Thursday, 30 January 2014

On what would have been Steve Marriott’s 67th Birthday, we reproduce Mark Gerard Barry’s review of the new Small Faces box set, ‘Here Come the Nice’

5 out of 5 stars "...Close My Eyes...And Drift Away..."

First things first - anyone expecting this box set to give them straightforward reissues of the four Small Faces albums covering the 'Immediate' label period should look elsewhere (for details on those see the PS below). What we have here is an entirely different beast...

"Here Come The Nice" is a full-on vaults trawl - a 4CD Deluxe Presentation Box Set comprising of 41 Previously Unreleased tracks. In fact the full 75-song compliment has been newly remastered from original Mono and Stereo masters and newly mixed from studio multi-track session tapes for this release. The entire project was overseen by surviving band members IAN McLAGAN and KENNEY JONES - coordinated by Small Faces reissue series producer ROB CAIGER. Scrupulous tape sourcing and recovery of them has taken him over five years alone - with the remastering being handled by sound engineers NICK ROBBINS and ROB KEYLOCH (who were involved in all four of the much-praised 2012 Deluxe Editions - which I've also reviewed).

"Here Come The Nice" by SMALL FACES is on Charly/Immediate CHARLY 110 BX and although initially rumoured on the Net to be a US-only release due to licensing issues - it is now a 28 January 2014 Worldwide release (February 2014 in the USA). Housed in a 10" x 10" hard card box - it's a limited edition of 3000 with the certificate inside signed by Kenney Jones and Ian McLagan. Here's a detailed breakdown of the contents:

CD1 is "Small Faces Singles - Worldwide As Bs & EPs"

20 Tracks - 54:16 minutes. All were issued as 7" single versions/edits around the world and are in MONO. The liner notes also advise which were used on the Mono variants of the albums. None are unreleased but timing errors on old CD reissues have been corrected.

CD2 is "Small Faces In The Studio - Olympic, IBC & Trident Sessions - Part 1"

18 tracks - 52:17 minutes. All tracks are previously unreleased versions - 1 to 3 and 10 to 12 are MONO - all others are STEREO.

CD 3 is "Small Faces In The Studio - Olympic, IBC & Trident Sessions - Part 2"

16 tracks - 49:47 minutes. All tracks are previously unreleased versions - 4 to 10 are MONO - all others are STEREO.

CD 4 is "Alternate Small Faces - Out-Takes & In Concert"

21 Tracks - 63:31 minutes. Tracks 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 are Previously Unreleased. Tracks 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21 are Live from the Newcastle City Hall on 18 November 1968 and are from the Pye Studio master tapes with pitch and speed corrections. Tracks 4, 6 and 12 to 15 are MONO - all others are STEREO.

The 72-page colour hardback book has a Foreword by Pete Townshend of The Who and liner notes by noted writer Mark Paytress with contributions from Kenney Jones, Ian McLagan, Rob Caiger, Tosh Flood, Barry Green, Gered Mankowitz, Ken Sharp and Jeff Slate. There are many other Rock celebrity names with quotes as well. As a coffee-table book it's properly gorgeous and the last set of pages in particular (51 through to 69) are beautifully done - featuring song-by-song annotation of the highest quality with new info and great colour photographs.

Speaking of photography - I have to admit to massive disappointment at the rather dull-looking 'Lyrics' book. Apart from some full-page Repros of rare single and album artwork - the rest of it is all sepia-tinted black and white photos with not a jot of that great Sixties colour in evidence anywhere (rather like the terrible booklet in The Rolling Stones "London Years" box set). I suspected licensing costs at first (too cost prohibitive) - but it’s worse. According to Gered Mankowitz (who photographs are long since associated with the band) - Immediate got loads of full colour negatives but Gered never got them back. He was left with only a handful of colour negs literally and boxes of black and white. Hence all that beautiful colour artwork, all that great Sixties look, all that cool promo stuff appears to have been lost or chucked. I say this because after the beautiful colour images in the hardback - the dark pages of "Lyrics" with all the images faded into the back of the text (making some of it almost unreadable) comes as a real visual let down. But - and I should stress this - they've done a classy job with what they've had to work with.

There's also a paper repro of the "Ogden's Nut Gone Flake" Press Kit - a three-way fold-out 1967 rarity which pictures the album, the band and lists their personal details as well as some witty Immediate blurb and words.

There are 2 facsimile foldout posters in colour - a Live Gig Poster for Newcastle City Hall, June 8th with Gary Walker & The Rain, P.P. Arnold, The Nice & The Sect with John Peel as compere and a foldout advert poster for "Tin Soldier" single on Immediate IM062 (essentially the Picture Sleeve of the British issue).

There's 2 Gered Mankowitz Fine Art Prints - the boys holding the Itchycoo Park sign (in colour) and four children holding the same sign upside down (in black and white)

There are 5 x Immediate Postcards - photos on front and adverts for singles and albums on the other side

The signed certificate is presented on a repro of A Tape Box

The 4 x 7" singles are:

1.   "Mystery" - Repro of a 1-Sided Emidisc Acetate (on Black Vinyl) delivered to Andrew Loog Oldham in 1967. It was intended to be a single but withdrawn. A handful of the acetates were made.

2.   "Album Sampler" - Repro of Immediate AS 1 album-sampler for "Small Faces" LP in a Immediate Label Bag on Red Vinyl (this was not on the DELUXE EDITION of "Small Faces"). It has excerpts from 5 tracks with British DJ Tommy Valance introducing in between tracks. The original is very rare.

3.   Itchycoo Park EP - repro of a rare 1967 French 4-track Immediate Records Extended Play 45 on Blue Vinyl - tracks are Itchycoo Park/I'm Only Dreaming/Green Circles/Eddie's Dreaming

4.   Here Come The Nice EP - repro of a rare 1967 French EP on Immediate Records Extended Play 45 on White Vinyl. Tracks are Here Come The Nice/Became Like You/Talk To You/Get Yourself Together

Finally there's a full-sized INFO PAGE on the rear of the box but of course like so many of these US issues it falls off the moment you remove the shrink-wrap which is a pain.

CD 1 is all MONO and features UK and worldwide single releases - and right from the "Here Come The Nice" opener - you can hear the quality. Very clean and full of presence. "Talk To You" is just stunning as are the rarely heard single edits of "Mad John" and "The Journey" (coupled as a single in Australia and the USA). The sheer mono whack of "Rollin' Over" still sends chills up my spine ("where at man!" indeed!).

CD 2, 3 and 4 is where the fun begins. Most tracks on CD2 are stop-start studio run-throughs with cool Londoner wide-boy dialogue in between takes - "I've broken a string man!", "This will be Take 24", "Go up an octave Ronnie", "bit faster Ken" or "we can do better than that!" - and so on. "Wit Art Yer" turns out to be Take 1 of "I Can't Make It" (full of rocking effects guitar and swirling keyboards) which in turn leads into a superb Alternate Stereo take of the song proper. The slang-named "Doolally" has Marriott shouting "Hey" throughout its multiple stops and starts and there's some amazing heavy lead guitar on Take 9 of "Call It Something Nice".

A string of great alternates open Disc 3 while Take 1 of "That Feeling Of Spring" mainlines you right back to the Summer of 1967 with all its echo and giggling. The brass instrumental "All Our Yesterdays" sounds like a Magical Mystery Tour outtake while the Alternate of "Talk To You" in rocking Stereo is so Sixties I can smell the Joss sticks. "Mind The Doors Please" is essentially a 5-minutes drum solo superfluous to anyone's requirements - but far better is a trio of tracks that feel like you're eavesdropping on an acoustic unplugged Small Faces session - "Things Are Going To Get Better", "Mad John" and "Fred". I liked these a lot - intimate and stripped down.

Another belter and compilation fave of mine is the rocking instrumental "Collibosher" - which was on both "The Autumn Stone" double album and opened Side 2 of the "In Memoriam" LP. Here we get Take 4 and fabarooney it is too. Another shocker is the genuine tenderness in Take 2 of "Jenny's Song" where Marriott sounds like he's Terry Reid doing the gorgeous "May Fly" ballad from 1969. Disc 4 opens with a trio of complete initial stereo takes which are only slightly different brill nonetheless and even more impressive is the rarely heard Mono Northern Soul smack of "(If You Think You're) Groovy" track by The Lot which is P.P. Arnold with The Small Faces. But for me the highlight of the entire set is proper remaster quality given to "Me You And Us Too" which is "Wham Bam Thank You Mam" under another name with different lyrics. It absolutely rocks and encapsulates what I loved about the band's sound at that time (I think it's been on previous CD reissues of dubious origins but never sounding this good). The live stuff is drenched in panting screaming girls and raucous to say the least - but more than anything you get the sheer sonic assault of the band and what a ludicrously exciting live act they were. Impressive trouser snakes boys...

It's far too expensive for what's on offer and following on from the opening paragraph it has to be said out loud that this is `fan' stuff - the casual listener may find it all a bit wearing. I thought CD2 was the weakest of the unreleased stuff (bit cheeky called a 36-second segment a track) but CD3 and 4 more than make up for it.

Worth the wait - I think so yes. This is the Small Faces - and for a band so notoriously mishandled down through the decades there's a real sense of people making sure this reissue comes up to muster. And as I drool over the hardback book and listen to that cool Take 1 of "Itchycoo Park" in Stereo once more - I wonder will we ever see their like again. It may cost - but at least this box set remembers them with style and class.

It really was all too beautiful folks.

PS: The four albums from the period are available as follows - "Small Faces" (Immediate Label) and "Ogden's Nut Gone Flake" are already issued as 2CD DELUXE EDITIONS (see my 2012 reviews) and there is very little duplication with the content of this box. Third is the American LP "There Are But Four Small Faces" which can be sequenced from the 2 DELUXE EDITIONS and the 4th is the sought-after double album "Autumn Stone" which will see a DELUXE EDITION of its own in September 2014.

By Mark Gerard Barry

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