Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Clandestine Classic LIV - The Autumn Stone

The fifty-fourth post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

Continuing my quest to feature the most influential, most pivotal, most important acts in my personal musical history, it's time to talk about The Small Faces. As a passionate fan of The Jam, but deprived of anything new by them courtesy of Mr Weller jacking it all in to join his local Council, I started to explore the bands that had influenced Paul. The Who was an obvious touchstone, as were The Kinks. But most of all, I got very into The Small Faces.

I don't need to write a biog for Marriott, Lane, McLagan and Jones, do I, because you're discerning music lovers and know all about them already. I don't need to describe how they quickly went from teen-friendly chart hits written by other people (Whatcha Gonna Do About it, Sha-La-La-La-Lee) to more mature, self-penned material (Tin Soldier, Get Yourself Together), via a commercial high-point that was somewhere in the middle (Itchycoo Park, Lazy Sunday). You know all that. Just like you all know, now, about the influence of the band on Weller, from the early, sawing pop-art guitar work, through to the organ sounds that would permeate late-period Jam and much of The Style Council. Back in the 80s, pre-Internet, the teenage me loved this musical lineage, joining up the dots between songs that I adored and the music that begat them. No great surprise then that my love of The Jam led me to swallow The Small Faces whole.

After the success of 1968's Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake concept album, memorably containing tracks linked by Professor Stanley Unwin and packaged to look like a tobacco tin, the band began work on a fourth studio album, provisionally entitled 1862. But Marriott, like Weller fifteen years later, wanted to move on and tackle new musical challenges, to throw off the shackles of his earlier success. He officially left the band right at the end of 1968, walking off stage during a live New Year's Eve gig with a shout of "I quit!" This left label Immediate with a handful of new and unreleased songs, which they bundled together and released in 1969 as The Autumn Stone. And it's the title track from that rag-tag round-up of odds and ends that I've chosen as the Clandestine Classic to represent The Small Faces.

It's a beautiful, grown-up song, a thousand miles or more away from Sha-La-La-La-Lee and the rest. Lyrically, it's an ode to a lost love, I think. There aren't that many words, actually, for what is, by 60s standards, quite a long song, but the early verses are in praise of a new love ("I was nowhere 'til you changed my mind. Love is sent through being good to you"), whilst later verses suggest that love is gone, or broken ("Tomorrow changes fields of green today. Yesterday is dead, but not my memory"). A good third of the song is, to my untrained ear, a perfect, almost pastoral flute solo. And then there's that slightly mad outro, with what sounds like Jew's harp, sitar and tabla, the combined effect of which always make me think of the Australian Outback, for some reason. Don't ask me why.

There were plenty of other Small Faces tracks I could have chosen for today's classic - my shortlist also had Talk To You, Tin Soldier, Rollin' Over, Red Balloon and The Universal on it. Tin Soldier came really, really close. But as the teenage me started to think more about girls and romance and, inevitably, heartache, it was always The Autumn Stone that I came back to, and its wistful meditation on a special love.

For completeness, I should also mention Gene's excellent cover of this. But even they, brilliant as they were, couldn't improve on the original. Speaking of which, here it is.

You're welcome.


  1. It's a great choice, and a beautifully written piece too. One of those songs that never fails to make me feel wistful.

    1. Thank you, C. Is it a flute in the middle, do you think, or something else?

    2. Would definitely say it's a flute, yes.

    3. As long as it's not an Anchorman-style jazz flute...

    4. Nor a Little Britain-style Scottish hotelier's mysterious flute interlude. Or was that a piccolo?!