The Real Roots Of Punk – Part 23 - Rod Stewart and the Faces
For decades now the same ol’ tired hacks have been gleefully dusting off and rehashing their vapid nonsensical one dimensional ‘definitive’ ‘pUnk’ (©) retrospectives to coincide with every spurious anniversary they (and the grasping record companies) can dream up! As all you happy shoppers have doubtless twigged, we’re about to embark on yet another dreary nostalgia fest as britpunk celebrates its 30th birthday. Can’t hardly contain your excitement? Me neither!
Still, amidst this alarming spectacle one combo whose name I guarantee won’t loom large is that of Mr Rod Stewart and his scruffy no good chums The Faces. Wilfully ignored for far too long by the idiot fanboys who pontificate endlessly about the true origins of the UK punk explosion, as far as I’m concerned, those spiky topped lager louts had more of an impact on what became punk than many, if not all, of the usual litany of hallowed names that are trotted out ad infinitum. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Velvets begat the MC5 begat The Stooges who begat The N.Y.Dolls who begat the Sex Pistols etc, etc..’
Tedious, patronising, over simplistic crap that ignores the plain fact that most of the teens who were at the cutting edge of punk 30 years ago weren’t lifelong Velvets aficionados or charter members of the Stooges fan club (Detroit Chapter)- despite what they might have insisted in interviews at the time. And much as I hate to admit it, the only other person I knew back then who didn’t think the New York Dolls were one big bad joke was my erstwhile pen-pal and fellow obsessive, Steven Morrissey - and he lived hundreds of miles away in Manchester. Nope, the truth is that most of the UK class of ’76 had been raised solely on a diet of TOTP and Radio One. Many were fully paid up glamsters digging T.Rex, Bowie, Roxy, etc - and even scam artists like Mud, Sweet, Quatro, Glitter, Alvin Stardust, etc. Many had time for radio friendly soulsters like the 4 Tops, Chairmen Of The Board, etc, - alongside the ever-present old rock’n’rollers (Elvis, Chuck Berry still had HUGE hits in the 70s) - and even 60s throwbacks like The Stones/ Beatles, etc. I’ll bet too, that more than a few grew on teenybop slop like B.C.R., Rubettes, Kenny etc - though they’ll probably not admit it now! Remember, punk icon Jimmy Pursey’s first onstage venture was winning a ‘Be A Bay City Roller’ competition - which their kiddyfiddler manager, Tam Paton, used to run regularly to get him near hunky young men!
Eagle eyed 70s buffs will spot immediately I’ve omitted two of the most popular and influential bands of the time from this list - take a bow - Slade and The Faces. Despite looking totally gormless, Slade were a true 70s phenomenon and one of the best live bands ever - and are certainly long overdue for critical re–appraisal. But for me, the single most maligned and unfairly overlooked band from the 70s has to be The Faces.
I know it’s almost impossible to convince youngsters nowadays that the ‘Peter Stringfellow’ of dadrock, Rod Stewart, was once a lean, mean, blueswailin’ son of a bitch who fronted one of the heppest and wildest combos around - or that ‘honest’ Ron Wood once knocked out cool riffs a plenty before opting for the job security of being a poor man’s Brian Jones in the Strolling Bones travelling freakshow. Tragically, the other Faces are now almost totally forgotten and condemned to obscurity. Ronnie Lane, arguably the most talented songsmith of the lot, is no longer with us - and Ian ‘Mac’ McLagan and Kenny Jones have been little more than anonymous sessionmen for decades.
Nevertheless, for those of us who were around back then, it was all so very different. See, from 1970 until their demise in 1975, Rod’s sloppy, sartorially challenged, scruffy, beer swilling, leering, football loving crew were the real deal – and then some. Immensely popular, true yob heroes on the football terraces and in pubs and clubs throughout the land, proto ’lads’ before the term was hijacked and devalued by the media, they partied till they puked, tried to snort and/or shag anything that moved - and still managed to find time to knock out a string of raucous, knockabout, bleary-eyed, sing-along anthems that effortlessly fused the best bits of their Berry/Stones roots with tear-jerkin’ 60s blue eyed soul into a pretty unique formula that has been much copied down the years – but never equalled. “True Blue” still brings a tear to my eye even now.
Without doubt too, The Faces were the first real ‘people’s band’ of the decade. Ordinary blokes identified wholeheartedly with ‘em, copying their clobber and cropping their flowing locks into rooster shags en masse, revelling in the ‘gang’ mentality, and no doubt envying their sexual prowess too (every supermodel conquest gloatingly reported in the tabloids). The lil’ girls understood too, duly plastering their bedroom walls with pinups of these bad boys with hearts of pure gold, torn lovingly from the pages of the Jackie and Fab 208.
Onstage they really had few equals - and ALL the biggest bands of the time were on record as being positively terrified of having to play after the Faces had torn the place apart. Unlike the bloated and pretentious stage shows which were de rigeur at the time, Faces gigs were more like giant rock’n’rollercoaster piss ups where the camaraderie was legendary and the audience was every bit as much a part of the show as the band. Refreshingly, too, they never took themselves too seriously, even on occasion setting up an onstage bar (complete with a suitable attired bartender) which they could retire to for a top up during the set. Even their detractors hadda admit it was kinda fun to see ‘em smuggle long time champion John Peel onto TOTP as guest mandolin player while they spent more time falling over and kicking footballs about than actually bothering to mime properly during “Maggie May”’s long chart topping run.
A weird Belfast aside – back in the 70s - many young men in predominantly loyalist areas of Belfast rushed to join the ‘tartan’ gangs. Often several hundred strong, with definite paramilitary connections, these gangs marked out their turf by wearing different coloured tartan scarves to identify themselves. Natch, their hero was fellow tartan wearer Rod Stewart. In my early teens I remember hearing several rumours that Rod Stewart was gonna turn up in person at such and such a street ‘to show his support’. Disappointingly, this 70s urban myth ranked in accuracy with similar fables such as ‘David Cassidy gives money to the IRA’ and ‘Marc Bolan is married to Mickey Finn’. Amazingly, on reflection, none of the tartan gang members realised that Mr Stewart was a lifelong Celtic supporter – which would have damned him forever in their eyes. Doh!
Sadly, though somewhat inevitably, it was their very success that brought about the downfall of the Faces and as Rod Stewarts solo records started to outsell those by his band, the writing was well and truly on the wall. The rockstar lifestyle took its inevitable toll, too. Increasingly distanced from their fans and their roots, bickering between band members intensified, fuelled by drug and booze filled paranoia - and when key songwriter, bassist Ronnie Lane quit it 1973, it was all over bar the shouting (though the band struggled on gamely until finally calling it a day in 1975).
However by 1975 the UK was in a sorry state. As the recession started to bite harder factories closed, jobs were lost, there were bitter industrial disputes, power cuts and the three day week. Times were tough all over and whilst everyone else was being asked to ‘tighten their belt’ - you couldn’t open a scabby tabloid without yet another ‘exclusive’ with rising international superstar Rod Stewart flaunting his new found wealth - no doubt grinning inanely out from some far off sun drenched isle with another ubiquitous trophy blonde on his arm, glass of champagne in his fist and football at his feet. Hooking up with film star Britt Ekland was the final straw – especially when Stewart, who had taken to wearing more eye shadow than was strictly necessary, confessed that he’d started wearing her knickers!! Not exactly the sort of comment to endear him to the macho blokes who had made up the majority of his former fans! Though, personally, I gotta admit I thought the LP he was promoting at the time (“A Night On the Town”) was his best work for some time. Doh! (But then, what do I know?)
Totally misjudging the mood of the time, Stewart had alienated many of his hard-core long term fans who started to look for something new and exciting of their own - which they found in the emergent punk rock. In virtually every single interview with these nascent punky wavers - the old guard of ‘boring old farts’ were constantly vilified and ridiculed as the enemy – and none so frequently as Rod Stewart. I guess it’s kinda understandable, then, that at the time no one would have dreamed of admitting to have been a former fan!
And yet it’s long since come to light that many of the folks who made up the first wave of UK punkers had been HUGE Faces fans. For example ¾ of the future Sex Pistols literally idolised them. Glen Matlock only got the job in the Pistols in the first place by playing “Three Button hand Me Down” at his audition. Ironically, too, many of the future UK punk elite got their first real glimpse of the future when they got to see the New York Dolls play one of their rare UK dates supporting the Faces at Wembley. Make of that what you will! Visually too, let’s not forget that the scrappy home made spike top look was sported by Rod’n’Ron long before Bowie’s illustrious ‘Starman’ cut. Check out the barnets, low slung guitars and ubiquitous fag-in-gob pose on such punk luminaries-to-be as Mick Jones, Steve Jones, Brian James, the Boys, Lurkers, etc. Cynics will doubtless insist this look also had something to do with Keef Richards (and I’ll certainly not deny that his look – and music - were more influential on punk than most will dare admit) – but the important difference with the Faces was their snotty ‘couldn’t give a toss’ attitude (and don’t forget that by then the Stones were part of the establishment). The Faces were younger, sloppier and rowdier and made it all look so easy and so much fun. It’s the same ol’ story - If they can do it - why can’t we? In truth, the Faces (much like the Pistols) were first-rate musicians but the key to their songwriting success was making it all sound so effortlessly simple and enjoyable. I’ll bet my signed Chuck Berry photo that more than a few punk musicians were first bitten by the rock’n’roll bug after listening to the Faces, strumming their very first chords along to those beat up green label Warner Brothers platters.
Convinced? I thought so! Check out the readily available CD reissues and DVDs fer proof that these guys were truly unique - and sceptics you are in for one helluva surprise! Cynical doubting Thomases can go fer the charmingly monikered “Good Boys When They Are Asleep” – a single ‘Best Of’ CD - but for anyone else anxious for a fix of the hard stuff, I’d recommend the lovingly assembled 4xCD box set “Five Guys Walk Into A Bar” - which is crammed with everything you could want by the Faces and them some - including demos, out takes & live cuts - as well as the ubiquitous album tracks and hit singles. Go get it!
As a truly surreal footnote to this article, I found myself shoehorned into a packed Odyssey Arena here in Belfast a day or two before Xmas 2005 watching Rod Stewart perform. Much to my surprise, the ol’ tosser looked years younger, thinner and fitter than he had done for decades - and backed by a sprightly crew of session men (and women!) - he actually seemed to be really enjoying himself and not just going through the motions. Sure, the endless football/Celtic schtick grated (sad but true: one sure way to immediately alienate half your audience here in Belfast is to show public allegiance to either Rangers or Celtic - plus ca change?) - but at least he kept the Cole Porter crap to a minimum and with such a classy back catalogue to rifle, at least 75% of the show was pretty damn hot to trot. I’ll admit he won me over early on in proceedings by storming through “Sweet Little Rock n Roller” with a real live double bass. I had gone along reluctantly - expecting the very worst - I came out more than pleasantly surprised! Go figger!
Take It Greasy!
Brian Young – tMx 23 – 02/06