The Small Faces occupy a unique place in the rock canon. Together for only four years in the sixties they were eclipsed by The Kinks and The Who and failed to make much of a dent in the States. They were overshadowed by their subsequent incarnation as The Faces with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Lane replacing Steve Marriott (who of course had a brief taste of fame with Humble Pie). During those four years however they released a brace of singles which many would proclaim are the equal of Davies and Townshend. From the mod fuelled Watcha Gonnna Do About It, the druggy psychedelia of Here Come The Nice to the pastoral The Universal they were a top ten phenomena in the UK with many of the singles still staples on today’s day time radio. Despite the apparent progression from the pilled up R’n'B of the first singles to the likes of Itchycoo Park and Tin Soldier they failed to make the transition from a singles band to an album orientated group with only their 1968 release Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake standing the test of time (although some will argue that it was a brave but overall failed experiment). The deaths of Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane add a tragic coda to the band’s story but their position in a rock family tree that includes The Faces, Humble Pie, The Who, The Stones and Slim Chance along with the sheer brilliance of their best songs have ensured that these days The Small faces are up there in the pantheon with an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (in 2012) while they retain a fierce following which grows by the year.
It’s these devoted fans that this deluxe box set is aimed at. Curated and supervised by Kenney Jones and Ian McLagen it is a serious opportunity for the diehard Small Faces fan to go to heaven without dying first. It concentrates on their second phase after breaking free from hard man manger Don Arden and Decca Records when they signed to Immediate Records (slogan: Happy to Be a Part of the Industry of Human Happiness), the label set up by Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham. Hindsight might allow us to see that this was not the marriage made in heaven it might have seemed at the time but the presumption is that at the time of these recordings Marriott, Lane, McLagen and Jones could have been forgiven for thinking that the world was their oyster. Freed from the managerial shenanigans of Arden and with Marriott and Lane on a song writing roll they toss out classic after classic while the studio sessions included here show their musical muscle grooving at times like Booker T and the MGs.
We said deluxe and we meant it. The set is limited to 3000 and comes with a 72 page hardback book a 64 page lyric booklet, posters, postcards, Gered Mankowitz art prints, Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake press kit and signed certificates from Jones and McLagen. And this is before we get to the music. There are three vinyl artefacts, a replica of a promo disc for their first Immediate album featuring excerpts from some of the songs and introductions by Tommy Vance along with two French released E.P.s. In addition there is a replica acetate of the never released Mystery single (subsequently retooled as Something I Want To Tell You).
Hidden within this very tantalising paraphernalia is the beating heart of the set. Four CD’s consisting of 75 cuts , 41 of them previously unreleased, which offer the opportunity to hear why The Small Faces mattered. Disc One gathers together mono versions of all the songs released on singles and E.Ps by Immediate within the band’s lifetime. While everyone will be familiar with the hits they constitute only seven of the 20 songs here. The remainder are a delight. While several appear on the first Immediate album hearing them coupled with their better known siblings allows the listener to piece together the band’s development. Little known gems such as Green Circles, Become Like You and I’m Only Dreaming have the chance to shine being released from B side obscurity. Discs two and three consist of studio cuts, alternate takes, backing tracks and overdub sessions and for the most part these will be of interest primarily to the most devout fan. Ranging from a 38 second snatch of Shades of Green to nine to a nine and a half minute jam (called a tracking session here) which ends with some ferocious Marriott howls and yelps these are not for casual listening but the alternate mixes of several songs (including Tim Hardin’s Red Balloon, Green Circles, Wham Bam Thank You Mam and Lazy Sunday Afternoon)are sure to set pulses racing. The fourth disc opens with several alternate mixes of complete songs and again the Small Faces’ completist will savour these with the Italian sung version of Green Circles tickling this reviewer’s fancy a great deal. There’s a song, (If You Think You’re) Groovy, credited to “The Lot,” in reality the Small Faces backing P.P. Arnold. Although it starts off with some pastoral acoustic guitar and flute it soon takes on the feel of her hit, Angel Of The Morning married to Tin Soldier, a minor triumph. The disc ends in fine style with five live songs recorded at Newcastle City Hall. These have been previously released, three of them on the posthumous album, The Autumn Stone but these versions allow the listener to hear the band more clearly despite the audience noise and demonstrate the raw power of Marriott’s voice along with the fact that they were a tight little band on stage. Their version of Every Little Bit Hurts just amazes.
Available only via Amazon and with a hefty price tag Here Come The Nice appears to be somewhat of a labour of love for the two remaining Small Faces and almost a mandatory purchase for the most rabid of fans.
full details of the box set including all content is available here