Part 1/3 Tribes tx. 17.09.14 9.00-10.00pm, BBC Four
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They’ve got theirs: the Small Faces
This was always a BBC Four documentary waiting to happen – fabulous archive footage as backdrop to reminiscences of youthful fashionable excess, an exploration of clothing as identity, lifestyle, expression and a sense of belonging.
That’s pretty much what we have here plus a few famous faces – Cilla Black, the Small Faces’ Kenny Jones, Nigel Waymouth, Barbara Hulanicki and Arthur Brown.
And very watchable it is too once you get past the too eager to please commentary (‘British rock and pop music is our grreeeeat gift to the world…’ Nobody speaks like this so why do commentators have to?
Part One is a whistle-stop tour through the tribes of the 60s and 70s – mods, psychedelic hipsters (hippies are never named as such), denim-clad Status Quo supporters, rude boys, Marc Bolan and Roxy Music devotees. Twiggy-lookalikes flit across concrete walkways among the freshly sprung tower-blocks, bright young things show off their finery down the King’s Road, newly emboldened young women flock to Biba’s darkened interiors (the 60s fashion scene was pretty Londoncentric). We’ve seen much of this before but the sense of playful liberation doesn’t diminish with the years.
All too Beautiful
In its occasional attention to detail, some of the memories were as sharp as the clothes – a mod recalls standing up in a railway carriage so as not to spoil an immaculate trouser crease. Then there was the immortal line from Small Faces manager Don Arden – “If I’ve ever exploited anybody, it’s for their own benefit because they want to be exploited.” He apparently paid the group in clothes, hence their daily trips to Carnaby Street’s Lord John boutique.
My favourite part, because it showed us something new, was Nigel Lesmoir-Gordon’s lovely home film of a late 60s LSD trip with partner Jenny – all soft-focus, tree-talking abandonment in sun-dappled hues. Nigel also produces his original William Morris inspired jacket (similar to one worn by George Harrison) to show not just the flamboyance of 1967, but how clothes were one aspect of a desire for exploration beyond convention, gateways to a greater world.
Sound and Vision
Amongst the desert boots and mohair suits (is that a line from Cat Stevens‘ Portobello Road?), a little more insight would have been welcome. The style conscious young male of the 60s marked a radically new definition of masculinity, or at least one that had not been in vogue since the age of Beau Brummell. How and why did such a sea change come about? This would have taken a more sociological viewpoint than was on offer here. A subject for another documentary, perhaps.
Some of the archive film was entirely new to me. We get to see a clip of the Small Faces performing I’ve Got Mine in ‘Dateline London’ but will we ever get to see the film? The past is so tightly curated that it’s unlikely outside of a BFI screening.
‘It’s never just been about the music, it’s been about the style that goes with it.’ I’ve mixed feelings about this. There’s always a look that goes along with pop music and that’s integral and in many ways essential to it, certainly at the time. I love 60s fashions in all their colourful permutations but I always want to be able to say that I like a piece of music purely as music, a song in its own right. And it is the music which has ultimately outlived the clothes.