Stephen Pennell enjoys a night of reminiscing on and off stage.
All Or Nothing – The Mod Musical
Saturday 8th April.
I saw this show in London last year and enjoyed it so much I couldn’t resist when it stopped off in Birmingham for a week. It tells the story of the rise and fall of ultimate Mod band the Small Faces, and takes in their eventful journey from London’s East End via the boutiques of Carnaby Street to the top of the charts and on to their acrimonious break-up at the Alexandra Palace. Spooky.
Aside from the classic elements of talent and ambition waylaid by sex and drugs and rhythm and blues, the show also exposes the band’s exploitative and incompetent management, both by Sharon Osbourne’s dad Don Arden (played menacingly here by Russel Floyd) and subsequently Andrew Loog Oldham who, having bought them out of their restrictive contract with Arden, should have made more of Marriott’s brilliant singing and the sheer genius of his songwriting partnership with bassist Ronnie Lane. Stateside in particular they were never seriously promoted, yet a few years later the success of Humble Pie showed America’s stadium-sized appetite for Marriott’s voice and guitar virtuosity.
The songs are performed adequately and with great energy, and Samuel Pope acts and sings really well as the young Steve Marriott, although I doubt there’s an actor alive who could do full justice to Marriott’s powerful, soulful vocals. Even excellent tribute band the Small Fakers struggle on that score.
It’s perhaps understandable in a Mod musical but there’s probably a touch too much of a particular Mod obsession – attention to detail. So much happened in the band’s four years together that it felt like fitting it all into the show was a tight squeeze. Juke Box Jury, Stanley Unwin, Sonny and Cher and Tony Blackburn cameos create nice comic relief but I personally would prefer to see and hear a bit more of the band’s wonderful music.
Writer/producer Carol Harrison, who also plays a pivotal role as Marriott’s mom Kay, deserves credit for coming up with the great idea of having a boozy, middle-aged Marriott (Chris Simmons) almost permanently on stage as a ghostly narrator, explaining events for non-historians of the band and watching over his young self with a mixture of pride, embarrassment and caustic humour.
Simmonds’ performance is the strongest in the show in my opinion, but I’m probably biased as the real-life older Marriott was the one I was acquainted with in the last few years of his life, when he seemed to enjoy the company of a few little Mods coming down from Brum to idolise him every few weeks. Within a couple of years I got to know Steve so well that, by the time he perished in a house-fire in 1991, aged just 44, I owed him a fiver and he had my beloved copy of Nina Simone Sings The Blues.
We’d go drinking or playing snooker with him after shows – one time we went for a curry and he played up to us little disciples by claiming not to know who Lemmy was when the Motörhead front-man came over to ask for an autograph. “Cheers Lemon,” he said as he signed, much to the amusement of his Mod entourage. He’d play songs to us in his dressing room, and we were always on the guest list – he would just write “Anyone from Birmingham” on it.
We even met various Ikettes who occasionally turned up at venues like the Half-Moon in Putney or the Queen’s Head in Brixton, where the posters were written in West Indian patois – “Tonight – Steve Marriott – Im of de Small Face”. It’s pretty mind-blowing for a young Mod to be sitting in a boozer discussing your favourite records with the Demi-God that actually made some of them, but when someone like Vanetta Fields (google her) comes over, says hi and sits down at the same table… well, I actually went dizzy.
Anyway, I digress, but speaking of former Ikettes whilst somehow getting back to the show, Melissa Brown-Taylor almost steals it as Marriott’s one-time lover PP Arnold. Her a Capella rendition of Angel Of The Morning gives rise to more goosebumps than anything else in the show bar the beautiful I’m Only Dreaming and the stripped back, emotionally-charged version of All Or Nothing by Simmons that is part of a powerful and touching finale, before an uproarious singalong of all the hits closes the show.
All in all, it’s a great night out and highly recommended. None of my companions are obsessed with Mod culture in general or the band in particular like I am, yet they seemed to have just as good a time as me, albeit without the occasional tear that I shed for my old mate.