I must admit from the outset that I have never been a huge Steve Marriott fan. It was the Faces (plus Brentford trialist Rod), rather than their previous "smaller" incarnation with Steve, that I was into. Before reading the book I only had a superficial knowledge of his life and career. I knew he was a proper mod, and I was familiar with the big hits that he enjoyed with the Small Faces, "Lazy Sunday", "Itchycoo Park" etc. I knew he had a distinctive and powerful voice, and that he formed the hard-rocking Humble Pie with Peter Frampton, and enjoyed massive success in the 1970s on both sides of the Atlantic. I knew that he came from east London, and that he had died in a house fire. I also knew that a number of British rock and pop musicians, as diverse as Glenn Matlock, of Sex Pistols fame, Paul Weller and Liam Gallagher hold a deep respect for Marriott. "What's all the fuss about?" I wondered.
All Too Beautiful answers the question. Written by Paolo Hewitt and John Hellier, it is nothing if not a labour of love. Hellier ran a Small Faces fanzine for years, and Hewitt's love of all things mod is well documented. However, the book is not just for hardcore fans of Steve Marriott. It provides a down to earth account of the "swinging London" scene of the 1960s, by which time Steve and the Small Faces were ensconced in Pimlico, larging it at their Westmoreland Terrace abode. The shenanigans Marriott encountered in the music business at that time are also well documented.
The first thing the book tackles is Marriott's upbringing in the East End of London. Although, to be honest, Manor Park ain't the East End - it was somewhere you moved to from the East End. It was as dull as ditchwater compared to the East End proper. However, the book makes some good points about the culture that Marriott was born into. One of the observations is right on the money: "Some East Enders have been natural left wingers; staunch fighters against fascism. Others went the other way, towards the extreme right wing of Mosley... whatever the viewpoint, as long as it's extreme, the East End will sustain it." Marriott certainly was an extreme personality (which is how I like them).
Marriott was also a bit of a handful: "At school the teachers used to leave him to do what he wanted," his mother recalls. "If he wanted to hang outside the window, as he invariably did, they would leave him. If he wanted to jump on the milk float and ride around in the playground they would let him. Otherwise, he would just disrupt the whole class." This type of behaviour culminated in him setting fire to his school.
When he discovered music, it immediately became an obsession. His mother Kay bought him his first record (Cliff Richard, I'm afraid). She smashed it over his head, after another bout of his bad behaviour. They regularly locked horns. "From Bill, the father, came the artistic side but from Kay came the armour, the desire to better himself. For in this East End world of low-paid jobs and long working hours, that was always the aim - go better yourself. There was no higher calling. You don't hear it so much these days but back then that was the mantra of the working class all over the country."
Marriott's family secured him an audition at the prestigious Italia Conti stage school. He passed with flying colours. The school was confident that they could secure Steve paid work, and that the fees could be deducted from his wages. And so it came to pass. Steve had already had experience playing The Artful Dodger in a West End production. Yet again, it was his family who had pushed him into getting the role. "Steve Marriott, like The Artful Dodger, was a quintessential Londoner. The London Spirit was his - like Dickens's creation, he was cheeky, sly, flash, talkative, sensitive, humorous, resigned, brusque, but above all it gave him an energy that others simply couldn't keep up with." Marriott incurred the wrath of his family when he walked away from a career on the stage and in film. He was only interested in playing music.
Steve Marriott went on to have a brilliant career. Predictably, he got involved with drink and drugs. Fiercely independent, he was quite happy to shun fame and all that it brings. Marriott had a very dark side, and that got worse as the years rolled on. He wore a lot of people out, especially wives, girlfriends and fellow musicians. Marriott died in a fire at his Essex home, probably started by a cigarette that he left burning as he fell asleep intoxicated. He was 44. Mercurial is the word that springs to mind.
Jah Wobble's 3-disc retrospective 'I Could Have Been a Contender' is released on 23 August on Trojan recordsReuse content