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From Let It Rock  May, 1975

The Bass Player at the gates of dawn
by John Pidgeon

How come Ronnie Lane left the faces?

John Pidgeon asks the question, Ron and the Rat answer.

  There must be something frustrating about playing bass in a group. Else why would so many want to swap instruments like Ron Wood, go solo like Jet Harris, form his own group like Andy Frazer? Remember "Theme From The Man With The Golden Arm?" Tony Jackson's Vibrations? Fat Mattress? Maple Oak (Doctor Rock LIR 24)? Toby? Exactly. Ronnie Lane kissed off a lot of pud when he quit the Faces in 1973 and his chances of making it without them looked about as good as a redundant adman's with a baldness problem. Why did he do it?

  "Silly boyish amusement. I've given that up long ago. Sheer waste of time, that's what it is. It makes me downright sorry to see you fellows, who ought to know better, spending all your energies in that aimless manner. No, I've discovered the real thing, the only genuine occupation for a lifetime. I propose to devote the reminder of mine to it, and can only regret the wasted years that lie behind me, squandered in trivialities." (Toad to the Mole and the Rat in The Wind In The Willows).

  It wasn't so much the traditional "musical differences" that disenchanted Lane as the opportunities denied or ignored: to climb new peaks and to absorb new styles. And then there was the touring. "If you're going to be on the road, you might as well be on the road, and if you want to live at home you might as well live at home, because if you don't totally accept that you're on the road and that's it, private jets back home for a few hours a day ain't going to make it home. There's nothing wrong with life on the road if you make it a life on the road. You say, "I won't take the motorway here, I'll take the B-road because it goes through this country and that village and I'd like to see this and I like to see that..." "Towards the end I often used to take a car in the States. It was more of a physical drain to drive, but it was a mental drain to fly, and I can't put up with mental fatigue."

  "There you are"! cried the Toad, straddling and expanding himself. "There's the real life for you, embodied in that little cart. The open road, the dusty highway, the heath, the common, the hedgerows, the rolling downs! Camps, villages, towns, cities! Here today, up and off somewhere else tomorrow! Travel, change, interest, excitement! The whole world before you, and a horizon that's always changing!"

  The answer was Slim Chance and the Passing Show: a band of his own and a tour in a big top. "When I said what I was going to do, everyone said, "Oh yes, we've heard all this before", and I was fifty percent wired up to put it on just to prove I meant was I said. So I smashed the band together just to get it on the road. I'd said I was going to do it and by fuck I was going to, come what may! I knew it wasn't going to be a tremendous success, that wasn't what I set out to do it for. I just wanted to introduce the idea and at least I hoped was that it would break even, which it didn't. I couldn't hold up after eight weeks because I didn't have any more money. It was as simple as that. We were flogging everything in the end just to buy enough diesel to move the show. Bur it still wasn't a bad thing, because I learned as much in the six months it took to set it up as I'd learned in the last ten years: about working with people, being the gaffer. It was all on my back and my roadie Russell Schlagbaum's - all the little things, just running the show, getting it opened at night - and the actual show was the last thing because at least I did have the numbers and the band together, but they were pushed in the corner because I had to worry about the toilets and the firemen coming around and saying, "This ain't right". It was like a Duke of Edinburgh award scheme."

  "You knew it must come to this sooner or later, Toad, "the Badger explained severely... "Independence is all very well, but we animals never allow our friends to make fools of themselves beyond a certain limit; and that limit you've reached. Now, you're a good fellow in many respects, and I don't want to be too hard on you. I'll make one more effort to bring you to reason..."

   Toad looked desperately this way and that, while the other animals waited in grave silence. At last he spoke.

   "No"! he said a little sullenly, but stoutly; "I'm not sorry. And it wasn't folly at all! It was simply glorious!"

   Since the collapse of the Passing Show last summer, which Lane in retrospect puts down to bad luck but had as much to do with public skepticism of the project and insufficient form - one hit single ("How Come?") doesn't make a set, especially for ex-bass players - he's overhauled the group, and the new line-up is altogether more flexible. His own bass style was pointedly reflected in his Small Faces nickname, "Plonk", and since the first Slim Chance he has left the playing to his band, casting himself as strummer and front man. Brian Belshaw (bass) and Colin Davey, who recently replaced Glen de Fleur on drums, do their stuff, bur the bands true strength and originality lie in the multi-instrumental abilities of the other three members: Ruan O'Lochlainn (keyboards, saxophones and guitar), Charlie Hart (keyboards, violin and accordion) and Steve Simpson (guitar, mandolin and violin). Their versatility has encouraged Lane's eclectic tastes and allowed him to approach a considerable variety of styles, both in his own compositions and in his choice of other songwriters' material; and the possibility of new arrangements has transformed such songs as the charming "The Poacher", which was the surprising flop follow-up to "How Come?", from a somewhat weedy, reedy lightweight into a eloquent and powerful violin duet. The eclecticism is deliberate and vital. "I don't see why I should play music that entertain the younger people but doesn't entertain the older people. I don't see any division any more. I did when I was a bit younger, but noany more. The only yardstick we've got - me and the band - is that we play what we think we'd like to go and see.

  "I don't feel pressurised to keep turning out songs myself, because there's so many good songs around... Songs that will fit something that you already feel. Like "Brother, Can You Spare Me A Dime?" - I really feel for that song. Some of the words are quite embarrassing, especially the middle eight - that "once in kaki suits, boy, we looked swell" business - but I love the sentiment of the song. Songwriting to me is sentiments; you try and encapsulate a sentiment in something."

  The new band has recorded Lane's second album, Ronnie Lane's Slime Chance, like the first Anymore For Anymore a mixture of old and new, and they've been putting in some conventional roadwork in preparation for another tour under canvas. "I want to do it again. For me it's the only way to do it, because I have my own theater, I know what it sounds like, I can set the stage up totally to my own specifications. If I haven't got all the problems of worrying about the bleeding toilets and the firemen, if I can delegate all that this time, I can actually start to consider what can be done in that tent."

  "I don't want to go on doing a set, that's a pain in the arse, it's boring. In the end I'd like it to be like a musical, something that flows from one thing to other. There won't be a support band: the first number I'll do, and then it'll weave into other people doing bits and weave out, and it'll end up with me doing whatever ends it up. I'm trying to get away from this set business, because as far as I'm concerned it's restricting for me and it must be restricting for the audience."

"Come inside and look at the arrangements. Planned 'em all myself. I did!"

The Mole was tremendously interested and excited, and followed him eagerly up the steps and into the interior of the caravan. The Rat only snorted and thrust his hands deep into his hands deep into his pockets, remaining where he was."

  Of course. it's easier to be unfashionable if you don't have to worry about the rent. Towards the end of his association with the Faces he invested a great deal of money in the conversion of an American Airstream caravan into a mobile recording studio. It was completed in time to record Eric Clapton's Rainbow Concert in 1972, then the Who used it for Quadrophenia, then... "It's turned out incredible well, but that was luck: I'd spent about sixty grand over two years and all of a sudden in the last month before it was completed it hit me like an anvil that I'd bought this bloody caravan because I loved the look of it, and it was nothing to do with the acoustics. It all came together so beautifully it was like the gods were on my side. The studio keeps this band. The band makes no money; the studio keeps it. It's also very handy to make records very cheap."

  Yet the financial security of the studio makes Lane no less determined to succeed. The big top show necessitates a change in the public's attitude to live music at a time when almost everyone else is striving to narrow it still further, but as far as his music and the band are concerned his confidence is well-placed. If he's understated on record, he's disarmingly mellow on stage; his choice of material from his own oldies through the Stones to Cole Porter and the pace of his performances are faultless; and, most encouraging of all, his singing has acquired a new depth of tone and expression. But that's hardly surprising for his voice is, as he puts it, "an instrument I only picked up on eighteen months ago."

by John Pidgeon, 1975

 

 


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