The Small Faces - Deluxe editions

Unfairly tarnished, perhaps, by an association with the more annoying elements of the Britpop generation, The Small Faces remain a key ingredient in the soup that is British pop music, their legacy a magnificent - if complex - discography and not much in the way of financial recompense. These new Deluxe Editions go some way to resolving the misdeeds of the past but, as is often the case, they come too late for those band members no longer with us.

To understand The Small Faces, it's necessary to understand the realities of the record industry during the 1960s. Modern day artists may bemoan the meagre royalties from services like YouTube or Spotify, but for the working class kids who made up many of the era's most revered acts, playing in a band - even a successful one - was no guarantee of financial security. Unscrupulous managers, rip-off promoters and the none-more-arcane accounting practices of the record labels meant few reaped their just rewards and, anecdotally, it wasn't until well into the 2000s that the surviving members of The Small Faces began to receive any income from their back catalogue.

For years, The Small Faces repertoire has been an utter train wreck of indifferent 'best ofs' and half-hearted compilations, a by-product of the machinations of the past, whereby tracks were licensed out to labels with no thought to preserving any sense of the band's history or development. This attitude was prevalent right at the beginning of the band's career; no sooner had their self-titled 1965 debut (a collection of moddish, tough r'n'b easily the equal of early The Who) hit the racks than their manager, the infamous Don Arden, was passing on unfinished demos to Decca for subsequent release.

Such frustrations only fuelled the band's creative spirit, with vocalist/guitarist Steve Marriot and bassist Ronnie Lane carving out for themselves a two-headed songwriting partnership that threatened to rival some of the era's better known pairings, as singles like 'All Or Nothing', 'Tin Soldier' and the era-defining 'Itchycoo Park' testify. Yet this flourishing did not improve their professional situation; estranged from Decca and now signed to Immediate, their former label continued to issue 'spoiler' material like 1966's From The Beginning which included early versions of tracks scheduled for their second album proper (also confusingly called The Small Faces).

Their swansong would prove to be their best: 1968's Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, a two-sided concept album that included soul-tinged blues ('Afterglow') and music hall ('Rene', 'Lazy Sunday') alongside the fairytale of 'Happiness Stan', replete with interjections from the high priest of gobbledygook, Stanley Unwin. The sustained charm of Ogden's comes from its unpretentious Englishness; of Edward Lear and Pearly Kings and Queens, and sense of a near-past that modern pop seems unwilling - or unable - to synthesize. Its scope would ultimately lead to the band's break-up: Immediate, essentially a plaything for self-styled impressario Andrew Loog-Oldham, hemorrhaged money, sapping the band's will and, combined with the difficulty of replicating their sonic adventures on stage, they played their final show on New Year's eve of 1968.

After decades of neglect of various hues, Sanctuary have finally sought to bring some kind of order to the Faces' back catalogue, issuing two (and three in the case of Ogden's) CD sets which bring together all four of the albums originally issued during the band's lifetime. For many, these sets may be too deluxe, the raft of alternate takes and mono/stereo versions more than most will ever need. Beginners should start with the sound of industry-battered adults overcoming the odds (Ogden's) and work backwards to the snot-nosed mods of the mid-60s, tracing their journey and discovering along the way some of the finest pop music ever commited to tape.

Never the tallest of lads - hence the name - but on their game, true giants. They left so much and got so little in return.




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