Small Faces return to their East Ham roots in wake of band tragedy

The Small Faces in their heyday

The Small Faces in their heyday - Credit: Archant

Keyboard player Jimmy Winston returns to the Ruskin Arms pub where he grew up and started the Small Faces. He tells the Recorder how it feels to be ‘bringing it all back home’

From Left: Drummer Kenny Jones, fan club member Val Weedon and former keyboarder Jimmy Winston

From Left: Drummer Kenny Jones, fan club member Val Weedon and former keyboarder Jimmy Winston - Credit: Archant

A rock star who grew up in the legendary Ruskin Arms pub in East Ham looked back on the “whirlwind” days of 60s pop – in the same week his band suffered a personal tragedy.

Jimmy Winston was the original keyboard player for the Small Faces, who had hits with Itchycoo Park and Lazy Sunday in the 1960s before becoming the Faces with singer Rod Stewart.

On Saturday he met old friends for a Christmas fan night as he returned to the newly reopened pub where it all began.

But the festivities were soured by the death this week of Ian McLagan, who played keyboard for the band after Jimmy left in 1966, from complications following a stoke aged 69.

Small Faces 1

Small Faces 1 - Credit: Archant

“The Mac thing was sad,” said Jimmy. “We didn’t know of course, when the event was organised, so part of it was to try to celebrate his life as well.

“Unfortunately there’s too many people I’ve known in music who have gone to the big acetate in the sky.”

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Jimmy was born in the Pigeon’s Hotel in Stratford in 1943 and moved with his family aged 11 to the Ruskin Arms, where his dad was the publican.

It was here that he would meet singer Steve Marriott and bass player Ronnie Lane to start the Small Faces.

Ian McLagan

Ian McLagan - Credit: Zuma Press/Press Association Images

“I had been in drama school for three years in the early part of 1965,” he said.

“We went to the pub to have a drink, got up and sang a few songs – we had a double bass, piano, drums, playing Beatles songs.

“One day Steve and Ronnie came into the pub. They were sitting there having a drink. Steve said, ‘Can I play some harmonica?’.

“Afterwards they ended up staying and having a few beers and talking. We all went back to my place in Stratford.

The Small Faces pose for a photo shoot

The Small Faces pose for a photo shoot - Credit: Archant

“By the early hours of the morning the band was formed.

“It was one of those quantum leaps. One minute you want to be an actor and then you’re doing music.”

The band would practice in a big hall upstairs in the pub, where they wrote their first songs.

Soon after they began gigging and signed a recording contract, releasing early hits like Whatcha Gonna Do About It and I’ve Got Mine, with Jimmy performing on TV’s Top of the Pops at age 22.

“Within six weeks of the band meeting we went into the charts with all the acts of the period – Sonny and Cher, the Stones, the Animals. It was a whirlwind.”

Jimmy says he had mixed feelings returning to the pub for Saturday’s Galaxy Christmas Awards, co-organised by Val Weedon from the band’s fan club, where he met up with Small Faces drummer Kenny Jones.

“My mum died of cancer in the pub in 1967, so it holds a lot of ghosts for me,” he said.

“She smoked intensely, but the pub life was very difficult. We never stopped working, and I think none of us were bright enough to get her to stop.

“She was a diamond. She ended up feeding the band and keeping the whole thing going, so she was involved in her own way. She helped the whole thing materialise.”

“It’s a funny old experience going in to that pub,” he added. “There’s a whole dialogue on the back of the menu about the band and my family.

“Just standing there looking at a menu and seeing me, it was quite bizarre really.

“But it was interesting to see all of the fans there, because they still love the music and the involvement. It’s amazing.”

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