Today in the ‘rock room’ I am taking a courageous jump into the substantial 2014 Small Faces box set, Here Come the Nice. After years of sub-par compilations, best of collections and generally below-standard packaging and repackaging of their recorded output, those mod dignitaries the Small Faces received a respectful and proper tribute with this box set.
Here Come the Nice, covering the band’s 1967-69 tenure with Immediate Records years and limited to an edition of 3,000 copies worldwide, features four discs crammed full of rarities and alternatives, as well as four unique vinyl records, posters, art prints, lyric book and other stunning ephemera. The added bonus is that each of the limited edition sets has been signed by the remaining two members of the band, drummer Kenny Jones and keyboard legend Ian McLagan.
The revolutionary forerunners of the 1960s mod movement, in conjunction with the Who and the Kinks, the Small Faces have been severely underrated and under appreciated until their recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012. Hence, the impetuous for the rediscovery, reappraisal and reissuing of their influential catalog. In addition to the restructuring of the bands musical output through specialized Record Store Day releases and re-masters, this definitive collection also showcases the best of the rest, making for a welcome expansion of the Small Faces legend through outtakes, live tracks and rarities, each of them important glimpses into a band caught unaware in times of creation, intimate moments and live on stage.
The Small Faces brand of music is a raucous, pulsating R&B/rock hybrid. No one in rock could bellow like the late Steve Marriott, whose voice and guitar work will always be some of the most expressive in modern music history. Ronnie “Plonk” Lane coaxed heavy warm drones from his oversized bass, while writing melodies that still reverberate. McLagan is an anomaly, one of the finest piano/keyboard players to grace a rock ‘n’ roll stage, and always uniquely expressing melodies in unusual ways. Finally, Jones’ corpulent feet and arms, the solid rock on which the band would stand steady.
Ranging from rave ups to rhythm-and-blues instrumentals, the Small Faces mirrored the changing times and regurgitated them through their stunning interpretation. The band’s terribly short career contained a super-concentrated blast of creativity, fiery and successful, but also volatile and unpredictable. Unfortunate issues with management, as well as musical differences, ultimately started to wear on the group. The Small Faces would eventually fracture, splitting into two of the 1970s towering rock acts, the Faces and Humble Pie, respectively.
A cursory look at this collected group of singles shows one obvious thing: The Small Faces wrote some amazing music all while painting a virtual portrait of Swinging London in the 1960s.
The druggy insinuation of ‘Here Come the Nice’, the slightly naïve yet pure psychedelia of ‘Green Circles’, the pleading soul groove of ‘Talk to You’ and the definitive Small Faces epic ‘Tin Solder’ are all songs of such power and grace that the band’s failure to detonate in America is still confusing. How’did their music continue to linger out of sight excepting hard core fans until this recent resurgence? The pastoral tripiness of‘Itchycoo Park’ and “Lazy Sunday’, two of the Small Faces’ most popular tracks, gloriously protrude from the speakers, a reminder of their pop sensibilities, as well as the image they were vigorously trying to escape.
These aforementioned singles were all carefully remastered from the thankfully recovered original mono master tapes, investing them with a vibrant new life. Enjoying these tracks at high volume encourages me to make statements like, ‘These guys may have been the best band in Britain in 1966!’ The wealth of forward thinking arrangements and collaborative songwriting taking place in such a stunted period of time is stunning and a testament to the talents of the group.
Discs 2 and 3 contain pleasantly diverse and intimate session tapes, alternate mixes, and unreleased songs hailing from Olympic, IBC, and Trident studios. These rarities originate from the multi-track recording tapes. The sound quality is definitive, the access unlimited, some of the edges jagged, but the view of the band exclusive. The long and involved search for many of these tapes only increases the drama and joy in listening to the set. Tapes were discovered in various states scattered across the globe, in varying vaults, boxes, even appearing in Kenney Jones’s battered luggage from his Small Faces touring days.
‘Mind the Doors Please’ and the unfinished backing track ‘Fred’ hailing from May 1968. These two CDs represent an epiphany for Small Faces fans or admirers of mod era of rock ‘n’ roll. Check out the stripped-down mix of ‘Things Are Going to Get Better,’ as an example of the rare aural treats to be unearthed.
Disc 4 of Here Come the Nice: The Immediate Years features additional out takes, as well as a speed corrected and remastered concert performance from November 18, 1968 at Newcastle Hall. This disc not only contains the PP Arnold single “(If You Think You’re) Groovy” featuring the Small Faces, but also the rare mono version of the ebullient “Don’t Burst my Bubble” and the sludgy backing track of “Piccanniny.” The aforementioned 1968 concert recording fittingly closes the set with an exclusively reborn capture, which in the case of the Small Faces is a unique proposition in regards to existing live shows: The performance ruptures with the aggressive slam of “Rollin Over,” as Marriott’s artfully shredded vocals are supported by Mac’s grindy and gritty overture on the organ. Heavy.
The concert tracks are best described using superlatives such as: monstrous, grand and explosive. Included in the set is also a hair-raising version of “All or Nothing” that encapsulates the Small Faces musical experience for the listener. This small slice of live transitional and essential Small Faces is guaranteed to be the greatest thing you will hear on any given day.
While that concludes the compact-disc segment of the box, there are also four seven-inch singles of music on vinyl to be enjoyed. Included is a promo Small Faces album sampler listed as a very rare collectible, two French EPs, and a replica acetate of the song “Mystery” which would eventually reappear as “Something I Want to Tell You.” While these revolve on the turntable, I spread out across the floor this set’s impressive display of Small Faces goods. What a way to accompany my musical journey.
While there is a substantial amount of magic to be conjured from this deep box, the ‘rock room’ truly believes that including the Small Faces original releases into your listening habits must be part of the deal. Familiarize yourself with their catalog and aesthetic before diving into session tapes. It takes a certain kind of ‘rock geek’ to sit through the recording sessions of any artist and knowing that artists catalog is often a bonus. As musical big box collections go, this one is top shelf and while limited in production numbers it can still be found by those willing to search!
Kenney Jones talks about the box