SMALL FACES - WHY STEVE LEFT

If I’m So Bad, Why Don’t They Take Me Away?

After 33 years this is probably still the most vexing question to Small Faces fans, and interestingly enough, never covered in detail in any books or other publications beyond just a few paragraphs.  Marriott guru and SF convention organiser John Hellier recalls speaking to Steve many times about this subject, trying to get to the real background on the break-up, but feeling that he never really got a real answer on it.
 
Maybe it's as simple as how his mother Kay has described it on at least a couple of occasions, that Steve had "given his very best".  And it's this sense of not being able to outdo what they had already achieved that I think is central to why he left.  In all likelihood, however, it was a mixture of a whole number of things. The answer may be "all of the following", or at least a good number of them.
 
Certainly, the album “Ogdens Nut Gone Flake” was pivotal.  The Small Faces didn't take it on the road - and probably should have done, Stanley Unwin and all, although the technology didn't exist at the time to readily reproduce it live.  As the album became a mini-phenomenon, the group were awe struck with the above "how will we top this ?" feeling. Ian McLagan admits to being a bit daunted and scared at this point.
 
So here is probably one of the main strands of Steve Marriott leaving and going on to pastures new. He said "It made perfect sense to knock it on the head.  It had taken us a year to make. We'd done all our growing up in that time (Marriott was 21 when Ogdens was released). And that's the main reason people still sit and talk about Ogdens now." I happen to agree with this last comment.
 
From one or two other Marriott interviews, you also get the sense that there was naturally a lot of pressure in being the front man. Given that he asked to join "Frampton's" new band (Humble Pie) and was content to push Peter into the spotlight is quite illuminating.
 
Jenny Marriott said recently that Steve would come to dread the start of new Humble Pie tours. "I can't be that person they want me to be (onstage)", but what a job he made of it, nonetheless! It's strange to even consider Steve with this very human frailty - common to many other famous artists who experience stage fright - and the absolute opposite of the confident cockney persona he appears. Steve also said that the Small Faces were "thrust" by Arden into the spotlight before they were ready. Not that they were complaining at the time - but were constantly bombarded on the public through every form of media, especially television and teenage magazines. I think, part of what was going on was a reaction to four years in the constant spotlight !
 
Also, by his admission, Steve became very introverted for a couple of years, again the opposite of the public perception - and it took a couple of years in Humble Pie for the "real" Steve Marriott to burst out again fully, and even that was after a lot of coaxing and gentle pressure from Manager Dee Anthony .
 
Live was certainly another big part of the problem - after several years when the screaming finally got less, the Small Faces could hear the problem.  In an extensive Goldmine interview, Ronnie Lane said "In actual fact, when the Small Faces calmed down a bit, we heard ourselves...and that's why Steve Marriott left the band."
 
More importantly, Steve felt stifled by their chart success. He didn't appreciate the expectation that no matter where the Small Faces would play a concert they would be expected to play their hit singles.  Anyway, he had started this because he wanted to be a musician - not to be a teen scream.
 
And, unknown to many people, there was a re-signing cash dispute with Immediate - and it suited Oldham to keep them in the studio. He had a record company, and didn't need the hassles of tours, nor was he experienced in them - so live they suffered.

There's even a hint in the background that Andrew Oldham had very big plans for Steve Marriott. The other Small Faces were a bit more disenchanted with Immediate, and Oldham is thought by some to be not unhappy that Steve would choose a different vehicle which would propel him beyond the few hit records that Immediate had produced so far. 
 
In the meantime, picture the scene....music was going underground. Very soon Led Zeppelin would be the biggest act in the world (with a fair bit pinched from the Small Faces, but that's another story!!).  Live concerts were changing from package tours that owed a lot to British Variety shows, to virtuoso performances. Musical tastes were also becoming much heavier.  Hendrix, Cream and the Who at this point are perfect illustrations of what I'm trying to say.
 
In fact, Led Zeppelin, Cream and other groups like Free were taking rock fused with American blues to the forefront of the new music.  America beckoned. The biggest market in the world. and home of Steve's musical roots. Even as a teenager in Manor Park he was renowned for his record collection, largely based on American blues and soul.  All of this would have had an effect.

I really think this was also the start of Steve's insecurity about his guitar playing (especially handling the guitar and singing chores live).  Certainly proficient, from a standing start of picking up the instrument only a few years earlier, Steve was not yet the very good guitar player he would become later in his career, and it must have a source of some doubt as to how to make the next big leap with the Small Faces to make them the live powerhouse which would take America by storm. Certainly, Steve's mum Kay also remembers Steve's frustration about the sheer impossibility of working the stage properly as well as having all of the singing and guitar playing chores.
 
Remember, having been compared to the Who throughout their career, the Small Faces had just seen firsthand in Australia the raw powerhouse the Who had become on stage. The world would see this at Woodstock, and the Live at Leeds testimony on record. "They slaughtered us" said Marriott.
 
Steve's girlfriend shared a flat with Jimi Hendrix' girlfriend, and the two musicians had bumped into one another there a few times. Steve was very well aware of that whole scene.
 
His solution, as everyone knows, was to bring Peter Frampton into the Faces. The refusal of the others to agree to this proved another main catalyst for Steve's departure.
 
Certainly the live work, and little bits of studio work done with Frampton had Steve moving the Small Faces in a much heavier musical direction.  Steve said  "Ronnie Lane almost collapsed when he heard Wham Bam Thankyou Mam".  Marriott would later claim that he and Humble Pie pretty much invented Heavy Metal - whereas Ronnie remained very melodic.
 
Did he think that the Small Faces, with their English Music Hall undertones were just too English for the U.S. ?
 
To make matters worse, the coolest band on the planet had become cornered by the relative flippancy and commercial success of Itchycoo Park and Lazy Sunday, a cockney "joke" song which they had seen as an ace album track, but not a single release depicting where the group where at.  A sorrowful Marriott said that at this point it had got to "where I couldn't sing a 12-bar blues any more, which was very distressing"
 
In the meantime, the Small Faces were aghast at the Frampton suggestion. They had confidence in Steve as a front man, which was warranted, but also considered him a better guitarist than Frampton, which was not true, despite the "fire" that Steve had always undoubtedly possessed in his guitar playing. Either way, Steve was not going to get the help outside the studio he felt both he and the band needed.
 
It's worth remembering that five years later, in a similar position regarding how to move Humble Pie forward, Steve's typically original action was to create an absolutely unique blend of hard rock and black soul with the Blackberries. (Note the extremely high position of Eat It in the recent poll of Humble Pie albums on the Yahoo! e-group “Illegal Smile”!). When the idea of these ladies joining permanently didn't really materialise, that really hastened the end of Humble Pie.
 
Now, much has also been made of the relative failure of "The Universal" single (No 16 in 1969) in the story of Steve leaving. I'm in a quandary on this point. Yes, there's no doubt that Steve was very pleased with this song, and particularly the lyrical content, which was never his strongest suit.  There's no doubt that his confidence was dented by its relative lack of commercial success, and he stopped writing. In fact, although he would write some beautiful songs over the years, he would never again be a prolific writer, nor scale the heights of his Small Faces repertoire.
 
Uli and Roland quote Steve in "Happy Boys Happy".  "It killed me at the time. I didn't think that anyone believed in what the song was, which was just a very clever play on words type of song and, I thought, a very clever song. And the reviews said it was either a stroke of genius or a terrible mistake.  And because the song wasn't a hit in a big way it was considered a terrible mistake."
 
However, and despite "The Universal" being a top song, its quirky sound, and being put together in thirty minutes one morning in Steve's garden was never going to make it the polished single to take the Small Faces onwards and upwards.
 
I prefer to believe it was put out as a kind of cool anti-song. As a complete counterbalance to the unhip of “Lazy Sunday”. The obvious follow up to “Lazy Sunday” would have been Afterglow - but having been through the furore of releasing “Lazy Sunday” without the band's agreement, the record company didn't want another blow up on the next choice of single. In normal circumstances, “The Universal” would never have been released as a single
 
Another oft quoted rumour is of Steve's alleged comment of wanting to play with "better musicians" or "real musicians".
 
I don't know.  Let me only make this comment...
Humble Pie offered plenty of opportunity for ad lib and hanging loose, but always within an overall stature - and at their core they were the tightest kick-ass band I ever saw.
 
On the other hand, whenever I saw the Faces (with Rod Stewart), they were characterised by their very looseness. A great band in their own way, loveably shambolic, a party guaranteed, highs and lows depending on the night you caught them. But at a different point on the spectrum from the tight as a drum unit led by Marriott.
 
In fact, so loose were they, I tell you in Glasgow the crowd used to do more singing than Rod - and he let them !
 
Let me sign off with these thoughts...
 
o  Playing live was one of the cores of the issue. Kenney Jones reflects that at rehearsals they played only album-oriented material. At gigs the Small Faces would find that the singles were expected. Yet they considered themselves like the Yardbirds or Zoot Money rather than a pop group. All the Small Faces got pissed off when they went to see other groups they considered as rock or blues.
They should probably have continued the experiment of taking Georgie Fame's brass section on tour. This could have pointed a way into a post-Ogdens tour.  But it was expensive, and given that there was still screaming (witness Newcastle City Hall) they stopped it.
 
o  The Small Faces had always been sharp, cool and innovative. Starting with the RnB mod culture, to pop music tinged with traditional music hall roots, through psychedelia and concept album, all the way to the early Humble Pie feel of the fledgling Small Faces 1962 album tracks.  But they were cornered as a singles band. Whatever they did next had to be geared for the US, and at the time the group weren't even guaranteed entry given Ian McLagan's previous minor drugs conviction.
 
But, ultimately, Marriott's clear cut comments are revealing, "It was definitely the right thing to do [leave]. No question"
 
In reality, they had all grown up. Everybody older and wiser (roughly having gone from 18 to 22 years old). They had lived too long, for four years, in each others' pockets. Even living together..... It was time to move on.

 

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