Rock music by its very nature tends to glorify the flashy frontman or the God-like guitarist. But as often as not, the real story lies with the guy who doesn’t get the magazine covers, the stalwart sideman.
So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the great keyboardist Ian McLagan, a man who was not only a founding member of both The Small Faces and The Faces but whose credentials also include gigs with Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones (in the studio, on tour and on the many and various Ronnie Wood projects, including The New Barbarians) as well as Jackson Browne, Joe Cocker, Melissa Etheridge, Bonnie Raitt, Paul Westerberg, Izzy Stradlin, Frank Black, John Mayer, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bragg and even Chuck Berry. Many of his Zelig-like exploits are recalled in his hilarious romp of a memoir All The Rage which has just been remodelled and reissued by the man himself. It is, I firmly believe, one of the best books of its kind and knocks the likes of Rod Stewart’s recent memoir for six. Not coincidentally, the reputation of his old Faces band-mate gets something of a kicking in Mac’s book.
Might that have got in the way of the long-mooted Faces reunion, I wonder?
“The fact is we always wanted Rod to do it. Every single time we asked him, it didn’t work,” he drawls. “This time, he wants to do it. In fact, he’s gung-ho for it. So I hope and pray nothing happens between now and then, because it would be great and we’d probably tour it. Before that, though, it’s the 50th anniversary of The Small Faces and we’ve got to mark that. That’s a bit more complicated, of course, as both Steve (Marriott) and Ronnie (Lane) are dead, so we’ll need lot of guests, which probably means that will need to be a big one-off event. They’re both definitely going to happen, though.”
In the meantime, though, Mac has got his own fish to fry. He’s a longtime resident of “the live music capital of the world” Austin, Texas, where “they know I’m here for the rest of my life, that I’m not just popping in. I was in the Texas Hall of Fame long before I was in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame,” he points out. He’s constantly touring with his own group The Bump Band, has just released his eighth studio album, United States, and – hurray – is about to undertake a brace of dates here in his old homeland. Hence our chat, in which I quickly learn that the title of the new album has less to do with his adopted homeland than with the varying states of union.
“It’s all about sex and relationships,” Mac cheerily confides. “That’s why there’s a motel on the cover. It’s a bit of a suggestion.”
Aha! Then its old-school grooves and reflective charm come from a lighter place, happily, than his last album, Never Say Never, written and recorded in the wake of the death of his wife Kim, an iconic British model and ex-wife of Who drummer Keith Moon, who died in a car accident in 2006.
“I’ve been dating since a couple of years after Kim died, but it hasn’t worked out. My eyes are 18, my body is 69. I can’t trust my eyes because I just latch on to someone who’s 35 or something ridiculous,” he admits. “The last time I dated was 33 years before she died –when I dated her!”
Perhaps United States‘ most touching moment comes with the lovely song Love Letter, which finds Mac painting pictures and writing messages of adoration for Kim, though he can’t find her to deliver them.
“These days the record business is only interested in pretty teenage girls who can mime and don’t write the songs. This is a different thing, so it’s taken two years since the record was finished to get it out,” he reveals. “It was frustrating but I haven’t wasted time and I’ve actually written enough songs for the next album and we’ll be going on to record them before the end of the year. So the next one won’t take five years, that’s a fact.”
Although he and his band work up the songs live, often at their weekly residency at The Lucky Lounge in Austin, this time he’s touring with just Bump Band bass-player Jon Notarthomas.
“I had really hoped to bring the whole band with me this time but my fee stays the same and everything else, like hotels and travel, goes up.” He laughs good-naturedly. “On the other hand, this format is more intimate and it gives me a chance to tell some stories, which audiences seem to like.
“I promise, though, that the next time I play in the UK it will be with The Bump Band because England needs some real rock ’n’ roll and I don’t think many are doing it over there. Or anywhere else, for that matter.”
Ian McLagan plays at Greystones, Sheffield, on July 9; The Cluny 2, Newcastle on July 10; and The Duchess, York, on July 11.