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.