In an exclusive interview with Musical Times editor Michael Skywood Clifford, Simon ‘Honeyboy’ Hickling, local blues singer of the DTs, composer and harmonica player, talks about the three years when legendary Small Faces & Humble Pie genius, Steve Marriott, worked with his midland’s blues band, the DTs. Three years that preceded Marriott’s untimely death.
The DTs comprised of myself, Simon ‘Honeyboy’ Hickling on harmonica and vocals, Craig Ring on bass, Steve Walwyn on guitar and Chas Chaplin on drums. We had been gigging semi-professionally for the last half of the 70s. In the 80s we went professional and gigged all over England. Consequently we found ourselves on the same bill as Steve Marriott and the Packet of Three on a number of occasions.
Steve Marriott had come back to England from the States and was down on his luck. In America, after the collapse of Humble Pie – which had been even bigger after Frampton had left – with about four or five big albums over there – Marriott’s solo career had not got off the ground. He also had a bit of personal trouble and he was in some management deal he couldn’t get out of.
He told me he hadn’t been paid. He said he should have been a millionaire three or four times over but when he came back from the States he didn’t even have a guitar – he didn’t have anything at all. So he phoned up his old roadie who had a guitar under his bed that Steve had previously given him. So equipped with a guitar, and an invitation from Joe Brown, he did a few gigs with Joe Brown and his band, and then he started using some of Joe Brown’s guys and doing a few gigs on his own. And then The Packet of Three was formed.
The DTs and Marriott
In 1986 we, the DTs, went down to see the Packet of Three and had a drink with Marriot at JBs club in Dudley. This was the first time we got talking to Marriott. We used to headline at JBs ourselves occasionally and sell out as well. We went for a drink, me, Steve Marriott and DT guitarist, Steve Walwyn. We went back to Steve’s hotel until about five in the morning. A memorable evening. A session!
One night we were all at the old Five Bells in Northampton. It was a big gig, a very large room and we were used to play there once a month. I’d recommended The Packet of Three as a main act, and they were there. We’d all had a drink before hand, and there was much larking around, and in the middle of our set Marriott leapt up on stage and began singing with us.
Anyway after that gig, In September 1987 I rang Steve Marriott to see if he would jam with us in Leicester. I said you’ll have to come to one of our gigs as a special guest down at the Shearsby Bath Hotel – a big regular gig for Leicester musicians up until about ten years when most local bands played there about once a month. It was arranged for him to do a special guest night, however, he didn’t turn up there. In the end we arranged for him to gig with us at the Charlotte in Leicester.
He came to the Charlotte. I picked him up at the station. He was out of his tree. He did the gig – he played great. We all went back to the holiday Inn. We were drinking all night. Everyone had a lot of laughs and everyone made a bit of money. He went home on the train.
He had just left his wife and gone walkabout, so at this stage he would have been at Safron Walden, in Essex, near where he later died, in another house he had rented.
Anyway I didn’t hear from him for about a couple of months but apparently he fell out with his band, The Packet of Three – now called The Official Receivers. A brilliant band: bassist Jim Leverton – who had been in Humble Pie at one stage, keysman Micky Weaver, who’d played with everybody including Joe Cocker and Joe Brown, and drummer Richard Newman, son of Sound Incorporated’s drummer.
Steve Marriott, now without a band, rang me up and said “Do the DTs wanna be my band?” I said, “yeah, if we can do it at weekends and then we can keep our own career going during the rest of the week, so if we just do Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays with you, the rest of the week we’ll just try and keep our own gigs going ’cause we were busy.”
That’s what we did, and we became Steve Marriott and the DTs. As singer and harmonica player of the DTs, I had no problems stepping to one side to allow Steve Marriott to come in as front man.
He asked us to tour with him internationally from February 1988.
What was he like? Hugely talented, larger than life. He was a natural pub entertainer. He could have been in any area of show business he wanted to be in. Tell jokes, stories, reminisce, have you in stitches, sing, dance, act. He talked about his past – but with all the alcohol you never knew how much of it was true and how much of it was coloured to make it a better story. If he did exaggerate, he did it to make it funnier. He would have you in fits. And you can’t tell any story about Marriott without swearing.
You’ve got to imagine, he saw us and said, “I’d like you to be my band and he said we’ll be going to a lot of places you’ve never been before.” Well that put us in a kind of pecking order if you like. We knew he was leader and that stopped any conflict. Apparently he had had conflict in other bands. We were happy with what we got.
His agent, Mickey Eaves, booked the gigs. We used to cart his gear around in our van. Steve and his wife, Toni, would turn up in their car and book into a nice hotel. We would have all the gear set up, he would walk in and do the gig. He rarely did a sound check. We’d have a laugh and a joke and then Steve and Toni would jump in their car and drive home. It amazed me when we were professional how so many semi-pro outfits would have more equipment than a music shop and need a four hour sound check. Not for us.
Two years with the DTs
To my mind, he had got sick to death of doing his Small Faces and Humble Pie stuff. He said, “I just wanna do rhythm and blues with the DTs and have a bit of break,” which he did. He used to take it fairly easy. He used to often take second guitar.
The most annoying thing he used to do was phone up and say you were going to do a tour of Scotland, or somewhere, and then just at the last minute cancel it because he didn’t fancy it. It used to piss everybody off, because we’d have all our finances organised around the money that was to due to come in and then he’d phone and say, “No, I don’t fancy going to Scotland.”
Personality: time off
What did he do with himself when he wasn’t drinking and playing? He had a beautiful rented cottage which later burnt down, which was in Claverdon. Me and my wife used to go down to see him and Toni, and stay at weekends. His wife’s still around and now lives in Kent.
It was really great. He used to enjoy going out in the car, doing the shopping, and especially used to enjoy planning the meals.
He had a forty foot narrow boat down on the canal, which I think was at Saffron Walden. His mum and dad lived about two villages away. He had bought his mum, a very attractive and friendly woman, this place in Essex. My wife’s been there. His dad’s a little cockney man.
Now every year there’s a big reunion in May in the Ruskin Arms, where the Small Faces came from, in London. His wife, mother and sister, and lots of the old crowd including Kenny Jones and all his fans get down there. They could even tell me the dates when I played with him. They know absolutely everything about him.
Regarding the fees he charged the venues, I know how much he paid me. I know how well I was treated. If he made a packet fair play to him. He told me the best years of his life in a band was when he was doing them with us. His wife organised the gig side and then we got paid. Steve and Toni worked it out between them.
He said going back to the pub circuit was the best thing they’d ever done. They were being paid cash at pub gigs, and when I say pub gigs places I mean big pubs like the General Wolfe where you have an audience of 300. Some pubs take up to 600.
They’d charge a hefty wack on the door. Marriott would get the vast majority of it, but he would pay the band well. He said there was nobody else involved: no management, no record company. The agent had booked the venue and they’d agree a fee, and then Steve’s wife would sort it all out when they got there. He wasn’t that bothered about doing it himself but Toni would sort things out. He was nobody’s fool.
After gigs we’d have a laugh. We’d always have a drink. Maybe a bit of the old weed. Drink could affect his performance. If he had been on the brandy all day it would affect his performance. While I was with him Toni was always telling him to watch it. Do the drinking afterwards, she would advise. I can only remember a few gigs when he was woolly through the drink. There was only one time I can remember where he played badly through drink. And I did hundreds of gigs with him – I must have done.
At some gigs he’d just drink Perrier water to lose some weight. This might go on for a number of gigs. Another time he’d turn up and you could see he’d had a head start.
Reliability? He only let us down once and then he phoned to let us know. This was one night in London, He rang up to say that the fan belt had gone on his car. He had been drinking – you could tell – and his car didn’t have a fan belt – but he did turn up an hour late. We’d already started the show. Had it not been a situation where we couldn’t do the gig without him I think he would have turned up. I mean there was no pressure for him to turn up because we could handle it. We did the gig and we enjoyed it.
There was another side to Steve that was rarely seen, and Jim Leverton used to describe this part of his personality, his alter ego, as ‘Melvin’. Melvin was a nasty little man who used to put in an appearance sometimes when he had gone over the top on the drink. When he went ‘beyond’ and had a real drink, he could turn in to a very unpleasant man. I couldn’t remember the amount of times we got drunk together but I only saw Melvin a couple of times, and what he got up to as Melvin is best forgotten about. Melvin was a very frightening little man.
It would have completely horrified him to go out as another version of the Small Faces or the Faces. He was a musician, he wasn’t going to go out doing cabaret. He didn’t need to. He could get up with anybody and perform and steal the show. He was where he was, playing the pubs, cause that’s what he wanted to do. But he always chose the music. He never gave into requests.
We went to Iceland with the DTs and the gig manager asked him, “Hey Steve, you do Sha-la-la-la-lee?”
“No, sorry mate, don’t do that one.”
“Ah! But you must do it! It has been a hit in Iceland. All the people coming to see you in my club.”
“I’m very sorry mate we don’t do it. Booked as seen. Rhythm and Blues.”
So we do the gig and we get all these people demanding, “Sha-la-la-la-lee.” And Steve’s still good humoured and says “Na, na, we don’t do it.”
But they are still going on shouting, Sha-la-la-la-lee.
“Why don’t you f***ing listen, I don’t do it.”
Several songs later this guy leaps up on the stage and says, “Steve, why don’t you do your hit, Sha-la-la-la-lee.”
The response: “Why don’t you f*** off you knob-headed little eskimo.”
The rest of us could hardly play for laughing.
Recording with Steve
Steve Marriot and the DTs made no studio recordings. Fans recorded us at gigs. We’ve took some live stuff off the desk which I’ve got. I don’t feel inclined to release it. We didn’t put original numbers into Steve.
Nevertheless, while Steve was in the DTs he made an album called Thirty Seconds to Midnight which was full of drum machines and synthesizers. You might ask why did this great raw blues singer use synths and drum machines?
It all came about because of a phone call from his agent. He wanted him to do some singing for an advert, so Steve went down and sang for a PUMA sports clothes advert or something. They gave him something close to £5000. Expletive deletive! The air was turned blue with Marriott swearing “I can’t believe it,” he shouted in his broad cockney, “It only took me half an hour!” And then they booked him to do another advert.
Some days later he phoned me up hours before we were due to play in Birmingham at the Breedon Bar on the Pershore Road. He said in his ‘Landan’ accent: “Si, drop everthing! You gotto come down to Birmingham, mate!” I told him the gig wasn’t for hours. “No, come down,” he said. “I’m at the Albany Hotel and guess what I’ve done.” With his five grand for the second advert he’d hired the entire top floor of the Albany hotel.
I got there about 3pm and walked into a huge suite of several bedrooms and he’s sitting there with Toni.
Have a walk round, mate. Like a drink?” I said I’d have a lager. “Do you like them, do you? Hang on a minute.” He gets on the phone: “Can I have a crate of lagers for my mate.” So the guy comes up with a crate of lagers. “Should keep you going for a little while, mate.” He sits down with his feet up. “We used to stay here with the Small Faces…..” he begins to reminisce…
After we had done the gig and returned to the Albany, he decided it was time to celebrate. “I think we’ll have some thing special.”
“Which would you like sir?” asked reception. “The Moet & Chandon at £30 a bottle or Bollinger at £60 a bottle?”
“We’ll have four bottles of Bollinger.”
It wouldn’t have made any difference to me – they might as well have sent up a bottle of Strongbow as far as I was concerned because we’d been drinking for hours.
Anyway there were loads of people in there by this time. No end of people had been invited back.
I woke up in the morning and I wondered where I was. I’d got all this furniture piled on top me. He had stacked all the chairs and the settees in a pyramid on top of me. “Well you were getting f***ing boring mate,” he said.
And it was because of these sports adverts that his album came about. This guy who had commissioned the adverts said to Steve come along and do an album and all you got to do is sing and I’ll do everything else. He was promised a high fee up front, so he went and did it, and he enjoyed it. Two of the DTs, myself on harmonica and Steve Walden on slide guitar were asked to play on a few tracks. We were paid session fees.
The singing on the album is good, but the use of drum machines and synthesisers I don’t care for. Marriott should have made a really brilliant album.
Our repertoire in the DTs consisted of Rhythm & Blues covers. Steve chose the ones he sang and I chose the ones I sang.
Steve did some of his favourite chuck Berry tunes, such as Don’t You Lie to Me. We always used to start with Junior Parker’s Watch Your Step. Work Together by Canned Heat was always included. We also used to regularly do Before You Accuse Me and Hi Heel Sneakers.
DT guitarist, Steve Walwyn, was offered a job with Dr. Feelgood who are renowned for their work load, and he was on a percentage, and it just worked out that he would be earning a lot more money than he would have been earning with us. He took the job. Our bass player went as well.
Marriott got Phil Anthony, a friend of his, to come in on guitar and it was musically a bit of a disaster.
Steve Marriott and the DTs carried on for about two years and then he sacked the DTs.
The Next Band
Marriott then formed another band called The Next Band with me on harmonica.
The New Band eventually comprised of bass player, Jim Leverton, myself on harmonica and vocals, Cofi Baker, Ginger Baker’s son, on drums. Basically a rhythm section, a harmonica and two voices.
On playing the guitar, Steve Marriott was underrated. Steve’s rhythm, lead, timing was phenomenal. He used a Gibson 335. He had great feel. He didn’t make a lot of mistakes. Previously Marriott had shared the guitar breaks in the DTs. He was very generous and wasn’t bothered about hogging the lime-light. He was very confident in himself so he could stay back. Now he took all the guitar breaks in the New Band.
Jim Leverton wasn’t happy about our name ‘The Next Band’ saying ‘that sounds as if it’s going to last a long time’. And it didn’t. Cofi Baker got offered a well paid job in job in the States and he was off. We did a really good tour of Germany which lasted over a month about 30 days. The Next Band lasted about eight months.
In the Next Band we did a lot more of Steve’s own songs in to the set. We did quite a few Humble Pie and Small Faces tunes, whereas with the DTs the only song we ever did from Marriott’s past was All Or Nothing for a finale, his favourite own composition. We still did this, but also included What You Gonna Do About It and Tin Soldier amongst others. When people used to request Tin Soldier, he’d shout, “No mate, it’ll give you lead poisoning.”
Having listened many times to desk recordings of The Next Band, I doubt if Steve had ever sung any better in his life.
I believe Steve’s widow is putting one of these live concerts out on CD sometime this year on Millenium records. He’s got five albums in the can apparently which she is arranging to release in various orders. There’s one album of songs he used to write at home on his four-track as well as half a dozen cassettes with good songs on. And Jim Leverton has gone into the studio with some really great people and finished them off and put drums on them and got Dave Mason from Pink Floyd to add some guitar.
The last time I played with him was about five months before he died. He went to the States to do some recording with Pete Frampton and Jim Leverton told me that Marriott had rang him up and told him he was coming home.
“Frampton can’t sing, can’t write songs and is f***ing useless on the guitar,” said Marriot, “I can’t wait to get home, so pick me up at the airport.”
Jim responded, “I’d like to but I’ve not got a car anymore because of you.”
When Marriott had cancelled all The Packet of Three gigs to go off the States, Jim had lost his income so the car had had to go back to where he had bought it from.
Marriott had phoned Leverton to say that he wanted to start doing the Packet of Three again. This was fantastic news. Jim was a brilliant bass player, great singer, so as long as the two of them were there, provided they had a good drummer, they had a great set up.
I hadn’t spoke to him for five months. When Steve stopped working with musicians he broke complete contact, and then after a while he would start to get in touch again. I had three or four phone calls from people he had spoken to. He would have got in touch again, because that was his pattern. He used to drop people and then he’d get back in touch again when things had calmed down a bit.
When I found out that Steve had died in a fire at his country cottage, my first thought was that he had done very well to stop alive as long as he had.
Simon ‘Honeyboy’ Hickling