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
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
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
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