From Rolling Stone - 25 of November, 1971
Ronnie Lane - the Story of a
by Andrew Bailey
LONDON - Tuesday afternoon and it's raining
with vengeance. Tomorrow the weather forecast people will proudly announce
that it was in fact the wettest day in England for a century. The skies over
Richmond, a tasteful suburb west of London, have done their best to keep
Ronnie Lane indoors. The Thames is but a hundred yards from Ronnie's
apartment, and Ronnie has caught his share of fishes in it that have survived
the more hazardous dangers of pollution. London dumps its collected effluence
in the Thames. If you fall in they take you to a hospital to make sure you
haven't swallowed one of the Thames' lurking diseases. And if you do catch a
fish, the chances are that even the cat will turn his nose up at it. But today
Ronnie has given fishing a miss and instead taken the dog for a walk.
Next month Ronnie Lane will be touring America
for the sixth time as part of the Faces. Though it's tempting to say "Rod
Stewart and the Faces," it's not the done thing and it's offends the
people over at Warners. They have the Faces, with singer Rod Stewart, and
Mercury has Rod Stewart, solo singer often backed on record by members of the
Faces. So far Rod Stewart has sold better as a soloist than as lead singer.
Oddly, Ronnie never made it to the States when
he was in the Small Faces, a version of the present group in its pre-puberty
day. Apparently, the Small Faces should have gone to America. Enough people
came up to Ronnie on his first trip to the States and said they'd bought
tickets for his shows and how come the group never turned up? Just a part of a
clouded period in the Small Faces' history when the manager was Don Arden, but
it's agreed that the less said about that the better. So it ended up in a
court case, Ronnie will shrug, but without Arden who knows what would have
Just over the Thames from Ronnie's place is the
L'Auberge coffee bar, hangout for the beatniks who sprouted up in the Richmond
area in the Fifties. They were the art-school type; the Charles beatniks were
more professional in style. Down the river a few hundred yards is Pete
Townshend's house, which is situated opposite Eel Pie Island, a favourite spot
for the rhythm and blues movement in the late Fifties and early Sixties. The
sort of place for a gig by the Cyril Davis All Stars, which later became the
Steam Packet, a talented vehicle for Rod "the Mod" Stewart.
Ronnie started young. He lived as a kid in
Plaistow. If you live there in a council flat and can't wait to get out of the
area, you pronounce it Plaistow. If, on the other hand, you've put the
down-payment on a semi-detached and have just painted the front door, you
pronounce it Playstow. Ronnie says it the first way. At four he was playing a ukulele
outside his house where bus conductors used to gather between shifts.
Ronnie was serious.
At 14 he grew up, sold his fishing gear and
bought a guitar. A good investment, judging by the boxes of fishing tackle
lying around his flat today. There are also a couple of guitars leaning on the
wall, an electric piano resting on a chair and a Nikon camera hanging at eye
level from a nail over a doorway. Ronnie comes in after exercising his dog,
expertly ducks under the camera and sits down by a real coal fire.
"My dad was always going on at me,"
says Ronnie. "When I was at school he'd say. 'Son, learn to play
something and you'll always have friends.' He really helped me out, my old
man." His brother helped too: "He worked in a local pub and told me
he'd seen this drummer working in the pub now and then. He said he was good
and I should meet him. That's how I came across Kenny, and of course since
then we've been through loads of groups together until we met Steve and the
Small Faces got going."
For some reason, says Ronnie, there was a
shortage of bass players in the East End. Ronnie had been working and finding
that each new job was tending more and more to have a permanent aim to it. The
Stones and the Who were out and Ronnie decided to swap his guitar for a bass
and get some work. "I was really frightened about ending up in a factory.
That drove me into this business. It was when I went to get a bass that I met
Stevie Mariott. He was in the shop and I recognized him from when we'd played
with his band somewhere. Steve Marriott's Moments, they was called. Anyway, we
went to his place and played some sounds they were both digging - Ray Charles,
Booker T. Some of his records I'd never heard but it all knocked me out. I
gave him my guitar, I'd got the bass and along came Kenny, of course."
"At first there was a bloke called John
Winston on organ before Ian McLagan and we did a couple of gigs at a ballroom
in Leicester Square. Don't know how we did it really. We only knew three
numbers. Steve had been playing about three weeks, same as me on the bass.
Kenny was alright of course. We played for an hour, leaping around, showing
off, and we got booked back and then booked back again. By then we was pulling
a fair crowd. We got signed up by Don Arden, rushed into a studio and recorded
"Watcha Gonna Do About It." By the time that had been hyped into the
charts by the pop pirates and radio ships, we'd been together for just six
"For three years we were a top teeny
scream band. We worked seven nights a week and ended up broke. There you go.
Some people get bitter about that sort of thing, but I wonder what would have
happened if we hadn't got through all that. I'd probably ended up in a bloody
factory. The Small Faces were very much a band to go and wet your knickers at.
For three years we never heard a thing we played, literally, because of the screaming. We didn't think it was worth
rehearsing, so in the end we got our
rocks off working at the studio. We ended up doing things on record that you
couldn't do on stage.
"Christ, we were so indulgent in
the studio which is weird because with the Faces today it's the exact
opposite. To date, it's been a far better band on stage than in the studio,
mainly because up till now the standard of recording has been bad. We're using
Glyn Johns now and it's a hundred percent better. The album we've nearly
finished is right, at last. Before, we always used to chop and change studios
like the clappers."
When Steve Marriott left the Small Faces,
Ronnie looked at the situation this way: "I thought it's the hardest
thing in the world to assemble a group of guys who get on well together,
musically and socially. So even though we'd decided to part company, I thought
why break up a friendship that had grown really strong after working together
for five years. So in the end we decided to stick with each other. We were
hunting around and Ronnie turned up, who we didn't know. He just phoned up.
I'd seen him round Steve's now and then. He always had a smile on his face. I
always remember him as the smiling head.
"We jammed together and we weren't very
good, but Ronnie was alright. Not brilliant, but we thought, why not? We never
suspected him to turn out as brilliant as he is now. He'd just come off the
bass and to be honest at first we wondered if he was the man for the job. But
we thought, "We're none of us is brilliant, so we'll work at it
"Ron had the usual cottage in the country
those days and we went down there to rehearse. Rod started turning up on
Sundays. We'd get well pissed, shout and make a lot of noise. We became good
drinking partners with Rod. He was just making an album and we said, "You
ought to get a band together, Rod." It never occurred to us that he
wanted to join us. He had already signed to Mercury as a solo act and we was
with Immediate and didn't know if we could get out of that. Altogether, 1969
was a gloomy year."
"It took Billy Gaff, our present manager,
to get us out of the Immediate deal. Nobody else really wanted to know. He
just turned up and said to Kenny "I'll get you out of it." Well, 150
others had said the same thing and not done anything about it. So we thought,
"Give him a crack of the whip, why not." Three days later he had us
out and we asked Rod to join. Apparently he was too embarrassed to ask us. He'd
come to the cottage and stay upstairs while we rehearsed. He was embarrassed."
"We knew from the beginning that it would
be a nice band. We all played together easily. All listened to the same
records - Booker T, still, Gladys Knight, mostly black American stuff. Our
taste is still back in 1964: a good year, that. We had nothing to do for month
but rehearse and rehearse, which is one of the reasons why the first album had
a sterile feel to it. I think Rod's records have been better than the band's.
He works in a weird way. He does an album in a week. He just goes in and
crash, bang, wallop it's finished. When we do it as a band as a whole, there
are five opinions to take into account. When we play on Rod's album everyone
just strolls in, doesn't give a shit and it comes out great."
One of the tracks on the Faces' next album was
worked out and recorded by Ron and Mac in the equipment-packed spare room in
Ronnie's flat. It may be a simple song but it isn't what you'd call jamming.
Ronnie's got a thing about jamming. "It usually means fuck-all. It's
alright for a bit of fun on your own but in front of a paying audience... I
ask you, is it fair? Of course, we play around on stage, but we only do it in
snatches and some nights you'd go through what you did the night before."
"Playing with my recording equipment is
just pastime, if something good came out of it, I might think about putting
it out on record but I'd never want to round up a lot of people and put them
in a studio to Make A Record. I haven't got the time or inclination. Or a
reason. I'm completely satisfied with what I'm doing now. It all seems to be
going along smoothly and none of us waste too much sleep over how the band is
going. It's a lot better than working in a factory."