In 1971 The Faces were on a roll. Over the August Bank Holiday weekend they triumphed at the Weeley Festival near Clacton on Sea before an audience of 100,000, and the following week played the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s South Bank Centre where DJ and man-about-town Jeff Dexter was press-ganged into acting as DJ even though he’d dropped a tab of acid on the way to the gig. “Of course the guys in the Faces thought this was highly amusing,” he remembers. “I remember they were particularly great that night. Rod had a fabulous pair of satin strides
Next up was the gig at the Oval where the headliners were The Who…
Two weeks later Dexter observed the Faces up close again when compering (with Rikki Farr) the ‘Goodbye Summer’ charity concert held at London’s Oval Cricket Ground in Kennington, just south of Vauxhall Bridge, on September 18 in aid of the Bangladesh Relief Fund. Blessed with perfect weather and organisation, the event was adjudged a success on all fronts with over 31,000 basking in late summer sunshine for the first ever rock show held in an arena wherecricket had been played since 1845. After almost being anaesthetised by Atomic Rooster, the crowd were well up for the band of the moment who arrived onstage to a standing ovation in a blaze of colour – Mac in a fire engine red suit, Woody in a tiger striped yellow and black satin jacket and a bare chested, black scarfed Rod wearing a Granny Takes A Trip-designed leopard skin suit.
“There were problems early in the set, particularly with monitors,” [roadie] Pete Buckland recalls. “I believe it was a WEM system every act other than The Who was using that was cobbled together for the event, although after the first couple of numbers it was OK out front.” The Faces got into their stride as dusk fell with ‘It’s All Over Now’, had the crowd up for ‘Maggie May’ (which was hovering just outside the Top 10 that week) and were the only act to be brought back for an encore with an elongated ‘Had Me A Real Good Time’ which segued into the refrain of ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’. The band left the stage to uproarious cheers and while the delay between the previous acts had lasted no more than roughly 15 minutes, tellingly, there was an unplanned hour’s interval before The Who appeared.
“The Faces played such a good set,” says Billy Nicholls, “and I thought to myself, ‘This is going to be interesting’. Then The Who came on with their new sound system and it was like someone had notched it up. I remember Rod looking very stone faced because he could tell the difference. The sound, lights, everything was so much clearer and better. The Faces were fantastic, they played a great show and it was great to see the two bands together but it was very typical of The Who to do that.”
Jeff Dexter: “The Faces were great fun, it was refreshing having them come on after bands like Atomic Rooster. I’d already got rather high and then for some reason, I hit the booze with The Faces and I wasn’t very good at holding the bottle at that time. At the end of The Who’s set, when Keith Moon lobbed this brand new cricket bat I’d borrowed from Surrey Cricket Club into the audience, I tried to put the last record on and I really couldn’t do it, I kept falling over.”
The Oval event raised a total profit of £18,336 with The Who donating 25% of the gross box office receipts. Over and above the charitable outcome, the post mortem in the Melody Maker devoted more space to, literally, who topped Who. In his lengthy review, Chris Charlesworth wrote: “The choice of The Who and The Faces to finish off the night was a stroke of genius, not only because both rely on visual excitement to build up their act, but because there was undoubtedly a certain amount of rivalry between the two camps. The Who have long claimed the crown for the most exciting live act on the road – both in this country and across the Atlantic – while The Faces have challenged them for the greater part of this year. Few, I feel, will disagree with me when I say that The Who retained their title.
“Not that the Faces played badly – they warmed up into one of their spontaneous chunks of excitement comfortably – but The Who played and sounded better… While The Faces establish their friendly rapport with the audience, The Who are surrounded by a charisma which elevates them much higher than the 20 foot high stage.”
Fellow MM writer and Faces fanatic Roy Hollingworth inevitably posited the opposing view, going so far as to compose an Open Letter to Pete Townshend published in Melody Maker the following week, daring to criticise The Who for being “too predictable” and “too perfect… and that’s why I’ll say The Faces were ten times better.”
“Roy was big mates with Rod at the time,” Charlesworth recalls. “He even had the same hairstyle. I think he was being controversial for the sake of it. I watched the show from the side of the stage, while he was right back on the members’ balcony opposite, a good 300 yards from the stage, so I had the better view.”
While this battle of the bands was being debated, the MM’s readers voted Rod as Top British Male singer in the paper’s annual poll.
Meanwhile, ‘Maggie May’ leaped from number 11 to three. By the following week, it was at pole position where it stayed for a consecutive five weeks and held the top spot in the Melody Makerand NME charts for six weeks. Similarly, Every Picture reached the top of the UK and US album listings, replacing Carole King’s Tapestry, which had sat at number one in Billboard for the past four months. But the most unprecedented achievement occurred when the charts for the weeks ending October 9, 16 and 23 revealed that Rod was top of both the UK and US album and singles charts simultaneously – a feat neither Elvis nor The Beatles ever accomplished and one not matched since – leaving Rod Stewart the only artist in the history of popular music to attain this unique triumph.
This extract from The Faces: Had Me A Real Good Time, Andy Neill’s definitive and often highly amusing biography of Rod and his merry men, includes comments from a certain Melody Maker writer who watched them and The Who play at London’s Oval cricket ground on the same bill in September 1971.