All Or Nothing? The Small Faces Musical

A review of the Mod Musical: All Or Nothing about the Small Faces.

When I was a teenager at a college in Essex I went to see a band called The Packet of Three. It wasn’t a band I’d heard of, but older guys were excited about it so I went along anyway. They came on late and proceeded to tear the roof off the gym hall with raw, passionate rhythm and blues. I was blown away. I remember the singer especially – I was close to the front and could hear his voice above the PA. To this day I don’t think I’ve ever heard a singer so powerful.

That singer was Steve Marriot and the Packet of Three was his band touring venues across the UK after the demise of his previous ‘supergroup’ Humble Pie, and most famously before that, The Small Faces.

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 Steve Marriot, Kenny Jones, Ronnie Lane, Ian MacLagan

4DW went to see the latest touring show telling the story of the Small Faces called ‘All Or Nothing” while it was at the Princess Theatre in Torquay. Tagged “The Coolest Show Around”, it tells the story of Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane, Ian MacLaglen and Kenny Jones as they rose from oikish east London Mods to fully fledged rock stars and musical talents.

The story is told through the songs – early pop songs such as Sha-La-La-La-Lala-Lee and Hey Girl, through to the wacky Happiness Stan with all the music played live by the actors/musicians. The live music brings an edge to the show and a glimpse into what it must have been like to see the band live.

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(From All or Nothing, the Small Faces Musical)

The Small Faces Story

Steve Marriott started show business as a child actor, first appearing in Oliver on the West End, progressing to some film roles before giving it up to focus on music. Working in a music store he met Ronnie Lane and Kenny Jones and formed a band. They were all small guys – Marriott was only 5’4″, and since they considered themselves Mod ‘Faces’ they became ‘The Small Faces’.

They were signed by Don Arden, a notorious figure in rock and roll mythology with a legend somewhere between gangster and visionary. Within a year the band had hits, TV shows and screaming teenage fans. As Marriott and Lane developed their songwriting skills in an effort to get away from their pop image, the band started to flex their muscles and eventually ran into conflict with Arden. Arden, who later famously set his dogs on his daughter Sharon Osborne went she visted him to discuss her managing Black Sabbath, had no intention of seeing his golden goose depart, and warned a few prospective agents off in no subtle way.

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Don Arden

Eventually, tired of playing pop pap and paid the same weekly wage, the Small Faces escaped the clutches of Arden and fell into the open arms of Andrew Loog Oldham who promised creative freedom and endless studio time with Immediate Records.

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Andrew Loog Oldham

This is when the Small Faces hit their stride with songs that would resonate decades later in the Britpop explosion – Itchycoo Park, Watchya Gonna Do About It, Here Come The Nice, and the soul stirring Afterglow, and Tin Soldier. This was the real deal – Lane’s co-writing skill, Marriott’s soulful passionate vocal, McLaglans soaring keyboards and Jones’ solid drums all came together to bring hit after hit after hit.

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By the end of the 1960s it was all over. Oldham’s promise of unlimited studio time came at a price to high; he never promised any money because he’d spent it all. Immediate Records went bust, Oldham fled to South America, and The Small Faces imploded, broke. Marriott went on to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton, while the remaining Small Faces drafted in a singer called Rod Stewart, and a guitarist called Ronnie Wood, to form The Faces. The youth of Britain moved on from Mod to hippies or skinheads, or to respectable suburban early onset middle age.

So that’s the story of the band, what’s the show like?

All Or Nothing was written by Carol Harrison, actress and screenwriter with a long career. She’s passionate about the Small Faces and the Mod era, and it’s evident in this show. The performance crackles along with scintillating energy that’s a fitting testament to the fast moving 60s. The show is in two acts, with the massive hit All or Nothing ringing in your ears as you head for the interval.

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Cast of All Or Nothing, with Carol Harrison on a Vespa

Finding a talent that can sing like Steve Marriott and perform with his incredible energy must have been a real challenge, and Samuel Pope carries this off as the young Steve. It’s a big ask and he doesn’t disappoint. Marriott’s daughter Mollie provided her vocal coasching skills to great effect. Steve had one of the greatest soul voices in pop music, and emulating that is a daunting challenge in my view.

A constant presence through the show is the ghost of Steve Marriott, played by Chris Simmons narrating us along with booze at the ready and effortless east end charm. The supporting cast is just brilliant, Carol Harrison plays Steve’s mum, and Daniel Beales played a variety of roles, from Sonny Bono to a cracking impersonation of Tony Blackburn.

It’s inevitable that the show ends on a sad note, I suppose. As the band disintegrates, the show seems to reflect the tangible sadness of the end of a decade of fun, carefree attitudes and fresh, new music, fashion and art. As the bright firework of Mod fades, All or Nothing reprises the songs to lift you on a high note – the whole cast (and the audience) singing along to the hits of one of the best bands of the 60s.

The show takes up a residency in London’s West End at the Arts Theatre from 8 February to 11 March 2018. If you need a good show to see, to see just what some of the fuss was about the 60s, and to hear these fabulous songs played live, then book a ticket or four. Hopefully All or Nothing will be touring again soon, we’ll let you know.

Further bits and pieces

There’s a great film on YouTube about the Small Faces here

And a documentary about Marriott and Frampton’s Humble Pie here

For a cracking book about this era and afterwards get Ian MacLagan’s autobiography All The Rage

Steve Marriott tragically died in a house fire following a careless bedtime fag in 1991 aged 44.
Ronnie Lane died in 1997 after a 20 year decline from MS aged 51.
Ian McLagan died in 2014 from a stroke, aged 69.

Their music remains, and their story alive and well in All or Nothing.

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