Written by former EastEnder star Carol Harrison, All or Nothing is a hit musical based on 1960s band The Small Faces and mod culture. By EDWIN GILSON.

WHEN Carol Harrison’s All or Nothing rolls into Brighton on Monday, it will be a homecoming for a number of reasons. Firstly there’s the obvious resonance that mod culture still holds here, a city that hosts a hugely popular “mod weekender” every year and was the site of the clashes between mods and rockers that were immortalised in Graham Green’s novel Brighton Rock.

Then there’s Harrison herself, the Eastenders actor (she played Louise Raymond, known for having an affair with Grant Mitchell) and writer who now calls Brighton home and teaches in the city’s film school. Lastly, the premiere of the musical was held on Brighton beach, featuring, of all people, Danny Dyer, who raved about the show: “It’s got it all; drama, pathos, humour and style – not to mention brilliant music.”

Critics almost universally agreed with his verdict during its sold-out run at Vaults Theatre in London, praising All or Nothing’s “racuous vitality” (The Telegraph) and its unflinching account of the 1960s.

It’s no wonder the show seems so realistic to the the time it conveys – Harrison grew up in it. In fact, she knew singer Steve Marriott of the Small Faces, the band on which the musical is based, personally. Small Faces were founded in 1965 and played an integral part in the music, fashion and identity of mod culture.

That line-up disbanded four years later, becoming simply the Faces when Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart joined the original members – minus Marriott, who had left for pastures new. The frontman walked off stage during a New Year’s Eve gig at the Alexandra Palace and bar a few contractual shows in Germany he’d never play with the band again.

Harrison plays Marriott’s mother Kay in the musical, while The Bill actor Chris Simmons takes on the role of the older Steve (with Samuel Pope playing the younger version). For Harrison, the mid-to-late 60s were characterised by excitement. “I was 13 or 14, desperately wanting to be older but still going to gigs and youth clubs and other places I shouldn’t have been going,” she recalls.

“Mod was so great because it felt like it came out of a time when everything was black and white. It brought colour to everything. I used to write ‘up the mods’ on all my letters. There was all this marvellous music was coming out every week. You’d go and do your Saturday job and use the money to buy a suit and American import records. That was the way of life.”

While modern music fans might associate mod music with The Jam and The Who, Harrison is passionate in her belief that the Small Faces are the true forefathers of the sound. “The Who weren’t mods to begin with, whereas the Small Faces were. The Jam’s Paul Weller based himself on Steve Marriott, the way he moved, the way he dressed. To me, the epitome of mod was Small Faces – it was a working class rebellion.”

All or Nothing was never going to be a “jukebox musical,” as Harrison puts it, when actors burst into song at the drop of a hat. Instead, the show is pitched somewhere in between a play – covering all the context of 1960s Britain – and an re-enactment of a Small Faces gig. Songs are used to chart the journey of the band. According to Harrison, this reluctance to conform to the more orthodox format of a musical lead to some difficulties in getting All or Nothing on stage in the first place.

“I had to fight hard to do what I wanted to do, which wasn’t a fluffy vision of the 1960s. The more people said it wouldn’t happen, the more I thought it would. I knew there would be a core audience for this show.”

There’s no doubt Harrison has been involved in mainstream entertainment for much of her career – popular BBC sitcom Brush Strokes and Casualty are among her other credits – but All or Nothing was never meant to appeal to a Prime Time demographic. Amusingly, she says she didn’t want “some X Factor sing in it – that’s the antithesis of what the show is all about. It’s not jazz-hands musical theatre, it’s edgy and gritty.”

Yet Harrison’s show doesn’t delve into the most “gritty” – and unsavoury – element of mod culture; the violent clashes with rockers that erupted in seaside towns including Brighton and Hastings in 1964. To be fair, All or Nothing’s plot begins a year later, but Harrison believes that side of the story has been covered already. “That’s been done by Quadrophenia [the 1979 film]. And that was just one event that happened in Brighton – they weren’t always fighting.

“I’m surprised they were fighting at all because they’d get their clothes messed up,” she laughs, referring to the strong emphasis on fashion in mod culture. Later, Harrison shows her mod allegiance again when talking about her affiliation with Brightona, the biker group who raise money for the Sussex Heart Charity.

“I kept saying to them ‘I’m a mod, I can’t ride a motorbike!’” Of course scooters, and especially Vespas, were and are the mod vehicle of choice – motorbikes were the domain of the rockers. Modern British bands like Arctic Monkeys and The Libertines have noded to mod culture in their fashions and sound, certainly in the early stages of their careers, and Harrison believes that link to the past is what has attracted the young crowds.

“A lot of people who have come to see the show have brought their teenage children and told them you really need to get into this band [Small faces],” she says. “It’s not just us old fogies – but then we’re not old fogies because we’re still rocking and raving. We’re not going to going back away.” Remarkably, she adds that the level of fanaticism around All or Nothing has reached a point where some people have been to see it 30 times. “It’s like a cult following; people rarely come just once.”

I ask if remembering that “cult” of mod ever makes Harrison sad that there aren’t more sub-cultures in today’s society, inspired by music and fashion. She says that she doesn’t think mod has ever gone away. “It’s just gone underground – it’s still there”. While Harrison says she still reflects upon her time in Eastenders, in which her character Louise Raymond was best known for her affair with Grant Mitchell (played by Ross Kemp), she is keen to point out her other TV roles.

“It was a lovely time and I loved the character I played, but I’ve had 45 years experience in television. I wasn’t just in Eastenders. Funnily enough the other day I did two shows of Doctors so I’m still doing bits of TV, I’m still up for it if a good role comes along.”

Harrison undertook a course in screenwriting in Brighton in 2006, building upon experience she had garnered in various other writing jobs, but she says acting is still her “first love”. “It’s what I wanted to do from the age of six. To me it’s almost like your first kiss, your first boyfriend.” It seems that the only thing that can rival Harrison’s love for acting is her lifelong belief in the power of mod.

After she voices her satisfaction at seeing people from the ages of 17 to 70 attend All or Nothing – because they think it’s the “coolest thing ever” – she says something which may as well be the show’s promotional tagline.

“Once a mod, always a mod.”

All for a good cause

ON every night of its Brighton run, All or Nothing is raising money for a different charity, most of which Harrison has a personal link to. They are:

Monday: RISE

Harrison: “It’s very important because it helps sufferers of domestic abuse.”

Tuesday: Brightona

“Abby Goldin used to run Brightona until he died earlier this year. He was an Eastender but lived in Brighton this year. I’ve worked with Brightona and helped them out a lot.

Wednesday: Martlets hospice

“I don’t think there’s anyone in Brighton that hasn’t been touched by the Martlets. My husband’s parents were both involved in it.”

Thursday: Royal Marsden Cancer Charity

“My mum was part of the Royal Marsden, helping to fight cancer.”

Friday: Teenage Cancer Trust

“This charity is very linked to rock and roll; they put on a lot of gigs and (The Who’s) Roger Daltrey is a patron of it.”

Saturday matinee: Starr Trust

“It’s a local charity helping to get young people into the arts, so that’s very fitting.”

Saturday evening: Huntingdon’s Disease Association

“The boy who played Steve Marriott originally has inherited it from his dad. It’s life threatening. So this is dedicated to him.We’re giving the charities a chance to come up and talk for a few minutes after the show.”

Theatre Royal Brighton, Monday to Saturday, 7.45pm (2.30pm matinee on Sunday), call 08448 717650