Neil Henderson meets Ian McLagan to talk to the ex-Small Face about the past and the present, as well as his current tour of the UK.
How’s the tour going?
Great thanks. Every night is different but it’s been fun and it’s nice to be on the road and playing a mix of solo stuff from my albums Never Say Never and Spiritual Boy, with one or two older tunes too.
The tour is called ‘Man Walks Into Bar’ and the idea came about a couple of years ago when I did a book reading gig in London. I just thought it’d be great if I could tell some stories in and around some music, so here I am finally doing it for real.
It’s just me and Jon Notarthomas from my group, The Bump Band and we’re stripping down the material to a kind of acoustic level. I’ll be throwing in a few old tunes from the Faces and Small Faces and telling a couple of stories about Stevie and Ronnie and Woody which I hope people will enjoy.
It sounds a bit more sedate than the old days touring the world with the Faces.
(Laughs) yes, you could say that, but I can still party when I want to you know! I’ve enjoyed the 3 days in Scotland and meeting you lot (laughs).
(Mac scans the room following his show at Glasgow’s King Tuts, surrounded by people who just will not go home, passing him drinks and generally having a laugh with the man.)
I’m looking forward to three nights in Ireland now, Belfast, Dublin and Galway! I Can’t wait to get a taste of the black stuff – just love the Guinness and don’t get a good pint back in Austin, Texas.
Do you see Kenny Jones much?
Of course, apart from being one of my best mates, we’re in business together for life. We try to manage the stuff surrounding the Small Faces, how the music is handled and such like.
Kenny has been and still is instrumental in getting our royalties paid from those days, it’s taken a massive amount of effort because basically we got fucked back then.
We were signed to our manager’s promotional company (Don Arden) and then he leased us to Decca. We just got paid a wage, £20 a week it was. We didn’t get anything at all from recording rights, song credits or anything.
We actually got f***ed twice as the same thing happened when we signed with Andrew Loog Oldham at Immediate. We signed to his agency, not the record company and our weekly wage went up to £50 but nothing else. Well, as you know we spent more than that down Carnaby Street on clothes and gear and everything else.
You say you got a weekly wage, the clothes from the shops in Carnaby Street were all bought on account though.
Yes, seemed great at the time but little did we know we were paying for it all anyway. I think Stevie sort of knew the situation, he’d always pick up bundles of stuff, loads of shirts say and jackets. Sort of payment in advance. (Laughs) Look back though, some of the clothes were just amazing.
(Mac is handed a copy of the first Small Faces LP on Decca)
Just look at those jackets. Some of the later looks were way out for the time, shirts with massive collars and the shoes. I’ve still got a couple of shirts and also a pair of trousers from the Small Faces days……and also a great suit for the Faces era, I just can’t get in them now, but I’d never part with them.
You mentioned the shoes, I must have spent weeks of my life looking for similar shoes like the ones you all wore in the Small Faces days.
Toppers they were. Toppers made the shoes that were the absolute best. The multi-coloured basket weave ones in some of those photos that me and Kenny are wearing are just superb. I’d love to have them now, bloody lovely. We’d try to outdo each other with the most outlandish pairs.
Your time at Westmoorland Terrace is quite well documented, you refer to it in your book as ‘party central’. Was it really so wild?
Well yeah, pretty much so! looking back we really did have a bit of a ball, certainly from what I remember. It was the first place I experienced acid and I mean good acid, not the rubbish that came later.
Me and Ronnie had a good experience as far as that goes. We were only actually in the house a year, we all went home to our families on Christmas Day, I remember I split up with my girlfriend at that time and Ronnie and Steve did too. We all returned to the house – me with a bottle of brandy, Steve with a load of hash and Ronnie with a new record player, what more does anyone need to have a party eh?
We did get everyone coming through the doors at that time, just constant parties, everything a young guy could want really (laughs). I went back and did a filmed interview at Westmoorland terrace a few years ago and it was kind of strange to be back there after so long, I was surprised by parts of the building I just had no recollection of, the little nooks and crannies, just no memory at all of the bits of the place.
There are some really evocative photos of the band outside the house.
Yes, look at our faces on those photos, we’re having the time of our lives. We were only there for a year but while it was a f**kin’ madhouse at times, I do look back on it with a smile.
You were lucky enough to get to play with some of your teenage heroes as a teenager whilst a member of The Muleskinners, blues stars such as Howlin’ Wolf and the incredible Little Walter?
I was just a boy, look at the photograph in my book (All The Rage). That’s December 1964 and I’m 18 and very lucky! Howlin’ Wolf was a giant, bloody huge and very gracious, we were all hyper while working with him. Walter was a difficult man, pretty moody but f**k, what a player, a true genius. You are right, I was very lucky indeed.
Do you ever get surprised by the legacy of the Small Faces?
Not as far as the music goes, we made some great stuff back then and in a very short period of time really, four years or so. We’ve got to be grateful to the likes the guys these days. Paul Weller particularly but also Noel Gallagher, each of them have introduced us to a new generation of fan in their own way.
It’s clear for all to see that Paul Weller gets a certain amount of inspiration from your records.
It’s funny, I was talking to him once and he told me his favourite Small faces track was Get Yourself Together and he couldn’t believe it when I said that I couldn’t remember it. I certainly don’t recall recording it. You see a lot of those b sides and similar pieces of material were never played live. We didn’t put them in the live shows. We’d do a gig and it was just the singles and a few cover versions possibly. Stuff like ‘Grow Your Own’ and ‘Almost Grown’ were just knocked up in a few minutes.
For sure, we would run in the studio and record the next single and then some bugger would want a b side (laughs). We’d want to be away so we’d jam a couple of riffs together and see what we could come up with. It’s interesting for me to hear people these days say they love these numbers because really they were just fillers.
How did the Small Faces come to actually work on song ideas? Did Stevie or Ronnie have definite ideas and direct them to you? What was the process?
No, it was always a very fluid process. My situation has always been the same, I’ve always been in guitar bands so I’ve always thought It’s up to me to get out of the way of the guitars.
Even later on when I was playing with the Rolling Stones I’d have to compete with Woody and Keith so I just used intuition to fit in the gaps where it felt best. We’d figure out a way to make the ideas were all had work, it was something of a weaving process really.
The idea was not to have too much in there, sometimes it was better to leave a couple of things out. the great thing was that Ronnie always had a melody up his sleeve and I mean ALWAYS! He was fantastic at knocking together an idea in a few minutes. You’re So Rude is a great example, he pulled that together in a few minutes.
Did you ever get tempted by the Maha Baba spiritual stuff that Ronnie Lane and Pete Townshend got heavily into?
Nah. I was going the other way completely. It did really annoy me and Stevie and Kenny at the time, seeing Ronnie get so deep into all that stuff. I put it down to all the acid, there was a lot of acid about at that time. But, bless him he did his thing and that’s what he wanted to do. I called one of my albums Spiritual Boy, that was Ronnie.
You perform a nice tribute to Ronnie Lane as part of your live show with a performance of Debris, probably my favourite Lane composition, just a beautiful track.
It’s Ronnie all over! it’s odd, people in America ask “What girl is this about?” Yet it’s nothing to do with a girl, Ronnie wrote it in tribute to his dad, who was a real diamond, a real gent. It’s a lovely track and a fitting tribute to both of them.
Big thanks to Ian McLagan for speaking to Modculture for a second time. You can read the first interview here.