The introduction to Paulo Hewitt and John Hellier’s wonderful book on the late, great Steve Marriott reads: ‘Steve Marriott – All Too Beautiful’ – “I can’t live to anyone else’s rules.” ‘Steve Marriott was one of the music world’s most extraordinary individuals. A supremely gifted songwriter, singer and…schemer. A vocalist from the same mould as Rod Stewart, Eric Burdon and Steve Winwood…but arguably the greatest white soul singer of them all. Marriott never held back from anything, least of all his music. His vocals always possessed an intensity, clarity and maturity that at the time were unmatched by any other singer. His band, ‘The Small Faces’, were the first to be banned from Top of The Pops and were deported from Australia at gunpoint. Steve’s next group Humble Pie, ruled the stadiums of America but the money earned was diverted by Mafia associates and he returned to the UK broke and on the run from the Taxman. In later life he struggled with schizophrenia, but always continued playing blistering gigs in front of small audiences in the pubs and clubs around London. Recently reunited with his old Humble Pie sparring partner Peter Frampton, he was on the verge of a comeback when he was tragically killed in a house fire, aged 44 years old. A huge influence on a new generation of musicians from Paul Weller to Noel Gallagher, due to his death, Marriott has perhaps not been granted the status in Rock ‘n’ Roll’s pantheon that he deserved. A major reassessment is long overdue. Marriott was simply one of the greatest rock stars of all time.’
The book also includes my personal account of the time the Small Faces played the Goldhawk Club in 1965:
‘It was sometime in winter 1965,’ he reports. ‘There was a special buzz in the air because they were a top twenty band but I can also recall a definite tension down on the dance floor because let’s face it, the Small Faces were not a local band, not like The Who. We felt they had invaded our sacred turf coming to the Goldhawk and bringing with them their unmistakeable Cockney swagger all the way from the East End…it was alright to see the Small Faces playing up west in Soho where West London Mods mingled freely with East End Mods but playing at the Goldhawk ? Come off it. I’d never seen them before,’ continues Jack: ‘and they sounded to me like they were more evenly presented than The Who. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first and then it occurred to me that it was their organist playing the Hammond, which filled out their surge of sound. It was very danceable, not at all the guttural guitar chords produced by The Who.’
‘What hit me was the sheer power of Marriott’s voice. It was almost like if you closed your eyes for a second you’d think he was black. I pushed nearer the stage and I couldn’t keep my eyes off him. The veins on his neck stood out like they were ready to pop…I remember going into the toilets before the band went onstage. The usual clique were gathered there selling pills and there was that tell-tale ring of spittle around everyone’s mouths. I wanted to score some blues and noticed there in the middle was the bleeding Artful Dodger himself, Steve Marriott. He was small, jumpy, bony, his hair like a creation parted in the middle. I thought, “Is this really him, is this the bloke everyone’s talking about ?” ‘He moved over to the urinal and while I waited to use it, I stared into the back of his head at that wonderful hair. I noticed how thin his shoulders were, he was like some geezer who had mitched off school…I realised in a rush of excitement that this bloke was the genuine article, a true little Face.’
It was after coming back to Ireland (Cork), in the late, very late sixties that I got thinking about my old friend Ronnie Lane. Then Pete Townshend did an album with him but Pete told me that Ronnie was difficult to work with. Ronnie was my old Mod mate from Plaistow, how could he be difficult ? He was a charmer and I fell under his spell. Pete told me that when Ronnie came down to Eel Pie Studios and they did a few songs for Rough Mix that in a way was supposed to be a kind of raiser for Ronnie’s complaint and then after a few tracks the first thing he did was to insult Eric Clapton…it was like ‘I know you’re supposed to be a world class guitarist but can you cut the mustard on this very important album ?’ Poor Eric, he was an obliging man and didn’t know where to show his face, he was doing Pete a big favour. Ronnie could upset anyone. I always liked him cos he was a cheeky chappie, he even invented a kind of Townshend/Lane scowl on stage at the Marquee. And when he came off stage I challenged him on it and his reply was, ‘You’re from fucking Goldhawk, ain’t ‘cher ? I said, ‘yeah, I am, my name’s Irish Jack and I’m a friend of Pete Townshend.’ He shut up after that.
I always liked Ronnie cos he was, how can I put this…’a cheeky chappie’. When I discovered he had Multiple Sclerosis and what it implied, I was devastated. People like Ronnie live forever, I thought. So…I thought more and more about the boy from Plaistow who delivered false teeth from a hole in the wall operation in the East End on a scooter…long, long before ‘What’cha Gonna Do About It ?’ and I thought , I know, I’ll run a gig in aid of Multiple Sclerosis for our local group and Ronnie. And I phoned up Ronnie Lane in Austin, Texas (we only had the phone a couple of weeks !) and we spoke for over an hour…AND she wanted to know why was the phone bill so high…and…just hearing his voice, I was a Mod again and I was back in my beloved Goldhawk Social Club on Goldhawk Road where I saw them…his voice, listening to him on my newly installed telephone in Cork. How can I convey to anybody reading this what it was like ? And as you can see reading this, when Ronnie Lane says, ’You old Mod , you !’ You are a fucking Mod ! You ARE from Shepherd’s Bush. You ARE from Goldhawk Road. You ARE from Kelmscott Gardens in Askew Road, just across the street from Little Percy where your old mate Roger Daltrey is from !!! So how much more can I say about my old friend Ronnie Lane ? You tell me.
Hi, Irish Jack here, I enclosed this letter in another letter I’ve written to Kim and Mac. Well, Ron, I expect that by now you have heard about the Benefit Concert I am putting on here in Cork in aid of our local Multiple Sclerosis Society. If it hasn’t been explained already to you by Kim I should point out to you that naturally most of the money raised through the concert will be going to our local organisation and then depending on the amount realised you will receive a token contribution. If it’s okay with you I have suggested to Kim in my letter to her that I send the cheque to her and she can then send it on to you. I was very sorry to hear from Kim about what happened at ARMS. I hope it hasn’t had any effects on your hard-won morale. Yes, Ron, I’ve heard from Pete that you’re a brave ‘un. Good on yer son !
The reason I haven’t contacted you earlier was because I thought it best to wait until I actually had the concert organised before writing to you. Now that everything is finally put into place I feel confident enough to be able to put finger to key and let you know exactly what this Irish-nutter is up to. Originally what happened was that I wrote three stories about my reminiscences with the horrible ‘Ooo ! The idea was that our national rock paper Hot Press would run the stories and I would donate my writing fee to your organisation ARMS. Well unfortunately, the editor of this august publication reckoned that my stories were too long. Since they were all about The Who – one on Townshend and two on Moonie, and considering your friendship with Pete in the old days, (I remember you very well from the Marquee hanging around with Pete and I saw you once when you played the old Goldhawk Club in Shepherds Bush) and of course the Rough Mix album – I thought it would be ideal to contribute my writing fee to your organ. What’s happened now is that I have dropped the idea of the pieces and gone off and solely of my own work organised this Concert Benefit. I am working completely alone without any phone in the house, Pete thinks I’m fucking insane (not to be working on this Benefit) but to be involved in the music business here in Cork and operating out of half-vandalised telephone boxes. But I’m a man with dirt on the palm of my hands Ron and even now at 43 I’ve got more honest-to-God energy and dreams than I ever had when I spent half me time pilled up to the eye-balls and doing the Dog in the old Hammersmith Palais. My sole transport is a Honda 50 !
What I’ve been doing in the past three years apart from my normal job as a postman, is working as a sort of promoter for a local hotel here. Our venue is called Sir Henry’s and our concert hall can hold up to 500 people. We’ve had the likes of people like John Martyn and The Pogues here plus of course the usual Irish top bands like Moving Hearts and Stocktons Wing. In the past twelve months I haven’t been involved in any concerts because the hotel got renovated and they decided to just have occasional concerts with an outside promoter. So really this is my first concert for over a year and as I explained to Pete in my letter I was really very nervous about approaching bands and the like. But gradually as the weeks went by I began to feel my old confidence coming back and now I’m really looking forward to the night.
To promote the concert some of our DJ’s on the national radio will be playing Small Faces singles in your honour. They will also mention the fact that you’ve got Multiple Sclerosis and that our Concert will be donating a token contribution to your Fund. The local radio will also be giving away some free tickets to winners in a Small Faces phone-in quiz. A friend of mine Dave Livingstone actually has a mint condition copy of Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake – some people have all the luck ! And I am about to persuade him to lend it to our radio station who’ll play tracks from it.
I’ve also written off to Pete asking him if he would sponsor our newspaper ad for the Concert. It’ll be a two and a half inch double-column for our evening paper so I am just waiting now to hear from him. God, I really do hope he’ll agree – we’ve been mates since 62’. I’ve suggested to him in my letter that he could sponsor either under his own name or else through Eel Pie Sound. Anyway, he only got my letter last week so maybe I’ll get lucky.
A friend of mine who lives in New York (yes another Corkman !), Paddy McCarthy has been in touch with Kim and she told Paddy about your Texas Anniversary appearance and also the possibility of you appearing during the Faces reunion. I’m thrilled to hear about that Ron and I’m sure that you and Ian McLagan must be really looking forward to it very much. Paddy did ring Chesley Millikin’s office and a girl there spoke to him and said she would ask you to give him a ring. Anyway, I’ve been in contact all the while with Kim who I first wrote to about a year ago and Kim told me she is in contact with you all the time.
Ronnie this is important to me, I don’t know whether your complaint allows you to be able to put pen to paper but is there any possibility that as soon as you receive this letter you write me a brief few lines (or send me a telegram at my address) simply endorsing my Benefit Concert and you know the usual message. A few words from you would go a long long way to boost everyone’s confidence involved in the Concert and I could then read it out onstage during the proceedings. It would mean a lot to the musicians taking part who will be playing for nothing. Though they are quite young and the music involved will be new wave they all have a great deal of respect for you and a sharp awareness of the disabilities of Multiple Sclerosis. You’re a legend here boy ! And as well as that I’ve actually had to turn down some bands who were only too willing to give their services to M.S. and out of sheer respect for the Small Faces.
Sorry that this letter has gone on and on but consider yourself lucky – Pete usually gets sixteen pages. Anyway, Ron thank you for taking the time to read this rather lengthy epistle. I’ve enclosed a kind of home-made press release on me which I sometimes use (if I hadn’t sent you that, this letter would never end). At the risk of a swelled head I’ve more or less listed some of the “things” that have happened to me. Did you know I spoke in your place at the First Annual Mod Convention in London in 84 ? It was my proudest moment filling in for you.
I wish you the very best old son and would consider it an unforgettable honour to meet you some sunny day – my personal dream is not to own a smashed Rickenbacker on me wall but to see New York. Maybe I’ll make it one day.
PS Paddy McCarthy two weeks ago donated one hundred dollars to my Concert Benefit.
Didn’t receive your letter in time due to our nomadic change of locations, but now I’m settled in one place.
I would have loved to have supported your efforts on your May 1 concert to you and the boys involved. I hope it went well, and rest assured you will always have my support for any future events. Also, something I have found which I think is quite interesting is if you suffer from MS, it should be made known that you are subject to many allergies, even if they are unconscious. That is one of my contributions as I am the best guinea pig that I have access to. I will be sending you more information on Dr. Robert Soll and his allergy strategy. You will also be able to read of the demise of USA A.R.M.S. in the future issue of Rolling Stone magazine. My new foundation is: The Ronnie Lane Foundation, P.O. Box 49190, Austin, Texas 78765. This address is for anyone interested in advice regarding Dr. Soll’s approach or donations to the foundation – to further spread the doctor’s theory.
Please know that I truly respect your efforts over this problem in Cork, Ireland and I wish you my very best.
You old mod you,