Bassist/vocalist/songwriter Ronnie Lane was one-fourth of the Small Faces, and stayed onboard as they morphed into the Faces, fronted by Rod Stewart. Ian McLagan, keyboardist for both bands (and the Stones, Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, David Lindley, etc.), has assembled a loving tribute to his former band and soulmate, who died in 1997, after a long battle with MS.
The Small Faces were one of England’s most popular and influential rock (and “mod”) bands of the ’60s, although their only American hit was “Itchycoo Park,” best known for its catchy chorus and trippy production – one of the first records to feature phasing, accentuating its overt drug references.
McLagan says he never liked the song and hadn’t planned on including it on the CD. “I suddenly started to hear the words and the flavor of the song,” he explains. “And I was picturing it without [co-writer] Steve Marriott’s input. I was kind of imagining Ronnie playing it for Steve; he would have played it kind of slower. ‘Over Bridge Of Sighs’ – that’s the Bridge Of Sighs in Cambridge, one of the two seats of learning in England. ‘Under dreaming spires’ is Oxford – ‘to Itchycoo Park, that’s where I’ve been.’ That’s a nettle patch in the East End of London – just a patch of grass, invariably with lots of nettles, so you get stung; you’d be itchy. Any park in the East End would be called Itchycoo Park, because there were always nettles.
“Then he says, ‘You can miss out school; why go to learn the words of fools?’ It’s a real diatribe against education. It wasn’t just, ‘Let’s get high.’ It’s, ‘What did you do there?/I got high./What did you feel there?/Well, I cried.’ Why? Because, ‘It’s all too beautiful.’
“He saw beauty in a nettle patch! It didn’t hit me until I looked at the lyrics; it’s a completely different song.”
Stripped of production gimmicks, Mac’s arrangement indeed brings out the beauty of the song’s lyrics and melody, elevating it to another plane. “I guarantee if I’d got hold of it and had my way with it back in ’67, it wouldn’t have been a hit. But I would’ve been happy with it,” he laughs. “I learned the song again. I never thought of it in that way.”
Other songs from throughout Lane’s career are included: “Nowhere To Run,” “April Fool, and “Annie,” from Rough Mix (the latter co-written with Eric Clapton), and the moody “Spiritual Babe,” which provides the CD’s title. Closing the album is “Hello Old Friend,” which Mac wrote for Ronnie and was able to play for him in ’94, when he moved to Austin, just a few months before Lane left his adopted Texas home for Colorado.
The Bump Band rose to the special occasion here. Drummer Don Harvey (the Motels’ Martha Davis, Joe Ely), bassist Mark Andes (Spirit, Jo Jo Gunne, Heart), and the versatile Scrappy Jud Newcomb on guitar (equal measures sympathy and grit) are one of Austin’s best bands – led by one of the greatest keyboardists in rock history. Recording the album was “very inspirational,” says Mac, and judging by the result, that’s an understatement. Not only is he in fine form, his old friend’s presence is palatable in every track.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Dec. ’03 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.