Small Faces - Ultimate Collection (2 CD Set)

Small Faces - Ultimate Collection presents for the first time ever a comprehensive view of the groups four year recording career including material from the two labels to which they were signed. The Small Faces were Mods from London's East End - former child actor Steve Marriott on vocals and guitar, Ronnie Lane on bass, Jimmy Winston on organ to be replaced by Ian 'Mac' McLagon from the third single, and Kenny Jones on drums. They were regarded by the Mods as a 'real' Mod band - The Who for example were allegedly clothed by a stylist, and The Rolling Stones were merely 'long hairs'. A 'Face' was a Mod expression as in a 'a face about town' and all four were lacking in height hence the Small Faces.

The band has only been formed for a few months in 1965 when they were spotted by Don Arden, nowadays better known as Ozzy Osbournes father-in-law. He quickly got the band signed to Decca, the company which provides the material for CD1 of this collection. Released in August 1965, the first single "What'cha Gonna Do About It?" loosely based on soul man Solomon Burke's "Everybody Need Somebody To Love". This would be most peoples opportunity to hear the extraordinary vocals of Steve Marriott, one of the most distinct voices of all groups of the time, raw and passionate inspired by the American soul and R+B singers worshipped by the Mod movement. All the more surprising from somebody so diminutive and only 18 years old.

The sound of the group differed from most others featuring the rich sounds of the Hammond organ, drawing inspiration from Memphis's Booker T & The MG's than say Chuck Berry. The single was a reasonable sized hit, but the follow up, the self penned "I've Got Mind" featuring guitar chords and howling feedback, another feature of the groups sound, failed to make the chart causing manager Arden to commission Kenny Lynch, a pop star from a few years previous and veteran New York songwriter Mart Shannon to write "Sha-La-La-La Lee" which became a big hit although the group did not really care for the poppy tune and to placate them Arden rented a house for them in London's Pimlico where they were able to indulge in the pop star life, partying and jamming but also strengthen their friendships.

There was another single "Hey Girls", this time penned by Marriott and Lan before "All or Nothing" the soulful power ballad that us probably the best recording of their Decca period. The band spit with Arden and Decca when they thought it was their manager who supplied the demo tape for their next single "My Minds Eye". Actually it's not a bad record.

At the start of 1967 the group signed to a new record label Immediate, which comprises Disc 2 of this set. Immediate was the creation of Andrew 'Loog' Oldham, who had steered the Rolling Stones to international success, and Tony Calder who ironically had just left Decca Records. The winds of change had blown through the music industry at this time, with everybody hanging on the coat tails of the Beatles who had produced albums like "Rubber Soul", "Revolver" and were soon to unleash Sgt Pepper. The Small Faces were no exception. Immediate was a much less formal company than Decca, willing to the group have unlimited studio time to experiment. The first fruit of this arrangement was the single "Here Comes The Nice", a thinly disguised pro-drug song. That was followed by "Itchycoo Park", an East End expression mixed with Hippy Dippy trippiness. Then came "Tin Soldier" which had a raw soulful feeling akin to the Decca period "All or Nothing". In April 1968 they came up with "Lazy Sunday" probably the song of theirs which is played most on radio today where the band combined the British strain of psychedelia-Vaudeville and music hall influences with their natural cockney chirpiness. This was followed the following June by the album that is regarded as their only classic album "Ogdens Nut Gone Flake" a Uk Number 1 for six weeks, which came enclosed in a circular sleeve to resemble to Ogdens tobacco tin that inspired the title. The second side of the album told the tale of Happiness Stan who went looking for the other side of the moon. Tracks were interspersed with narration from harmonist Stanley Unwin (sadly not included with the tracks from the album included on this compilation) in his unique linguistic style.

Sadly shortly after the band began to disintegrate with Marriott wanting to bring in Peter Frampton who had recently split with the Herd. Obviously this did not go down well with the other three members. In March 1969 Marriott and Frampton formed Humble Pie. The three remaining Small Faces eventually formed the Faces with a then relatively unknown Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, a future Rolling Stone who had been in the Jeff Beck Group. Ironically both groups found success in America, something the Small Faces had not been able to do. Sadly Steve Marriott died in a house fire in 1991 and Ronnie Lane succumbed to MS in 1997 after fighting the disease for many years.

Together with the excellent sleeve notes by Pablo Hewitt this compilation which has the endorsement of McLagan and Jones puts the spotlight on a group who tend to get overlooked when people talk about the best British groups of the Sixties. In recent years Paul Weller in his solo career had been hugely influences by their music. Now is the time to acquaint yourselves with the music of the Small Faces.

Derek McCann

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