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
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
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
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.
musician, born April 1, 1946; died June 4, 1997