Ian McLagan

It isn't always easy to remember when a musician first found his way into your consciousness.  With Ian McLagan, I can pinpoint almost the exact moment.  It was approaching 8 o'clock on Thursday 7 October 1971.  The first single I bought, Rod Stewart's timeless classic Maggie May, was enjoying the first of a five week stint at number one and I was enthralled by the shambolic scene of The Faces loafing around the Top Of The Pops stage.  Among the troubadours, was the organ player, with a perfect black barnet, sitting quite still, occasionally mouthing the lyrics.  He was undoubtedly the coolest of the lot, the kid in the playground who everyone wanted to emulate, playing the keyboards in his own peerless manner, adding the glue to the various elements of the tune.  Years later, I would marvel at the keys on that song.  They are the bit that you don't notice at first, yet are crucial to how the whole song fits together.

And so it was elsewhere.  If you love your music, you will dig a bit further and keep on digging.  So I soon found out that three of The Faces had been in another band, The Small Faces, that Mac (as he was known) had joined them around 1965.  He had been a key element of the gang that had lived for a period at 22 Westmoreland Terrace, Pimlico and produced some of the most memorable tunes of the sixties. Before that, he had been a member of The Muleskinners and The Boz People (with future Bad Company member Boz Burrell).

You don't have to listen to too many records to gain an understanding of Mac's influence.  From the music hall flavour of Lazy Sunday, to the soulful vibe of The Faces' Glad And Sorry, and the wistful brilliance of Debris, his playing is integral.  His contribution to other bands' work, particularly The Rolling Stones, is also significant, for example the electric piano on Miss You from Some Girls.

But Mac's influence surpasses that of a musician.  As soon as the news of his passing emerged, Facebook and Twitter were full of tributes to the man.  Many people had a story to tell about meeting him, of how he took time to talk, of his generosity and warmth.  He was no aloof rock star but someone who loved people, took his fans for who they were and spoke to them on the same level.

I met him a few years ago after a gig by his band, The Bump Band, at The Maze in Nottingham.  I spoke to him after the gig, he signed an autograph, and answered my questions about his music and the bands he had played with.  One question had been at the back of my mind for years.  Its the sort of trainspotterish question that only the true fan has any interest in.  It related to the line in Debris when Ronnie Lane sings about "that old familiar love song", which he would hear "at the top of the stairs".  Which song was he talking about?, I had wondered.  Was it a specific one?  Early Tamla Motown?  Or Stax?  Or, probably (given its author's age) something much earlier?

I asked Mac this question, half expecting him to laugh.  He didn't.  He spoke, matter-of-fact, like it was the most obvious question in the world.  "He never knew", he said.  "He'd sit there and his Dad would come in, whistling this tune.  He never knew what it was.  But it stuck with him all his life".

What a star, I thought that night.  Here is a man who has played with the vast majority of the true greats and he's answering questions from a punter he's never met before, talking as if you've known each other for years.  And, judging from the comments on Facebook, I wasn't the only one.

A brilliant account of his life and times is contained in his autobiography All The Rage, which comes strongly recommended.  And then listen to the musical legacy - the instrumental Grow Your Own ("people ask why I never play it, he said that night at The Maze - it was a jam!"), the title track on Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake, the introduction to Love Lived Here, the peerless beauty of All Or Nothing and The Autumn Stone, the playful mood of  You're So Rude.

Mac was a musical presence whose loss has genuinely made the world an emptier place.  It would be nice to think that he's up there somewhere, right now, jamming with Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane. That's a thought to conjure with.

Ian Patrick McLagan, Born Hounslow 12 May 1945 - died Austin, Texas 3 December 2014, RIP.

No comments:

Post a Comment