Caught by the River

Caught by the Reaper – Ian McLagan

5th December 2014

Paolo Hewitt pays respect to the musician Ian McLagan who passed way suddenly earlier this week.

Within minutes of his untimely and shocking passing from a massive stroke, Facebook was awash with tributes to Ian Patrick McLagan, keyboard player with The Faces and The Small Faces. From the many tributes posted, two points were made time and time again.

That Mac (as he was known) was an extremely talented musician as well as an ebullient and warm hearted man. Mod DJ Dave Edwards experience of the man spoke volumes.

Having witnessed Mac perform in Los Angeles, Dave approached him post gig to offer his thanks and respect for all the great music the man had been involved in. Mac invited him for a drink but Dave refused. ‘I didn’t want to intrude on him as he was with his wife Kim,’ Dave explained, ‘but as I went to get a drink he called me over and spent 15 minutes chatting to me. A year later I met him in London and he remembered me as he did on the subsequent occasions I’d bump into him. I always found him to be a warm, friendly and easy going man who loved what he did and loved his fans and was very proud of the wonderful music he made. Bless you Mac, you really were all too beautiful.’

Ian Patrick McLagan was born May 12 1945. Hounslow was his manor. At 10 he heard Bill Haley’s song, Rock Around The Clock, and fell for music. His Ma gave him piano lessons, which he hated, but when he heard Booker T and the MG’s he instantly expanded his armoury to the organ.

In 1963 he saw the Stones play at the Crawdaddy Club and his path was set before him. He joined a band called Boz’s People formed by King Crimson bass player Boz Burrell. In 1965 they were reviewed by the Melody Maker. That review was read by one Ronald Frederick Lane, at that point bass player with a band called the Small Faces. Their keyboard man was Jimmy Winston but his time was coming to an end.

Lane showed his partner Steve Marriott the review and McLagan was called in for a rehearsal. A week later he had played The Lyceum and appeared on television. Famously, McLagan was the same height as his band mates ( 5 ‘ 3 or so) but his musical skills and sense of humour fitted perfectly with the band’s vision. Over the next three years the Small Faces would create some of the most memorable music of the decade.

At first Mac’s organ skills were employed in an aggressive manner to bolster the band’s amphetamine driven r’n’b style. But in May 1966 three of the band each swallowed a segment of orange containing LSD – and life was never the same again. Within weeks, the band had successfully incorporated psycedelia into their sound, going onto produce classics such as Itchycoo Park. McLagan proved his worth by effortlessly switching gears, utilising his organ in every which way to provide haunting backdrops for the band’s new music.

He also started writing his own songs. On the band’s best album, Small Faces (Immediate Records 1967) Mac contributed Up The Wooden Hills To Bedfordshire. For the band’s next album, Ogden Nut Gone Flake, he gave them his best song from this period, Long Agos And World Apart, as well as co- writing three other tracks on the album many feel is their classic. In late 1968 the band fell apart. Marriott went off to form Humble Pie with Pete Frampton and Mac, Lane and Jones joined forces with Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart to create one of the 70s best bands – The Faces.

The Faces were the elder brothers you always wanted to hang out with – highly talented, enormously fun and always well dressed. In a six year period they produced some of the best music of their decade and Mac was an integral part of this artistic success. His playing on their breakthrough single Stay With Me still burns with intensity and passion, and is there a more cute and catchy intro to a single than Mac’s piano on the band’s great single, Cindy Incidentally? His more reflective playing on some of Ronnie Lane’s songs, beautifully served to bring out the bitter sweet nature of Lane’s music. I direct you immediately to the song, Glad And Sorry from the Ooh La La album.

The Faces lived on the frontline of excess. They drank their way across continents and did so with an enviable style and grace. Look at most photos of Mac during this period and note how in every most shot his smile is a thousand miles wide. In the end, though, tensions between the band and Stewart, whose own solo career had taken off in tandem, caused them to fall apart.

Mac began life as a session man. His clients were not too shabby. He played on records by Thin Lizzy, Pete Townshend Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon. In 1984, he toured with Bob Dylan.

By now he had married Kim Kerrigan, Keith Moon’s ex, and was dedicated to their marriage. He once told me that the thing he loved about Kim was that every day he discovered something new about her. Her untimely death in a car accident in August 2006 came as a huge blow to Mac. He also started his own group, The Bump Band, and in 2000 published his biography, All The Rage which served to capture the man’s spirit in its ever fascinating pages.

Last week, as he prepared to tour with Nick Lowe, the heavens called him.

Noel Gallagher once said of Mac, ‘to be in one great band is bad enough – but to be in two? Now that is taking the piss.’
He was a great soldier that Ian Patrick McLagan, a talented man with a warm heart driving a fun loving nature.
Time then to drink a round to his name and bid goodbye to one of the very good guys.

Paolo Hewitt’s But We All Shine On – The Remarkable Orphans Of Burbank Children’s Home is published by Jessica Kingsley Books and out now.