Man, I'm so psyched to post this album! This is a Small Faces live album that has been so extremely rare it has been almost impossible to find, even as a bootleg. Yet the sound quality is fantastic! The Small Faces were considered one of the best live bands of the 1960s for those who were actually there and saw them. For instance, before Robert Plant became a superstar with Led Zeppelin, he was a Small Faces groupie for a time, going from town to town to catch all their concerts. He's called their live shows "spectacular."
Yet it seemed as if nearly all traces of their concerts were lost. Five live songs from late 1968 were included on the 1969 album "The Autumn Stone," and then repeated on various archival albums. But that's been about it, if you don't count BBC sessions, which are more like studio sessions. So I consider this appearance of a soundboard quality full concert from the band emerging here in 2021 nothing short of miraculous!
Technically speaking, this concert has been available for purchase since 2017, but under such an obscure condition that it's been beyond reach for most people. In that year, a book about the band was published, called "Smalls: Tronche
de Vie," written by Jean-Noel Coghe. Unfortunately, it's written entirely in French, and there's no English translation that I know of. The book came with two CDs. One is this concert. The other is the audio version of various interviews. I looked high and low, and couldn't find this concert at any of the usual bootleg websites. I didn't want to buy the book because I don't speak French, plus I could only find it for sale with Euros and I don't have those, plus I wouldn't be able to convert the CD to digital audio if I did. Happily, I mentioned my desire for it at my recently posted wish list, and my musical friend MZ was able to get it from someone else who had it.
I don't know the details of how or why this was recorded, or by whom. But judging from the sound quality, it has to be a soundboard. Furthermore, judging by the amount of audience noise when it can be heard after some songs, the band almost certainly played in front of a small audience in a club. That had to help with the recording quality too.
The audio is not perfect. The first three songs are a bit rougher than the bulk of it, and there's some trouble with a couple of songs towards the end as well, probably caused by tape damage. But that's in a relative sense. Even those songs sound much better than the five live tracks that were first released on "The Autumn Stone." Furthermore, I used my audio editing skills to fix most of the problems. There were some cases where the volume dropped out for a few seconds, or things got murky for a little bit. I fixed some of those by boosting the volume for the dropped out parts. In other cases, such as with some murky bits, I was able to fix those by patching in a few seconds from elsewhere in the song, if a repeated lyric or musical phrase made that possible.
Then, after I did what I could, I passed the files back to MZ, who has a different set of audio editing skills. He applied EQ (equalization) on the whole thing to improve the sound in general. He also did more work on especially murky bits. (By the way, no noise reduction was used, since there wasn't any buzzing or humming problem.) The concert sounds noticeably better now, in my opinion, though there still are a few rough or murky spots. The songs where either MZ or I made some edits have "[Edit]" in their song titles.
That said, all in all, the sound is amazing for a concert recorded in 1966! You have to keep in mind how far back that is, since recording concert bootlegs didn't become a trend until a couple of years later. If you sort bootlegs by year, there are very, very few that date that far back, period. For instance, I just checked Dime a Dozen, one of the biggest bootleg sites, and there are less than 50 boots from 1966 there out of the nearly 40,000 boots they have currently available. Only about half of those are from rock artists, and most of those frankly sound like crap. I would argue this one sounds better than any 1966 concert bootleg from many of the bigger rock names of the time, like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or the Who. Furthermore, most such bands either don't have an official live album from around that time, or if they do, like the Kinks with their "Live at Kelvin Hall" album, they don't sound as good as this one. So maybe you can see why I consider it miraculous for a lesser known band like the Small Faces go from having no decent sounding concert recording at all to having one of the best, especially after so many decades have passed.
As an additional pleasant surprise, the band played a bunch of cover songs that they never put on record, and never performed for the BBC either. Those are: "Ooh Pooh Pah Doo," "Baby Please Don't Go," "Parchman Farm," "In the Midnight Hour," "Chain Gang," "Everything's Gonna Be Alright," "Please, Please, Please," and "Strange." True, some of those are in medleys and thus aren't full versions. But still, that's way more than one would expect for a concert recording that's only 56 minutes long.
As the Small Faces grew more popular, they were increasingly pushed by their record company into concerts where they were one of the opening acts to even bigger artists. Typically, they would just play their hits in a single short set of 30 minutes or less. If they were lucky, they might get one extra song where they could play something they wanted, such as a cover, but that was it. This approach might have helped them sell more records, but the band members found it frustrating and it was one factor that led to their break up in early 1969. Luckily, this concert comes from before that time, where they were the headliner, they only had one hit ("Whatcha Gonna Do about It") that they were obliged to play, and they could play whatever else they wanted to fill out their sets. That makes the survival of this recording even more of a lucky wonder.
If you listen to the concert, you can tell that the band played two sets. (You can hear the end of the first set towards the end of track 11 ("E Too D") when lead singer Steve Marriott sings some ad-libbed lyrics about having to leave and saying goodbye.) As a result, some songs were played twice, once in each set. Happily, there are only a few of these: "You Need Love" (a blues cover which the band called "You Need Loving" - and which Led Zeppelin would later turn into "Whole Lotta Love"), "Whatcha Gonna Do about It," "E Too D," and "Comin' Home Baby." Normally, I hate having two versions of the same song on one album, and I would remove one version. But in this case, I'm keeping all of it, since any live recording from this band is so precious. The only thing I cut was a little bit of aimless guitar tuning before two of the songs.
I don't know if the person who recorded this captured all of both sets or not. Perhaps we'll never know (unless the French book explains it). But I do suspect that some cuts were made between songs. I'm surmising this based on the fact that some songs have no audience response at all when they end, while others have fervent screaming that gets cut off after just a few seconds. It wasn't unusual back in those days for bootleggers to turn their tape recorders off between songs to help make sure they didn't run out of tape before the concert ended. But if that's the case here, at least we're lucky to get some banter before nearly every single song.
If you like the Small Faces at all, you need to give this a listen. To me, it's a crime that this hasn't been made widely available by a major record label. But hey, at least it exists, and now you can hear it too.
01 talk (Small Faces)
02 Ooh Pooh Pah Doo [Edit] (Small Faces)
03 talk (Small Faces)
04 You Need Love [You Need Loving] [Edit] (Small Faces)
05 talk (Small Faces)
06 Plum Nellie - Baby Please Don't Go - Parchman Farm - In the Midnight Hour - Chain Gang [Edit] (Small Faces)
07 talk (Small Faces)
08 Whatcha Gonna Do about It (Small Faces)
09 talk (Small Faces)
10 Comin' Home Baby [Instrumental] (Small Faces)
11 E Too D (Small Faces)
12 talk (Small Faces)
13 Come On Children (Small Faces)
14 talk (Small Faces)
15 Grow Your Own - Everything's Gonna Be Alright - Shake and Fingerpop (Small Faces)
16 talk (Small Faces)
17 Please, Please, Please (Small Faces)
18 talk (Small Faces)
19 Strange [Edit] (Small Faces)
20 talk (Small Faces)
21 You Need Love [You Need Loving] [Edit] (Small Faces)
22 talk (Small Faces)
23 Comin' Home Baby [Instrumental] (Small Faces)
24 E Too D - Whatcha Gonna Do about It (Small Faces)
For the cover art, not surprisingly, I couldn't find a photo of the exact concert in question. I did find one from a concert in June 1966, which at least is close in time. (I don't know where the photo was taken.) Unfortunately, it only shows two of the band members, but they were the two singers and songwriters, Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane. Marriott is the one who looks at first like he's wearing a white neck brace, but that's just part of his mostly green sweater.