Small Faces : Wasp-Waist and Swivel-Hippy (Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake)

The first time a good friend of mine saw “Professor” Stanley Unwin”, the peerless purveyor of mangled mumbo-jumbo known as Unwinese, he was a little thrown. It was a quiet night in, just us two, the TV & a nice bag of magic mushrooms. Was this craziness his own psilocybin twisted perception or…well, what was this ? Carl was born too late to have heard or seen Stanley’s TV & radio appearances. He had missed out too on the long summer holiday of 1968 when our teenaged gang of four wondered at the circular sleeve (how mad was that !) and delighted in the Cockney Psychedelia of the Small Faces’ LP “Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake”. It was #1 on the charts for 6 weeks & Stanley Unwin was a pop star. So, “are you sitting comftybold two-square on your botty? Then we’ll begin.”

In 1966 Small Faces had taken residence in the UK Top 10 with 4 hit singles, 3 of them written by the partnership of guitarist Steve Marriott & bassist Ronnie Lane. The major pop players, the survivors of the British Beat Boom, had invaded the USA, they were less inclined to make the teen scene. The shift from wanting to hold your hand to spending the night together was a little too forward for some. The younger kids wanted some new posters on their bedroom walls, someone to scream at. These 4 young, sharp-dressed London mods, with a bright Soul/R&B inflected take on pop, were just the ticket. When I say sharp I mean best-dressed. Small Faces sounded great & looked better.

The group spent the first half of 1967 extricating themselves from an unfavourable contract with manager & all-round hard-ass Don Arden. Like kids in a toyshop Marriott, Lane, organist Ian McLagan & drummer Kenney Jones had thought that the Pimlico flat & the raids on Carnaby St boutiques were pop star perks. The hit records put clothes on their back but little money in the bank. They signed with the coolest record label around, Immediate, started by Andrew Loog Oldham, rolling in the profits from managing the Stones. The music was growing up & Small Faces, wearied by teen stardom, wanted to play with the big boys. In June they released the “Small Faces” LP, the bridge between “All Or Nothing” & what followed, all original tracks none over 3 minutes long. A great record, R&B lightly brushed with the new psychedelia, & not a hit record among them.

They revelled in the new freedom at Immediate. Recording at Olympic Studios with Glyn Johns Small Faces had 3 more Top 10 singles before the release of “Ogdens…”. “Itchycoo Park”, an English take on “Groovin'”, Mod growing it’s hair with some fine tape-wizardry flange work. The scorching “Tin Soldier”, a rocking band fronted by Steve Marriott, a great rock singer. “Lazy Sunday”, a lovely, cor-blimey, modern East End knees-up & a preview of the new LP.

“Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake” came wrapped in colourful parody of a tobacco tin from back then. The sleeve was round (how mad was that ?). Wikipedia, the font of all knowledge, states that the said company had produced a Nut Brown flake since 1899. This has been copied & pasted by the Internet but oh no they didn’t. Ogdens’ built their huge Liverpool factory in 1899 & opened it in 1901, they were established in 1860. It was Adkins, a London firm, who made the Nut Brown brand not Ogdens. So, let’s get this right & you read it here first. Me, I was always a ready-rubbed kind of guy !

The LP opens with the bass-boom instrumental title track written by the whole band. I have no idea where Mac was in the above clip, he’s around in the rest of the programme. This was a heavier Small Faces sound, touched by the experimentation of the times. Marriott & Lane (especially Ronnie Lane ?) had hit their stride as songwriters. Soul shakers like “Afterglow” & “Song of a Baker” (see below) shook more effectively. The lighter tunes “Rene” & “Lazy Sunday” were confident & funny. Side 1 of “Ogdens’…” is stoned rather than psychedelic.

Side 2 is a fairy tale, the story of Happiness Stan’s quest for the missing part of the moon, it’s tuned in & turned on. On “Sergeant Pepper’s…” the Beatles acknowledged music hall & influences from the days before rock & roll. From way, way back in the 1950s Small Faces enlisted Stanley Unwin to narrate their story, an inspired decision. Unwin delivered his unique take on the English language with relish. His love of language picked up on the studio patois, “called to see you man hah, what’s been your hangup man huh ?”. Monty Python was a year away but they were already around the TV & radio. We were right on this surreal goonery. British psychedelia always had a high whimsy content , the imaginative writings of the likes of Lewis Carroll & Edward Lear are part of our humour as children & adults. Small Faces were not grooving with a pict in a field overlooking a university town, theirs was a much more urban outlook. At times attempts to write about their East End roots touched on jellied eels & mash stereotypes but they were a great unit who couldn’t help but turning it up for some muscular Mod rock & roll & “Ogdens’…” is still one of my favourite LPs of the time. They did not take themselves too seriously. Stan, with the assistance of a giant fly, completed his quest. The meaning of Life ? “Life is just a bowl of All-Bran, you wake up every morning and it’s there”. Gertcha !

“Itchycoo Park” was a Top 20 hit in the USA. A kerfuffle involving Ian McLagan, the police & a lump of cannabis resin on the mantelpiece restricted their transatlantic activity. This very English LP was unlikely to find an American audience. The band found it impossible to play “Ogdens’…” live & anyway the young fans wanted to hear “Sha-la-la-la-lee”. A frustrated Steve Marriott quit onstage at a New Year’s Eve gig at Alexandra Palace. He & Peter Frampton, another reluctant teen idol, wanted to boogie so they formed Humble Pie. The remaining 3 of the gang had lost their Artful Dodger, their great showman/singer. They needed to find another & they did but they were no longer Small Faces. Finally, like at Decca with Don Arden, they never saw the money they made for Immediate either.

Some years later, in the “Noughties” (spit !) the very same Carl & myself were visiting a friend in Liverpool. We happened to be driving down Boundary Lane & passed the impressive Victorian Ogden’s tobacco factory. Our Scouser pals were confused as their nut-gone passengers stopped the car & jumped out to admire an inspirational rock & roll relic, all ” folloloping in wonderboldness & deep, deep joy”.