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”.

When There’s Things To Do Not Because You Gotta (Summer of 66)

The Summer of 1966 is a very strong contender for an inter-equinox/solstice type of deal Hall of Fame. At loosehandlebars we are often caught looking back but none of us have turned into pillars of salt because we are down with Marcel Proust, “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” No room for nostalgia here. With an unlikely cultural leap we summon “Dragnet”s Joe Friday,  “All we want are the facts, ma’am”. In that summer I was 13 years old. On the 30th of July England’s football team beat Germany’s 4 goals to 2 to become the Champions of the World. For 2 weeks in July the #1 record in the UK was “Sunny Afternoon” by the Kinks.

Image result for the kinks magazine coversThe charts belonged to the Beatles in the Summer of 66. When “Paperback Writer” was released in June the next double sided smash, “Eleanor Rigby”/”Yellow Submarine”, had already been recorded. For the 6 weeks of non-Fab Four omniscience the chart-toppers were Georgie Fame, Chris Farlowe, the Troggs & the Kinks. Britpop carried the swing but acts were having to raise their game because the competition was unforgiving. You were only as good as your last single & who wants yesterday’s papers…you get me ? The Kinks had got the hit single thing absolutely down. After “You Really Got Me” 11 of the next 12 45s made the Top 10 (the other reached #11). There are some great songs in that run, “Set Me Free” & “See My Friends” did not match the sales of the big guns but maybe should have. Ray Davies was developing an acerbic, more expansive (did I hear anyone say smug ?) style. “Well Respected Man” was a tentative start, “Dedicated Follower” was just original, funny & brilliant. “Sunny Afternoon” is a multi-layered satire on either the old Imperial aristocracy or the nouveau rock rich & the reaction to Government tax policy. It is a Lovin’ Spoonful song with added cynicism. It is 4 pints in a British beer garden, the dolly birds in their mini dresses. It is languid, lovely & it was everywhere.

There was no cricket season in 1966. Well not until the football was done with. This was the first & the only World Cup to be staged in Britain in my lifetime. It was the first one when TV technology & space hardware meant that the whole world (except the USA) really was watching. My friends & I kicked a ball about all day, new international heroes to admire & to emulate, before watching 2 games in the evening. The first week saw a great victory for Hungary over the champions Brazil. My Uncle Erno, a refugee from the 1956 uprising, was able to show his pride & his enthusiasm for his country for the first time since he fled…splendid. England became the World Champions at the first tournament I had watched so carefully. It seemed to be the natural order of things, Swinging London would surely always be the cultural centre of the world. I wish someone had told my 13 year old self that I should appreciate & relish England’s victory because it would NEVER bloody happen again in my life !

Image result for the who magazine coversThe Who, like the Kinks, were on an inspired run of singles & were reliant on the creativity of a single member of the group. Ray Davies & Pete Townshend were intelligent but fragile talents who did not react well to the demands of their musical partners, business associates & audience. Their respective autobiographies are a litany of complaint, dissatisfaction, even damage when they were living the dream of so many. It may have been tough, it may have been hell but man, it produced a shed load of fantastic, original, world class pop songs. “I’m A Boy” was released in August 1966, the first of a twisted, thrilling trilogy of hit singles. Pete was already beyond his smashed/blocked Mod anthem phase & this clip shows the confidence & talent of the whole band. Not yet the best rock & roll band in the world but maybe on their way. Most of Pete’s work seems to have been part of a more ambitious song cycle. It took some time before he was able to balance the rock operas & the hit singles. “Happy Jack” & “Pictures Of Lily” kept the Who in the Top 10, these strange & wonderful songs of adolescence. I was never dressed as a girl by my mother but…”I wanna play cricket on the green. Ride my bike across the stream.Cut myself and see my blood.I wanna come home all covered in mud”. I was 13 years old & so did I.

Our family holiday was 2 weeks long in 1966. We usually had a week in a caravan (I loved it) but this year we went further for longer & stayed in a B&B. Did we have more money ? I have not the slightest idea ! As the eldest of 5 I had 3 younger brothers to play with/look after. No problem, I loved them then & still do now. My parents arranged for my best friend to join us for the 2nd week as company for me. Y’know I thought that was great then but now…how cool & kind were my folks. Wink & I had a great time. On a rainy day my Dad took us to a snooker hall, a wonderful fuggy place of dim light, green baize, stale smoke. A man’s place. He paid for our game & left us alone to our Fast Eddie Felson fantasies…we loved it. In 1966 there were still illegal pirate radio stations in the UK. Our Yorkshire resort had one moored nearby so reception was loud & clear. In the evenings we took a radio to the cliffs & we listened to a lot of music. Released on the same day as “Eleanor Rigby” & its successor at # 1 was this classic.

Mod was provincial by 1966. Those sharp dressed young men of 1963 inspired by an R&B existentialism were moving from purple hearts to Gold Lebanese, to a new dandyism supplied by Carnaby St boutiques. Out here on the perimeter an army surplus parka, a scooter & a liking for Tamla Motown got you into the club. Hey, it was OK, working class kids still wanted to look sharp, there was still plenty of business for the local tailor, but the first steps from Hard Mod to Skinhead were being taken. In 1966 the Small Faces were absolutely the top Mod band in the UK. They took up permanent residence in the Top 10 with 4 singles & every day of the year they looked as great as this. Steve Marriott & Ronnie Lane learned how to write the pop/R&B belters & “All Or Nothing” was their biggest hit. They were becoming a great band but things were changing by the end of the year.

Image result for small faces magazine coversIn May 1966 the Beatles played their last UK concert. There was anyway, a new generation of young girls looking for their own idols. The Small Faces were all good looking boys, they attracted screaming teenyboppers to their gigs when being heart throbs was no longer quite the thing. There was not a lot of money around, they helped themselves to the best clothes in London, living the life while the bills were sent to the manager. When the band’s parents called on Don Arden he grassed them up about the marijuana habit…oh oh. Keyboard player Ian McLagan got busted which hampered US visas at an important time. The band did get away from Arden. He sent his heavies to dangle one potential suitor from a window but they went with Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham & his new label Immediate. Still no money but still the talent & interesting times ahead.

We were back at school when the Small Faces were at #1. In that same chart was “Land Of 1,000 Dances”, “I Can’t Turn You Loose” & “Working In A Coal Mine”. Soul Heaven…sitting on those cliffs, with my best friend, listening to Wilson Pickett shriek “1-2-3 !” that was great. There have been better summers, great places, great times & people but I doubt that there has been a better soundtrack. The day after my Dad took us to the snooker hall it rained again. He asked us what we wanted to do. We said that we wanted to go back there again. He was not too keen but we said, hey, you pay & leave us to it. It’s said that an ability to play a decent game of snooker is the sign of a misspent youth. Well we were doing the best we could back then.

If You Remember the 60s You Weren’t There

Well, the music of the 1960s and Y-tube are the gifts that keep on giving. The classic British TV performances are all there, I can get lost trawling through the American shows that we never saw over here…so that’s what the Bobby Fuller 4 looked like ! Then there are the big surprises. Here are 3 songs which were not hits on release but were favourites then, I bought 2 of them, and still are. A big thank you to the kind souls who put these into my computer so that I can keep them in a safe place & never be more than a couple of clicks away from hearing them again.

The Equals were North London boys, Hornsey Rise, Kentish Town, probably Arsenal fans. They were the first visible inter-racial group in the UK and in 1968 had a #1 hit with the irresistibly catchy “Baby Come Back”. There was a smidgeon of ska, a soupcon of soul but mainly they were meaty, beaty, big and bouncy. Their small record label insisted on releasing simple singalong singles and the Equals never really established themselves. They did have something to say about being young and black and living in London but we did not always get to hear it.

“Police On My Back” was not a single but is a stomping classic of a song. When the Clash recorded the song for “Sandanista” they did not have to change a great deal, the breathless punk pacing, the ringing siren of a guitar, it’s all there already. The Equals were always open to new sounds, the 45 “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” is nascent funk. There’s a clip from French TV where they do a Hendrix impersonation. In 1971 the guitarist and songwriter suffered a heart infection and collapsed lung, the band disappeared. Eddie Grant, the very same, recovered and prepared for a second assault on the music industry. It took 10 years but in 1983 he got us all to rock down to “Electric Avenue” & showed that he knew how to write a hit song.

P P Arnold came to Britain as an Ikette in 1966 and stayed. The Stones manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, was pursuing his Phil Spector fantasy & looking for talent for his new label Immediate. Mick Jagger put him on to P P & she was signed. She made some classy records with help from label mates Cat Stevens and Rod Stewart. Top of the bill at Immediate was the Small Faces, young hit-making mods looking to expand their R&B inflected pop and embrace the new psychedelia. Singer Steve Marriott took  a more than professional interest in the beautiful Ms Arnold. She shared vocals on the band’s earth-shattering rock anthem “Tin Soldier” and, in doing so, made her mark on our music.

“(If You Think You’re) Groovy” is a companion piece to “Tin Soldier”. Similarly written and produced by Marriott and Ronnie Lane, it did reach the British Top 20. What can I say ? An over the top production tamed by P P’s strong vocal, this is a landmark in British R&B/Soul. To promote the record she, the Small Faces and duo Twice As Much went down to Camber Sands, got high and rolled about on the beautiful beach. It’s one of the best ways to spend a day in the South of England & makes for an engaging  piece of film. I recently saw P P Arnold singing in a Sandy Denny  tribute concert. She is still beautiful and still has a wonderful voice, she’s a charm.

(Since this post was published the clip of Tea & symphony has been removed from the Y-tube. So it goes, I did get to see them though)

Blimey ! It was only 2 hours ago that I found this clip on Y-tube. My young self bought this piece of psych-folk whimsy in 1969, played it to death and I had never actually seen any moving pictures of Tea and Symphony until today. “Boredom” is a Fisher/Brooker/Reid song from Procol Harum’s “A Salty Dog” and it seems to be marimba week round here. This more upbeat version by a Birmingham band of no fixed number just seemed so well produced and to be such fun. Less precious than, say, the Incredible String band I guess that it is stoned folk rather than acid-folk. The Y-tube comments on this (not usually a good indicator) are from Brits of a similar age to myself wondering why this was not a hit record and how come their friends didn’t quite see it either. I’m with those guys. I have never heard the tea and Symphony debut LP, “Asylum For The Musically Insane” but with a title like that…Harvest Records…Jah love ’em.