By Mike Greenblatt
Piano player Ian McLagan has done all right for himself. Comfortably settled into a post rock-star life in Austin, Texas, he’s the leader of his own band with a residency in one of that town’s hippest bars. He’s making his own music and singing with the kind of guts and verve that he never had the chance to do when he was in bands with vocalists Steve Marriott [1947-1991] and Rod Stewart.
But with the limited release of Charly’s “Here Comes The Nice: The Immediate Years 1967-1969” (available exclusively through amazon.com at http://amzn.to/1lBtOA8), The Small Faces’ two surviving members — McLagan and drummer Kenney Jones — are likely sitting at home, nursing their sore wrists. You see, there are only 3,000 of these luxurious boxed sets in existence, and every single one has been signed by Jones and McLagan.
And what a box it is! Within its 75 tracks on four CDs, listeners will find the A and B-sides of every single, plenty of never-before-heard outtakes, alternate versions of album tracks and in-concert moments and rehearsals — all remastered and remixed. Also in the luxury set: A 72-page hardcover book; track-by-track annotation; testimonials from David Bowie, Pete Townshend of The Who and Paul Weller of The Jam; three 45s in red, white and blue vinyl; a 7-inch Olympic Studios acetate replica; postcards, a 64-page illustrated lyric book; a reproduction of the original press kit for the band’s classic 1968 album “Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake” (one of the best albums of that year); two posters; and two exclusive Gered Mankowitz fine art prints. It’s the package of the year, beautifully crafted for The Small Faces fanatic in all of us.
“I’ve been telling my son about it,” says McLagan. “I’m quite amazed. It’s a beautiful job. They really worked very hard on this. There’s tracks on it I haven’t even heard before — well, since we recorded them, anyway. Plus, the visuals! The pictures of us so young. I was just looking at one in the studio. Steve’s listening to the playback; Ronnie’s listening. I’m reading the newspaper.”
This is a band whose stature has grown tremendously since its ugly 1969 breakup, when singer-guitarist Marriott stormed off stage during a New Year’s Eve performance, never to return. Listening to Marriott’s performances now, 49 years after the Small Faces got together, drives home that at age 18, he was every bit the equal of The Animals’ Eric Burdon and The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger. Marriott, though, had his demons.
“Oh, yeah. He was always on, y’know? He had so much energy. I wrote about him at length in my book, ‘All The Rage,’” McLagan says. “Some years ago now, The Small Faces were given the Ivor Novello Award in England. Steve’s mom was there. I hadn’t seen her in years, and I was so happy to see her. We talked about Steve a lot, and I tried to tell her just why I wrote about him so much in the book. She said, ‘You don’t have to explain. I knew him better than most, and I know what he was like.’ He was incredibly full-on; you couldn’t hold him down. You wouldn’t want to. But you couldn’t keep up with him. No one could. I would be so tired after spending time with him. Steve, [bassist] Ronnie [Lane, 1946-1997] and I lived together for almost a year in 1966. Then, after I was married, they and their girlfriends moved in with us, the six of us. It was always friendly. But he was a lot of work to have to deal with.”
Marriott wanted 16-year-old Peter Frampton to join Small Faces so he could get out from under the yoke of having to be the only guitarist. It never happened. Frustrated with The Small Faces’ lack of success and tag as a teenybopper band, Marriott bolted to form Humble Pie with Frampton. The Small Faces picked up two people to replace him — vocalist Rod Stewart and guitarist Ron Wood, refugees from The Jeff Beck Group, which was also breaking up at the time.
What a delicious rock ’n’ roll fantasy to ponder what would have happened had the Small Faces accepted Frampton into its ranks. But don’t expect McLagan to do that.
“I have no idea,” he answers. “It’s not worth even thinking about, because it didn’t happen. Things happen, hey, for good or for bad, and it’s no use going back. I didn’t want Peter to join the band; neither did Ronnie or Kenney. Steve was leading the band in the wrong direction anyway. It wouldn’t have helped us. So he quit and formed a band with Peter, which is really what he wanted to do. It would never have happened. We wouldn’t let it. It was our band, too.”
The proposed Faces reunion of McLagan, Wood, Jones and Stewart has been talked about for years. That’s something the piano player is more willing to address.
“I’d love to do it. It’s what I’ve been trying to do for years. Let’s do it already. It looks like it’s more likely now than ever, but who knows? I’m up for it. Yes. The answer’s ‘Yes, yes and yes.’ Have I made myself clear?”
But who would play bass?
“There’s a lot of people who would like to play bass with us. Glen Matlock [Sex Pistols], for one. That’s not a problem. Whoever it is, though, has to respect Ronnie Lane’s parts. It’s not like they’re coming in to play lead bass. The parts are already there. Same as my parts are there as the piano player. Ronnie Lane’s parts were so integral to the arrangements. He was a very melodic bass player. So any bass player who thinks he’s going to start soloing, or pop the bass, will get a thump in the ear from me!”
In listening to “Here Comes The Nice: The Immediate Years 1967-1969,” one gets lost in the intricate arrangements, the attention to detail, the production and the compositional strength.
“Itchykoo Park” was the band’s only U.S. hit, but in song after song after song, these fashionable Mods combined a very British, Kinks-reminiscent flair with ball-busting, R&B verve. Listen to Robert Plant’s 1970 vocal on Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and then listen to Marriott’s 1966 vocal on “You Need Loving.” (Both of which were stolen from Muddy Waters, who sued and won, but that’s another story). Plant’s vocal is an exact note-for-note replica of Marriott’s earlier vocal. It’s amazing.
“We did have a big, big problem later on attempting to perform some of this stuff,” admits McLagan. “Imagine trying to replicate a song like ‘Tin Soldier,’ for instance, with all the guitars, three keyboards, backing vocals and all. But what knocks me out when listening to this box almost 50 years later is that it brings back memories of how we worked: We continually worked so fast and did it every day. I couldn’t wait to get up and get at it.” GM