Ian McLagan on his top 11
Having just completed a handful of festival dates with the latest incarnation of the Faces, keyboard legend Ian McLagan returns to centre stage with a month of solo shows in the UK and Ireland. Controversy still surrounds the decision to enlist Mick Hucknall in the continued absence of Rod Stewart, but Mac feels the revised Faces line-up, which also features former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock in place of the late Ronnie Lane, treat the band’s legacy with respect.
“The thing is that Rod’s voice isn’t what it was, he had surgery on his vocal cords a few years ago and it’s changed the way he sings,” says Mac. “We had some rehearsals a couple of years ago and basically had to re-learn all the songs in different keys to accommodate Rod. Ron Wood had to put heavier strings on his guitar and tune everything down, and we all agreed that it just wasn’t the same.
“That’s not to say we’ll never play with Rod again, never say never. If at some point in the future he’s really up for it, and we can all get comfortable with the changes to the songs, there’s no reason for us not to get back out there.
“We always knew it would work with Mick, and I think he’s surprised a lot of people. He’s a rocker at heart, and was a Faces fan from way back when, so he already knew the songs inside out. He’s been singing them in his bedroom since he was a kid!
“Glen is someone I’ve known since the late 1970s; my old friend Mick Ronson called me up to play keyboards for this band he was producing, Rich Kids, who were Glen and Midge Ure. I did a tour with them and kept noticing Glen throw a few familiar bass riffs into the songs – it turned out his all-time hero was Ronnie Lane, he’d actually taught himself by playing along to Faces records.
“That’s why he’s such a natural fit; having any old bass player, regardless of how talented they are, wouldn’t work as well. Glen really gets the magic and the sensuality of the Faces, he slots in perfectly with me and Ron.”
Mac talked to MusicRadar about his favourite 11 tracks out of the hundreds he’s played on over the years.
Ian McLagan tours the UK and Ireland throughout August, full details at ianmclagan.com
Tin Soldier - Small Faces
“It’s probably the greatest ever Small Faces song. Steve Marriott’s voice is fantastic, he’s really at the top of his game – and my piano playing is really great, haha! I got to do so much on that track, I’m playing a Wurlitzer electric piano, a grand piano and a Hammond. Steve also got to double-track his guitar, there are tons of overdubs. Most of our early records were done on the run, we’d be in the studio for no more than a couple of hours before racing off to a gig somewhere.
“That was the luxury of moving from Decca to Andrew Oldham’s label Immediate, we were given plenty of time to work on material and all of us opened up as musicians, it was very rewarding. There’s a song by my heroes Booker T & The MGs called Carnaby Street, and I always thought Steve borrowed a bit of it for Tin Soldier, but I only found out a couple of years ago that their song was recorded after ours – they nicked from us!”
Pineapple And The Monkey - Faces
“This is on the Faces’ debut album, First Step, it’s really us playing at being Booker T & The MGs. It’s a fantastic instrumental, written by Ron Wood. I still play it at my own gigs, and the last time I was in London at the Jazz Cafe Ron was in the audience. Some people were disappointed that I didn’t ask him up on stage to jam, but I wanted to play the song for him, it was my way of thanking him for coming up with such a great song, such a great groove.”
Stay With Me - Faces
“The Faces’ first big hit single, and I can’t thank Glyn Johns enough for helping us knock it into shape, he’s a brilliant producer and engineer. There’s a lot going on in this one, loads of tempo changes. We’d do that a lot, but always thought it might not work as well if you’re trying to get a song into the charts, we always worried that radio wouldn’t play it.
“Other musicians have complimented me for the sound I get out of the Wurlitzer but I didn’t do anything except play it. Glyn went round the band, tweaked everything to match what he heard in his head, and created a classic. It’s as much his song as it ours.”
Love Lives Here - Faces
“A beautiful song, written by Ronnie Lane, on the third Faces album, A Nod’s As Good As A Wink. I get to weave piano and organ together, so it’s a very satisfying sound for me personally, but I especially like it because of the way Ronnie and Rod sing the vocal together.
“It’s a pity there are so few songs where they’re both singing, because I always thought there was something really emotional about that blend. Every time I hear this song it takes me back to the old days, it triggers a lot of memories for me.”
Miss You - The Rolling Stones
“The Rolling Stones go disco. This is one of two songs I play on from the Some Girls album, the other is their cover of The Temptations’ Just My Imagination. The thing about the Stones is that they tend to have songs lying around for a few years waiting for a home. I know they did a few different versions of Some Girls previously, there’s one with Billy Preston on keyboards, but I’ve never heard it.
“We also had a go at Start Me Up during the Some Girls sessions, and that didn’t finally appear until a couple of albums later. I was only with them for a weekend in the studio, but it was very work intensive – beds were made but not slept in.
“It was a thrill for me to play with them, and I went on to do a couple of tours later on. They’ve always been my favourite band, I actually booked them for a few gigs in the early days when I was still at art school.”
Me And The Boys - Bonnie Raitt
“This is from the Bonnie Raitt album I played on, Green Light, in 1982. It was originally done by NRBQ, who Bonnie really turned me on to. I remember her tour manager didn’t like them much, but she struck a deal with him saying she’d give the band and crew a day off in New Orleans for each gig he booked NRBQ as her opening act. He promptly went and booked them for 17 shows!
“We had a real blast in New Orleans, and Bonnie surprised me by flying my wife in from Los Angeles. She’s a wonderful person and a great guitarist, there’s a really authentic blues feel to what she does. She’s a real star and she shines a bright light on others, she does a lot to give less successful musicians a leg-up.”
When It Don't Come Easy - Patty Griffin
“This is by one of my favourite singers, Patty Griffin. I’ve toured with her and played on a couple of her albums; this song is on her 2004 record Impossible Dream. She’s a huge talent, very soulful, so much more than just a country singer, which is probably how most people view her. Mind you, that’s changed a bit after the Robert Plant album she’s on, Band Of Joy.
“I saw the gig they played in Austin last year, and Patty went out of her way to make sure myself and Robert met up – I hadn’t actually seen him since about 1971. I’m always in awe of Patty whenever I play with her, sometimes I actually forget to play my parts because I’m too busy watching her! I first discovered her when I was part of Billy Bragg’s band, The Blokes, and she opened for us. I’d be at the side of the stage every night, totally enamoured by her.”
Annie - Ian McLagan
“I recorded an album of Ronnie Lane songs in 2006, to mark what would have been his 60th birthday. This is a beautiful track, it’s got a really great atmosphere to it. It’s not unlike Love Lives Here in mood, but it’s very difficult for me to sing because I don’t have the gentle tone that Ronnie had, so I tend not to do it live anymore. You have to respect the song and give it up if you can’t do it well.”
Debris - Ian McLagan
“Forgive me for nominating another one from my album of Ronnie Lane songs, Spiritual Boy. This one first appeared on A Nod’s As Good As A Wink, but it’s the later version that really gets me emotional. Ronnie wrote it for his dad, who was a lovely, lovely man, and I find myself thinking about both of them when I do it myself. I put cellos on it, slowed it down a bit, and I’m really proud of the way it turned out. I’d like to think Ronnie would have been too.”
An Innocent Man - Ian McLagan
“This is from my own album, Never Say Never. It might seem a bit egotistical to choose a song I wrote myself, but this one is very special to me. I play it at every one of my gigs, sometimes with the band but often just by myself. I’m glad that my wife, Kim, got to hear it before she passed away. She really loved it, and in some ways it’s about her, so I always think of her when I’m playing it.
“It’s really about being in a kind of prison, about being sentenced to something you’ve no control over, and it’s sort of how I feel now – I’m still here but Kim isn’t with me. At first it was difficult to perform it on stage, I would have to play it over and over again at soundchecks until I stopped crying, I needed to get the tears out of the way before the gig.”
Freeway View - James McMurty
“This is another recent one, by James McMurtry on his album Just Us Kids. He’s a very dear friend of mine and a great writer, as is his father, the novelist Larry McMurtry. James puts together very complex songs, and he really knows Texas, the out-of-the way parts of the state that no one ever goes to. He brings them to life in his music. Each song is a novel in itself.
“I don’t want to sound big-headed, but I’d actually forgotten I played on this song, and I heard it on the radio in Austin once and thought ‘now that guy can really play the piano’ – and it was me! I’ll balance that by saying there’s more than a few when I think ‘Oh god, that organ sounds awful’, and it’s also me.”
Ian McLagan tours the UK and Ireland throughout August, full details at ianmclagan.com