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Rock'n'roll: a user's manual: All that sex, drink and drugs took their toll. Today, when most Seventies rockers are either dead or playing golf, what made Ian McLagan, keyboard player of the Faces, write his memoirs?

The Independent 18 February 2000

by John Walsh

When Ian McLagan handed in the first draft of his autobiography, All the Rage, his editor, John Pidgeon, called him with a delicate enquiry. "There's lots of rock'n'roll, Ian," he said, "and lots of drugs. But there's no sex. Do you think there should be a paragraph of, you know... ?" The author was happy to oblige. He sat down and wrote a lengthy account of the day he, Ronnie Lane and Ronnie Wood of the Faces met a female admirer in New York, who introduced herself with, "Hi, guys, I'm Deep Ass," and how they took her up to the band's hotel suite and simultaneously... "You can't put that in the book," Pidgeon cried down the phone when he'd read it. "I'm horrified you should even think of it." McLagan scratches his bleached-straw barnet. "I said to him, 'You said you wanted sex, what did you expect? "Then I kissed her and we went to sleep"? Do me a favour.' "

McLagan's book is now studded, if that's the word, with groupie tales, from the Reeperbahn to the Beverly Wiltshire; with uppers, downers, leapers, acid, coke and flirtations with heroin; with dodgy contracts and crooked managers; with ancient blues artistes and modern prima donnas; with run- ins with the police and customs officials; with a demented Keith Moon hurling hi fi machinery through hotel windows; and with a languorous Marianne Faithfull reading poetry in bed.

It's rather a surprise that these tales of rock'n'roll excess should come from McLagan, who, surrounded by the strutters and egomaniacs in the Small Faces and the Faces, always seemed content with the role of "the quiet one". He was the moody-looking cove with the three keyboards who played as if he had three hands, wiping great surging glissandi along the organ and savaging the piano's high notes. His best stuff could be heard in extremes of style, both allegro fortissimo and blues andante - his stuttering piano that drives the Faces' "Stay With Me" towards a climactic frenzy, and his moody reflective organ on Rod Stewart's version of Hendrix's "Angel". But he seemed to stand to one side of the rude boys and peruked colossi with whom he shared a stage: Steve Marriott, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood. Which is precisely why he was able to write about it all. McLagan was a participant in the rock wars who drank and spliffed and tripped and shagged along with the headliners, but he remained enough of a spectator to see when things were going downhill. The sensible streak may derive from his fondness for his family, especially his father - who, at the age of 20, was the British ice-skating speed champion - and his Uncle Ned, who took young Ian cutting turf and roping hay on idyllic summer holidays in Ireland. He is recalled in the book with tenderness, especially the day Ian and Ron Wood visited him at home in Co Laois and he shyly revealed that he always kept a picture of rock-star Ian, torn from the pages of Fab 208, safety-pinned inside his jacket.

McLagan comes barrelling into the Oxo Tower Brasserie, a short and compact figure with an air of bustle and consequence. He is amazingly good-looking, torrentially talkative, disarmingly open (I heard about his first sexual encounter three minutes after we met), and his hazel eyes regard you with friendly interest: he's a living embodiment of laddishness before the term was debased. As though suggesting some gender battle in his personality, he sports two ear-rings - one a big gypsy-rover silver circle, the other a tiny ladylike diamond stud.

There's something of the duchess, too, about the way he indicates that a cup with a tiny fleck of gravy should be instantly removed, the way he upbraids the waiters about an empty pepper grinder. It's a touch of perfectionism that fits with his astoundingly busy stage technique. "Do you do ginseng and apple juice?" he asks, settling for pure juice and a nice cup of tea. "I've had pleurisy," he explains; "I'm on antibiotics. An' I just don't know what to drink if I'm not drinking."

He is in England to play two concerts - in Southampton and at Camden's Jazz Cafe - to launch his book at the latter venue and to launch The Best of British, a CD of his work with the Bump Band, from his adopted town of Austin, Texas. He has, naturally, been in touch with Woody and Rod, his partners in bad behaviour. Learning of his pleurisy, they switched into staff-nurse mode. "I spoke to Rod on the phone. He said, 'You got to rest, you gotta take care of yourself. My advice is, don't drink, don't be tempted, even on the gig night. . .' "

This solicitous note is a change from the Rod who stamps around in the pages of McLagan's book, radiating folie de grandeur and a considerable streak of cruelty. McLagan tells about the evening when the Faces found themselves in a Miami bar, listening to a washed-up Fifties pop singer called Jimmie Rodgers. Spurred on by Stewart, the boys gave Rodgers a tumultuous ovation, cheering, whistling and stamping. The rest of the small audience joined in. Rodgers was bemused but delighted. His career was suddenly back on track. He was going places. Then, as he sang his only hit, Stewart told the boys to do nothing at the end. Rodgers finished his hit song to a ghastly, deafening silence. "It was a horrible thing to do," McLagan says, "but then we were horrible, especially Rod".

All through the book, McLagan reports shocking behaviour, tut-tuts about it, yet absolves it all. The brotherhood of being in a band makes up for everything. Steve Marriott, front man of the Small Faces, was "not a balanced person"; he, like Keith Moon, was "very tiring to be around". Of Marriott's hyperactive insecurity and Moon's mad determination to smash things up, McLagan is indulgent.

"I was an enabler for these people," he says. "I was on the side, laughing at them and with them. Steve was a very funny guy. Keith behaved so badly, you'd cry with laughter. Then you'd realise - I gotta get out of here. But there two sides to Keith Moon; I genuinely believe he was an undiagnosed schizophrenic. He'd just snap... once in Tramp, he had a go at Keith Richards; he gave him some verbal that was fuckin' ugly. Keith ignored it, but if the guy had done it to me, I'd have run."

When McLagan fell in love with Moon's beautiful wife, Kim (to whom he' been married for 27 years), there was bound to be trouble. Moon put it about that he'd hired a hitman to break McLagan's fingers.

Violence is a theme from early in his life when, a Hounslow-born drop-out from Twickenham art college and organ-tickler with a brace of blues bands, he found himself invited to audition for the Small Faces. The teenage band were in the alarmingly manipulative grip of Don Arden. He kitted them out in Mod clothes, put them through a torrential schedule of gigs, flew them around the hectic Sixties musical circuit - and paid them pounds 20 a week pocket money. They assumed the real money was being banked somewhere. When their parents complained, Arden told them all the cash had gone on drugs. A cold fury about Arden's exploiting of their innocence runs through the book. 

"Don Arden is a confused old man now," McLagan says, "a sad case. He's had the cheek to want to negotiate with us about back royalties. I will not meet the man. If he walked in here, I'd attack him." Today, having weathered the rock'n'roll storm that carried off so many of his buddies - Marriott, Moon, Ian Stewart, Ronnie Lane - McLagan is a contented man. He is happily settled in a modest mansion on 15 acres of Texas land. "There's woods and a creek down there, and I've landscaped bits of it and cut trails through wild country so I can walk the dog," he says. 

"I never planned to live in the country, but it's lovely to wake up and smell the same cowshit as in Ireland."

He's still a working musician, and he is putting a diminutive toe in the pond of fiction, spurred on by the example of Nick Hornby. A nice guy, and a cautious one, which is why he's survived so long. 

"I was always very scared of the needle," he recalls. "And like McCartney says in Barry Miles's biography, you get to a certain point and some trigger mechanism says, 'No - I'm not going down that road.' I've got a lot of dad and mum in me, and a lot of Uncle Ned. And I had a lot of luck."

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