Ian McLagan: Keyboard player with the Small Faces and the Faces, two of the most influential bands in British pop music


Pierre Perrone
Friday 05 December 2014 19:35
The Small Faces in 1966: left to right, McLagan, Steve Marriott, Ronnie Laine and Kenney Jones
The Small Faces in 1966: left to right, McLagan, Steve Marriott, Ronnie Laine and Kenney Jones

Ian McLagan was a member of two of the UK’s most influential rock bands, the Small Faces, the Mod outfit fronted by Steve Marriott who cast a long shadow over punk, power pop and Britpop, and the Faces, the good time group par excellence who provided the springboard for the solo career of Rod Stewart.

He was equally proficient on the Hammond B3 organ and the Wurlitzer electric piano, instruments that helped define the soulful, heady, cockney-accented psychedelia of the Small Faces ’60s hits “Here Comes The Nice”, “Itchycoo Park” and “Lazy Sunday”, and then drove the Faces’ booze-fuelled 1970s anthems “Had Me A Real Good Time”, “Stay With Me” and “Cindy Incidentally”, which he co-wrote. He went on to enjoy a lengthy and successful career as one of rock’s top sidemen, particularly after he moved to the US in the late 1970s.

Known as “Mac”, he played with the Rich Kids, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, the Georgia Satellites, Bruce Springsteen, Miracle Legion, Melissa Etheridge, Taj Mahal. Lucinda Williams and his erstwhile Faces bandmate, the Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood. He worked with several Brits in thrall to the music of his former bands, not to mention adoptees of his feather-cut hairstyle, including Paul Weller and Robyn Hitchcock.

He was a mainstay of Billy Bragg & the Blokes, co-writing much of the 2002 album, England, Half English, and contributed to two of 2014’s acclaimed releases, Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone by Lucinda Williams and the eponymous album by the Empty Hearts, the garage group featuring Blondie drummer Clem Burke and the Cars guitarist Elliot Easton.

An affecting vocalist and versatile songwriter, he made several solo albums – United States was the latest – and led his Bump Band, a popular attraction in the Austin area, where he lived with his wife Kim. “My muse”, as he called the British model who had been married to Keith Moon, died in a car crash in 2006.

Born in 1945 in Hounslow, he first played guitar, and enjoyed listening to the accordion of his Irish maternal grandmother when he visited there. He was badgered into taking piano lessons by his mother, while his father later put down the hire purchase on his first electric keyboard, the Hohner Cembalet.

Seduced like so many Brits by “Rock Around The Clock”, he played tea chest bass and guitar in skiffle groups. With the Muleskinners, formed as he studied graphic design at Twickenham Art College, he became a regular at Middlesex haunts like Eel Pie Island and the Crawdaddy Club, where he first saw Rod Stewart, with Cyril Davies’ All Stars, and the Stones.

The Muleskinners backed visiting blues legends like Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf, whose “Back Door Man” they covered on a Fontana 45 in 1965. That year he joined the Boz People, who supported the Byrds on their maiden UK tour, and recorded four singles without making much headway.

The Small Faces, fresh from their debut Top 20 hit “Whatcha Gonna Do About It”, the first of two singles featuring organist Jimmy Winston, were seeking a replacement when bassist Ronnie Lane came across a rave review about Mac in Beat Instrumental magazine. On 1 November 1965 their nefarious manager Don Arden invited Mac to a rehearsal that went so well he instantly joined Marriott, Lane and drummer Kenney Jones. He was paid £30 a a week, subsequently reduced to £20, like his bandmates, and saw little reward as Arden tightened his grip and fought off rival managers.

Mac’s sterling, sensitive contribution to the group’s run of ’60s hits, starting with “Sha-La-La-La-Lee” and including “All Or Nothing”, “My Mind’s Eye”, “Tin Soldier” and “Afterglow Of Your Love” was rightly praised for its ability to colour the material by Marriott and Lane.

He grew in confidence and sang lead on his own “Long Agos And Worlds Apart” on Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake, the group’s 1968 chart-topping conceptual triumph, packaged in a replica of a tobacco tin – designed by two former Muleskinners Nick Tweddell and Pete Brown – and featuring the comedian Stanley Unwin, whose gobbledegook narration had the musicians roaring around the studio with laughter.

Over the last four and a half decades, the much-rereleased Ogden’s has become a touchstone of British psychedelia, inspiring songs by Damon Albarn and Noel Gallagher, while early Small Faces singles bolstered the repertoire of proto-punk and punk groups like the Hammersmith Gorillas and the Sex Pistols.

At the end of 1968 Marriott quit to form Humble Pie, leaving Mac, Jones and Lane to team up with Stewart and Wood, then in the Jeff Beck Group, as well as Wood’s older brother Art and Kim Gardner, under the name Quiet Melon. This proved shortlived but the Mac-Jones-Lane-Stewart-Wood quintet, named the Faces, turned out to be a lot more potent, even if all five principals spent more time in the pub than at rehearsals or in the studio.

In 1969, Stewart had already issued An Old Raincoat Will Never Let You Down, the first of five solo albums featuring Mac, while the bar-room antics and no-nonsense rockers of the Faces provided the perfect alternative to the excesses of progressive rock. Yet they only fitfully captured their magic in the studio, as on their inspired covers of Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” and the Motown standard “(I Know) I’m Losing You”, and mellower material such as “Debris” from 1971’s A Nod Is As Good As a Wink... to a Blind Horse and the title track of their 1973 album Ooh La La.

The Faces split in 1975 and Mac, Jones and Marriott embarked on an ill-advised Small Faces relaunch before Mac joined Wood and the Stones in Paris to play piano on their disco smash “Miss You” and organ on their cover of “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)”, both on Some Girls, their 1978 album. He played on their 1978 and 1981 US tours: “Years after seeing them for the first time at the Station Hotel, Richmond, here I was, playing with my favourite band.”

He published an autobiography, All The Rage: A Riotous Romp Through Rock & Roll History (1998 and 2013), full of his mischievous sense of humour. In 2012 he was inducted with the Faces and Small Faces into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. He died after a stroke on the eve of a tour with Nick Lowe.

Ian Patrick McLagan, musician: born Hounslow, Middlesex 12 May 1945; married 1968 Sandy Sarjeant (marriage dissolved), 1978 Kim Kerrigan (died 2006; one stepdaughter); died Austin, Texas 3 December 2014.

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