Friday, July 15, 2011

Small Faces - Filthy Rich

Small Faces, Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane

I have recently finished reading Paolo Hewitt and John Hellier's magnificent All Too Beautiful biography of Steve Marriott of the Small Faces and Humble Pie in the past few days. I easily rate this book alongside the very best in the genre alongside Johnny Rogan's No Surrender overview of Van Morrison and his Ulster roots, Jerry Hopkins' Elvis:The Final Years and the wonderful Dear Boy story of Keith Moon by Tony Fletcher.

With the Small Faces' Decca and Immediate material now compiled together across several impressive compilations it is much easier to appreciate the electicism, power and wit of their musical output from 1965 to 1969 on so many wonderful tracks such as Sorry She's Mine, My Mind's Eye, Just Passing,  Tell Me (Have You Ever Seen Me), Green Circles, Get Yourself Together,  Tin Soldier, Afterglow and Song of a Baker,.

Alike The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in 1963 and 1965 in Belfast  - and The Who in Lisburn in 1966 - the Small Faces also played in Northern Ireland. This was at North Belfast's beautiful Art-Deco Floral Hall on 23rd June 1967 and then later at the Ards Pop Festival in Newtownards on 5th July 1968 with support from The Soul Foundation, Mystics and The Cousins.

This performance in County Down at Ards football ground on Portaferry Road by one of the greatest of all British rock groups took place against the background of garnering political radicalism and reaction in the country - there would not be another summer of peace for over a quarter century ahead. Two days previously the Derry Housing Action Committee staged a sit-down protest during the opening of the Craigavon Bridge extension over the River Foyle leading to 17 arrests while three months to the day after the concert would come the fateful RUC reaction to another civil rights demonstration in Derry that can be seen as the second of the three defining moments when the Ulster Troubles commenced in earnest. The Floral Hall - so beautifully situated in the grounds of the zoo underneath Cave Hill and overlooking Belfast Lough - would shut in 1972 as the city transformed into a fearful ghost town and still lies derelict today.

The Small Faces split up on the last night of 1968 during a concert at Alexandra Palace in North London - they had made little financial gain from their career due to particularly malign managerial stratagems that are referenced frequently to this day within industry legend. Although the subsequent hard rock, blues and boogie of Humble Pie and The Faces alike have their attractions, it still remains an interesting counterfactual about how their music could have progressed had they had stayed together into the Seventies in their original lineup. This particularly so when listening to material as strong as the final Autumn Stone, Red Balloon or Call It Something Nice from the provisional 1862 album - this named after the date inscribed on the church hall beside Marriott's Essex cottage.

The group briefly reformed in the late-Seventies though bass player Ronnie Lane only stayed for a re-recording of the Itchycoo Park single - Rick Wills replacing him for the Playmates and 78 In The Shade albums. I have only heard the latter work which, while not wildy memorable, does contain some decent material and with Marriott still in fine voice. Best of all, this last ever Small Faces album concludes with the completely and utterly overlooked Filthy Rich - this was also to be their final single release. Here Marriott's unrestrained Cockney music hall geezer howling - similar to that on Lazy Sunday, Rene or Happy Days Toytown - brings their career to a wonderfully ribald, two-fingered and pisstaking closure.

The Small Faces music to this day casting timeless shadows from both a long lost London of the coolest modernist style to a vanished East End of utterly unique working class character and warmth.

I wish that I was famous like me best mates are
I'd build a dirty great house and have half a dozen cars
A private yacht with sunken baths

If I was filthy rich I'd build me own filthy bitch
She'd have elegance, class, with Mitzi Gaynor's arse...
and Jane Mansfield's posthumous tits

Every week I'd buy the magazines
I'm cuttin out the pictures of them Hollywood queens
With jam tartlets and silicone bits
I'm with Jackie in the khazi in her birthday suit
With Bianca and her fella gettin pissed as newts
I'd have Italian suits and handmade boots
If I was filthy rich....

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