THE SMALL FACES
By Sean Egan
“It’s pop, it’s rock, it’s soulful, it’s mod. It’s different. It was music of the times really – but it seems to last.”
So says Ian McLagan when asked to describe for those who haven't heard it the music of the Small Faces, the band for whom he played keyboards from 1965 to 1969. The question is largely irrelevant in the Small Faces’ native UK where the band racked up half a dozen top ten hits – including ‘Sha La La La Lee’, ‘All or Nothing’ and ‘Lazy Sunday’ - and are staples of oldie radio stations. In the States, however, the band’s eclectic sound (about which many would add ‘psychedelic’ and ‘vaudevillian’ to McLagan’s adjectives) is less familiar: they made only two minor entries on the Billboard chart with the quasi-novelty ‘Ithcycoo Park’ and the fiery, stylish ‘Tin Soldier’. Nonetheless, the band have a cult following in America, partly because of their discernibly large influence on musicians like Paul Weller, Oasis, Blur, Quiet Riot and even the Sex Pistols (who performed a live version of their first single, ‘Whatcha Gonna Do About It’).
As if to prove McLagan’s assertion of imperishability, he and fellow surviving Small Faces member drummer Kenney Jones are currently promoting ‘Ultimate Collection’ a TV-advertised, two-CD package from Britain’s Sanctuary label released on May 26th. It is the first Small Faces collection to both have the band’s official seal of approval and to gather together tracks from their two separate, distinctive career halves: their time spent making blue-eyed soul for the Decca label and the period spent with Andrew Loog Oldham’s independent Immediate in which they embraced the weird and wonderful modes of the late ’Sixties (and anticipated some of them: the narrative suite on side two of their 1968 album ‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’ predated all other rock operas). There is no similar package available in the American market, something which saddens the pair, as does most of the activity of Charly Records, owner of the band’s catalogue in all territories outside the British Isles.
The Small Faces were rarely treated well by any label that released their music. As a consequence, neither the band’s gravel-throated vocalist/guitarist Steve Marriott (who died in a fire in 1991) or his songwriting partner and Small Faces bassist Ronnie Lane (a 1997 casualty of MS) ever saw a penny in royalties in their lifetimes from the millions of units the band shifted. Only the work of a no-win, no-fee lawyer appointed by Jones has subsequently secured the release of performance royalties.
We spoke to both surviving members of the Small Faces about these and other matters…
HOW IS THIS NEW COMPILATION FROM SANCTUARY DIFFERENT FROM ALL THE PREVIOUS SMALL FACES COMPILATIONS?
McLAGAN: “The great thing about this is that it’s 25 tracks form the Decca first couple of years and 25 tracks form the Immediate years. Though there’s been compilations before, it’s the first one that’s been done with our co-operation and involvement. Previously, whenever it’s been done it’s just been put together by Charly records and whipped out and that's the end of it. We only know about it until we read about it or see it in the record store in a Australia. This one, we’ve been consulted right from the beginning and I've actually made a couple of changes here and there and corrected the liner notes where there were slight inaccuracies and spelling mistakes. It’s nice to feel involved in our own product. It’s ever been done properly ’til now.”
JONES: “It’s different because it combines the two halves of the catalog. The first original one, which is from day one with Decca and then later the Immediate days. I've been wanting to do this for many many years and at last we seem to have got the two different labels to come together as one and to view the band as one. Once you listen to the two halves together, you could really get a feel for the progression of the band and the way it evolved [in] technique and songwriting ability and different productions.”
NICK WATSON WAS THE RE-MASTERING SUPERVISOR ON ‘ULTIMATE COLLECTION’. HOW DID HE DO?
Jones: “I thought, ‘Oh okay, here we go, another compilation album. We’re gonna put the two together. Fine.’ I thought, ‘Oh they're just gonna clean it up’ but it’s better than that. The sound quality, it’s almost like a re-mix. I never did believe it until I heard it. I thought, ‘All they’re gonna do is clean it up so it’s got no hiss on it and stuff like that’ but it’s got a lot more bottom end and they've managed to bring every instrument out as it should be and project it.”
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN RECEIVING ROYALTIES FOR SMALL FACES RECORDS?
McLAGAN: “Since ’97 from the Immediate catalogue and from ’91 from the Decca catalogue. We did it on spec. We had help and we pay for that: every time we get a check, that person gets a check too. Kenney’s diligence and tenacity from day one – he hasn’t stopped, he’s still in there fighting for the Small Faces and he’s really done wonders.”
JONES: “We got screwed all the way down the line by everybody. I’m looking into the publishing side of things now. That’s my next mission.”
HOW IS IT CHARLY OWNS AMERICAN RIGHTS TO SMALL FACES PRODUCT?
McLAGAN: “I haven’t the faintest idea. I don't know how Sanctuary owns the Immediate catalogue. Andrew Oldham claims to own the Immediate catalogue but they laughed him out of the High Court in England. We never had the rights to our recordings when we were with Decca because we were never signed to Decca. We were signed to [manager] Don Arden who leased our tapes to Decca and when we left him he had no more tapes to lease to Decca so we had no contract with him so we left him.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE WAY CHARLY MARKETS THE BAND’S CATALOGUE?
JONES: “Because the individuals who were in the Small Faces are all well known anyway from various other bands after the Small Faces people would buy this album in America. Our record sales for the rest of the world are not as good as they are for England. I don't know what they do, Charly. My feeling is, if we’ve got a catalogue it should be worked. I don't think Charly are working the catalogue to the best of their ability. What they’re doing is cashing in and licensing it off to small-time petty labels who only look to make a quick killing.”
THOUGH YOU NEVER BROKE AMERICA, YOU SEEM TO BE BECOMING POPULAR THERE POSTHUMOUSLY
McLAGAN: “My website has a Small Faces page and a Faces page. I get more e-mails from America now than I used to get about the Small Faces. I got ‘Ogden’s..’ and ‘Odds And Mods’ for sale on my site and I just sent five of each out yesterday. It's not bad…People [in America] would have heard only ‘Itchycoo Park’ and maybe ‘Tin Soldier’ unless they caught on. I get e-mails from kids of 18, 20, whatever, saying it's their favourite band, ‘cos they've seen videos, they hear the records, they sound good.”
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE SMALL FACES MUSIC TO PEOPLE WHO HAVE NOT HEARD IT?
McLagan: “It’s difficult. It’s pop, it’s rock, it’s soulful, it’s mod. It’s different. It was music of the times really – but it seems to last.”
Jones: “If they want to see where each individual came from – ’cos my name in America’s quite well known, so’s Ian McLagan’s, from the Faces days - if they want to see where we came from before then, go buy this album.”
KENNEY ONCE SAID THAT HE’S VERY JEALOUS OF BANDS LIKE THE WHO AND THE ROLLING STONES WHO ROSE ABOVE THEIR BICKERING TO SUSTAIN A LONG CAREER. DO YOU THINK THE SMALL FACES COULD HAVE BEEN AS BIG AS THOSE GROUPS IF YOU’D SURVIVED?
McLAGAN: “I agree. I do have a certain amount of envy for The Who and the Stones just ‘cos they carried on. Look at the Grateful Dead, for example. I’m not a fan but they just ploughed on and whatever arguments they might have had they just sort of said, ‘Well okay’ and carried on. A band is like the universe: every band is constantly exploding. Too much time spent together: you can't help but want to do something that nobody else wants to so you have to go off and either make a solo album or you leave the group. It’s constantly happening. I like the idea of a band like the Stones who get on with it.”
JONES: “I have no doubt that we would’ve. The reason that The Who and the Stones are successful is because they stuck together through their problems, whereas we didn't.”
KENNEY, YOU'VE BEEN IN TWO HUGE GROUPS, THE FACES AND THE WHO, YET YOU PROBABLY GET ASKED ABOUT THE SMALL FACES FAR MORE THAN THOSE TWO BANDS. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?
Jones: “Because the Small Faces is an institution. It’s got so many fans and so many music orientated appreciation. I can't believe how many bands we influenced. I find out something new every day, apart from the obvious: Paul Weller and Oasis and Ocean Colour Scene. There’s loads of ’em. I view the Small Faces catalogue as important as the Beatles’. It is a statement – and I’ll stand by it.”
- Sean Egan
Post your Small Faces reviews / comments on the Message Board