The Faces’ Ian McLagen Rises, Shines and Speaks His Mind
Of all the rocking bands to come out of England in the early 70s the Faces are often overlooked. Sure, they had some big hits but the band was often overshadowed by the solo career of lead singer Rod Stewart. The recently released box-set Five Guys Walk into a Bar… compiled by Faces keyboardist Ian McLagen goes a long way to vindicating that perception. Sure, anyone that saw the Faces live in their hey-day will remember them as a raucous, hard-drinking, hard rocking good-time band that was often sloppy. But the truth is they were a truly great group with a much deeper musical repertoire than they are given credit for. Soul, R&B, blues, country, English music hall and of course good old rock and roll all merged together especially on their recorded output. The band only released four studio albums and one live disc but this new compilation box set includes numerous rarities and live material that make it a must listen for die-hard fans and the casual listener alike.
Of course since the Faces disbanded in 1975 Rod Stewart has had success after success (he currently thinks he is Frank Sinatra) while the late Ronnie Lane left in 1973 and formed the excellent Slim Chance as well as recording Rough Mix with Pete Townsend. Ronnie Wood, of course joined the Rolling Stones, Kenney Jones played in the Who for a while McLagen went on to have the most varied, if lower-keyed career playing sessions with everyone from the Stones to Bob Dylan and from Bruce Springsteen to Patty Griffin. McLagen also wrote an interesting book on his 60s experiences and has recorded a number of solo CDs with his Bump Band, the latest being the joyous Rise and Shine on Gaff Music."
These days the affable and outspoken (not to mention downright funny) McLagen lives in Austin where he plays regularly with his band. In the following interview McLagen put forth that same openness and sense of fun that permeated so much of the Faces music. After four decades in the business the guy still has no pretensions and obviously loves what he does. If you missed out on the Faces or perceive them to be nothing more than a good time rock and roll band (which they most certainly were at times) this new box set is laced with great music that crosses musical genres with ease and conviction, not to mention a sense of sincerity and fun.
M.S. First let me to compliment you on the wonderful job that you’ve done on the Faces box set. One of the things that pleases me is your decision not to present the set chronologically because generally that’s what compilers do…
I.M. Yes, and it is very boring.
M.S. What gave you the idea to do it that way?
I.M. Well, I started to do it chronologically at first, I had wanted to do it that way, but it didn't work. I had the four albums on three CDs and if take "Jerusalem" off which is an instrumental it fits, but who cares. It just wasn't interesting to listen to. I listen to too many fans. I get a lot of emails from Faces fans and Bump Band fans and they had definite ideas on what should go on. People would say "man you got put the b-sides and the instrumentals on." I said that's it all the A-sides and B-sides and all the album tracks, and Eric James at Warner's in London said "Oh no, Mac I'm a Faces fan we want the alternates, and rare tracks, what have you got in your vaults." And I'm like, okay what a good idea. Then all of a sudden it became much more interesting and it kind of developed from there. Basically it was like playing DJ with the Faces. I had all the stuff you know and I could put anything on there that I wanted, so it became more and more fun.
M.S. I’ve been a Faces fan for years, and I have all the albums, but what it has done for me is make me realize the diversity that the band put forth. You weren’t just a straight rock and roll band.
I.M. Yeah I know. I think everything seems to be set off pretty good in the running order. I tried a few different ways but each disc is a little story of its own. It begins and ends well. I figured as long as it finishes good and starts good people will want to listen so I tried to make the tracks contrast. I mean I do this on a regular basis with my band. I never write the same set list twice. We usually play two sets a night and what I'd do recently is switch them. What you think would be the opener for the second half isn't always an opener…do you now what I mean and it changes the dynamic depending on what you put on after or before it. I'm fascinated by it and I save all these set lists so that I never use them again. Last night, we play a regular gig here in Austin every Thursday, I thought fucking hell, I want to hear "Green Onions" and the guys have never played it with me. I jam with it, when I check my organ at sound check when I get a sound check, I always get that "Green Onions" sound and play a few bars of it and if the organ doesn't sound good on that it isn't going to sound good anywhere. So that's by basis, so I though fuck it, I'm going to do "Green Onions" and it went down great and it really got us in, and I said "Here's a song that I haven't written any lyrics for yet" and I did "Green Onions" and it got a little ripple and then they really cheered at the end. It was nice.
M.S. Another interesting aspect of the box set, and I don’t know if it deliberately was meant to be, but it serves as a tribute to Ronnie Lane.
I.M. Well, it is.
M.S. Listening to the box set as it is, it becomes very evident that Ronnie was such a big and important part of the band and that a lot of things got overshadowed because Rod Stewart was so popular.
I.M. Yes, and Ronnie got overshadowed because he couldn't perform the songs he wrote.
M.S. Why was that?
I.M. At one point, a little later Ron Wood would do "I Can Feel the Fire" because that's on there but Rod wouldn't give Ronnie Lane that… I don't thing we ever did "Ooh La, La." Ain't that funny? We were just used to having a singer there and he just sang. I think the idea may have been mentioned once but Rod would be "what am I going to do?" Get the fuck off the stage and pick up a guitar!
M.S. Bang a tambourine!
I.M. Rod did play banjo on one song, I think on Ronnie Lane's "Stone."
M.S. Actually that is my favorite Ronnie Lane song. I just love that.
I.M. It's my least favorite. It just goes on and on and on… (Ian goes into an ad lib of the song). But you are not on your own. A lot of people have emailed me said where's "Stone" and other people have asked where's "Memphis" and that's the worst track on the record. Nod would be a perfect album without that track, but some people like that. One person emailed and said "what, "No Looking Out the Window?" which is a 5/4 instrumental. There's a couple of instrumentals and I'm not sure which is which, but I got all the A and B-sides.
M.S. Why did it take so long for something to happen, does this mean that more things might happen in the future?
I.M. Yes. Now we, even Rod is talking about a reunion gig or a few gigs, I don't know for sure. I'm working on a DVD or will be quite shortly I'm waiting for the first stuff to arrive. And also the separate albums will come out with extra bit by bit with extra tracks and they will be chronological.
M.S. Right, well the CDs to date appear to have been put on CD just for the hell of it. They don’t sound any different than playing your old records.
I.M. That's right. I'll add A sides and B sides that were released around the same time and some other stuff. I have more rehearsal stuff, but that would probably only go on the first album. One day I want to put out a whole rehearsal tapes CD, I've probably got two or three CDs of them.
M.S. What about complete live shows where there any that were good enough to put out in their entirety?
I.M. No, I don't think so. One of the things is we don't have the rights to these things which is a bugger too. We don't have the rights to any of the video stuff. Our ex-manager probably does. Our accountant signed away the rights in the 80's for a hundred pounds to what is called the last concert with Keith Richards, which isn't at all the last concert, but Rhino is on it. They are helping us sort it all out because they want to put a DVD out. They'll do it somehow.
M.S. If you’ve been working on this for four years you must have gone through a mountain of stuff?
I.M. Oh yeah, fans have been so great. I have bootlegs from them. Until just before it came out we were actually going to use some of the bootlegs because we couldn't get the source tapes, but some of them were boots of BBC sessions that we didn't know existed and thanks to Bill Inglot who mastered this, he got in touch with the producer, Jeff Griffin and he went through his vaults and bang there it is!
M.S. It’s amazing how much good music is just sitting in someone’s vaults. Was there any stuff that was musically great but the sound just wasn’t good enough?
I.M. Well, "Come See Me Baby" is off of a cassette. We know the tape exists because we made the cassette from the tape but it couldn't be found. Eventually it will be found and maybe we'll put it out on the Ooh La La sessions album when that comes out.
M.S. There’s quite a bit of material on the set that is listed as being from "the last Faces" sessions. What were those sessions intended for because there’s some pretty good stuff there?
I.M. We were trying to make an album. We were trying to get Rod in studio for a start, but we didn't really have many songs so did "Getting' Hungry," "High Heel Sneakers" "Open to Ideas," "Rock Me" and a couple more I think but nothing was ever finished. In fact, it's funny I notice that I put them all on disc three, it wasn't intentional, but went in for a few days and never went back and then we went on tour. It was supposed to have continued but it never happened.
M.S. Is there anything that you regret with regards to the Faces career?
I.M. Well, it would have been nice if they had more hits but I think this is the hit we have been waiting for.
M.S. Like I said earlier listening to the album is really does show that there was much more depth than one think based on the hits.
I.M. Right, especially when we'd get in the studio because Ronnie (Lane) would have more songs and that was a side of the Faces that people didn't see live. It got forgotten, well not forgotten but overlooked. Fans love "Debris" and other stuff.
M.S. Well, since your Faces days you’ve a pretty decent writer yourself. I really like your new CD Rise and Shine. To me it’s kind of the Faces meets Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance at least in feel.
I.M. Well, you know that Mark Andes (ex- Spirit and Jo Jo Gunne) has joined the band and he has added something. Live we are a force. We are having the best fucking time. We are trying to set up a little tour up the East Coast. Me and Scrap were talking about it last night. I didn't know his availability. I'm going to tour with Patty Griffin in October so I'm checking to see what her dates are but if I can get a tour going and she is not working at the time, I'd like to do that.
M.S. Going back to the new album there’s one track, "Been a Long Time" and there’s a riff in it that reminds me of the Sutherland Brothers. It has similar riff/changes to their song "Dream Kid." And I thought that was funny because I know Rod Stewart was a big Sutherland Brothers fan (he covered "Sailing") and one time I went to see them in 1974 and Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart were in the audience in the row in front of me, and I thought, "I wonder if Ian was a fan too?"
I.M. That's funny. I went to seem them once as well. I don't know the song though. I wrote that track in a pub in London. It was basically about being on the road and not knowing where you live anymore, and that came from a song I used to sing to my dogs…buddy, bo, kim and mac….(at this point Mac goes off into another ad lib of the song). But I swear if I sing that song my Cocker Spaniel gets all excited.
M.S. Well, it’s only that infectious riff nothing more. I just thought it was cool. I remember that it was the Shaw Theater in London when this guy with big hair was in front of me.
I.M. Right, that's where I saw them. Yeah, we all went that night.
M.S. They were a great band.
I.M. They were and the slimmer one…
I.M. Yes, he played on some demos of mine.
M.S. Of all the sessions you’ve done are there any that really stands out.
I.M. Oh yeah, most of the people I've played with. I'm really a fan of Patty Griffin. I played on her new record. She sings on Rise and Shine. I did an album with Shannon McNally last year in Lafayette and it hasn't bee released yet. She had an album out a couple of years ago that was held up by her record company for six years, now they are holding up this one. I had a lot of fun doing that record. I have been really blessed, Bonnie Raitt, she's no slouch.
M.S. In closing can you tell us what you plan on doing with your solo band?
I.M. Well, it's my main concern. It is what I think of night and day. Writing for the band, we have already started recording the next record. We cut one track with Mark the other day. We've been playing one that we haven't cut yet but it is going to be a killer. I love this band.