Monday, October 5, 2009

The Godlike Genius of Danny Kirwan, or a review of Hello There Big Boy!

Just about every band worth their weight in antipasto has at least one insane or eccentric member in their line-up at one point or another. Easy example - Keith Moon of the Who. Fleetwood Mac were lucky to boast three of them: Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan. All of them played guitar. They sang songs. Loved Elmore James. They played in the band well before Buckingham-Nicks found their way out in front of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie and created an AOR monster.

Peter Green left Fleetwood Mac for many reasons. One of them was because the rest of the band didn't feel they should be donating their profits to the struggles in Biafra. Peter Green was wearing white robes around this time. As fitting as it looked for someone who's known as the Green God among guitar aficionado circles, Greeny drifted away from music for almost ten years before coming back into music in the 1980s to only drift away for a few more years to be found wearing silly hats.

Jeremy Spencer went for a stroll through downtown Los Angeles during one of Fleetwood Mac's American tours in the early 70s and was deemed a missing person for five days before the police found him safe and sound within the Children of God cult of which he's still a member of today. In a way, it puts you off from listening to too much Elmore James, really. If you end up seeking God after listening to his amazing slide guitar work, then it's not really worth donating 10% of your weekly income to. Spencer released some interesting records in the 70s and in more recent times, but that's another footnote for some other time.

When it comes to rock 'n' roll's acid casualties, we're often made note of Syd Barrett and to a lesser and just as significant extent, the great work of Roky Erickson. People like Danny Kirwan get swept under the carpet, even though his amazing guitar work on Fleetwood Mac's Kiln House still holds ground today.

Monterrey was a great event, as Eric Burdon and the new Animals attested to. Joni Mitchell via CSN&Y's Woodstock spoke of similarly exciting events. And then there's another little festival which could've been.

The Bavarian Woodstock which Rainer Langhans planned never did quite happen. This was in March 1970. The HighFish / Hai-Fisch / Stoned-Shark commune had made a rendezvous with Green and Kirwan at Munich airport in a (strange) attempt to get Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones to play a festival with sauerkraut instead of mud. What became an innocent request to ask members of the penguin-loving Mac to request the services of these two artists to play at his little festival had turned and tuned into a giant LSD binge of which neither guitar-playing gents have managed to recover from.

Not too long after this event (okay, two years and a few months to be a little more exact), Kirwan threw his guitar against a wall in the dressing room and decided to stand in the audience and watch Fleetwood Mac attempt to play a set without him. Mick Fleetwood decided that it might be a good idea to fire him, and off he went.

Kirwan released Second Chapter in 1975 and followed it up a year later with Midnight in San Juan.

It's Kirwan's last album, 1979's Hello Big Boy! which is the focus of attention here. Peter Green at this point had just released his second album, In The Skies and Jeremy Spencer released Flee with fellow members of the Children of God cult. Of course, Fleetwood Mac released the sprawling double LP, Tusk - the commerical flop that had only sold a million-odd copies.

All three guitarists had seen 1979 as the year of AOR, and Kirwan's work is no exception to the fact. Kirwan's guitar work was rumoured to be faded out of the mix almost entirely, and the work of 70-odd musicians turned a mentally-fragile Kirwan recording session into something interesting - kind of like what Phil Spector did to the Beatles last album, one could say.

Today, Kirwan's rumoured to be living in a men's shelter in London, drinking away his Fleetwood Mac royalty cheques and refusing any interviews about his music career.

When you think about it, there's precious few bands from the 60s whose original members are still alive today. There's a few Bluesbreakers line-ups, Cream, the Kinks and Fleetwood Mac - the band who will go down in history for having more nutters on the six-string than any other.

And as much as Peter Green stands head and shoulders above Kirwan and Spencer in terms of adulation and respect, Danny Kirwan's light shines brightly for creating the best lost album of the late 1970s.

Hello There Big Boy! has the Jimmy Buffett sea-breeze, the Steely Dan tightness, the Paley Brothers harmonies, the sensiblity of Gerry Rafferty, and the catchy choruses of Christopher Cross. Naturally, Kirwan didn't like the idea of touring to promote this album - and in fact, the album was almost shelved due to the erratic behaviourisms of Danny's, so the album sank without a trace.

Have a listen, and tell me what you think.


Nicholas said...

Thanks for this Donat. Not sure what I'm enjoying more: the breezy tunes or the stories of the German acid dystopias. Never realised there were such corrosive krautrock/Mac connections. Hope you plan to post a similar tribute to Green.

Anonymous said...

I love Danny Kirwan's contributions to Fleetwood Mac. He's responsible for at least half of the best songs they produced before the Nicks-Buckingham era.

I look forward to checking his solo stuff out.

Anonymous said...

Danny was not " crazy" He suffered from the onset of real mental illness of the most crippling kind: conditions not much understood at the time. So Danny drank to self medicate. That acid was forced on him & it made his severe anxieties far worse. Green's illness was, by his own admition, the result of much drug us. In any case, Danny was being cruely judged by a band, with menmbers 5 yrs older [he joined when he was 17] who drank like whales for meer fun: they also began to hate Danny for being afraid of everthing, too shy & not able to look people in the eye because he was too nervous...I guess thay would have shot him if he had autism !!! Danny had the classic symptoms of mental illness that strikes in youth: He was judged badly for it's effects & little understanding much less compassion was shown, by people partying out of control for yrs for no reason but indulgence. So danny, who became increasingly afraid of people & isolated himself, was kicked to the curb.

Anonymous said...

Peter green chose danny because he was looking for a guitarist as good as himself to help share lead guitar on albums equally and to take over lead onstage, to give himself a break: he also required that Danny write half the songs for the next album BY HIMSELF. Danny did: DANNY WAS ONLY 17 & looked 13...THAT action by green was NOT the action of a mentor looking for a student , but a master looking for an equal master to share and even take over lead...Danny did this interchangibly with Green well infact ON MOST songs where people are praising Green as the best...It is actually DANNY on lead. When danny joined they outsold the Beatles & The Rolling Stones: Danny did it all suffering severe, crippling mentall illness, misunderstanding by most, being 5 yrs younger than the others, being depressed, left alone in hotel rooms most of the time, to young to even go out with them , desperatley lonely fir love, & they were all father figures because of their age & Danny's own dad having abandoned him yrs ago. He was also an only child: Danny was too humble to keep showing off his guitar skills when solo & felt shy on stage & terrified: Danny was Greens equal at 17: Green, perhaps the greatest guitarist at that time. danny need take the back seat to no one. He's eraned his wings.

Anonymous said...

When peter left the band it was Danny who almost single handedly kept it going: HE smoothly set them into the musical sound of the early 70s. with hauntingky beautiful songs that he wrote, taking the sole lead onstage & advising them to harminize: the band that should have crumbled survived almost flawlessly: Danny was the ONLY reason that band ever survived to be giants a few yrs later with Romours...but Danny was fired before that, the band kept going in the direction set by Danny brillianlty, but they corrupted Danny's less commercial but sublime sound, for a more comercial, corporate sell-out sound...then became famous for the harmonizing & dreamy nature of their music THAT DANNY HAD CREATED for them a few yrs before, again while in the deep throws of mental illness: Yet when Mcvie had about a billion bucks he was enraged that Danny be even so much as included in interviews, and be meerly mentioned in a documentary of the band yrs later, when Danny was homeless, living on the streets!!! Unspeakable: I hope nothing in life is unforgivable, but if any act is...that one is. With all their countless sell-out one gave a rat's behind about Danny. If they had cut him in for a tiny amount, he would have recieved millions, such was their fortune...they may say they cared/care when the rare voice of conscience questions themmmBut their actions speak louder & betray them powerfully.

Anonymous said...

Music is everything....INDUSTRY sucks...& people think Danny is odd for not wanting to talk about it?? Danny isn't the 'crazy' one. Those who judge him have been proving that for yrs.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous - You put it perfectly

james prichard said...

danny is the world's most wonderful singer, songwriter, guitarist . he has contributed to my happiness . i pray for him every day , i love him.

Unknown said...

I recently decided to download some of my favorite music from the past to enjoy while working out, horseback riding, etc., and came across some info about Danny. I never knew that this guy was wholly responsible for what I considered the incredible magic in the sound of Fleetwood Mac that I remembered being totally enchanted by.
This is such a sad story and it speaks to the insensitivity toward mental illness. If only someone had intervened on a meaningful level, we might still have the musician and his beautiful music to enjoy, and he might have had a fulfilling life all these years creating the music that captivated so many of us.
Danny's very heart and soul came through in every performance and musical endeavor he participated in. His voice and guitar were channeling pure and ethereal spirituality that spoke to us in a way that few artists can conjure.
It's hard not to be angry at those who failed him so horribly. He was only a kid filling a man's shoes and his talents were exploited and tossed away. Anyone who takes the time to research the amazing accomplishments of Danny at such a young age and with no adult guidance to support him would be in awe of him.
Where ever he is, I hope he has some idea of how much he is appreciated for the music and the magic he created and shared with us during that brief but unforgetable time.

Anonymous said...

I'm always looking for news about Danny and can't believe I missed this article before. What happened to Danny was criminal. As Anon said, Danny was misunderstood and basically ignored by his bandmates. After Peter left Danny was on his own. His music is beautiful and ahead of his time.

Anonymous said...

That the older bandmembers took Danny's talent but not reponsibility for guiding him along the way is unforgiveable. He was still a boy when he joined up. How thinking

Anonymous said...

Danny was great, Peter was better.
Both had mental issues.

Green was mostly too much acid and mescaline, likely worsening some type of schizoaffective disorder

Kirwin was mostly alcohol. He had a bad temper and did not take care of himself.

Fleetwood never noticed the issues going on with Green and later Kirwin. and McVie also had alcohol and tempter issues.

Spencer made fun of Green's wanting to give up all of his money and then HE ran away with a cult.

The German's wanted Green, who had money to use and was one of the big three (Hendrix-Clapton-Green) at the time as Hendrix was at his peak.

1970-71 was a very bad year for guitarists and singers. We lost Hendrix, Joplin, Allman, and almost lost Clapton. Green is still around but is not the same. To paraphrase McVie about Green, watching him makes me hurt for what we lost.

By the way, one of the reasons that Green left was because he felt that the others were lagging behind musically. This may have been the case on his good days, but the solo stuff that he did just after leaving FM shows how impaired his judgement was at the time.

By the way, Green did some good work with Country Joe and He, Kirwin, and McVie played some good stuff with Otis Spahn, I got a copy off of Amazon.

I think that I would have gotten along or at least understood Kirwin. I have met many like him. He was a perfectionist and obsessive/compulsive, but he drank too much and did so at an age before his brain finished growing.

Unfortunately Fleetwood and McVie were the George Burns of excess; they drank and did drugs and the others around them suffered. They appear to be better now that they dried up, but they have regrets, as do we all.

By the way, all of them started playing in bands really young, that was common back then. Remember when the Beatles had trouble playing in bars because they were underaged. Teenagers had more time to practice before cable TV and video games.

By the way, I make my own ringtones and one of my favorites is "Like it this way"

Robert reynolds said...

To me, Danny Kirwan's Fleetwood Mac is so much better than Lindsey Buckingham's. Not even close. The touch that he posessed with his right hand was so lovely that it can almost bring me to tears,(Woman of a Thousand Years). Future Games brings back feelings from that period that no other album can do. If one listens to his solo albums you will hear the voice of a man who seems genuinely content. Maybe the band had tremendous monetary goals similar to those great guys in Pink Floyd. I'm tired of these who are more business gools than artists. Anyway, an extremely grateful thank you to both Danny and Peter. I would love to know both of you now.

Anonymous said...

Danny Kirwan has more talent in his pinky finger than all of Fleetwood Mac members combined. These godless a-holes are perched in their mansions in California,garnering millions of dollars for music featuring a woman who bleats like a billy goat. Shame on them always. They could have cobbled together some money and purchased a place for Danny and the help he needs. Maybe a Cali wildfire will come along, assisted by Santa Ana winds and burn their mansions to the ground. Hack band, although Lindsey is a good, not great guitarist.

MeanMrKite said...

I have made a "Danny Kirwan's Fleetwood Mac" mixtape, with all the DDK songs released during his FM tenure, and all I can say is Danny's work is so stunningly beautiful, I only play it when I'm alone because of how emotional I get.

Something about the Kirwan material from Then Play On, Kiln House (Station Man!), and of course the Kirwan-dominated Future Games and Bare Trees albums, just hits me so deeply it defies adequate description. It's worth seeking out, to dramatically understate the case.

All thanks, thoughts, vibes and prayers for Mr. Kirwan. He probably doesn't even realize the extent to which he has touched music lovers the world over. I'm just one of many.

Anonymous said...

Ive spent the last few months acquiring all of his solo work, and any of the material he played on. As a massive PG fan it was a natural progression to seek out everything that Danny did, and they're equally as talented in my eyes. Some of Danny's work is so heart achingly beautiful musically, yet so unknown. I'd class PG as underrated, but hardly anyone has heard of Danny. Woman of a thousand years is one of my all time favourite tracks. RIP Danny.

Anonymous said...

Been on a Danny binge all week, what a talent. Anyone know if the Hello There Big Boy album cover was an intentional dig at Bob Welch?