All or Nothing: The Mod Musical | Review
Waterfront, Belfast • Thursday 19 October ’17
By Neil Trelford
So with the tailwinds of Hurricane Ophelia forcing cancellation of the first night’s performance, nothing would stop this phenomenal show from storming the Belfast stage for its remaining nights.
Dubbed The Mod Musical, All Or Nothing is a trans-generational musical experience celebrating the history and the defining sound of the iconic Mod band, The Small Faces.
Right from the opening scene, the audience is captivated. It’s a scene that sees the latter-day Small Faces perform ‘Rollin Over’. It introduces a foursome that is not just gifted actors but musically accomplished performers lead by an exuberant Samuel Pope playing the young Steve Marriot. But it was that song that led to a violent onstage bust-up at Alexandra Palace which epitomises the tragic disintegration not just of the band but of a brotherhood.
It’s wonderfully narrated from start to finish by the long-time actor on ITV’s The Bill, Chris Simmons.
Chris is the older but questionably wiser Steve Marriott taking the reflective look back at his rock’ n’ rollercoaster of a life. This older Marriott follows writer/director, Carol Harrison’s chartered but intimate approach and it challenges the audience to favour the stubbornness and rebellious wisdom of the elder versus the angst and superciliousness of the youthful Marriott. But both ooze the romantic cheekiness of much stereotyped cockney geezers.
Simmons skates on a thin ice between charming and smug with the finesse of an Olympic figure-skater and his pertinent babble is absorbed well by the audience. He tells the story’s somewhat predictable but still educational trajectory: raw talent, adolescent discovery, naïve ambition, chart success, money-snatching agents, creative differences, rip-offs and final downfall.
Carol Harrison’s writing infuses a refreshing realism to the musical numbers with some an element of unpredictability to the absolute narrative.
This creates some poignant and powerful moments during Act One, the rise of The Small Faces.
Credit must go to Costume Designer Espiner, as when a young Steve announces “Good dressing starts with your feet…. detail gets you noticed!” the audience pay heed to the detail of costume changes which showcase some of the finest tailorings to come out of Carnaby Street. Indeed the flamboyant young guitarist Ronnie Lane, played by Stanton Wright, flaunts how to make Boating Blazers look super cool.
Having signed to the infamous rogue manager Dan Arden, played by one-time Eastender, Russell Floyd, the band face their first major explosions of musical differences.
Firstly the crowd is exposed to the often nasty undercurrent between band members that sees original keyboard player Jimmy Winston, played superbly by the quirky Martin Teall, being unanimously ousted. Whilst it was undoubtedly a tense situation when it happened, this scene is somewhat lighthearted almost comedic.
This is a trait that Carol Harrison has scribed throughout giving this show the unique blend of Great British Music, Drama, Comedy, and Fashion.
Even her own character, Kay, Steve’s mum, delivers an almost Barbara Windsor like performance from beginning to the finale.
When Alexander Karl Gold joins as the new keyboardist, Ian McLagan the famous quartet is complete. But Arden then coerces them into playing the Shuman and Young penned ‘Sha La La La Lee’ and they play a lackluster version through gritted teeth before smashing it into their own upbeat almost proto-punk racket, and the audience sings along.
“If you can’t play well, play loud,” drawls Samuel Pope with the tenacity of the teenage Marriott.
With a nostalgic look back at appearances on Jukebox Jury and Ready Steady Go, the band deals with pop fan criticism of ‘I’ve Got Mine’ before Cathy Magowan (Katie Faye) famously introduces them as the band to knock The Beatles of Number One spot with the anthem ‘All or Nothing’. A tremendous performance emblazoned by two cute stage side dancers kitted in black and white silhouetted mini-dresses.
Every song performed by the band is faultless but at the same time you can hear and feel this cast’s own buoyant personality in each. In a heartfelt gust of ‘I’m Only Dreaming’ this band surely earns themselves the recognition of the greatest tribute band to the genuine article if ever there was to be one.
It’s a real credit to tonight’s players to have recorded and released the official All Or Nothing album, Samuel, Stanton, Alexander and the cool, calm and collected Stefan Edwards (playing drummer Kenney Jones).
Act Two transcends both music and fashion styles as the band flow with the LSD generation into psychedelic horizons. Along the way, the audience is treated to precision cameos of Dusty Springfield and P.P Arnold spectacularly delivered by Sophia Behn and Melissa Brown-Taylor respectively.
The story begins to become more serious and Chris Simmons less geezerish and more earnest.
Love, distress, and soul-searching are interwoven like colourful patches on a hand-knitted quilt.
From the trippy ‘Itchycoo Park’ performance on a hilarious edition of Top Of The Pops in which Daniel Beales literally has the crowd in stitches of laughter with his impersonation of the whacky BBC presenter Tony Blackburn to the moving strip-backed rendition of ‘All or Nothing’ by the elder Steve Marriot in a tear-provoking moment of self-resurrection in honour of his dear mum, you can’t help but feel emotionally stretched after this two hour almost Titanic journey.
Despite his crave for all or nothing, the crescendo for Steve fell somewhere in between. He married the love of his life but lost the band of his life ironically both involving Rod Stewart.
But the morale of the story isn’t necessarily about the tragedy of The Small Faces but perhaps a remembrance of their fabulous music they created through tough but exhilarating times.
And so the production team and cast take a traditional bow to uproarious applause then bring the overwhelmed crowd into a joyous end of performance sing-a-long. A medley started with ‘Here Come The Nice’ blending in some of tonight’s top tunes ‘Lazy Sunday Afternoon’ and ‘Itchycoo Park’
A worthy standing ovation was a perfect mark of respect and admiration for this show and to the legendary Mods, The Small Faces. A fabulous performance that celebrates Great British history and culture to its highest enjoyable level, no wonder it has been snapped up for a five-week residency in London’s West End in 2018.
“We are the Mods!”
After the show we caught up with the talented Alexander Karl Gold who plays Small Faces Keyboard player Ian McLagan.
1) Last time I saw you perform in Belfast was a brilliant gig when you played guitar with Duncan Reid and The Big Heads (Reid being formerly of influential punk legends The Boys) since then you’ve landed the role of Ian McLagan on this tour. How did that come about? Funnily enough, it’s Big Heads-related if we go back far enough! The very day after I left the band Anna, who played guitar in the Big Heads before Sophie (K Powers) joined, gave me a call and said: “Oi, what are you up to next week?” I said “I dunno, why?” to which she responded “do you want to work with the Faces?” at which point I fainted on the cat.
So, I ended up spending a week with one of my favourite bands of all time as keys and drum tech for their reunion gig, where I worked with Kenney of course and also Pat Davey, bass maestro with the all-star house band which included Midge Ure, Steve Harley, Mollie Marriott among many others… and to top it all
off, while I was watching the Faces from side of stage, my niece was born. It was a glorious time to be alive.
Anyway, fast forward a year-and-a-bit and I’m called over to try out for AON while on tour with The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra in Germany, who I lied my way into a few years ago (I still believe I’m the only person in history, living or dead, to have bluffed their way into a national orchestra of any persuasion on the pretence of playing the instrument and managing to pull it off, but hey – dream big, kids)… so, I flew back from Berlin and the rest, as they say, is an interlinked collection of events in the chronological past according to the constraints of time as we understand it to be as a human-born concept! Funnily enough, as the universe would have it, it turned out that Pat is the show’s MD (and a damn fine one at that). It’s fate, ah tell thee!
2) McLagan was a talented musician, gifted on many instruments. Do you see a resemblance of him in yourself?
I’ve always identified with the Mac and the Small Faces, to be honest. And the Who, and the Beatles, the Jam, the La’s, Oasis, Blur, the Smiths, the Libertines… there’s a whole lineage of British musicians that have all left an indelible mark on my DNA. I was obsessed with it all as a schoolboy – I decided, at 13, to become a Mod because all my mates were skaters and copping off with the girls I fancied. The quiet cultural rebellion was the answer, methunk. I borrowed £15 off my pal Dick Ireland (never paid him back: get in touch, Dickie, I’ll sort you out, with interest!) to buy Tony Fletcher’s ‘Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon’ – in which Mac was a big contributor – and it all started there, really. So it feels like a cosmic cadence. When I was in the Wutars, we all lived together and our whole schtick was very much influenced by the Small Faces and Faces… and we fell apart in a similar way. AON is some of the lads’ first introduction to the Small Faces but I really can’t put into words what this means to me. It runs very, very deep. The multi-instrumental thing I suppose I absorbed by osmosis, they were all at it back then. It was and still is a very inspiring period to look back to.
3) The show has been a phenomenal success right across the UK with enthralling stage performances but how excited were you and the band to record & release the album?
The boys were all totally stoked but it was a bit of an odd one for me as it was one of two albums I had to finish that month! Plus I was project managing the record (I have a professional history in the record production and music licensing worlds alongside all the ‘creative’ stuff and offered to oversee the cast album) so that plonked loads of extra stuff to think about into my tiny little brain… And committing Mac’s beautiful playing to tape was daunting to say the least – but we did have the guidance and talents of Dean Rees (who actually played with Mac for years and is quite possibly the greatest Hammond player I’ve ever seen) to feed off… he contributed a good deal to the record and I was happy to step back
when I knew he could capture the feel more than I was capable of. So, to be honest, my head was chock-full of loads of stuff running simultaneously, so while I enjoyed it as I always do I didn’t really get to sit back and soak it all up. The lads were like kids in a sweet shop, though – and they all took to the studio environment like ducks to water and did a sterling job.
4) The show has secured a five-week residency in London’s West End next year. Undoubtedly this is just rewarding for Carol and the team’s hard work but do you also see it as a fitting tribute to the original London lads, The Small Faces?
Yes, I do. The thing that I still find hard to reconcile with the Small Faces is that although they’ve been absolutely critical in shaping the musical landscape on both sides of the Atlantic (ask any American rock singer who their favourite vocalist is – they’ll all say Steve Marriott), outside of the muso world they’re still something of an unknown quantity in relation to the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Who etc. What Carol and the musical have done is blow the doors wide open for the band to reach not just a new market, but a whole new generation. People are hearing this music for the first time and it’s just searing straight through them, they’re getting it straight away. One of the million things I love about this show is that it really means something to people and that something, whatever it is, is something really deep. AON’s a real bullet from the heart from Carol and it shows.
5) So after seeing out the 2017 tour, what’s next for you? Any more marathon runs planned?
I head to the USA right after this tour finishes for a short Darling BOY tour and then to Germany for a month to play guitar and oud in an orchestra pit – all the while getting the mixes right on the debut Darling BOY LP. No rest for the wicked!