Ian McLagan: An Appreciation
I can’t profess to have known Ian ‘Mac’ McLagan in any great sense. But when I was researching my Keith Moon biography, I was (finally) able to secure an interview with his wife Kim, who, as many people will know, was originally married to Keith. I was invited to visit the couple’s home just outside Austin, TX, and if I was nervous that I was asking some very personal questions of Mac’s wife, he relieved those nerves by complimenting Keith wherever possible, and otherwise staying silent and allowing Kim to talk in detail. It was a delicate dance and he fulfilled it with the same kind of dexterity with which he played the keyboards.
We talked in such depth that afternoon that the couple suggested I stay over a second night to complete the interview – as their guest. I duly rescheduled my flight (somehow it did not cost anything) and at the end of that second day, Mac made margaritas, and what had been an extremely emotional two days for Kim, who had never previously granted an interview about her relationship with Keith, ended with some celebratory drinks and Mac sitting at the old piana, entertaining us as only Mac could. As much as he was a relatively well-known musician, and certainly a fantastically accomplished one, he loved playing. It was evident that you couldn’t keep him away from a keyboard for long.
The definition of cool: The Small Faces, with Ian McLagan on Hammond, performing “Tin Soldier” in 1967.
Nor could you keep him away from Kim. They were as close as a couple could be and if there was a silver lining for Kim in the mistreatment she received at Keith’s hands (literally, as she revealed to me over those couple of days), it was that she had finally ended up with the person that, it would have seemed, she was destined to be with all along.
Kim tragically died in a traffic accident near their home in 2006. Mac poured his grief into the 2008 album, Never Say Never, a vocal love letter to his wife. He also teamed up with the equally entertaining raconteur Billy Bragg for a series of successful tours. And he continued to perform in his own right. In June 2013, he and a side-kick brought their show to the Bearsville Theater here in Woodstock. Curiously, for all the fame of the Faces, McLagan’s name is not so well-known round these parts, and the show, held in the bar, was attended by all of about 25 people. Mac seemed little bothered: if anything, he relished the intimacy, and by the time he was calling in the drinks from the bar-tender (and promptly reviewing the beer onstage), it was almost like being back in his house, listening to him telling stories, playing riffs, and occasionally getting around to a full-blown song.
Mac and I chatted briefly afterwards, recalling my time down in Texas, and I picked up a copy of another musical love letter, Spiritual Boy, his tribute to his great friend from the (Small) Faces, Ronnie Lane. Mac had moved to Austin all those years ago in large part to be close to the ailing Lane, and was devastated when Ronnie’s wife promptly and over-protectively moved her husband away. At least he had Kim back then, and being in a music city as he was, he had his regular gigs and his playing buddies and what looked like a lovely little life.
Earlier this year, I heard Mac talking about his latest solo album, United States, on NPR; from what I could gather, it contained additional love songs for Kim. I say, “from what I could gather” because I did not, sadly, go out and get a copy. That happens as we get older.
Mac didn’t seem to get old, however, grey hair notwithstanding. He remained a spritely, effervescent, enthusiastic person who charmed all those he drew into his orbit. It therefore came as a total and complete shock to hear of his death, no doubt all the more so for those on his tour with Nick Lowe that was due to commence the next night in Minneapolis. The tour will go ahead. The show, it seems, must go on. There’s no silver lining to this latest bout of bad musical news; for me there’s no reunion gig in heaven, not for Mac with Ronnie, nor with Kim. But for those musicians who vow to keep playing till the day they drop, well, Mac managed that much. And the outpouring of warm, heartfelt tributes indicates that he lived a full and rewarding life, as both a musician and a person. He was one of those of whom it’s rare to hear a bad word. He will be sadly missed.