Ian McLagen - rocking all over the world

Ian McLagen. Pic:- Todd V Wolfson

Ian McLagen. Pic:- Todd V Wolfson

IAN MCLAGEN boasts one of English rock’s most impressive CVs, having been a member of The Small Faces, The Faces, and Billy Bragg’s band The Blokes, not to mention session work for the Rolling Stones (that’s him playing keyboards on ‘Miss You’ ), Rod Stewart (Mac is on ‘Maggie May’ and ‘You Wear It Well’ ), and Bob Dylan, as well as maintaining a solo career since the late 1970s.

Mac, as he is affectionately known, last played Galway in 2000 with Billy Bragg, but he will make his solo Galway debut at the Róisín Dubh on Sunday August 21 at 9pm as part of his A Guy Walked Into A Bar tour.

“It could also be called ‘A Guy Walked Into A Conversation’,” laughs Mac during our Monday morning interview. “It’s been a lot of fun on this tour getting to do a little bit of playing and a little bit of talking.”

On the night Mac will perform songs from his most recent solo album, Never Say Never, new songs from his next album, and classics by The Small Faces, The Faces, and Ronnie Lane, while also regaling audiences with humorous and colourful stories from 45 years in rock’n’roll.

Irish roots

Mac was born Ian Patrick McLagen in Middlesex in 1945, but as his name suggests, his roots are in Scotland and Ireland.

“My grandfather was from Scotland, that’s where the McLagen comes in, but my roots are mainly Irish,” he tells me. “My heart’s in Ireland. My mother is from Mountrath, Co Laois, and I spent all my summer holidays in Mountrath. I was spoiled. It was always summer when we went so I had this skewered version of Ireland as all sunshine, hay, and life on the farm. Then I got to spend a couple of Christmases there...Oh it’s different then!”

Many who grew up in post-war Britain recall it as a time of greyness and austerity, until rock’n’roll came along and produced a cultural and social revolution. Like many who would play a significant part in British pop in the 1960s, Mac was captivated by this new American music.

“When I first heard Brooker T & The MGs’ ‘Green Onions’ I thought ‘That’s what I want to do with my life. I want to make that sound’,” says Mac. “I loved the sound of the Hammond B3 organ he used and it’s why I play a Hammond B3 today.”

The Small Faces

By his late teens Mac was playing keyboards in bands that were metaphorically at least, going nowhere. However his break came thanks to a faulty engine and a incorrectly captioned photo in a newspaper.

“The van for the band I was in at the time kept breaking down and on one occasion it broke down and we missed the opportunity to go to Scotland to play some gigs, so I thought to myself ‘Sod this’ and thumbed a lift home,” recalls Mac.

“I went to see my girlfriend and on the tube I met a friend who said ‘Oh you should join The Small Faces!’ He’d just seen them on TV playing [their debut single] ‘What You Gonna Do About It?’ Then in the morning their manager called me saying he had a job for me.

“I thought it was for session work with The Small Faces but they seen a review of my playing in one of the papers and liked what they read. The thing is the paper had a photo of the singer in the review but my name underneath it, so they thought they were getting someone who looked like the singer.

“The manager Don Arden took one look at me and said: ‘Oh well he’s short’ and plays the Hammond, well two out of three ain’t bad. They all laughed and the three guys - Ronnie, Kenney Jones, and Steve Marriott, all picked me up and there was an instant bond. I played my first gig with them that Saturday.”

The Small Faces were not just a band, they were mods - the cutting edge of British youth culture at the time, with its distinctive look of sharp Italian suits, Vespa motorbikes, parka jackets, adoption of pop art imagery, and liking for US soul and Jamaican ska.

“The rest of the band were mods, but I was a fish out of art school,” says Mac. “In those days you got a grant of £120 a year if you were an art student, a lot of money those days, to spend on materials. I spent mine on booze and paints, and nothing on clothes. I was into denim and a corduroy jacket.

“When I joined The Small Faces it allowed me to go crazy on Carnaby Street and I loved the clothes. In ‘65 when we toured across England, playing different parts of the country every week, nobody could believe the clothes we were wearing. You could only get them on Carnaby Street, but when stores started opening up outside of London fans were able to get the same clothes so we stopped looking different from them. It was a wonderful time.”

The Small Faces would notch up numerous hits throughout the 1960s, but their finest hour was the classic mod rock/psychedelic album Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake (1968 ), which contained the hit single ‘Lazy Sunday’.

In an interview with Q magazine in 2000, Mac described the album as the band’s attempt to “turn people on without actually telling them to smoke dope”. Was that true?

“That was a bit of a mission of ours,” says Mac today, although it seems the natural ‘highs’ of good company and a beautiful location were even more influential on the songwriting.

“My favourite memories of Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake is not the recording, it’s the songwriting,” says Mac. “Steve, Ronnie, and I took a boat up the River Thames to write songs and we were cruising for 10 days. It was magic. Steve and Ronnie tended to write the songs but this time they couldn’t avoid me as I was there all the time. We wrote many of the ‘Happiness Stan’ songs during that time. When I hear the record now I’m back on Thames.”

By 1969 The Small Faces were gone with Marriott having left to join Humble Pie, but the band’s influence would endure to inspire the punk movement, most notably the Sex Pistols.

“Glen Matlock plays in a reformed Faces doing the Ronnie Lane parts and Steve Jones told me that all the band, bar the singer, were Small Faces fans. It knocks me out. Punks at the time were all about destroying and ignoring the past, but if you listened they had roots. It was just a pose at the time.”

The Faces and the Stones

With Marriott gone, Mac, Lane, and Jones joined forces with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood to become The Faces, who enjoyed great popularity in the early to mid 1970s, particularly with the singles ‘Cindy Incidentally’ and ‘Ooh La La’. However they also gained a reputation as a booze fuelled party band.

“When we started rehearsing as The Faces it was in a pub,” says Mac. “We were a happy drinking band, but it wasn’t like getting drunk all the time. We did some damage to hotels, anybody would in that situation. Stuck in the same kind of hotels, day after day from tour to tour, you’d just want to hurtle and smash things, then you’d remember you have to pay for the damage, so you wouldn’t want to go back, you’d go out to the bars instead.”

The late Ronnie Lane was a staple of both The Small Faces and The Faces and a good friend and hero to Mac.

“He was the main songwriter in The Faces,” says Mac. “More people need to know about his songwriting. We all need to hear his music. I miss him and the best days in the Faces was when Ronnie Lane was in the band.”

The Faces disbanded in 1975, after which Mac became an in-demand session and touring musician, as well as a solo artist, releasing his debut solo album, Troublemaker, in 1979. Meanwhile his old mate Ron Wood had joined the Rolling Stones and Mac was called upon to record with the band - after giving Ron the haircut of his life.

“The Stones were recording in Paris in 1977,” says Mac, “and Ronnie had come to England for the weekend and I cut his hair for him, but I cut it so short that when he came back Charlie Watts didn’t recognise him and thought he must have been arrested. Ronnie called me and said come over for the weekend to Paris to record. We hardly slept and did ‘Miss You’ and an early version of ‘Start Me Up’. When the album [Some Girls] came out in 1978 they asked me to tour with them.”

Now based in Austin, Texas, Mac has never stopped the music since going solo and has maintained a busy touring and recording schedule.

“I’m playing just as much as I ever did,” he says happily. “I’m fascinated by music and melody and words. I have got it and I’m not letting it go. I’m glad to say I’m very happy and I’m blessed.”

Mac will be signing copies of his autobiography All The Rage and his album Never Say Never (both of which will be on sale ) at his Róisín Dubh show. Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh and www.roisindubh.net See also www.ianmclagan.com

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