here-comes-the-niceFor us fans in the USA, the Small Faces were the band that was always on the “coming soon” board at the Fillmore. It wasn’t until "Itcyhcoo Park" that there was a record you could easily buy locally. A couple of rare early period singles had been released, but none of us had ever seen them.

We only got one glimpse of them on TV when they appeared on the 1967 summer replacement variety show called Piccadilly Palace hosted by Morecambe and Wise. That was enough to convince us that this was a band we needed to see. Having witnessed the effect the Who had on the American audiences, one could have expected the same from the Small Faces.

The psychedelic ballroom circuit seemed to bring out the best in the visiting UK bands. One of the great rock and roll mysteries is The Small Faces' failure to tour the US. Their outlook and fortunes could have changed dramatically had they made the crossing. I can still remember the reaction when the three original Small Faces finally walked out on to the stage at the Fillmore West in 1970. 1100 fans rose to their feet to give them an unforgettable welcome before they could even play a note.

The Faces and Marriott’s Humble Pie had very successful careers in American based on the reputation of the Small Faces. The Small Faces had just begun to blossom as songwriters when they left Decca for Andrew Oldham’s Immediate label. Their sound was based on a mod’s interpretation of the Booker T And The MGs soulful organ groove. Ian McLagan, Kenny Jones and Ronnie Lane were one of the most skillful rhythm sections of the mid-60s.

What Steve Marriott lacked as a guitar player was more than made up by his vocal skills. Marriott vocal cameos can be heard on records by The Easybeats, Cochise, Traffic and Johnny Thunders. The soul based compositions were giving way to soul based psychedelic creations. Two songs initially recorded at the end of their tenure with Decca, "My Way Of Giving" and "(Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me" would be the template for what was to come. Add the occasional bit of cockney humor and you had the Small Faces sound heard over the next two years, the period this box set is dedicated to.

Is "The Small Faces: Here Come The Nice" box set a treasure trove for fans or another expensive example of customer exploitation? Before we can have a detailed discussion of what’s enclosed we should recap the Small Faces recorded legacy.

Between 1965 and 1968 three albums and 14 singles were released. The last of the Decca 45s was released after the band had left the label and with out their approval. Decca and Immediate also released one compilation each made up of singles, album tracks out takes and demos. Guided By Voices release that much music in a season.

The hint of newly discovered studio material created quite a stir and plenty of anticipation for this limited edition release. In this age of lavish reissues, this one gets high marks for presentation. There are two books included. A 70-page hardbound volume contains extensive liner notes by the surviving band members and a detailed account of the fate of the master tapes. The book is fully illustrated with heaps of color and black and white photos many never seen before.

There is an introduction by Pete Townshend and commentary by two-dozen musicians. A second softbound book presents lyrics for all the songs. There is a small collection of posters, postcards and promo pictures. The vinyl component is made up of reproductions of two French EPs, a promo disc, and a one sided acetate facsimile. Surviving members Kenny Jones and Ian McLagan have signed each copy.

Coming on the heels of Deluxe Editions of the two Immediate albums it’s hard to imagine how the four CDs could offer nearly four hours of “unreleased” music. Disc one gathers up all the mono singles, plus eight other mono mixes used for various worldwide releases. This duplicates the stand-alone release "Greatest Hits, The Immediate Years 1967 – 1969". In the States The Small Faces would only reach the charts once with the worldwide smash "Itchycoo Park". In the UK failure of "The Universal" to chart caused Marriott much anguish and planted a seed of doubt. These tracks sound fantastic and there are some interesting variations in the mix. This was clearly added to entice the casual fan.

It’s disc two and three that are the main attraction. Jones and McLagan recovered several reels of multi track masters tapes. From these they have assembled the highlights from the sessions for several well-known and some not so familiar songs. As I suspected several of the titles listed were the working titles assigned to the musical idea. Yes it is a treat to hear the band developing ideas for "Tin Soldier" and "Green Circles" and a fistfull of others. The fragments have been carefully edited to give us, the listeners, a glimpse into the methods of the Small Faces. These newly mixed tracks sound incredible. Stripped of the last coat of fairy dust, you can hear what a tight grooving band they were. Removing the rhythm section created four modern “stripped down mixes”. This odd concept produces satisfying results.

The song selections span their whole time with Immediate (1966-1968.) It's a random collection offered which clearly reflects what they had to work with. The various incarnations of Wham Bam Thank You Mam are featured across both discs. Several songs appear more than once. By my count there are 22 songs that appear over these two discs in various versions. Disc 4 collects “outtakes” and five live recordings. The outtakes are yet more alt takes and mixes.

Only one track was new to me, Picanninay, a rockin’ 1966 backing track. This seems to have been previously released on a collection, which I don’t own. The familiar live songs get a fresh mix from the mulitracks. Stripped of the audience overdubs and played back at the correct speed, they now sound simply fantastic. It is hard to imagine why Steve Marriott would think the band was not capable of performing their songs live. Not long after this concert, Marriott would walk off stage bringing the band to an abrupt end. The music will already be familiar to fans both serious and casual.

The newly discovered tapes don’t yield a great-lost album the way the Beach Boys Smile box set does. The Small Faces didn’t last long enough, or spend nearly as much time in the studio as the Beatles did, so don’t expect quite the breath taking experience of the Anthology sets. What is revealed is the sheer joy of creating music by one of the best loved bands of the '60s. That enthusiasm pours out of the speakers and places you in the control room at Olympic, IBC and Trident studios. By 1966 The Small Faces had become confident songwriters.

The Immediate period produced a flawless run of releases. The fact there is little left in the can is a testament to their efficient methods. The few song recorded for the follow up to "Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake" are included on this set in various states of completion. After the split, the two factions would go on to make some fine music as the Faces, Humble Pie and as solo artists. Some would dismiss anything after the Small Faces as not worthy of their reputation. Clearly there was a special magic that was lost when the writing partnership of Marriott and Lane ended. For now we have this new addition to their slim catalog to enjoy. One can only hope that Jones and McLagan will find the missing tapes and we will be treated to another archival anthology.

I have to admit to being reluctant to putting out the cash for this box. A complete set of original UK and US vinyl can be found on the shelves of my library. Some of the CDs are now on their third “official” release. The working titles used made it very difficult to determine how much new material was being offered. In the end there is exactly one track never released previously in any form, "Mind The Doors Please", a drum and bass solo! I don’t think any serious fan would find this to be a disincentive. On the other hand the hefty price tag may put it out of reach for some.

This Amazon exclusive was limited to 3000 copies. The American allotment has now apparently sold out. Resellers are offering it a nearly double the original retail price. It’s still being offered on Amazon UK where fans found the price to be considerably higher than in the US. Resellers there are asking as much as $600 for a copy. Suggested reading – "Had Me A Real Good Time Faces Before During And After" by Andy Neil.