I blew my one and only chance to see Steve Marriott, although that's not the right verb, perhaps – I might need something a bit weightier, such as, “unable to deal with adverse conditions.” That invitation came in the fall or winter of 1990, when I was working and living abroad, as a clerk at the University of London – being a twentysomething at the time, I was experiencing whatever I could, packing in every sight imaginable during my six-month stay there.
Trouble was, once my cohorts explained the circumstances – apparently, he was playing a tiny pub, on an equally tiny island, somewhere in the Thames – I realized, once the logistics of that proposition sunk in, that I'd probably get there all right, but getting back might prove a little trickier (as in, you might have to hang out all night, till the next available form of bus or rail transport turned up).
Nowadays, I imagine, such a trip might not pose any problems at all. Two decades of creeping Americanization, including longer, more liberal hours for just about everything, will do that. But that wasn't the case back then, and as I'd begun spending my weekends in Camden Town – for the market, mainly, plus whatever hanging about I could get in – I regretfully declined. I figured I'd be back next year, at a more congenial time, when he'd be playing a more convenient venue.
Sadly, of course, that never happened – Marriott died in April 1991, after a tragic house fire that snuffed out his life at age 44. However, his legend has only grown since then, as I detail in my recent talk, “Happiness Is...A Packet Of Free,” which I gave at Berrien Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (St. Joseph, MI).
One thing became apparent right away when I scanned the Internet, looking for the usual fun facts and scraps of information to round out my talk: there's no getting around Marriott's influence, even today. It's easy to forget that fact, in light of all the articles and blogs that focus on the “Greek tragedy” part of his life – but, as the man himself said, “Yes, it's heartbreaking, but if you can laugh at your own tragedy, it's great. It don't matter.”
In a matter of minutes, I learned there's a Small Faces musical – “All Or Nothing,” what else would you call it? – making the rounds to massive acclaim, in London, and all over the UK; there's a film, “Midnight Of My Life,” which tackles Marriott's later life, the same period I focused on in my talk; and there's a daughter, Mollie, who's carrying on the tradition as a vocalist, and just released her highly-anticipated debut album. TRUTH IS A WOLF, last fall.
Does this sound like the fading footprints of a man who's often described as “long forgotten”? I think not. It's tempting to think how Marriott would have fared, had he lived to see the Britpop craze take the UK by storm, when the likes of Oasis and Paul Weller dropping his name, and covering his songs – I suspect he'd have had to reconsider his strategy, since the resulting higher profile might have enabled him to take life a bit easier, and stake out his own territory, on his own terms. Of course, Steve's here to see any of it – let alone the induction that he finally earned, in 2012, into that ever-so-controversial entity, the Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Fame – which makes such musings lend themselves to that ongoing parlor game of, “What if”? However, that's not the point, as I make clear in my talk, now featured in Spoken Word Tracks – I also managed to work in a few lines of my own poetic tribute, “I Remember Steve Marriott,” because it seemed to fit the occasion. Check out the evidence, and see how it strikes you.
Suffice to say, I'll always regret not going to that gig. But we still have the music, and plenty of it, at that – 12 hit singles by the Small Faces in Britain alone, plus two in America, and eight by Humble Pie (primarily in America, which they toured 22 times, as godfathers of the boogie movement). As the man himself might say, that's a fair week's work.
Sunday Express: Mollie Marriott Interview