As a teenager in the '70s, one of my most enduring Top Of The Pops' memories is The Faces, and Rod Stewart kicking a football around the stage. Their songs - 'Stay With Me', 'Cindy Incidentally', 'Pool Hall Richard'- encapsulated the world of the '70s: brash, funky, gritty.
I was suspicious recently when I heard that Mick Hucknall (he of MOR soulsters Simply Red) was going to front the reunited band. The Faces isn't the Faces without Rod, surely? But when I saw them the other week on the Rob Brydon show, Hucknall let rip with a bluesy delivery that was reminiscent of Rod, but still with his own twist. And the band's confident, piledriving riffs and humour completely swept away the audience.
I've always felt that The Faces are one of our more neglected bands, that they played a short yet explosive part in British pop history. Their biographer JIM MELLY gave me some interesting perspectives....
Q. What do you feel about Mick Hucknall: is he a good frontman, or is it destroying their legacy?
Jim: He seems to do surprisingly well. I'm not sure how much of a legacy the Faces had. One of the things that used to upset The Faces was their perceived status as Rod Stewart's backing band. I'm not sure how this will change that perception.
Q. Were the Faces one of the most important bands of the 1970s?
Jim: I don't think they were. Certainly, if you compare them with Bowie or Roxy Music. But they were definitely a major influence on the 'Pub Rock' scene of the mid-Seventies which led directly to Punk. I see them as a bridge from the creative outpouring of the 1960s to the next big thing that was Punk. If you consider 'Prog-Rock' to be turgid, dull and too obsessed with 'musicianship' (as I do), then all there was for you in the early 70s was Bowie, Roxy Music and Rod Stewart and the Faces.
In addition, from the 60s until the early 80s British groups were formed around the idea of playing Rhythm and Blues - Chicago Blues - based music. The Faces were one of the last bands to provide inspiration to new groups in that way. After the late 70s that didn't happen any more and r 'n' b stopped being the way you learned to 'do' music.
It is interesting that Stewart was included on the Vivienne Westwood/ Malcolm McLaren 'Love/ Hate' T-shirt from late 1974 - in the 'Hate' list. His entry was, 'Rod Stewart oh for the money and an audience'. So even then - before Stewart recorded 'Atlantic Crossing' - he was seen as a 'sell-out'. Yet I think Stewart and the Faces played an important role as an influence on Punk and yet they're almost entirely absent from the narrative of Punk Rock.
Many of the important figures in Punk were fans of the Faces - Glen Matlock is playing bass for the reconstituted Faces, the influence of the Faces can be clearly seen in Paul Weller's work - but they just don't figure in the discourse. I suspect this is because in 1975 Stewart chose to leave the country and effectively split the Faces. He had 'sold out'. As a result they could hardly bear to mention his name - he was the ultimate traitor. The Faces - and Stewart - had set themselves up as a working class, beer and football good-time rock 'n' roll band. And Stewart turned his back on it and went to America to make slickly produced pop records. I don't think they ever forgave him. I suspect that in this context the absence of the Faces from the narrative of Punk, the silence in the discourse, actually speaks volumes about how important they were.
Q. What was the most surprising thing you found out when researching your book?
Jim: The most surprising thing was how much they were loved, and the sense of betrayal the fans felt when Rod went to America in 1975. The fact that Ronnie Wood went off to join the Rolling Stones at the same time, or that Ronnie Lane quit a year before, doesn't bother fans at all. But Stewart going to America? People are still bitter about it.
Q. Who would you like to do next? What would be your dream biography?
Jim: When I was writing the Faces book it felt like they moved into my flat for six months, drank all my beer and took command of the TV remote control. So if I were to choose one subject - maybe Ray Davies. I don't think I'd mind if Ray Davies moved into my house for six months.
Thank you Jim. By the way, I completely identify with the 'housemate' theory. When I was writing my Madonna biog, it was like she'd moved in and taken over my life. I thought more about her than my husband and kids. It was a relief when we 'separated'!!
Thursday, 25 August 2011
Wednesday, 10 August 2011
I’ve just got back from two weeks in Sicily...we were staying in a little house amid lemon groves just 8 kilometres away from Mount Etna. While we were there the volcano erupted, several times, causing the house to shake. We stood on the roof terrace watching rivers of molten lava fall down the mountain. It was hugely exciting, like a massive firework display. Villagers around are fairly sanguine. This happens quite often, apparently, and rarely does the lava reach the villages below.
A few days later we headed up the mountain to have a look, and were amazed by a landscape of black lava, cracked earth and petrified trees. We walked in old craters and took photos Dr Who style. The smell of sulphur was overwhelming. Later we went to Riposte, one of our favourite seaside places, for supper. By then the wind had carried the volcanic ash and deposited it in the streets, so it felt like we were wading through black sand.
All this somehow got fused with a dream about Amy Winehouse. While we were on holiday I heard about her death. It felt strange being at one remove, away from England, receiving such sad news. Her death was inevitable, but it was still shocking. Such a waste, such huge talent and potential just wiped out. Gone. The world feels a little less without her in it. On an elemental level, the volcano symbolised the fire and passion of her music, her voice and her life force. And the immovable presence of the solidified black lava and the black ash on the streets symbolised her death. I was brought up a Catholic, and I remember as a child the priest daubing a black ash cross on my forehead on the Ash Wednesday before Easter...black ash here, in Italy, echoed my feelings about her death. Back to Black. May she rest in peace.