Small Faces

The BBC Sessions 1965-1968
(Fuel 2000/Varése Sarabande)

Jimmy Winston's mum must be proud. Keyboardist for the Small Faces' first two singles, he was booted out before he got to appear on any album covers. Now, 35 years later, he finally gets to flash his surly mug, albeit on a diminished four-and-three-quarter-inch Guinness coaster of a cover. Not that Winston's whereabouts mattered much in America, where the Small Faces' pre-Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake output amounted to five badly distributed singles, four of which are represented here with vastly improved sound. You've got to wonder how BBC technicians, who were probably only trained to record rugby chat programs, seemed to know more about rock mike placement than most British recording engineers of the day.

With these recordings, it's clear why Ronnie Lane was nicknamed "Plonk" -- you actually hear his fingers touching the bass strings! Ditto for Kenney Jones, whose energetic batterings for this BBC set are more Moon-manic than anything he interjected behind a Who bass drum.

Speaking of the Who, listen to what R&B belter Steve Marriott does with the identical vocal range of his contemporary, that Daltrey boy. On extended (longer than three minutes) numbers like "E Too D" and "Shake," the Small Faces are three years early in approximating the fury and improvisation of Live at Leeds. And listen to Marriott plant himself firmly into "You Need Lovin'," the Willie Dixon number Led Zeppelin ripped off for "Whole Lotta Love." Dixon never bothered suing Marriott and Lane for giving themselves writing credit, probably since the Small Faces were one of the few white groups that got ripped off more than black musicians. Just listen to the overworked Marriott intimating to his no-good manager that the lads could really use a holiday on a Top Gear broadcast. And still, they never found time to tour America!

Things moved pretty rapidly in those days. Seven weeks after forming, the Small Faces' first single was released. Four weeks after that, the group was on Saturday Club promoting it. Getting their first No. 1 took several months longer, but that's the kind of excitement you find packed into BBC collections like this. Whole careers are taking place in the time it takes one clause in a record contract to be changed nowadays.

Only in the '60s would somebody go to the trouble of appearing on a radio broadcast to promote "Lazy Sunday" and re-create all the song's sound effects with library records and tea cups from the BBC commissary instead of just playing the recorded version. Even the excitement of BBC mouthpiece Brian Matthew seems all but absent now in a world of blasé VJs and less-talk, more-music radio. After introducing the Small Faces, Matthew can barely contain himself, getting on mike again 17 seconds into the song to add "This is a fantastic raving version of the beautiful hit song 'If I Were a Carpenter.'"

How could he have known the Small Faces would never record that number and we'd be forced to hear him toasting over it long after his last BBC contract had expired? With the floodgates opening on Beeb reissues recently, Matthew's probably made 40 album appearances over the past year alone. Now his mum must reallybe proud.

 
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