Graham Reid | | 5 min read
Ian McLagan bangs away at the hotel
piano and, without missing a beat, offers an unpublishable aside.
Politely translated, the music business
being what it was then, he wasn’t financially rewarded for his
tenure in the Small Faces, one of the classic British bands of the
The Small Faces enjoyed a string of
hits and, in January 1968, endured a notorious tour of Australia and
New Zealand with the Who, which had journalists, politicians and
airline hostesses calling for them to be sent home.
It was a boozy three weeks.
The Small Faces broke up two years
later and McLagan, Ronnie Lane and Kenney Jones teamed up with two
former members of the Jeff Beck Group -- Ron Wood (now a Rolling
Stone) and the bird’s nest-headed Rod Stewart -- to form the
notorious rhythm'n’booze outfit the Faces.
Now there was band that could drink -
and one in which McLagan made money.
“But no, we never got the money we
were owed from the Small Faces,” he says with a wicked grin.
“We’re suing a couple of companies
If the money does come it will be too
late for some.
Small Faces singer Steve Marriott died
in a house fire in '91, and bassist Lane died in June '97 after two
decades battling multiple sclerosis.
McLagan is now a lively, healthy
53-year-old: “Look at me, drinking coffee and water, but I still
like a drink.”
He lives in Austin, Texas, where he
fronts his own band, and does session work in Memphis, New York, Los
Angeles, Philadelphia and London.
In town to play keyboards with Billy
Bragg as one of the Blokes, McLagan is an enormously personable
character with a bottomless fund of stories to tell, many appearing
in his recent autobiography All the Rage.
He’s says he wasn’t allowed to say
that one of the band’s managers was a thief – “even though he
was” – which explains why, when the Small Faces fell apart, he
and his pregnant wife ended up living with his mother-in-law.
Money aside – he does well out of
session work but doesn’t particularly like it -- he’s more
concerned that the music they made was treated with disrespect and
now appears in shonky versions.
He bemoans how a former manager took
the original Small Faces tapes and re-released them, sometimes with
bass, organ or vocals missing, to pass them off as alternate takes.
“We didn’t do bloody alternate
takes back then.”
But he’s delighted to be working on a
collection of the Faces, the band which now has its echoes in the
likes of the Black Crowes.
“It’s very timely with Ronnie`s
death that there should be as much Ronnie on there as Rod. People
think it’s always just Rod screaming but you got to give a fair
share to Ronnie’s songs and vocals.
“I’ve titled it Good Boys When
They're Asleep. When this project came up I faxed Ron, Kenney [now a
member of the occasional Who], and Rod.
“Kenney was the only one who replied.
Woody called later and said, ‘You take care of it.” I sent the
final song list to Woody and he said, ‘It’s good, carry on.’
“Rod never returned any of my calls
and his manager hasn’t either. He’ll get a copy when it’s
finished so he can say, ‘Oh no, it’s rubbish'.
“Too late, mate.”
He digresses into an anecdote about a
boozy meeting with a couple of British sailors in Wellington back
when the Small Faces toured here, laughs about turning up to a
session in Los Angeles to find the featured artist was Peter Noone
(Herman of Hermits fame), and being confronted by a bank of
synthesisers which he didn’t even know how to plug in.
Then there was the session where the
band recorded an eight-minute track and his organ playing was heard
only on the fade-out.
His new solo album -- Best of British
by Ian “Mac” McLagan and the Bump Band -- is produced by Gurf
Morlix, best known as Lucinda Williams’ guitarist.
McLagan was originally on Williams’
latest album but after they’d finished the sessions she dumped all
the takes and started again. He shrugs and laughs again.
He’s a survivor who counts Bob Dylan
and various Stones among his friends, says he has no regrets, except
that the Small Faces reunion in the late 70s was a mistake.
“It started out as fun but Steve got
tougher and tougher as he got older, more and more tiresome.”
He remains surprised that Britain
didn’t get the Faces when they started out.
There’s a chapter in his book called
Made in Detroit, because they were. Americans loved them but they
couldn’t get arrested back home.
McLagan now has his own website
(macspages.com) and a new generation of fans. Bragg is one, and the
Britpop Generation is highly respectful.
Oasis’ Noel Gallagher happily
scribbled a couple of lines for the cover of All the Rage.
“He wrote, ‘Some musicians are
lucky enough to be in one great band, McLagan was in two. Jammy
bastard.' And I had to like that."
Gallagher was right too.