The Faces Retro: ‘A Nod’s as Good as a Wink’

October 17, 2013 3:06 pm

MOD CultureA second bite of the cherry always tastes sweet.

Seminal ’70s band, The Faces, knew that better than most. They provided one of the musical and cultural links between the lost idealism of the ‘poptastic’ Sixties and the grey hangover of the new decade.

The nucleus of the band, former Mod ‘teenyboppers’ the Small Faces, were unceremoniously dumped by their legendary singer Stevie Marriott who told them he was leaving them to play with ‘real musicians’. Marriott promptly teamed up with Peter Frampton and formed stadium rockers Humble Pie where he could finally let loose his golden tonsils and finally storm America.

Making it in the States was the Holy Grail of any band, the US was where the money was, the fame. After all, it was where this wave of British musicians had stolen their original licks when Elvis Presley first shook his hips and curled his lip, where the avuncular Bill Haley had invited the next generation to ‘Rock Around the Clock’. Our musicians lapped it all up, mesmerised, inspired, saw the dreary monochrome world of post-war Britain transformed into a new, vibrant Technicolor dreamscape, they digested the sound, re-packaged it and sold it right back to them.

First, The Beatles beat down the door, they were followed by The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Kinks and The Who.

The Mod cult

The Small Faces never made it to America, they had been signed by music promoter Don Arden (father of Sharon Osbourne in 1965. They were riding on the ‘Mod’ craze, playing a mix of ska, rhythm and blues, and soul music. 

The early ’60s saw the Mod cult (‘modernist’) grow up based firmly on urban youth who were basically the new rising affluent working class, the first real beneficiaries of the extended economic boom (1950-1973). They worked hard and played hard and provided new consumer markets in fashion (that leaned towards Italian fashion in particular), English tweed with a preferred choice of transport ideally being the coveted Vespa scooter.

Ronnie Lane (bass), Kenney Jones (drums), Ian MacLagan (keyboards) and singer Stevie Marriott were snapped up by Arden who did not want to get left behind. While the band rehearsed and gigged, building up a Mod audience, Arden paid for their wardrobes and got them to live in the same rented house together – to ‘become’ a band. He got them signed to Decca and provided them with a songwriting team, their first single – ‘Whatcha Gonna Do About It?’ – made the top twenty, only after Arden had greased a few carefully chosen palms to get them airplay on the radio stations, manipulating their way up the charts – all unknown to the band. Follow up single  ‘Sha La La Lee’ – which they hated – did even better.

They wouldn’t get caught like that again. Marriott and Lane set about penning their own songs. ‘My Mind’s Eye’ hit next, followed by a number one single ‘All or Nothing’ by late 1966.

Generation game

By then, as they say, the times they were a-changing. The initial pill-popping adrenalin rush of ‘Beatlemania’ characterised by screaming, clothes-ripping ,had run its course and a more ethereal style was developing. Musicians and songwriters were becoming more experimental in their sounds, in their lyrics, reflecting some of the influences of mood-altering drugs mixed with the stark realities of the harrowing scenes beamed in from the first ‘TV war’ of Vietnam. All that, and the way the new counter-culture inevitably collided with the social mores of the traditional worldview of an establishment struggling to come to terms with perceived shortcomings of the ‘generation gap’.

In Britain, the political establishment struggled with the unravelling of empire and the loosening of their ‘code oSteve_Marriott_(Humble_Pie)f conduct’ as the youth grew their hair long, boys looked like girls, girls looked like waifs and ‘the pill’ meant liberation for everybody (as long as you weren’t a woman, black or gay). ‘It’s all too beautiful’, as Marriot sang in their next single ‘Itchycoo Park’.

Psychedelic doodlings

The Fab Four stopped touring, didn’t want to hold your hand, dropped acid and produced ‘Sgt Pepper’ in the ‘Summer of Love’ that was 1967, the album that changed the face of modern music. And The Stones were getting busted.

The Small Faces were forced to make a leap from a teenybopper pop singles band and plunge into vinyl masterpiece just to keep up. Gone were the three button jackets and Parkas, out came the beads and kaftans. Marriot and Lane got together and wrote ‘their meisterwerk’ producing their own weird, LSD-riddled ‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’. It was their contribution to ‘flower power’, complete with psychedelic doodlings, sound FX, the voice of Professor Stanley Unwin tying it all together topped off with their classic ‘jokey’ mock-cockney single ‘Lazy Sunday’.

When it came down to it,by 1968, the Small Faces had nowhere else to go. They couldn’t tour the album and reproduce the technicalities of what was, essentially, a studio sound. all they could do was play their old teenybop stuff and, with the new audiences who actually sat down and LISTENED, that wasn’t going to cut it. Not when said audiences had the likes of Cream and Jimi Hendrix to worship.

Now, ‘serious’ fans listened to ‘serious’ music and ‘pop’ became ‘rock’. Hence, Stevie Marriot walked and took his beautiful, soulful voice with him.

Facing bankruptcy, the three remaining band members could only wait for the bailiffs as their record label, Immediate, ditched them. All they could do was meet once a week and rehearse for the gig that wouldn’t get played…until Ronnie Wood showed up.

They run into Ronnie around the Mod scene. He played guitar for a moderately successful band called ‘The Birds’ (as opposed to the American band, ‘The Byrds’). When that band had its wings clipped, Wood was invited to join the Jeff Beck Group, former Yardbirds guitarist. There, he linked up with fellow Mod singer Rod Stewart. When that fell through after a short but sensational US tour due to money squabbles, Ronnie brought Stewart to watch him jam with the fag end of the Small Faces.Gitarrlegenden Jimi Hendrix

Shambolic affairs

Stewart had his own solo album, the moderately successful ‘An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down’ – a mixture of folk, blues and rock, a promising debut for his gravelly, crack bluesy voice. Stewart was invited to join. They dropped the ‘Small’ and became ‘The Faces’. They were signed to the Warners UK label and, in 1969, recorded their first album known as ‘First Step’ due to the group photo on the sleeve with Ronnie reading a book ‘First Step’ in how to play the guitar. It was a patchy record. Rod Stewart, however, was gaining kudos with his second solo offering ‘Gasoline Alley’ (1970) which the critics loved though it wasn’t (yet) to sell well. Better still, he had The Faces play as his session musicians which warmed them up for their second outing that same year with ‘Long Player’. This time they did better. They produced a good raunchy, ‘Stonesy’ rhythm and blues/countrified set cobbled together with two supplementary live tracks from their tour where they were beginning to build an audience.

And Stewart was on a roll. The next year, he produced his breakthrough work: ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’, including the mega single ‘Maggie May’. He topped the album and singles charts simultaneously in Britain and America.

The Faces shows were always raucous, shambolic affairs, often underrehearsed, yet they connected with their audience with humour, often distributing crates of beer for the singalongs. They often invited their audiences back to their hotels where, in true rock and roll style, they took over whole floors and brought chairs, couches, beds and furniture out into the corridors, a refreshing variation to simply trashing the joint in the usual rock tradition. On one tour, they had a real full length bar onstage with them at the back.

Not for them the dour denims, long, greasy hair and virtuoso interminable guitar and drum solos. They sported the post-Mod spikey mullet hairdo, the bright satin jackets and invited the fans to join in. They were already glam while Marc Bolan was still sitting cross-legged with his accoustic in Tyrannosaurus Rex.

The Faces made their best album at the end of 1971: ‘A Nod’s as Good as a Wink…to a Blind Horse.’

They found their style, their sound with tracks like ‘Miss Judy’s Farm’, ‘Too Bad’, ‘That’s All You Need’ and the classic single ‘Stay With Me’ – Ronnie Wood’s trademark fuzzbox guitar stamped all over them. There were three Ronnie Lane ballads, including his music hall ‘You’re So Rude’ (‘My mum, she likes you. She thinks you’re swell, Got the makings of a dancehall girl. Your low cut frock and your birds’ nest hair, stiletto heels and the way that you swear.’) All topped off with a strident Chuck Berry number ‘Memphis, Tennessee’.

It captured what The Faces were all about.

It all went downhill from there.

While Rod’s albums hit the stratosphere, The Faces never made another accomplished album – a poor studio set, the abysmal ‘Ooh La La!’ (1973) and the even worse live album ‘Coast to Coast’ (1974). Two passable singles – ‘Poolhall Richard’ and ‘You Can Make Me Dance’ were the final nails.

Ronnie Lane decided to leave after ‘Ooh La La!’ to realise a long held ambition to take a band (Slim Chance) on the road in travelling circus mode. He made a brief showing in the singles charts with ‘How Come?’ He died in the 1980s after a long period battling multiple sclerosis.

Rod Stewart’s solo The Small Facescareer continued on to mega-stardom proportions – and his work suffered accordingly.

Ronnie Wood, during a lull in Faces’ duties, joined The Rolling Stones on tour in 1975, following the departure of their guitarist Mick Taylor. He clicked with Keith Richards like a younger brother and looked and played the part. He brought the original Stones interlocking guitar sound Richards once valued playing with original Stone guitarist, the late Brian Jones. He remains a fully-fledged Rolling Stone to this day.

Kenney Jones drummed for The Who following the death of the irreplaceable Keith Moon. It showed. The Who replaced him. Ian MacLagan produced a solo album that went nowhere and played and toured with The Stones off and on from 1978 until 1982. He’s always on hand, popping up on retrospective TV shows.

Rod Stewart strayed from the path. His last decent album was 1974’s ‘Smiler’. His move to Los Angeles told on him. His voice was smoothed out and smothered in the mix. Hired hands played competently, yet without that certain something, that feel, that…soul. ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ Nah.

Kenny Everett told it best in that sketch where he mocked Rod, his tight leopardskin pants and rapidly inflating arse cheeks that sent him…floating away.

Every picture tells a story?

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