There’s a graceful elegance associated with music legends which young bands simply cannot match. An upstart’s confidence can easily be construed as arrogance, (see Viva Brother), whereas an elder statesman casually remarking, “We were Mods before there were mods” has an air of truthfulness. It’s a fact. You see, Kenney Jones drummer with Small Faces, Faces and The Who (post Keith Moon), hasn’t just been at the centre of Mod culture, he is the centre.
In 1977 The Jam released ‘Carnaby Street’ as a b-side with the lyrics, “The street is a mirror for our country / Reflects the rise and fall of our nation”, explicitly implying the connection the home of mod-culture has with Britain. But this was only a modern phenomenon, one instigated by the Small Faces and their manager Don Arden merely twelve years earlier.
“Don had an office on Carnaby Street” Jones reminisces. “But Carnaby Street didn’t have the same reputation as it does now. It was still a road and there were only about three shops to buy clothes from back then. You had Toppers for your shoes, Lord John on the corner and John Stephens below the office.” Fashion was the band’s currency, running up huge accounts in these shops with the rationale, “We wore the clothes on TV and in magazines and we wanted to look good.”
Small Faces’ cultural impact was recognised in 2007 with a Blue Plaque outside Arden’s office commemorating the group. But, as the soon to be re-released deluxe editions of their four albums prove, their music sense wasn’t hindered by their plumage. To this day ‘Itchyocoo Park’, ‘Lazy Sunday’ and ‘Here Come The Nice’ can be heard at indie disco’s across the land and even Jones admits “Of course I still listen to the records, not very often though. They are good songs after all.”
It’s been 46 years since their eponymous debut album was released, and sound qualities have dramatically improved, something Small Faces fans deserve to experience despite the problems time breeds. “Going back to do the remastering was difficult, mainly because so much was missing. It wasn’t all in one place as you’d expect, and the Universal archive had big gaps. But with Universal searching through old boxes we managed to find a lot of the tapes.” But this may not be the end of collectable releases, “We recorded so many versions and there’s still a lot missing so there could be further releases in the future.”
The re-releases highlight the group’s change from their early pop Small Faces days into the brash psychedelia of Ogdens Nut Gone Flake, with Kenney acknowledging that the Small Faces’ story is most definitely in two parts. A management split with Don Arden, a cancelled tour of America with Lovin’ Spoonful and changing labels from Decca to Immediate shifted the band’s focus, allowing them to develop musically. “When we moved on to Immediate we finally knew what we were doing. With Decca we were just going into the studio and recording almost in one take, but when we moved to Immediate we could take more time to think about what we were doing.” This break with Arden, who wanted them to be more of a pop band was pivotal. Payment from Arden in fineries from the hippest boutiques had made them the best dressed band in London but, although by Kenny’s own admission they “wouldn’t have got anywhere without him”, they had been “ripped off”, were “pissed off” and wanted “to be more experimental”.
But what of the cancelled tour of America, a country Small Faces failed to crack? “There’s no doubt that if we’d made it to America, our reception over there would have been different. The dates were booked, but Ian McLagan’s cannabis conviction and our relationship with Don meant we never made it. Bands like The Who and the Rolling Stones spent a lot of time over there, but being here meant we could write more.” It was down to a “love of the music” which held the band together and set the path to the epic Ogdens... “I’d become a much better drummer since the start too. I’d played with some others and was able to bring the extra tightness into the Small Faces, so we were a better group playing together.”
The Decca years had set their pop base with singles ‘Sha La La La Lee’ and ‘All Or Nothing’ providing the hit parade with the latest Mod smashes, gifting them appearances on Ready Steady Go and Top of The Pops. Small Faces were telecast into the homes of future Mods, shaping a generation, but the pop tag was uncomfortable for the band. “None of us really liked the pop tag we’d had from the start, but it really affected Steve [Marriot], more than we realised. He didn’t like it at all. We weren’t a pop band like some of the others out there.” Jones prefers their later material released on Immediate as it marked a change in confidence and Ogdens Gone Nut Flake was to cap this change.
Small Faces’ fourth album was released less than a year after Sgt Peppers and spent six weeks at number one. It’s often cited as the first record to explore innovative packaging, coming in a circular tobacco tin styled sleeve; Q magazine even called in the 59th greatest British album of all time. Expanded to three discs for the re-release, it was to set them up as icons of Mod psychedelia “We felt Ogdens… would have really changed what people thought of us, but it was impossible to play live, and this really got to Steve as he wanted us to be more experimental.” This frustration would ultimately lead to the band’s downfall. “We didn’t know at the time but he’d been playing with Peter Frampton and he went on to form Humble Pie with him. We just felt shock and disbelief when he left.”
Losing a guitar wielding frontman can be a killer blow to any group, but the three remaining Small Faces were unperturbed. “Me, Ian and Ronnie [Lane] were still together and had no reason to stop. We’d been friends with Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart, who had been playing in Jeff Beck’s band, for a while, so we just started hanging out and rehearsing with Ron, seeing how it went. Rod would always be about, usually just sitting on amps, not in the band at all. Then one day Rod I were in the pub just talking and I thought it would be a good idea if Rod joined the band. He wanted to so I just told the others and they were all fine.”
Faces were a different kind of band. Listening to their catalogue summarises the early 70s raw RnB sound. Gone was the Small Faces pop-psychedelia, in were relentless riffs, solid drums and a decidedly American sounding pedal steel influence, a style which would go onto dominate the decade. And of course with Stewart they were nurturing a legend. “Rod and Steve were very different singers. Rod’s a showman, a proper frontman, it was obvious even then. Of course he’s gone off to do spectacularly well,” but Kenney refuses to get drawn in to who was better. Recently a reformed Faces have toured with Mick Hucknall – who’s “a great talent in his own right and has been great to work with”.
Rumours, or hopes, of a Faces reunion with Stewart have circulated for years and there was a rehearsal with the all original members before Hucknall joined the group but “with Ronnie touring with the Rolling Stones and Rod’s itinerary there’s never been chance. We’re still all friends and meet up as much as we can.” When was the last time? “A couple of weeks back for dinner to discuss what we’re going to do about the induction.”
Ah yes, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame Induction, the pinnacle of a band’s career, but what’s it like to be placed in the annals of history? “The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame is taken very seriously in America, much more than I ever realised. So it’s a huge honour to be in there. It’s a shame the Small Faces and Faces have been grouped together because they’re separate bands. Not just the line-up but musically. But I can see why they’ve done it; it’s easier for us to be together. I’ve been in touch with Ronnie Lane’s and Steve Marriot’s families and they approve of it.” Jones is in a revelatory mood as he reveals Stewart, who missed his solo induction, will definitely be there. “We’re going to be playing there with Rod singing. I can’t tell you what, but it will be two Faces and one Small Faces song”, jaw dropping news which the Induction organisers wanted kept under wraps, until it was leaked late March.
Jones refuses to be pressed on a Faces with Stewart tour, simply plugging a UK celebration of the induction; the Itchycoo Park festival near his home in Surrey (June 2-3). He will lead a house band with various guests joining him over the weekend including, Bill Wyman, PP Arnold, Wood, and maybe…Peter Frampton. But I want to know about the Induction, especially as they’re with other bands notorious for line-up changes and drug use, Guns n Roses and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Jones just laughs this off, “It should be a fun night is all I can say.”
It’s remarkable how down to earth Jones is for someone who set the Mod agenda. Whether it’s hanging out with the biggest stars in rock or discovering new bands, his articulation is resolutely humble. I mention a recent conversation I had with Tribes in which they cited the Small Faces and their Britishness as an influence, to Jones’ genuine surprise; “really? What were they called again, I’ll look out for them.”
There’s an appreciation, a thankful awareness, of his musical legacy, and an honest understanding of his achievements. “Well it was a privilege playing with The Who after Keith Moon died, and Faces opened new opportunities for all of us.” But, “It’s the Small Faces, where it all started, which I really look back on fondly.” As he looks back at his career, on the eve of a magnificent set of releleases, and receipt of the ultimate rock accolade, it’s the untimely deaths of Ronnie Lane and Steve Marriot which lay heavily. When asked what his biggest achievement is, it’s simply “I’m still here.”