The Swinging Sixties, despite what you read in the history books, passed by most people unless they lived in central London.
The rest of the country had to make do with the music, played on a Dansette record player (if you’re under 40 then ask your parents), listened to in booths at your local record shop, or from almost hip, slighty-trendy programmes on the BBC.
The Small Faces were four cheeky, well dressed, lads from the East End of London who were fronted by Steve Marriott. They had four great years (1965-9) at the birth of Mod, tried again a decade later, imploded with drink and drugs, and, for Marriott, met a tragic demise.
But ever since June their fans, some of who still sport the Mod hair and clobber 50 years on (sad, I know. I blame Paul Weller), have been in seventh heaven with a smash hit musical about the boys, penned by that Louise bird off EastEnders, and called All Or Nothing, which has been touring the country.
Once again the sounds of Itchycoo Park, Tin Soldier, Lazy Sunday and Rene have been reverberating around the UK with audiences up on their feet recalling their youth.
I caught the show on Friday night at the Wycombe Swan but the 2016 tour is almost over. This week they’re at the New Theatre, Cardiff (Tues-Sat) and then the tour ends at the Forum Theatre Billingham (Nov 10-12).
I’m taking an educated guess, but judging by the reaction the musical has received, it’s likely to be back on the road in 2017.
I don’t know when or how it happened but, in recent years writers have taken the juke box musical genre and given it a much needed reverb.
Instead of a show that consists of a string of hits, a few dancing girls, and not much else, we now have superbly produced, pukka musicals with a strong plot-line, interesting characters and talented performers. At last it comes of age.
It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that another ’60s group, The Kinks, have been showcased in Sunny Afternoon, which has won widespread acclaim for both its West End show, which finished at the weekend after two years, and its touring production (now on the road).
The success, and big marketing budget, of Sunny Afternoon has, in all likelihood, robbed All Or Nothing of the full praise and adulation it undoubtedly deserves.
For this little gem has every bit as good a story to tell, fine performances from the entire ensemble, first rate musicianship from the principals, and a well told, well written book from Carol Harrison.
It has won nothing but applause and standing ovations from every venue it has played for the last 20-odd weeks.
Back in the day there wasn’t the internet or social media (astonishing but true) so music fans got to hear little about their heroes’ off-stage lives.
Sure, a photo of the Beatles or Mick Jagger may make the front pages of the popular press, but, for the rest, it was a chart or gig mention in New Musical Express or Melody Maker and that was it.
Harrison (yes, Louise Redmond off EastEnders and a damn fine stage actress to boot) gives us the warts-and-all version of what happens when fame corrupts and sharp business destroys artistic merit.
In her show Marriott, never very clever at school, has dreams of playing rhythm ‘n’ blues and being a singer.
He had very minor success before getting a job in a music shop and running into two Jack the Lads – Ronnie Lane and Kenney Jones. All three of them loved their trendy gear and playing music. It seemed a match made in heaven.
Where All Or Nothing strikes gold is having Chris Simmons play the show’s narrator as the older Steve Marriott.
He wanders around the stage – and audience – getting increasingly pissed/ high through the singer’s meteoric rise and takes over, in the final, crucial, scenes, as the story reaches Marriott’s downfall.
It’s a wonderfully subtle and nuanced performance. He cheerily spreads bonhomie, lovingly laying a fatherly arm on his younger self’s shoulder, while recounting the highs and lows of the band’s life.
In the show’s final moments he reprises All Or Nothing, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, and it’s a captivating and gravelly performance.
It’s a pity he hasn’t been given more opportunity to sing as his voice is probably closer to Marriott’s very special sound than newcomer Tim Edwards turn as the young singer.
It’s no plot spoiler – if you don’t know then you couldn’t have been a fan – to say that Marriott died in a house fire in 1991, caused by a discarded cigarette, after a drinks/ drug binge.
The tragedy, which robbed British pop music of one of its greatest and unique talents – makes Simmons’ compelling performance as the doomed frontman even more poignant. I swear I had a lump in my throat as his distraught mum, Kay (played by Harrison) battles to save her son from the demons tearing him apart.
It’s even more moving to think that he declared himself burned out….. at the tender age of just 22.
Harrison’s funny, perceptive script is inspired by the Small Faces biography but shouldn’t be taken as entirely factual (when does anyone let a fact get in the way of a good story?) Occasionally the jokes fall a bit flat but, generally, this is a lively and engaging story.
The band’s one-time manager, Don Arden, whose notorious strong-arm tactics were the stuff of legend in 1960s pop culture, is made very much the villain of this piece although the group themselves have admitted that he made them successful..it just came with a £10m price tag (while he was paying them just £60 each a week).
Russell Floyd (EastEnders’ Michael Rose) is menacing as Arden in a cartoon villain sort of way. You can’t entirely take him and his henchman seriously – until he threatens to shove impresario Robert Stigwood out of an office window for daring to try and sign the band (a true story apparently).
Edwards succeeds in capturing the raw youthful energy and aggression of the teenage Marriott who frequently upset his friends, family, fans and music management by insisting on playing his choice of music. Actually they thought him an obnoxious oik but I’m sure his mum loved him.
Harrison is pure Barbara Windsor as Kay Marriott, and is the epitome of an East End mum. It’s a lovely, affectionate performance by someone who is clearly a fan of the group, the era and the music.
Daniel Beales provides a lot of the laughs throughout the show with a series of comical impressions. His Tony Blackburn and Sonny Bono are hysterical while I’m sure there are some in the audience who will be baffled, but – Deep Joy – delighted, by his brief appearance as linguistically challenged variety act Stanley Unwin.
A memorable night of music and nostalgia.
All Or Nothing
All Or Nothing is a well written, nostalgic and engaging story charting the meteoric rise and fall of the 1960s Mod group, the Small Faces.