There are so many elements of the Small Faces story that cross over into your own life it’s difficult to know where to start. Shall we begin with your shared roots in the East End of London?
Ronnie lived in Manor Park then Forest Gate, and Steve lived in Manor Park – he lived two streets away from my cousins. They hung out together; they were all Mods, one of my cousins was in a band with Steve, and he used to come round to our house in Upton Park as well. So, that’s how I first met him, that’s our mutual roots. I took myself off to Youth Theatre when I was eleven, and it was based in Monega Road School, which is the school Steve went to. It’s extraordinary the things I realised once I started researching the story, all these crazy coincidences.
It wasn’t as if I had always intended to write this story. I wanted to write something about the Sixties that was authentic, compared to other things that I have seen. It was important to me to be a musical because it was all about the music, and style and the changes that went on. For me the epitome of that was the Mod movement, and the epitome of Mod was the Small Faces. Plus my connection with Steve – it was extraordinary how it all came together.
So All Or Nothing is your story as well?
It is; it’s nice of you to recognise that. Cause people think I’ve just taken the story of the Small Faces, but whilst I am telling their story for them so much of it is also about me.
It didn’t start out being the story of the Small Faces but the more I learnt, the more I thought their story had everything; it’s a drama, a tragedy. It’s the classic Rock ‘n’ Roll tale, rising so quickly and then the self-destruction, the exploitation and the fall-outs. Ultimately two of them died quite tragically, far too young. So, it became the story of the Small Faces, and seeing the whole Mod movement and my 1960s through it. That’s the way it evolved.
It seems Sixties music and fashion played a large role in your formative years?
Very much so – and they still do. I love the whole Mod movement, and to me it was like a fresh beginning. The Fifties, and even the early Sixties were pretty grim. Going to school in the East End, we had these Smog Masks; it was so bad. I can remember this big snow that we had in ’63, we loved it and then this wonderful snow all turned black.
The Sixties stuff that I’d seen – even the ones that weren’t particularly Mod – they’re all fluffy, and not reflective of the Sixties I remember. There have been a few attempts that didn’t really understand the movement; they just wanted to put the clothes on. I love Quadrophenia, obviously; it’s the only thing that’s really captured anything to do with Mod. I wanted to make something authentic, dynamic, exciting but also a real play, as well as a musical. Because a lot of musicals are just another excuse for a song, a very thin story. This isn’t a jukebox musical; it’s really not that. It transports you there, that’s what our audiences say. The clothes are authentic, the sounds are authentic, and it’s all played live. I don’t see any other way you can recapture the excitement. Do it with passion… and obviously it was a passion piece for me.
Did music play a big part in the home when you were growing up?
Oh, yeah, very much so. I was from a single parent family but my Mum loved music – things like Patsy Cline – and she was a good singer, as well. There was always a record player, though it was a wind-up one at the beginning. We’d go round to my Aunties’, and they’d be off talking somewhere else and I’d be with the gramophone, putting the Buddy Holly’s on, Elvis… all that stuff; knowing all the words. Then obviously The Beatles came along, and the whole Mod sound; Soul, Tamla – which I was really into – and then Ska was a very big part of when I was growing up. By the time I was fourteen I was an original Skinhead Girl. Not what most people now associate with being a Skinhead because it was just a continuation of Mod.
Can you remember the first record you bought?
The first record I bought with my own money… I think there were two; I bought “My Boy Lollipop”, and I bought The Yardbirds “For Your Love”. I’d regularly buy records, every Saturday. I used to have a Saturday job; I’d get 12/6 and then run to the tailors to pay off my mohair suit. Then across the road to the record shop, it was called something like Top Ten. It was small but it was great because they would import American R&B and Soul. You had to order stuff. You had to wait. That was the ritual; music was such a big part of my life.
And then, from about 13 years on I was out dancing, youth clubs most nights. And although I shouldn’t have been, from when I was about 14 or 15 going to the Marquee, places like that. Getting in lots of trouble. But I’m so glad I did.
What about the first time you were allowed to buy your own clothes?
I was lucky enough to have a Mum who was a tailor, so she made me a lot of my clothes because we didn’t have much money, but she was able to look at something and make it out of a remnant, which would cost next to nothing. I was very lucky that way, and I always looked great.
There was this particular tailors, it was the place to go. My Mum wasn’t very happy because she could have made a mohair suit but it had to be from this place otherwise it wasn’t cool enough. Like we say in the show, “It’s all about the detail”. Another of the lines is “Just because we come from bombsites and no bathrooms, doesn’t mean we can’t have style and taste.” That’s how it was; it was very heavily bombed, we used to play on those bombsites. Between where Steve Marriott lived and my cousins in Manor Park was a bombsite we used to play on, and I’m convinced that’s ‘Itchycoo Park’; we used to call it that, it had the stinging nettles that would get your ankles and stuff, when you were playing there.
And Steve Marriott began his show business career as an actor. How did your own acting career begin?
I always wanted to be an actress from six years old; I wouldn’t have anything else. There weren’t many options at Harold Road Secondary; when the “Careers Advisors”, as they were supposed to be, would come and say, “Hands up who is going to be a typist?” or “Who is going to work in a shop? and “Who is going to work in the Tate & Lyle factory?” And I’d say, “I’m going to be an actress. I’m going to drama school”. And they’d go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah…”. It’s like I was a compete fantasist. But that was me; determined. Nothing could get in my way.
Always a fight, everything was a struggle but, you know, “All Or Nothing”. Why take less? Let’s try for the “All”.
All Or Nothing started at a small London theatre, you’ve had three sell-out UK tours and now you are back in London for a West End theatre run.
We started at a place underneath Waterloo Station called The Vaults, which was brilliant because it was like being in a Sixties club, the UFO, places like that. It was a riot. I don’t think the people at the theatre were ready for us; they had no idea that they would get hundreds of scooters turning up, people suited and booted – they’d never taken so much at their bar! It was wonderful; we were sold out all the time, we had to turn people away.
And those scenes were repeated up and down the country. People would travel just to see us; they don’t just come once, they come three, four, five times. One guy come up to me after, and he said, “The government should give everyone over the age of 60 a pass to come and see this show, because you come out rejuvenated. They’d save a fortune on the NHS”. We actually wrote to Jeremy Hunt to tell him; didn’t get any reply, mind…
And it’s bought new people into the theatre, people that don’t usually go, which is really important. Not just people of my age, the youngsters come as well. I call it a trans-generational musical, ‘cause it cuts through the ages. Seventeen to Seventy; in together, sharing the experience, which is great.
Has it always been plain sailing?
No, it’s been hell. Eight years trying to get it to the theatre. First of all, it’s not conventional; it’s not a typical musical, it’s not “jazz hands”, which is exactly what I didn’t want it to be. But for the theatre establishment that’s a “No”. “It needs to be more fluffy.” “It’s not the Sixties I remember.” “Who’d be interested in Mods?’ “Who’d be interested in Small Faces?” All those things; complete ignorance. “If you can get someone from The X Factor in it, if you’re lucky enough, then you might sell some tickets”. Obviously I said, “Over my dead body”.
I knew there were people out there like me. I want to bring music and theatre together, and it can be a cool experience; it doesn’t have to be naff, it doesn’t have to be fluffy. The Sixties weren’t; they were revolution.
I tried to explain to people that this is like a really well kept secret; there are people of a certain age who go out all the time. They don’t sit in front of the telly watching TV. They go out every weekend; they are out doing all-nighters. There’s a whole Mod movement that’s going on; it’s about dancing, and meeting with people. It’s out there, and they are all over the world.
I put lots of my own time and money into it. Time when I could have been acting; doing the easy option. But I had to produce it myself, and direct it, make sure everything’s authentic, and oversee it all. I eventually found some investors who believed in me, and believed in what I was saying, and who loved it. For the budgets that other people have we’ve done it on virtually nothing. I’ve got sixteen cast and fourteen crew, to create that live experience. But I did it eventually, out of sheer tenacity, and to spite all those people saying, “It’s never going to work. You will never get it off the ground”. The more they said that, the more I thought, ”Fuck you”.
Before you even started writing All Or Nothing did you spend a considerable amount of time in research?
It wasn’t too long really. Obviously I had a personal involvement; a lot of the people who were around the band I knew anyway. I spent time with Kay, Stevie’s mum, and his sister, and with Stan Lane, who is Ronnie’s brother, and P.P. Arnold, who has become a great, great friend. So, it didn’t take that long to write the initial script. Once I’d decided how I could present it, how I could look at it in hindsight a little bit as well, then it kind of flowed and the actual writing of it was only about six months. Obviously it’s gone through lots of different draughts, even now I’ll make changes for the West End; polish it and polish it. I think I’m on Draught Sixteen now… Then it was more about getting the finance behind it, getting people to believe that it could be done.
You have taken on the formidable task of writing, directing, producing and starring in All Or Nothing – that must be a challenge?
I don’t know how I’ve done it. Tenacity and passion, I think. I wouldn’t say I’m the star, my two Steve Marriott’s are the stars, and the young band. I play Steve’s Mum, Kay, and some other parts in it as well but they’re kind of cameos, you know… I don’t know how I did it actually, and if I think about it, I wouldn’t do it again, I don’t think I’ve got enough years left.
I’m still amazed that it’s in the West End, and I really want it to be a success. The Arts Theatre is a great venue for it, and we’ve got an option to come back here in the autumn, so fingers crossed we can do that. I just hope that the audience will keep supporting us, and someone will come up with some money… that would be helpful. And it should be there in the West End now; we’ve built up our audience, and people have seen it time and time and time again. There are lots of American musicals in the West End but this is home grown, this is our chance to reach people that don’t know about the Mod movement, or Britain in the Sixties.
You’ve had support and involvement from Steve’s daughters – Mollie and Tonya – and from P.P. Arnold, who is, of course, a “character” in the play. Did that add any pressure or make it any easier?
When you portray anyone who is real, the pressure is to do him or her justice. Luckily, well not just “luckily”, but by design I have done them justice. Most specifically for Ronnie, Steve and Mac who are no longer with us. All their families, other musicians that worked with them, they have loved what I’ve done for them, what we have done with their story. That’s why it is so important that it is authentic, that it is real. What is great is that it’s giving people their history back, like Mollie, Steve’s daughter, who is our vocal coach and who lost her Dad when she was six, and the Lane boys, who have lost their Dad. That’s something that I’m very proud of.
Have you had to make many changes to the cast for this West End run?
No, the band is the same. We’ve still got Chris Simmons, who plays the older Steve Marriott, and Russell Floyd who plays Don Arden, and who I was in EastEnders with. It’s mostly the same people; there are a few changes but they’re just minor.
The band is really tight now, and Sam Pope, our young Steve Marriott, is unbelievable. He wasn’t at the beginning but I’ve kind of nurtured him, as has Pat Davey, our musical supervisor, who has made that band so amazing. It’s uncanny for me, because knowing Steve… sometimes it gives me goose bumps. I look at Sam and he is Steve, and other people have said that too.
Does you ever look at the size of this show, or how far it has come and wonder “what have I created?”
Yes, it is enormous. There have been times when we had to change some of the band because they started to think they were Rock Stars. So you have to deal with that. You have to deal with the fact that, at the beginning, people were suspicious; people who thought they were “The Guardians of Mod”, and then realised that I totally knew what I was talking about; much more about it than they did because I actually knew the band, the people involved, I was there at the time. We’ve had a few issues with people trying to screw money out of us, who have suddenly come out of the woodwork, when they didn’t want to know before we got some success.
All Or Nothing has occupied the last seven or eight years of you life. Dare we ask “What’s next for you?”
Well, I’m talking about a film now; it won’t be based on the stage play… but I’m going to be writing that. I would like to think that one day the show can live a life without me, but because I’ve created it – and it is my baby – it’s still got so far to go. In some ways I’m scared to let it go. We still need to get established in the West End, and we still need to go out on tour around the world. There’s so much more… so much further that it can go. And I want to make sure for those people who believed in it, those people who have been there since the beginning, and the investors, that they get just rewards.
There are other projects I want to do, as well. I did manage to do a couple of episodes of Doctors last year; I did a bit of acting, didn’t have to think about All Or Nothing for a couple of days. I’d like to do a great sitcom again. I had this great series I did with Ray Winstone, Get Back… I’d love to do something like that again but then I’m so much older. The passion’s still there, and the enthusiasm but I’m not sure I like how I see myself on the screen anymore.
And there’s lots more writing for the stage and screen in me; people keep saying, “Why don’t you write The Jam musical?” but who knows what the future holds, I’m just taking each day as it comes.
All Or Nothing – The Mod Musical opens at The Arts Theatre, Great Newport Street, London WC2H 7JB on Tuesday 6th February and runs to Sunday 11th March 2018. Details and tickets at www.artstheatrewestend.co.uk
Find out more at www.allornothingmusical.com