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Obituary: Ronnie Lane. Chirpy face of rock
by Mike Oldfield
The Guardian; Manchester; Jun 6, 1997

RONNIE LANE, who has died of multiple sclerosis aged 51, was the quintessential British rock musician: a 1960s pioneer, a gifted songwriter and a skilled bassist, all hidden behind a facade of chirpy insouciance. Critics? Meanings? Art? Do me a favour!

He was a founder member of the Small Faces, then the Faces, bands with a combined shelf-life of 10 years but whose influence has lasted for decades. Just ask Paul Weller. And if you can't hear echoes of either band in today's rock, then it ain't Britpop.

Lane's career bridged the gap between pop and rock; his life was mostly ups crossed by one terrible down. In the late 1970s he contracted multiple sclerosis and had to give up the musical life he loved.

Lane was born in east London and earned his nickname "Plonk" for his early attempts at playing guitar before switching to bass. Summer 1965 found him playing rhythm and blues in East End pubs with drummer Kenny Jones in a band that had everything bar a convincing lead guitarist and singer. They found them both in Stevie Marriott.

It was the era of soul, style and scooters. "Ronnie drew a picture of a mod in a parka with Small Faces painted on the back," Marriott later recalled. "We put it outside the gig and it brought all these mods in."

Life was so much simpler then. In October 1965 they signed to Decca and produced their first single, What Cha Gonna Do About It. It duly made the Top 20. A month later organist Ian McLagan joined and they began developing a boisterous stage act which was later honed to shambolic perfection by the Faces. The Small Faces were the original lads, and frequently loaded.

More hit singles followed, with Marriott and Lane gradually taking over the writing and finding even greater success. All Or Nothing became their first number one, dislodging the Beatles' Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine.

In 1967, the Small Faces shucked off the dying embers of the mod movement, embraced hippiedom and entered their most fertile musical period. First came the heavily-phased Itchycoo Park (a hit again in 1976, and in 1995 when covered by M People), then the equally psychedelic Tin Soldier and finally the concept album Ogden's Nut Gone Flake. Light relief came with the faux-cockney masterpiece Lazy Sunday.

In 1969, Stevie Marriott quit to form Humble Pie, breaking up one of the great writing partnerships in British pop. They never tried to change the world but noted its idiosyncrasies with wry humour and compelling emotion in songs that have lingered in a fond afterglow.

SIX MONTHS later, the remnants of the Small Faces linked up with a couple of refugees from the Jeff Beck Group, guitarist Ron Wood and singer Rod Stewart, to become the Faces. Lane contributed songs - You're So Rude, Ooh La La, Last Orders (get the picture?) - to the albums but it was onstage that the Faces came alive, turning gigs into rollicking, rabble-rousing parties. It was spontaneous fun, rehearsals tending to the perfunctory: "They turned up late, did a stupid version of Crazy Horses pretending to be the Osmonds, wrote out a set list and then went off down the pub," an ex-roadie recalled.

By 1973 Lane had tired of rhythm 'n' booze plus the tensions caused by Stewart's solo success and he quit. "For me, Lanie was the Faces," a rueful Rod remembered. "Once he left it took the ass out of it for me."

Lane became a rock 'n' roll gypsy for real, living in a caravan and debuting his new band, Slim Chance, in a circus tent. The first single, How Come, went into the Top 20, its follow-up The Poacher did well and the debut album Anymore For Anymore charted. Two more fine albums followed before the highly acclaimed Rough Mix with the Who's Pete Townshend. But his resources and health were draining away. By the end of the decade, MS was diagnosed and for Ronnie Lane the music was over.

Almost. In 1983, the cream of British rock - Eric Clapton, Stevie Winwood, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page - turned out at the Royal Albert Hall for a concert in Ronnie's name in aid of MS research. Lane himself, obviously very ill, was on hand to provide a poignant finale, singing Goodnight Irene with the superstar cast.

He moved to the US but attempts to pick up his career were severely hampered by the crippling disease. It was a tragic fate for a musician who asked for nothing more than the chance to give everyone a good time. He did, and more often than most.

Ronnie Lane, musician, born April 1, 1946; died June 4, 1997

 


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