Why I Wrote All Or Nothing
Growing up in the East End as I did in the 50s and early 60s was tough. It was cold and dull. The coldest I ever remember was 1963. There were huge snowdrifts which were great for us kids sliding down them on tin trays. Then the smog came down and we all had to go to school in masks and the beautiful white snow turned black. Then as the snow melted away everything changed, suddenly there was music, there was colour, there was Mod.
Mods were stylish, hip, cool and great dancers. I used to watch my older sister Patricia getting ready to go out, slapping on the eyeliner, the pale lips and sellotaping her curls to the side of her face to ensure the perfect flick. I was desperate to be older, to be a Mod and go dancing like my sister.
My boy cousins were Mods too. They lived in Manor Park a few streets away from the Marriotts. I remember vividly the day that they turned up at our flat with a very small, very good looking, stylish and extremely charismatic boy with an incredible voice. His name was Steve and I instantly had a huge crush on him.
Four years later it was me, with my short feather hair cut, mohair suit or paper mini dress and dolly rocker shoes. I was going out dancing to Soul Stax and of course the Small Faces, at the very same pubs and clubs the band had played; East Ham Youth Club, where the Small Faces played their first gig, the Ruskin Arms, that the original member, Jimmy Winston’s parents had owned and where the band rehearsed. Ironically while I was doing my research, I even discovered that the very first place I started to learn about acting from the age of 11, Newham Youth Centre, Monega Road, Manor Park, was Steve Marriott’s old primary school. I also frequented many of the iconic Mod hangouts, The Marquee, The 100 Club and the legendary Bag ‘O’ Nails. Luckily there were no ID checks in those days!
In 1970 Jimi Hendrix headlined at the Isle of Wight festival. There was no way I was going to miss it and there was also no way my extremely strict Mother was going to let me go to it. So I hatched an elaborate plan that involved pre-writing a postcard and sending it in an envelope to my friend’s house in Suffolk. My friend then sent the postcard to my mum.
Meanwhile, I was hitchhiking to the Isle of Wight. The festival was unbelievable. I stayed up for 3 days raving to The Who, Free, Joe Cocker and of course the amazing Jimi Hendrix. Sadly it was his last concert. It is a memory I will treasure forever. The 70’s were an incredible time for Rock music. I got to see many iconic bands, including Led Zeppelin, The Who and Eric Clapton. Luckily for me, through a family member who was in the music business, I was invited to many an after show party. I remember at The Who party, Paul McCartney and Linda were there. Linda was lovely and we laughed and chatted for hours. I don’t think she was impressed with the pie and mash and jellied eels that were served with the champagne though.
The next time I saw Steve Marriott in the flesh was one sunny afternoon in 1974 at Charlton Football Club. Humble Pie were supporting The Who along with Bad Company and Lou Read. Steve Marriott was sensational that day and just as funny and charismatic as the first time I had met him when I was 9 years old. Unfortunately it was the last time I ever saw him, but all I can say is he must have made a huge impression on me. So much so, that all those years later I felt compelled to tell his story and to remind everyone of his enormous talent.
I started to think about writing a play that conjured up some of the feeling of that special era, the 60’s. The excitement, the fashion, the radical ideas, the music and of course the style. The Small Faces epitomised much of this for me - they were an iconic Mod band and one of the most influential yet underrated bands of the 60’s - they were also Eastenders like me and brought some of the colourful Cockney language into their music, which we also celebrate in All Or Nothing.
They have left us with a fantastic musical legacy that we play ‘live’ in the show.
To gain insight into Steve’s early life, I met with Kay Marriott (Steve’s mum), the character that I play in the show and also Steve’s beautiful daughter Mollie, an extremely talented musician and singer in her own right, who is now our Vocal Coach. I spent time talking to the families and friends of the band including the wonderful P.P Arnold.
Very little has been done about the Mod movement in this country except the brilliant film Quadrophenia. I was working at the National Theatre at the time the film was made, but was lucky enough to play a small part in it.
However, when I tried to present this play to the world of theatre, it was at first received with some scepticism. The Small Faces weren’t commercial enough. Mods wouldn’t go to the theatre. Some people wanted the musical to be less edgy, more fluffy. This didn’t reflect the 60’s that I remembered ….. what happened to sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll? It was also suggested that the only way to get ‘bums on seats’ was to have a contestant from a TV talent show, such as the X Factor, play the lead role of Steve Marriott. I felt this wouldn’t be true to the memory of the band and the apprenticeship they had served, playing every dance hall up and down the country. So it wasn’t an easy task getting the theatrical establishment to share my vision. However, I am very passionate that the show should be authentic. I was determined it was going to be ‘ALL OR NOTHING’ for me.
Now I have found a magnificent collection of ‘Angels’ who believe in me and the show and have put up the investment to make my idea of ‘the coolest musical ever’, a reality.
I also have a super talented cast and crew, not to mention a host of loyal fans, who come back to see the show time after time. The All Or Nothing journey to the stage has been long and hard. Like the play itself, there have been moments of great joy and some tears along the way. But, it has all been worth it.
There has been an unexpected bonus to writing and producing the show. It started out as research, but for the past 4/5 years I have been going to Scooter rallies and Mod events around the country and through this, have made some wonderful new friends who are still living the dream and are dedicated to keeping the scene alive.
Now in my 60’s, I am still dancing the night away to the 60’s music of my youth.
After all …. once a Mod … always a Mod!!!