On screen we’re at Oldham Athletic’s Boundary Park football ground where small faces press hard against the car windows, creaking from the weight of the roof slowly caving in. From inside The Small Faces pop group stare back in horror, beneath them wheels spinning impotently, sinking deeper and deeper into the boggy turf. Fighting their way out, four silhouettes bolt past the corner flag and out into the brick terraced streets racing headlong into a panorama of factory chimneys. A publicity stunt gone awfully wrong, dreamed up by awful men. But as The Small Faces wound their way back to London in 1966 they were escaping more than just the clutches of manager Don Arden and Oldham Chairman Ken Bates.
As the teenage Steve Marriott elbowed out other hopefuls to appear as The Artful Dodger in Lionel Bart’s first staging of Oliver, his dad was running a pie and mash stall in Poplar, whilst mum worked at the monster Tate and Lyle plant on the Thames. With its syrup tin logo of a rotting lion consumed by bees, the factory was pilloried as something of a knocking shop due to it being the best paid centre of female employment for the East London dockside community. All these things and none may explain the germination of Rene which is essentially the end of a long line of SF tunes that hang together as Ian McLaglan keyboard wig outs. I like this song far more that I should and I think it stems from my Northern aloofness that regards cockneys as being far more hilarious than they can ever hope to realise. Even now I occasionally plant my 'arris on a no. 30 to 'ackney Wick whilst ruminating that Chas and Dave really were more than just the sum of their parts. In Rene Marriott delivers a number of fruity couplets about the said waif, including her illegitimate offspring residing “in coal sheds double locked”. Double locked? And then she’s “Groping with a stoker from the coast of Kuala Lumpur”, and we listen to an extended knee trembler against the dock wall, with the oohs and ahhs coitus, interrupted by passing liners booming their horns from rumbling distorted guitars. It’s an extended dirge into the heart of darkness going nowhere, a wonderous anti- climax spent upon the fallow ground.
Musicians individually and collectively at the top of their game. A great sound, a great listen
I didn’t like the Stanley Unwin thing and think it was a bad idea for such talented musicians to give over so much time to it. Never really understood psychedelia but when I listen to this record I get two things – the influence from rock and roll of the past and the future influence this album seems to hold – e.g Paul Weller’s early solo albums like Wildwood. But what it ultimately leaves me with is Englishness. This is very evident throughout the record in the writing if not the musicianship, which has an up tempo bluesy feel particularly with the prominent organ sound