Interview with All or Nothing Writer Carol Harrison
It is the title of one of The Small Faces biggest hits and a song which helps define Mod culture.
But it is also the name adopted for a brand new musical about the band and describes the battle to bring the show to the stage by its writer, producer and one of its stars Carol Harrison. We meet the respected actress and creator to find out why it is so important to her.
Flashback 50 years to the height of Mod madness in the UK and The Small Faces were one of the biggest names in music thanks to their earthy songs, incredible musicianship, a sharp look and stacks of swagger.
For many, their music was the soundtrack of the Mod era and the quartet became household names the world over.
But, as ever, the perilous path to stardom (and beyond) is littered with booby traps be they unscrupulous managers, girls, alcohol or drugs.
And this combination of the perks and pitfalls of the music business are mixed in this punchy production from the pen of actress and writer Carol Harrison. The result? All Or Nothing, which heads to the Belgrade Theatre from Thurs 4 to Sat 6 May.
It is the latest, and arguably the most important project in Carol’s career so far which has seen her do everything from stage work with the legendary Arthur Miller, a cameo in Quadrophenia, and major roles in some of TV’s biggest shows.
As Carol explains, All Or Nothing is deeply personal thanks to her long-term friendship with The Small Faces lead singer, the late Steve Marriott. She recalls, “My aunt lived two streets away from his mum, my cousin knew him, and another cousin was in a band with him. He came round to our house when I was eight years old and he was just this amazing bundle of effervescence and talent. I had a bit of a crush on him.”
From that point on, Carol was hooked on the tunes, attitude and fashion of Steve and his bandmates. “I loved the music, I loved their humour, and they were just Mod like me. You know what they say. Once a Mod, always a Mod. I grew up in the Sixties and I loved their music. I became friends with Kenny Jones from the band and I am very close to Molly, Steve’s daughter.”
“I also learned about their amazing rock n roll story and I thought it was an amazing tale. I also think they are the most unsung, underrated band of the Sixties. An awful lot of musicians have been influenced by them and still cite them as their idols. Bands like Ocean Colour Scene and musicians like Paul Weller have been very influenced by them.”
Ever the storyteller, Carol decided The Small Faces rise was something she wanted to share. She said, “I wanted to tell their story and explore how they were so ripped off. Also because it is East End, I wanted to be in my language, be authentic and the way we speak. I wanted to use my Cockney language and convey the excitement and that whole sub-culture that exists.”
“My writing comes from the heart. I wanted to tell the truth really and be authentic to them. Mollie is very happy with the way I portray him. He is a very complex character their dad. It is warts-and-all but it is also a celebration of them. It was tragic how he died.”
And for Carol, it brings many personal memories too, and not just about her love of The Small Faces. A relative produced Quadrophenia, she had her first taste of alcohol in the band’s local The Ruskin Arms, and was also a member of Kensington Youth Club where they did their first gig.
But equally, she did not want to sugar-coat the band’s story or just copy other similar shows. Carol explained, “I have never written a musical before. I like musicals but I didn’t want to write something that was just an excuse to play a song. I had to break down a lot of theatrical conventions with a show but I have always broken rules. People said it should be fluffier or have someone from The X Factor playing Steve but my response was ‘over my dead body’.”
Once it was written and finance was secured through what Carol describes as ‘her angels,’ it was time to bring it to the stage.
The show got its premiere in the Mod pilgrimage spot of Brighton Beach followed by a charity performance in Worthing, and then the show enjoyed its first long run in the intimate surroundings of The Vaults underneath London’s Waterloo Station where ticket demand was so high that the show extended its run. Carol said: “The show has such a following and there are such lovely people out there. People have come to see the show from Finland, Holland, Vancouver, Manhattan, and on the first night a guy flew down on his own from Edinburgh with nowhere to stay just to be here.”
There is no doubt it is a challenge which is relished by Carol, who thinks she was always destined to tread the boards. She tells how “I used to go to school and then would dawdle. I would just be having fantasies and be Doris Day. I would leave home at 8 and get there at 10 and the teachers would say where have you been and I would have been in my own world. I suppose a lot of artists are like that. Your own world is better than reality.”
But she has enjoyed an incredible career. Carol was a founding member of the renowned Half Moon Theatre, joined the Royal National Theatre Company to work with the legendary Arthur Miller in Michael Redman’s acclaimed production of Death Of A Salesman, as well as productions for the likes of London’s Royal Court Theatre and the Liverpool Playhouse.
Carol also enjoyed a strong TV career appearing in a range of programmes including Kavanagh QC, Perfect Scoundrels, and London’s Burning. Arguably her two best new small-screen roles were Louise Raymond who enjoyed a fiery relationship with son-in-law Grant Mitchell in EastEnders, and the incorrigible Gloria in Brushstrokes.
Now she is enjoying having to not just be a jack of all trades, but a master of them too with this show. “For me, producing is very new. There are so many things I have to do in the day. I have to bring in people, plan the tour, do re-writes of the script and marketing. People are just asking me questions all day. There is then a moment where I have to say I am now an actor and it is quite tough to get to a point in the dressing room where I have to think let’s get into character and play Steve Marriott’s mum.”
“Having said that, this is very special because All Or Nothing is my vision. It is live. It is great when people come up to you after and the show and just say thank you. It is wonderful and it makes me feel that I have really achieved something.”
Next stop is the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry as part of the show’s UK tour although she is keeping an open mind about whether to try and steer it into the West End. Whatever happens, she is excited to bring it to the city so Mods can recapture that era and everyone can share in The Small Faces story. “I just want people to come and experience it, and be a part of the show. Everybody gets a great feeling. One night in London, we had a quarter of the audience getting up dancing. The over-40s get the chance to grow old disgracefully and the youngsters just love the music. You just can’t get tired of the music. We all sing it backstage.”
So the challenge has been set. Mod or not, Itchycoo Park is not the place to be to catch All Or Nothing. It is the Belgrade Theatre this May!