beers and it was that night really that the Small Faces were launched. I hadn’t met Kenney yet, but the three of us got fairly plastered on ideas and all the possibilities. Strange really because up until that meeting I had been geared up for an acting career but after just the one meet with them I was prepared to throw it all up in favour of joining a new group. At that time I had a small house in Stratford and we went back there afterwards and carried on into the night. At that early point there was only enthusiasm and goodwill.

JH In the early days you played a Rickenbacker guitar, was there any reason for that? That was before Pete Townshend played one wasn’t it?

JW No, Pete already had one. Back then it was quite an unknown guitar. It had a very interesting sound especially the 12 string electric version which was very nice. I don’t think anybody tries anything that they haven’t seen somebody else using. We all used to go to music shops around the East End and just dribble basically. We were using hire-purchase cheapo’s and there right in front of us would be all these Rickenbackers and Gibsons. You could use a dozen different electric guitars and they’d all sound pretty much the same but the Rickenbacker had it’s own distinctive sound, as did a Gretsch.

JH Why the move to keyboards?

JW Well to be honest I was an out and out guitarist but Steve had already geared himself up to be the lead guitarist. At that stage Ronnie was also playing guitar (Steve had just sold him his first bass while working at the J60 music shop). We had three guitarists and a drummer. After much discussion (and beer) I decided to change to keyboards and Ronnie started to learn the bass. I’d never played keyboards so when people want to unjustly say, “he wasn’t a very good keyboard player” I can nearly agree. It was just a case of finding what you needed for those initial songs. A lot of what we were playing at that time was pretty simple really. On some of the tracks I’d play guitar anyway, especially the ones I sang lead on.

JH How much rehearsal time was allocated before the band played live?

JW About 24 hours (laugh). I mean it wasn’t a lot of time. Within a couple of days from that first meet we’d set up a rehearsal. The great thing about that moment was that we merged instantly. There was no conflict at all at that early stage. What I really liked about that time was that we would get together and just sit around playing acoustically; we didn’t have to set up with 2,000 watts of power. Within just a couple of weeks we were doing a raw set.

JH Can you remember the very first gig?

JW The very first paid gig was our local youth centre up the road in East Ham. It was called the Kensington youth centre (the band had done a few unpaid “warm up” gigs at the Ruskin Arms). They didn’t know what to expect, we kind of bluffed our way through the set. We only knew five songs but with different variations we got away with it. We went down really well. The raw sound of the very early days was very good. I’ve recently been listening to some of these new Small Faces compilations and I think those early things are the theme for everything else they ever done. “E To D” was the first number we ever played, started life as a raunchy instrumental, and I can hear that embedded in nearly all the songs.

JH What numbers were in the set at that time?

JW Apart from “E To D” there was “You Need Lovin’”, “Baby Don’t Do It” and “Jump Back”. Can’t remember any others but they all had a certain kind of feel about them and all developed into lengthy jam sessions. Never played any of them the same twice over.

JH How soon after the first gigs did the band start attracting the press?

JW Well it did happen very quickly. After the youth club gigs it was only a very short period of time before we started the Cavern Club residency in Leicester Square, every Saturday for about six weeks. After a couple of weeks we had built up quite a following, quite good really as there was no real advertising, just a couple of posters on a board outside.

JH How did you come to meet Don Arden?

JW During our Cavern Club residency Pat Meehan, Don’s assistant, came down and had a nose at us. He didn’t say a lot but was obviously interested. We were invited to meet Don Arden at his office in Carnaby Street, which we did and we were all very, very impressed by what we saw and what we were told. Don Arden was Mr. Big in the business and signing with him could only be a good thing, or so we thought at the time.

JH After the first hit record the Small Faces became tagged with the teeny bop image. What did you make of that considering you started out as a raucous R&B band?

JW It certainly didn’t bother me. The early teen thing was quite nice as the fans were always younger than us and the kids would go wild. Older, more intellectual, fans are more sober about how they respond to you, so they don’t come around so quickly. As the band got bigger they’d then say “Yeah, I dig them too” but they don’t make the fuss that the kids do. Much later I read Steve’s comments about kids being mistreated at gigs. Apparently they were pushed around and physically hurt by bouncers. That’s terribly sad and nobody wants to see that.

JH What are your feelings now about Don Arden? And did he bring any positive things to the group?

JW Well it’s probably all been said and nothings been said! He was a friendly sort of rogue in his own way. We were very young and very gullible and at the time we thought he was what we were looking for. Back then if you met somebody who was normal and nice and having a cup of tea you wouldn’t have any faith in them. We were in his office sitting by his big desk. He was in a three-piece suit with a cigar in his mouth and certainly had the look of success about him. He had a great ability to be able to market a product but his problem was that he wasn’t sensitive enough and aware enough to think long term. Everybody should have got what was due to them for the efforts they put in. I’m sure he could still have earned a good living by doing this. He was a business impresario; he could take something, which he had no feeling for, and still go and sell it. I’ve always found that quite sad.

JH Who was your closest friend in the Small Faces?

JW I don’t know if that can be answered. What you’ve got to remember is from that first meeting at the Ruskin Arms we had no pre-history. Steve and Ronnie hadn’t known each other long, it’s not as if you’ve known somebody from schooldays, and it was all remarkably fresh. My energy was with Steve really because he was very similar to me in a way. He had a lot of drive, a lot of attitude and there were lots of things he wanted to do. With great respect to Ronnie and Kenney they were slower and just coming out of their shell, they hadn’t done much whereas Steve and myself had both been out there for a few years trying to find something that would carve into a career. Our energies were definitely higher so in a way we fascinated each other. It was kind of good that we could bounce ideas off of one another and get a lot going very quickly. Yes, I would say I was closer to Steve because I’m drawn to things that have a lot of interest about them and he certainly did have that.

JH Can you describe the musical talent of each individual member?

JW At the time everybody was raw, we were all learning. Steve was new to the guitar, I was new to keyboards but Ronnie and Kenney had played together in a previous band and they worked together well. What united us was the fact that we all loved the same kind of music. Because the focus on the music was good we all learnt good ranges. Steve was determined to get his guitar style just right and he did. Vocally Steve would listen to so many great American singers, people such as Ray Charles, James Brown and others of that ilk. He would listen to their interpretation and style and studied how they’d perform on stage and when you do that to the extent that Steve did, it just rubs off on you.

JH Were you a mod before forming the band? And what did you think of the mod movement at that time?

JW I suppose I was really. I actually had a Lambretta just for the record. What you had back then was two types of mod in a way. Of course, there was the movement and the jacket and the parka and all of that but if you were in the music business, as we were, you had the other type of mod. Without wishing to sound derogatory, we’d tidy it up a bit. We never consciously said to ourselves we’re a bunch of mods; let’s dress like this. How we dressed was how we dressed before we formed the band. We were in a nice position to tidy ourselves up when Don Arden opened accounts for all of us in nearly all the Carnaby Street boutiques. We were then able to become better quality mods with a little bit more flare. Once the first record “Whatcha Gonna Do About It” was released and became a hit we became more conscious of the whole mod image. There was Don Arden saying things like “Come on boys, dress the part and make me lots of money”. Up until Don it was a lot rawer, like the Who. The Who were representative of kids on the street.

JH What are your recollections of making the film “Dateline Diamonds”?

JW Not a lot. Half the time we’d go in and do a few days work but we didn’t really know what was going on. We’d do odds and ends of shots but we had no idea how they were going to mix together and what the logical steps of the sequence were. In a strange way it was exciting because running around doing something in a film is in itself exciting. But at the end of the day you think to yourself “What the fuck was that all about?” It was a kind of PR thing really from the management and certainly not a good career move.

 JH What television shows do you remember doing with the Small Faces?

JW Ready Steady Go was the first and most important one. I think we did two or three of those. There were quite a few others but I can’t remember them by name. There were certainly other artists that we took up a kind of friendship with by doing those shows, people like Sonny and Cher. They were climbing at the same time as us and I ended up dating Cher’s sister. Ready Steady Go went out live so whatever blunder was made was on there, living proof. We were running on overtime doing those early Ready Steady Go shows live. Before we formed the band I used to watch the show and think “Cor, wouldn’t it be great to play on there”. All the television shows that we did were exciting but the Ready Steady Go shows were a bit special. They had Paul Gadd, who went on to become Gary Glitter, moving the audience around. He was a crowd arranger! Various artists used to introduce other acts. I remember Eric Burdon (of the Animals) introducing us as the New Faces! I never liked him at all after that. I don’t know whether he done it on purpose or not. Silly bastard!

 JH What moments with the Small Faces bring the biggest smile to your face?

JW My period with the band was relatively short compared to the whole of their career but it was the initial time. One day something is completely impossible, next day it’s occurred. For everybody in the band these early days were good times. We were all young and naďve yet we all just got on with it, we were given a free licence if you like. I loved those times because they were less complicated and they were, to me, what the Small Faces were all about. It was great to be on stage performing something we’ve only been doing for two weeks and getting away with it. Later on when things started getting a bit more sophisticated and clever it began to go downhill.

JH How much musical input did the band have in terms of production and arrangement etc.?

JW In the early days everything. The songs were kind of self-arranging really. They’d be written and put together in the middle of the night somewhere. We’d be sitting around playing acoustically with Kenney playing drums on his knees. We’d get the rough outline that way and take it into the studio to tidy it up.

JH Did you play on the whole of the first Decca album?

JW No. I recorded a certain amount of tracks that ended up on the Decca album but not everything. I was on about half the tracks and by the time the album came out I’d left the band so never got to get my picture on the front cover. I done two singles with the Small Faces and the second one which Steve and Ronnie wrote “I Got Mine” completely flopped which came as a surprise to all of us because it had got such good reviews.

JH Because you were the only tall member of the group did the other guys express any displeasure with the way you looked?

JW When things were fine, no. I was a couple of inches taller and also a few years older, that’s just the way it was. In some ways, I suppose, I was a little bit more streetwise and maybe done a few more things than the rest of them. But let’s be honest here, if you look at bands and say I’m sorry that person can’t belong to the band because he’s an inch and a half taller than the other one, well, I mean let’s all give up now. That’s really pathetic. You’ve got to have your major fall-out first and then all these silly negative things come to a head. I mean we were out one night when a girlfriend of mine came up with the name “Small Faces”, it was conceived for the band as it was then and it was fine. All these funny little bits were written into the story after the event really, the very thought of manufacturing a group of people all five foot two tall, weighing two stone! It’s really not what the Rock’N’Roll is all about is it?  As I say these things were created later on by less enlightened folk. But Don Arden, yes, he would look at four t-shirts all size 32! In real terms the band in the early days never gave it a second thought. It’s only later on in moments of bitterness and anger that you can come out with all this crud!

JH Did you quit the Small Faces or were you fired? Was it over personal or musical differences or a combination of both?

JW It was the combination of a few things. There’s the notorious old story concerning my brother and his van. He loved the band and he was extremely keen. Like the rest of us he didn’t have a lot of money but with the few hundred pounds that he did have he offered to buy a van and do the roadying for us. We just wanted to play and previously had no transport; we certainly didn’t want to hump the gear on the underground! We were earning virtually nothing at the time and agreed to give him 10%. He was going to purchase the van, insure it, tax it, and do all the driving. Everybody agreed that was fine, I thought so as well. Seeing as I was older than the others and the tallest! it was always me that went and collected the money after a gig. I’d automatically deduct my brothers 10% and pay him. The rest of the band got a bit grumpy about this, dunno why. It was one of those incidents where I got stuck in the middle and I did get into conflict with Steve and Ronnie over this. I’d always been close to my brother and they weren’t being fair to him. I think they used this later as a bit of a lever. Against all good advice we ended up signing for Don Arden. He certainly wasn’t happy with the 10% contract. Don Arden saw it as 10% of a lot of his earnings and I think right from the beginning he was trying to do something about it. So right from day one Don Arden had a problem with me because I sided with my brother. Somewhere in the scheme of things that’s what occurred. Don Arden called me into his office and told me that this wasn’t going to work and suggested I put another band together and he would record us. He kind of gave me an alternative. He said we would be able to go straight into the studio and promised me the earth. I wasn’t particularly happy about the situation, the Small Faces were doing well and the future for the band looked rosy but at the same time we were not getting on, there were a lot of rows and it was becoming a drag. In retrospect I’d have been better off leaving Don Arden and going somewhere new.

JH What was your opinion of the Small Faces after you had left?

JW In a way I was disappointed and angry because things had gone on behind my back. I felt very let down. I’d done as much as anybody else to make the band successful but I look back now and realise I’ve done a lot of things over the years that perhaps I wouldn’t have done if I’d stayed on with them. It hasn’t been all doom and gloom and although I missed out on the fame I certainly didn’t miss out on any fortune. I suppose, deep down, I wish things could have been sorted out better. Perhaps it could have been with a different type of manager.

JH Did you ever see them live after you left?

JW No, I was a bit uptight with them and of course, I had the opportunity of putting another band together straight away. It was the only thing to do really.

JH Have you ever met Mac and what do you think of him?

JW I’ve never met Mac. It’s not his fault. I suppose I could have nothing against him and in the same respect he can have nothing against me. He ended up in a good gig but with respect to the guy he ended up in something that was already going. A certain amount of birthing and whatever sets something in gear had already happened.

JH Of all the Small Faces numbers recorded after you had left the band are there any that you wish you’d been involved with?

JW I liked “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake”. I also liked the psychedelic side of the band. With my band “Winston’s Fumbs” we actually got to Psychedelia before them. Ogden’s was undoubtedly their masterpiece. Even back when I was with the band we mucked about with our own kind of language. Stanley Unwin was our history and we all loved his humour so for him to end up on that album was superb. There are some things on that album that Steve didn’t like because by then he was getting into raunchy Rock. Some of the commercial funny stuff, although it was done tongue in cheek, was starting to embarrass him. He wanted more credibility in a true music sense and that’s why it all folded shortly afterwards. I love good Pop with ideas and fun so from that angle I really loved the album.

JH What are your thoughts on the resurgence of interest in the Small Faces and can you hear their influence in contemporary bands?

JW Yeah, I think it’s good. I think it’s desperate to put it mildly. I think the industry in the UK needs an enema badly. There’s always been the good bits, we know that but when the recession hit this country the music business clamped up and went very tight and mean and wouldn’t get behind anything so they kept picking things that were cheap to record and put out. Just a bunch of people with a drum machine and odds and ends. We had a long period of no creativity, the last few years or so (interview conducted 1996) it’s just starting to break again and I feel there’s more to come. It’s great to see guitar bands with a bit of attitude again, shades of 1965 eh!

JH What sort of music do you listen to nowadays?

JW To be honest with you my taste hasn’t changed very much. It’s grown, there’s a little more courage about what I like. I love the earliest roots of Rock’N’Roll, Soul and Blues. I love good Pop writers as well. I like writers who have something to say about life and survival, people like Jackson Browne. Don’t mind a bit of opera, not all of it by any means. I like Modern Jazz, Fusion Jazz, Folk and Country music. Probably the only genre of music that I’ve never been keen on is Traditional Jazz. If you write, as I do, you tend to listen to stuff with an angle, you go out with a basket to collect ideas. You’d be a liar to say you didn’t. Everybody learns from previous examples and ideas. I love the Eagles; at their best they go into a whole new chapter of writing. My influences are certainly wide and varied. It’s the only way!

AFTER LEAVING THE SMALL FACES JIMMY CONTINUED TO BE MANAGED BY DON ARDEN AND FORMED JIMMY WINSTON AND THE REFLECTIONS. THEY COVERED A TRACK FROM THE SMALL FACES FIRST ALBUM “SORRY SHE’S MINE” FOR THEIR DEBUT SINGLE. ALTHOUGH IT DIDN’T SELL WELL AT THE TIME IT IS NOW EXTREMELY COLLECTABLE AND COPIES CROSS HANDS FOR HUNDREDS OF POUNDS. BY LATE 1966 JIMMY HAD FORMED, POSSIBLY, THE FIRST PSYCHEDELIC BAND IN LONDON, IF NOT THE WHOLE COUNTRY, WINSTONS FUMBS. A GREAT ACT THAT FILLED VENUES WHEREVER THEY PLAYED. THEIR ONLY 45 “REAL CRAZY APARTMENT” IS CONSIDERED TO ME A “MOD” CLASSIC THESE DAYS.

JIMMY WENT ON TO APPEAR IN THE ORIGINAL LONDON CAST OF “HAIR” AT THE SHAFTESBURY THEATRE AND FEATURED ON THE BEST SELLING ALBUM FROM THE SHOW. DURING THE 1970’S HIS REKINDLED ACTING CAREER SAW HIM APPEARING ON MANY TV SHOWS OF THE DAY INCLUDING THE AWARD WINNING “HAZELL”.

THESE DAYS JIMMY, MARRIED WITH TWO GROWN UP CHILDREN, RUNS A SUCCESSFUL SOUND EQUIPMENT BUSINESS FROM HIS HOME IN WOODFORD GREEN IN ESSEX AND STILL MAKES THE OCCASIONAL APPEARANCE ON STAGE AT ANNUAL SMALL FACES CONVENTIONS.
 

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