A welcome face comes back to town

George Byrne

Midway through their fantastic gig in Whelan's last Thursday Pugwash broke off from their own impeccable material and launched into an inspired version of Son of a Baker, just one of the many amazing songs on the Small Faces' classic 1968 album Ogden's Nut Gone Flake. And, by way of happenstance, after the gig I saw a poster advertising a one-man show by Ian McLagan, the keyboard player with those London Mod legends.

Inspired by the organ playing of Booker T Jones, McLagan's use of a Hammond B3 has graced many, many recordings down the years.

The Small Faces, with McLagan joining Steve Marriott, Ronnie Lane and Kenney Jones, forged a particularly British fusion of pop and soul and moved from the near-perfect rush of All or Nothing to the ambitious Itchycoo Park, The Universal and Tin Soldier over three years.

Business problems -- not least of which was having the notorious music-biz gangster Don Arden as their first manager -- and creative differences led to Marriott moving on, whereupon the remaining trio hooked up with Ronnie Wood and a shy, retiring young singer called Rod Stewart to form The Faces, one of the most roistering good time rock'n'roll bands ever to have graced a stage.


Their calling card single, Stay With Me, features McLagan powering away on piano as the song reaches its frantic conclusion and his standards never slipped a jot during that outfit's boisterous tenure as the UK's favourite live act. Since then McLagan's touch has graced live and studio work by the likes of the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Rod Stewart to name but three.

It was at a backstage bar in Wembley Stadium after a Rod gig about a decade ago that I had the great pleasure to meet this consummate musician. Myself and a colleague spotted him standing by himself having a pint and promptly went over and made a nuisance of ourselves, bending his ear for a good 20 minutes as he regaled us with tales of the Faces and his adventures since.

A true gent, he last appeared in Dublin as the chief accompanist to Billy Bragg at a gig in Vicar Street and afterwards was keen to plug a tribute to his good friend Ronnie Lane, who was in serious financial difficulties due to medical bills as a result of contracting MS. A mark of the man.

His latest outing is billed as A Guy Walks Into a Bar . . . an intimate evening with Ian McLagan and sounds like a night of songs and stories which should appeal to anyone with even a smidgin of rock'n'roll and soul in their blood. > George Byrne

Ian McLagan plays Whelan's tomorrow night