Interview with Carol Harrison
Writer/Producer: All or Nothing: The Mod Musical
Waterfront, Belfast • Tuesday 17 – Thursday 19 October ’17
All or Nothing: The Mod Musical is on route to Belfast, telling the tale of a band hailed as one of the most influential Mod groups of all time, The Small Faces.
CultureHUB caught up with award-winning stage, film and TV actress Carol Harrison, who is not only the show’s writer and producer but also stars in the production as the singer Steve Marriott’s mother, Kay. She filled us in on what is fast becoming a cult classic.
Back in 1964, working-class Britain was entrenched in Mod Culture. London, in particular, was a mecca for this phenomenon, and at the very epicentre of the fashion, the scooters, the all-night dancing at clubs, were the band The Small Faces.
Fast forward 50 years and Carol Harrison reunites us with what was one of the most iconic periods of rock n roll. Her musical, All or Nothing, is a bittersweet tale celebrating an era deeply etched in Brit-pop: a tale of success, exploitation, betrayal and ultimately, tragedy.
And she knows what she’s writing about. Harrison is a true east Londoner with a deeply sentimental personal connection to the late Small Faces lead singer Steve Marriott, who tragically died in a fire at his home in 1991. “I’d known Steve for years” she reminisced. “We weren’t close for a long time before he died but it was very sad. He was such a one-off, such an amazing guy, and so, so talented. He was so London, everything about him. He was, very troubled as well. But it was so tragic the way he died. It does hurt me sometimes. In the musical, we finish with the song ‘I Close My Eyes And Drift Away’. I hope that’s what he did.”
There are two Steve Marriotts, in All or Nothing he is kind of with the audience. So you are viewing it through his eyes and his words. There is some reflection in there but it doesn’t follow him into the future.
As we know The Small Faces were known for not being particularly tall, which caused its own challenges for the casting crew. “It’s such a tall order” Harrison explained. “They’ve got to be really good musicians and really great actors because my script is very demanding. Then they’ve also got to be small, which is difficult considering kids are much bigger these days,” she laughed. “It was lack of nutrition, we had rationing back then!”
Harrison’s passion and emotion were infectious throughout the conversation about the musical, and it seems audiences have been picking up some of her passion for the production. “It’s going fantastically,” she told me. “People have embraced it. You get people that have been 20 times. It’s not just Mods, it uplifts people and gives them a glimpse of what it was like, the excitement of the time, it’s a proper play. Theatre to me is a thing that can change you and move you. So is music. We have a play that is like a live gig, which is not like your usual musical. It puts you through all the emotions. It brings you out uplifted.”
One way that audiences have been joining in is dressing up for the event in Mod clothes of the day. “It has become a cult show, that is exactly what I wanted it to be,” Harrison continued. “On social media people have said ‘it’s the people’s musical’. It’s love, it’s like one big family. When we go to a new town we get ride outs, like 60 scooters, everywhere we go. Also, I feel like I’ve got the best-dressed audience. And even sometimes when we go places, the scooters and the Mod groups, they organise our parties before we arrive. It’s incredible for the youngsters to see that as well. They can’t believe that people of my age go out dancing, and the men dance as well you know, that’s what we enjoy doing.”
Can we expect a lot of cockney slang? “Yes of course,” she chuckled. “Its old style rhyming slang and things that you might think is a bit clichéd, but it’s not. It’s the language of my city. I don’t want to lose that. Lots of people I know still speak it, I don’t want it to die and it won’t. You can make up your own rhyming slang, be creative with such lines like ‘It’s all gone, Pete Tong’.”
My mind sprang to Trotter; his three-wheeled yellow van, I immediately quipped in, “Wheeling and Dealing!” Carol: “Yes Ronnie and Stevie, they celebrated they cockney through music.”
But times have changed and language is different now, with certain words and phrases considered out of bounds. So how did they re-enact scenes that perhaps have references that would be deemed un-PC? “Yes, it’s authentic” Carol explained. “It’s of a time. So, for women, it could be ‘Oh, she’s a right sort!’ and then you have someone shouting over, calling someone a ‘geezer’. We actually take the piss out of everything, and at ourselves. It’s authentic and it’s real. Why make it the language of today when it was 50 years ago? I fought in the women’s movement, but there are things that have been taken too far and are being used wrongly.”
The Small Faces’ hit ‘All or Nothing’ reached No 1 just weeks after England won the World Cup in 1966, and the euphoria that followed the England team’s success is just one of the elements displayed in the production. “I was brought up in West Ham,” Harrison told me proudly. “It wasn’t England that won the World Cup it was West Ham” it’s all showcased and celebrated. We do bring loads of elements back, it’s great when people come out and say ‘we learned something as well’.”
So, other than south of England, what towns and cities have brought the most roaring audiences? Carol gushed, “Liverpool, at the Philharmonic and it was brilliant! A lot of people from Liverpool came back to the Chester show three weeks later. Doncaster, The West Country was great also. People came for miles on the scooters and Scotland was unbelievable. Not just the Mods, but the audiences. They either like you or they don’t like you – they loved it. It was really packed in Glasgow’s Theatre Royal. 800 people dancing and screaming, it was magic. Last week we did Dundee, they were completely mad, it was bonkers. I’m half Irish, so I’m hoping the audiences here can top this.”
Did I mention All or Nothing: The Mod Musical is heading to the West End? The five-week stint will start 06 February 2018.
This is set to be an exhilarating show, tickets for All Or Nothing: The Mod Musical are available at www.waterfront.co.uk, by calling 028 9033 4455 and at the main Box Office at the Ulster Hall.