Our neck of the West London woods has a proud reputation for originating, nurturing and cherishing popular music and those that play it, from international stars like Mick Jagger and Pete Townshend to amateur bluespickers noodling away in their back bedroom. Sadly on the 3rd December one of that august company died.
Ian McLagan was 69 years old. For fans of the popular music of the 1960’s and 70’s he is best known as the keyboard player with the “Small Faces” and the “Faces”. Later in his career he worked as a session player with such stars as Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Rod Stewart.
He was born at the West Middlesex Hospital in Isleworth on the 12th May 1945 and lived for the early part of his life in Taunton Avenue in Hounslow. His father Alec, a keen skater, was the UK Speed Skating Champion in 1928. His mother, Susan, came from County Laois in Ireland.
Ian said that he got his first musical shove from his piano accordion playing grandmother who encouraged him to take up the guitar – but it was at Twickenham College of Technology and School of Art that he found his musical feet. Inspired by the Rolling Stones who he saw playing at the Crawdaddy Club in the Station Hotel, Richmond in May 1963, he and some college friends formed a rhythm and blues band called the Muleskinners.
“The amazing thing about the Rolling Stones was the sound… I assumed that as they were a blues band, they would be black and American so it was quite a surprise to find that they were white London boys. But the sound, the throbbing bass and the harmonica on top it just convinced me they were black until I walked in. Then it was a case of, ‘Well blimey, I love this music, I’m trying to play it, maybe I can’.”
By his own admission Ian was never very good on the guitar and after piano lessons were landed on him by his mother he switched to keyboards. He also changed bands. After 3 years and 4 unsuccessful singles with “Boz People”, in 1965 he was snapped up by the proto-group the “Small Faces”. They were looking for a keyboard player who was a) A Mod, b) talented and c) no taller than they were – height being of prime consideration in a band called the “Small Faces”. Ian McLagan fitted the bill perfectly. So delighted were the band that on their first meeting they picked him up and carried him around ‘like a brother.’
His time with the Small Faces was one of lots of hits – 11 Top Twenty hits in the UK – but very little money. Their manager Don Arden, father of Sharon Osbourne, was skilled at not paying out and kept them on a fixed £20 weekly wage.
“We didn’t get paid and we will never get paid. From 1965 to 1991 we got nothing from Decca (their original record label). In 1996 we got paid for recording and publishing but that only included the U.K. The rest of the world, we still have never received a penny from any of those records.”
In 1968 the Small Faces broke up when lead singer Steve Marriot abruptly walked out of a New Year’s Eve gig. The following year the remaining members of the band, drummer Kenney Jones, bassist Ronnie ‘Plonk’ Lane and Ian McLagan joined up with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood to form the “Faces” destined to become one of the best loved British bands of the 1970s. They were raucous, rocking and so ready to consume vast amounts of alcohol that they had a bar – with bartender – on stage.
Unlike the Small Faces who never toured America the Faces enjoyed considerable success in the States where their knockabout British laddishness was a major crowd pleaser. In 1971 their album “A Nod is As Good as a Wink… To a Blind Horse” went into the US Top Ten. The band broke up shortly afterwards when Ronnie Wood joined the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart decided to go solo.
“When we began to be billed as ‘Rod Stewart and the Faces’ it was all over bar the shouting.”
In 1978 he married Kim Kerrigan, former wife of the Keith Moon, the drummer with the “Who” and the couple moved to America. In 1994 they finally settled in Austin, Texas, where Ian and his “Bump Band” became part of a vibrant music scene. He was also busy as a session player with many leading artists of the time including Bruce Springsteen (‘Human Touch’ and ‘Lucky Town’), Bonnie Raitt (‘Light’) and Carly Simon (‘Spy’). In 1984 he toured with Bob Dylan. More recently he had been touring with Billy Bragg.
Ian Patrick McLagan, the boy from Isleworth, won the Ivor Novell award in 1996 for his outstanding contribution to British music. In 2012 the “Small Faces” and the “Faces” were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
“Having been a teenage Faces fan, to simply meet Ian McLagan would have been an honour. To have played with him in a band and to know him as a dear friend was an immense privilege.”
Much of what you have heard about the 60s and 70s may not be true but those of us who enjoyed those exciting years will stand by our stories and the spirit of the times. As Ian McLagan once said, “This is the life and these are the days!”
‘Stay With Me’ by the ‘Faces’
— from Martyn Day