The Small Faces – Here Come the Nice: The Immediate Years (2014)

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 have finally received a respectful and proper tribute with this new 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 remasters, 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.

Punk, funk, rave up or jam on, the Small Faces excited and incited the mod youth with their stony and groovy aesthetic. The partnership of Marriot/Lane was quite prolific, creating a plethora of mod/pop standards included on disc one of this collection, which compiles the a- and b-sides of their worldwide singles, as well as EP releases — all presented in pristine quality.

A cursory look at this collected group of singles shows one obvious thing: The Small Faces wrote some amazing music, painting a virtual portrait of Swinging London in the 1960s.

The druggy insinuation of “Here Come the Nice,” the naïve yet psychedelic “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 gather dust until this recent resurgence? “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 singles were all carefully remastered from the original mono master tapes, investing them with a new life.

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 old luggage from his Small Faces days.

Highlights of these discs include an enlightening glimpse of the Small Faces recording Tim Hardin’s “Red Balloon,” wonderful and rare clips of studio dialogue peppered across both discs, as well as the experimental freak out “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 Marriott and Co. take a familiar tune and shine a new light onto it.

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 shredded vocals are supported by Mac’s grindy and gritty overture on the organ.

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.

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, feel free to spread out across the floor this set’s impressive display of Small Faces goods. What a way to accompany the musical journey.

Rob Caiger, the man in charge of compiling the box, along with Jones and McLagan, has put a tremendous amount of care and attention into this musical statement. Pete Townshend, Robert Plant, Nick Mason, David Bowie and a host of other respected musicians make their feelings about the band known in a compilation of quotes included in the collection. These thoughts on the band only color the already vivid tale displayed though the careful assembly of songs, text, pictures and remembrances.

All classic rock fans owe it to themselves to make the move for this huge weighty slab of rock history. Once the very limited number of copies are gone, Here Come the Nice: The Immediate Years will never be produced again.

Stephen Lewis

A creative writing major at SUNY Brockport and freelance writer from Upstate New York, Stephen Lewis maintains a music-focused site called Talk From the Rock Room: thefrodisroomrockblog.blogspot.com. He has also written for UpstateLive Music Guide and Ultimate Classic Rock. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.

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