Does this story sound familiar? Four young and enthusiastic lads get together and form a band; talent and some great songs propel them to the top of the charts; musical differences, exacerbated by personality clashes, begin to cause some internal friction; money is in puzzlingly short supply and it slowly dawns on them their manager is ripping them off; there are increasing problems with drugs and alcohol; one of the band dies prematurely; the group implodes.
In fact the Small Faces had already split over 20 years earlier when Steve Marriott died in a house fire aged 44. But you get the picture. The Sixties group enjoyed spectacular success with songs like Watcha Gonna Do About It and All Or Nothing, but just about all of the misfortunes commonly associated with rock music legends befell them. Theirs is a classic, cautionary tale and writer Carol Harrison tells it superbly in this hit musical, which conquered the West End last year and is now on a national tour (it was at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall a few weeks ago). Her script has plenty of entertaining cartoonish humour and is also strong on the darker side of fame.
The Small Faces were the ultimate mod group: working class (they were from London’s East End), full of cheeky confidence and swagger, stylishly dressed, in love with American blues and soul. Steve Marriott’s irreverent, roguish personality made him perfect for the role of the Artful Dodger in Oliver!, which he played as a child actor. It also made him an engaging, charismatic front man for the band and it’s captured here in two fine performances, from Samuel Pope and Chris Simmons as, respectively, the younger and older Steve. Actually Chris Simmons is also the dead Steve, as Carol Harrison has hit on the idea – and it works very well – of having Marriott’s spirit speaking to the audience from beyond the grave, taking us through the group’s story and commenting wistfully on characters and events. He’s a beer swigging, wisecracking Cockney geezer and Simmons’s very likeable performance quickly wins the audience over.
The rest of the cast (some of them taking multiple roles) are excellent too, in a show that’s packed with colourful characters: the other members of the band – Ronnie Lane, Kenney Jones and Ian McLagan; Don Arden, the group’s ruthless, chiselling manager (played with memorable malevolence by Russell Floyd); Kay Marriott, Steve’s mother (an impressive performance from Carol Harrison herself); PP Arnold, the singer who had a troubled romantic relationship with Marriott; and many more, including brief appearances by Rod Stewart, Sonny and Cher, Dusty Springfield and Tony Blackburn.
And then of course there’s the music, which is brilliantly performed and drives the show on with tremendous pace and energy. The Small Faces’ roots were in rhythm and blues, as songs such as their No.1 hit All Or Nothing showed, but their repertoire became increasingly varied and inventive, from the hallucinogenic Itchycoo Park to Lazy Sunday, with its shades of Cockney music hall. Sha La La La Lee was on the face of it a lightweight pop song – interestingly we see the band’s objections to recording it – but it’s delivered with such venom and aggression that both on record and on stage here it’s transformed into an irresistible showstopper.
The sets, costumes and period props all play their part in transporting us back to the glorious Sixties. Many in the audience were obviously reliving their youth and they were in raptures by the end. A terrific show.
***** Great songs, great acting and a great script – superb entertainment
Photos: Phi Weedon
All Or Nothing continues at the Storyhouse, Chester until Saturday 30 September.
PS As you may know, there was a happy ending of sorts for at least some members of the Small Faces after the band split. Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones joined Rod Stewart in a new group called the Faces. Steve Marriott continued battling with his demons but enjoyed some success with the band Humble Pie before his death in 1991.