Steve Marriott : All Or Nothing – Simon Spence – book review
Omnibus Press (Hardback)
Released 18th March 2021
All Or Nothing, Simon Spence’s exhaustive, no holds barred biography of Steve Marriott is published on 18th of March
Simon Spence’s ‘oral’ biography of the celebrated vocalist weighs in at 480 pages, with 125 interviews, warts and all, from cradle to grave. And beyond. Written with the full co-operation of the Marriott family and including a number of candid photos, this really is the definitive article.
I’ll be honest, before devouring this book, I knew very little of Steve Marriott. I was aware of him being a child actor, the cheeky chappy in Small Faces, and later of his tragic death. I wasn’t really that familiar with Humble Pie or his life post the 1960’s. All Or Nothing tells the whole story. Marriott’s rise to fame and struggle with it, the drugs, the drink and the fights etc. In a similar way to Jon Savage’s Joy Division book, This Searing Light, the Sun and Everything Else, the eye witness narrative draws you in and takes you on a journey which makes it much more emotive than a standard linear text.
I love a good music biography or documentary that entertains and educates, and this did exactly that from the off. I was struck by the high regard in which he was held by his peers and the influence he still has to this day. When you have accolades from the likes of Roger Daltrey; Robert Plant; Bob Dylan; David Bowie; Mick Jagger opening a book alongside Paul Weller and Bobby Gillespie you know the subject matter is something special.
Steve Marriott’s story is colourful from the off, his early days as a child actor are fascinating, especially his friendship with Sir Tony Robinson (aka Baldrick) who Marriott understudied. Robinson tells of a love/hate relationship with the singer and isn’t the only one.
When recounting Marriott’s fascination and dalliances with some of the seedier side of life, no punches are spared, although ultimately he would come to regret some of these. Perhaps the most famous of these being the relationship with Don Arden (Sharon Osborne’s Dad… but I guess you knew that).
The tales in the book are straight out of 60’s music folklore, with Arden ‘owning’ the band, fixing the charts, and creating a teen pin-up. The latter didn’t sit well with Marriott and led him to his first serious brush with drink and drugs. Although ‘rescued’ by Andrew Loog-Oldham or rather bought, for £25,000 in a brown paper bag, there are stories of how low self esteem and disquiet continued. Despite producing some of the era’s best regarded songs such as Itchycoo Park and Tin Soldier. Bandmates recount the poor and unfair business deals. Like The Smith’s in more recent times, most of the money for the Small Faces was split between writers Marriott and Ronnie Lane with Ian McLagan and Kenny Jones missing out, but even then, Marriott still got a better deal than his writing partner.
The precedents are set and the chaotic story plays out for the next 20 plus years, with complex financial affairs; excessive tastes; troubled marriages and disastrous relationships; drink; drugs and yet more mobster/gangsters employed as managers ultimately leading to the inevitable, but somewhat tragic end in 1991.
Even in death, there isn’t peace. His estate remains contested and there are ongoing grudges that are covered in great detail. I often found myself reading the book but shaking my head in disbelief. If HBO turned the Steve Marriott story into a blockbuster miniseries there could be accusations it was too far-fetched…
For all the turmoil of the 44-year-old singers’ short life, it’s clear that he lived it to the full. Conflicted by his own demons, but perhaps not always aware or conscious of the impact on others. He was revered by his contemporaries regardless and his legacy lives on. It’s arguable that if it wasn’t for Paul Weller’s obsession with Marriott for example that The Jam may never have been and wouldn’t still be recording today.
Steve Marriott’s body of work, with Small Faces and Humble Pie speaks for itself.
All Or Nothing is the perfect book to compliment those records.
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