Sleeve notes by Roland Schmitt /
Uli Twelker, May 1996
for the Edsal re-release of "See Me"
He had always been the archetypal Londoner in his
famous band's two incarnations: To the SMALL FACES he had added the capital's
music hall element in songs like "Something I Want To Tell You", and
during an American tour with the Rod Stewart-led FACES he wrote the whimsically
homesick "(I Wish I Was In) Richmond. But when Lane sang "Maybe It's
Because I'm A Londoner" with his Country Rock band SLIM CHANCE at Uxbridge
University in January 1976, he added cheeky "that I live in Wales":
Since his split from the FACES, he'd started to live the life of a recluse on
his farm "The Fishpool" near the Welsh border, devoted to his sheep
and chickens - with the musical metropolis, his beloved London, virtually on
For years, the public herd little from Ronnie. In
autumn 1979, he finally told rock hack Chris Welsh in "Musicians
Only", "I've got a lot of stuff written that I want to see out, stuff
I've been writing at my leisure". By then, his last solo LP "One For
The Road" was more than three years old. His "long player partnership
"Rough Mix" with fellow Meher Babarian Pete Townshend had been
released two years back - but at least that album had become a substantial
success in the States.
Severe changes in the British music scene must
have gone pretty unnoticed with Ronnie - New Wave didn't mean anything to the
weathered Cockney, and when it came to Punk, he couldn't care less. Lane's only
link to the dramatic "B.O.F threatening" revolution was his eight year
old daughter with her affection for Lene Lovich. If he'd only had an inkling
that new acts like THE SEX PISTOLS, SHAM69, THE RICH KIDS or THE JAM dug the
SMALL FACES and FACES.
The ice-cold winter of 1978/79 had pulled the
plug on Lane's "romantic" country life. Many of his animals died, and
he was forced to sell the surviving live stock, plus a substantial part of his
estate. Ronnie told Melody Maker's Colin Irwin that he'd had enough of his
ecologically sound country life for the time being, "was fed up with
looking at sheep's arses!" London was beckoning, he moved into a small flat
there and had a burning desire to make music again. Numerous friends encouraged
Ronnie to attempt a comeback, but the records companies weren't exactly fighting
each other with advanced orders. The small record company GEM Records, which he
allegedly had a share in, made it possible for him to produce an album.
A tentative single - "Kuschty Rye" -
co-produced with the help of Pete Townshend, was released in October 1979 and
received positive reviews, and not just in "Melody Maker". Further
song material for the album, originally scheduled to be titled "True
Stories", was subsequently recorded with numerous friends and ex-SLIM
CHANCE mates, among them Bruce Rowland, keyboard players Charlie Hart and Bill
Livsey, and Brian Belshaw on bass. The mobile studio came into use again, mainly
at "the Fishpool", with three additional tracks recorded at Marcus
Newcomers at the sessions were the ex-guitarist
in Cat Stevens' backing group, Alun Davies, who also co-wrote, and Henry
McCullough (guitar, keyboard and mandolin), who Ronnie had met recording for
fellow sheepist Roy Harper's "Bullinamingvase". And of course the
proceedings weren't complete without Eric Clapton, who'd lent a helping hand
during "Rough Mix", too. With him Ronnie wrote what many regarded as
the most beautiful song in this collection, the ballad "Barcelona".
Musically, Lane quite consciously picked up the
pieces where his SLIM CHANCE had left off, refining their truly British Country
Rock idiom - an obvious anachronism in the heyday of digital New Wave: "I
still like to use acoustic instruments like the piano accordion. I think it's a
very sharp instrument if it's used properly. I suppose one of my main influences
at the moment is Cajun music - and has been for a long while", he revealed
to Chris Welch.
The lyrics became very personal: "The songs
are basically about my problems with women, and what's happened to some of us in
the music business. They're not too specific. You've gotta let the listener
create his own pictures. I do a thumbnail sketch of what's happening and you
fill in the colours. It can't be too self-indulgent. It's gotta be of interest
to everyone. I guess most of the songs are about women though! Do you mean to
say this idea is not new?"
"SEE ME" - Track by
"ONE STEP": A relaxed mid-tempo starter
to reassure us that nothing much has changed since "One For The Road".
The sprightly lead guitar courtesy of Cal Batchelor lifts the old verse-chorus
routine up a'bit, while the sweet female background vocals sound like an eco
friendly Moulin Rouge ensemble of Ronnie's old tent circus The Passing Show -
long legs in sheep's wool suspenders.
"GOOD OL' BOYS BOOGIE": May be less
catchy than the warm-hearted "One Step", but more than makes up for
this with an unusual rhythm structure and an array of breaks. Certainly worth
getting into, letting weird arrangement gems like Charlie Hart's rocking
accordion or Batchelor's cutting guitar grow on us with strange fascination.
Drummer and fellow farmer Bruce Rowland drums with the literal panache which
made him first choice for the era's new traditionalists like Joan Armatrading.
"LAD'S GOT MONEY": A sad waltzy ballad
which Ronnie interprets in all its necessary melancholy. Eric Clapton shines
here with some brilliant lead guitar, and you can hear London's eternally
underrated R&B lady Carol Grimes growl in the background.
"SHE'S LEAVING": Another one on the
rather sad side with massive fiddle presence for which Charlie Hart is joined by
the old SLIM CHANCE buddy Steve Simpson (who plays with Micky Moody and for
Roger Chapman these days). Mel Collins' saxophone is a fitting symbol of utter
loneliness - whoever the lamented lady is, she may not come back. Features
heartbreakingly sad fade-out!
"BARCELONA": This is, by a long
stretch, the best song on this album, a joint composition by Ronnie and Eric
Clapton, who picks with the tenderness of his much later "Unplugged"
journey. An exquisite melody sticks in our mind right away, Ronnie sings with
lots of real emotion, while Carol Grimes tackles the duet's second voice with
subtle sensitivity. With its elaborate string arrangement, this reminds us of
"KUSCHTY RYE": Romany for "Good
Fellow", this was selected as a single in 1979. Its catchy tune is
characterised by Laney's singing as well as Hart's trademark squeeze box. The
female background vocals mean serious business here - contrary to "One
Step" these are slick city chicks, as Ronnie's old SMALL FACES pal Steve
Marriott would have concluded with a mean chuckle.
"DON'T TELL ME NOW": A strangely
structured song with an ever so laid back rhythm - JJ Cale on valium, but
extremely atmospheric indeed. Nice vocal backing for Ronnie's fragile singing,
enhanced again by the characteristic accordion sounds of Charlie Hart.
"YOU'RE SO RIGHT": This comes as a
short, unassuming up-temp number, sporting Bill Livsey's nice little Floyd
Cramer piano theme for BBC 2's playlist. It was the B-side of "Kuschty
"ONLY YOU": An unyielding, rolling New
Orleans ballad, with more than its title reminiscent of the PLATTERS number.
Similarities in rhythm 'n' romance evoke memories of the old Soft Soul classic.
Lane doesn't just work on guitar and vocals this time. Via some overdubs he also
took over the drumming chores. Mel Collins reliably adds his tender saxophone
playing. Fats Domino is acted out by the rather slim Charlie Hart on the ebonies
"WINNING WITH WOMEN": An attractive
sequel to "Don't Try And Change My Mind" which opened "One For
The Road". The Boogie bass is identical, but gets new adrenalin from a
cheeky acoustic guitar off-beat courtesy of Alun Davies.
"WAY UP YONDER": A little known
traditional with happy lyrics and a catchy melody calling for Chas'n'Dave type
pub singalongs. Eric Clapton plays guitar next to Alun Davies; Bill Livsey and
Ian Stewart tinker away on their respective pianos.
The happy-go-lucky vein of the majority of songs
had long been missed - a sentiment largely ignored by Rock's pretentious acts as
well as the Safety Pin Revolution, or the New Romantics with their tinny synths.
On top of the veranda mood, "Kuschty Rye", "Barcelona" and
"Good Ol' Boys Boogie" are real departure which rock traditionalists
should have absorbed with fascination.
Still, a release all over Europe - originally
planned by the distributor, RCA - was cancelled. In England, where the album
appeared in spring 1980, it was hardly noticed, or bought for that matter. At
the turn of the new year, Ronnie had once again picked up his bass: As a member
of Paul McCartney's all-star ROCKESTRA conglomeration, he showed his goodwill
for sensible benefit gigs during the finale of "Concerts For The People Of
Kampuchea" at London's Hammersmith Odeon (now the Hammersmith Apollo), on
29th December 1979.
Undeterred by the modest commercial success of
his "See Me" - album, Ronnie put together a band for club gigs in and
around London. The RONNIE LANE BAND consisted of the late ROLLING STONE Ian
Stewart (piano), Henry McCullough (guitar, mandolin & vocals), Bruce Rowland
(drums), Charlie Hart (accordion, piano & vocals) and Chrissie Stewart
(bass), sometimes augmented by two black sax players, Mick Carless senior and
junior. For several months, this line-up appeared all over the UK and even
managed a TV appearance for the legendary German Whistle Test series "Rockpalast".
But in the meantime, Ronnie couldn't help feeling
the increasing symptoms of an illness which was about to change his life
completely. He was just about able to sing - during sessions for the
Marriott/Lane album "The Midgets Strike Back" (1981), which
unfortunately is still unreleased. After a long painful silence he had buried
the hatchet with old mate Steve Marriott, and together they created a kind of
romantic Cockney Musical version of Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn.
Still during Lane's regular check-ups, the
diagnosis pointed to Multiple Sclerosis with alarming clarity. A shattering
interview in "Rolling Stone" during 1982 caught many friends' and
fellow musicians' attention. This resulted in a marvelous charity gig which was
held at London's Royal Albert Hall in September 1983, featuring Eric Clapton,
Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Steve Winwood, Bill Wyman, Kenny Jones and many more.
Several months later this project led to a small US-tour.
The States would become Ronnie Lane's new home a
short while after the benefits. Following a spell in Houston, Texas, he was back
in England for a short interim, but soon relocated to Austin for about eight
years. He quickly found access to the thriving local music scene and became
active - in spite of his fragile health. Ronnie formed several bands, for
instance THE SEVEN SAMURAIS, THE TREMORS, Ronnie Lane's TEX MEX SLIM CHANCE, and
eventually THE RONNIE LANE BAND, a group he even took on tour to Japan in 1991.
Unfortunately, there were no new record
production, although Laney remained active as a songwriter. Two numbers which he
co-wrote with the singer of Austin roots rockers, THE KEEPERS, appeared on their
debut album in 1994. Since that year, Ronnie and his family have been living in
a small town in Colorado, hopefully enjoying the friendly Rocky Mountain
climate. This was where Ronnie Lane celebrated his 50th birthday. Keep at it,
mate, we'll be faithful - whatever the deal!
Roland Schmitt / Uli Twelker, May 1996