It’s more than 18 years since Steve Marriott died after fire swept through his 16th century Essex home and yet, with the help of Facebook, the greatest of mod icons has become a hero to a fanbase more international than he ever had when he was alive.
On Sunday at the O2 Academy Islington, one of London’s most important music venues, around 1,000 devotees to Marriott and his band The Small Faces will gather to pay homage, having come from as far afield as the Far East and the United States. Many will try to recapture Marriott’s style through their retro clothing and centre-parted hairstyles, though the perfect high cheekbones are harder to replicate. “There are kids in their early 20s who will turn up at the convention and look like they’ve stepped out of a time capsule from 1966. It’s a bit of a fashion show,” says John Hellier, who is organising the event.
Among those attending will be Angela Kane, 25, from Edinburgh. “They had it all - the image, the music, the clothes and the attitude," she says. "My desire for the band is certainly not unique as I know from acquaintances around the world, through the wonderful invention of the internet. I can’t go to sleep at night until I’ve had a burst of Small Faces on my headset first.”
The Internet has been the driver of a surge in interest in the Faces, says Hellier, an original 1960s mod, who also runs the fan site wappingwharf.com, named after the album The Darlings of Wapping Wharf Launderette. “Every boy in the street wanted to look like Steve Marriott in the Sixties. His life was one of ups and downs and he went from rags to riches and back to rags again but he’s probably the biggest Mod icon of them all – even Paul Weller would agree with that. Thanks to Facebook and MySpace we are reaching out to more and more people. There is a lot of interest in America which was never a big Mod place in the Sixties,” he says, while acknowledging that Marriott did enjoy American success with his Seventies rock group Humble Pie.
The Small Faces convention is an opportunity for Mods of all ages and nationalities to show off their scooters, parked up on display outside the venue. Inside, stalls will sell Marriott memorabilia and a line up of eight tribute bands will go through the band’s back catalogue. It’s not a bad tribute to a band that made only three studio albums.
The first annual convention took place 13 years ago in the Ruskin Arms, in London’s Manor Park, the site of the first Small Faces gig in 1965 when the pub was run by the parents of Jimmy Winston, the band’s original keyboardist. The other founding members were Marriott, Ronnie Lane and Kenney Jones.
“I thought at first we’d just have people from London and the Home Counties but now they come from all over the world. The first ticket I sold this year was to someone from Japan and I’ve sold other tickets to people in Australia, America and all over Europe. The Mod movement has never gone away and at the moment it’s buoyant. The Small Faces are more than just music, it was the sharp clothes and the attitude. The band have become a bit of a cult and they are bigger now in many ways than they were at the time of their success in the Sixties,” says Hellier who, with Paolo Hewitt, wrote the Small Faces biography All Too Beautiful, named after a lyric from the hit Itchycoo Park.
The interest from overseas is exemplified by young fans such as Cathy Jasper, 24, from Memphis, Tennessee. “I was born 35 years too late, oh to have been a teenager in the mid 60’s,” she says in a message to the band’s fanzine. Pierre Ledoux, meanwhile, from Perpignan, France, has been making the convention the centrepiece of his London holiday for the past eight years.
Angela Kane from Scotland would agree with such sentiments. “The Convention is indeed the highlight of our year and this Sunday we’ll be there down the front as usual,” she says.
The Small Faces Convention takes place at the O2 Academy, Islington, London on Sunday 20 September from 4pm-10pm. Some tickets, priced £20, have been held back for sale on the door. For further information: www.wappingwharf.com