Anymore For Anymore: The Ronnie Lane Story by Caroline and David Stafford
Published by Omnibus Press (out now)
This is a fascinating account of a key player in the late 60’s British music explosion. There are many great stories here from his peak years with the Small Faces and the Rod Stewart-led Faces. Ronnie Lane was at the heart of the storm, playing bass, singing and writing. But it’s not all “happy days toy town” – it’s depressing to read of yet another young musician ripped off and exploited by the music biz sharks, and the last section of the book describing his lingering decline and death from MS, which makes for some grim reading.
The book doesn’t dwell too long on his East End childhood, so we’re spared the usual guff about jellied eels and Pearly Kings. Fortunately, his older brother Stan was well into music and Ronnie was playing in bands from a young age. This scene led to the eventual coming together of the Small Faces. By then the Beatles and Stones had kicked the doors open for groups like the Small Faces, the Who, and the Animals – but the controlling forces of management and record labels were still stuck in post-war showbiz entertainment mode. They thought that Beat Groups would just be a passing fad like the Twist or Hula Hoops. Hence the absurd routine of groups putting out 2 or 3 albums a year – basically singles padded out with cover versions of current hits or songs from musicals – and playing live all the rest of the time.
The Small Faces had the misfortune to sign up with the notorious Don Arden. They took the bait of a groovy central London pad and accounts at the leading Carnaby Street boutiques – little did they know it was just their own money they were spending. The contract and royalty scams would dog the group for the rest of their careers, serving Ronnie a particularly vicious blow in later years as his health failed.
It all ended in tears after a fractious Australian tour with the Who. By then internal factors were coming to a head – mainly Steve Marriott’s ego, part one of what Ronnie Lane was to call the ‘Lead Singer Problem’, along with the usual issues of composing credits and royalties, plus general burnout – of which there was plenty more to come in his next outfit. Fed up with Arden-imposed lightweight pop like Sha La La Lee the group’s next move was the psychedelic splendour of the Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake album, meanwhile dropping two of the most blatant drug songs ever to grace the charts in Here Comes The Nice and Itchycoo Park.
Meanwhile, though Ronnie had been ticking all the 60’s experience boxes – speed and hash soon to be followed by the huge impact of LSD. As so often this led to a dalliance with Eastern Religion – in this case encouraged by Pete Townshend and his Meher Baba fixation. There are quite a lot of Baba quotes along the way – personally, I find the whole Baba “Don’t worry be happy” thing pretty facile, but it was the golden age of the guru and there were certainly worse charlatans around.
But the book shows that he was a genuine seeker, who wasn’t satisfied with ticking off the country houses, flash cars and so on like the other guys in the group. Like Townshend he felt there had to be more to the passing show of life than getting money and star status – this would figure even more strongly in his next outfit.
I saw the Faces a lot in their early days at places like the Greyhound in Croydon and the first few big gigs. There was a real joy, camaraderie and energy to their show, especially when Ronnie stepped forward for a solo spot or joined Rod at the mike together on Maybe I’m Amazed.
However in many ways, the group was a marriage of convenience, and once they’d got some success the old Lead Singer issue returned. Apart from personal differences, there was a feeling that Stewart was holding back his best new songs for his solo albums and fobbing off the group with run of the mill leftovers. All the while though Ronnie Lane was proving himself as a singer and songwriter, with great tracks like Debris and Richmond. It wasn’t too long before the group descended into self-parody, with cocktail bar and waitresses on stage while Stewart booted footballs into the audience.
He’d had enough by then of the whole stadium rock scene and the attendant non-stop travelling between anonymous hotels and moving on to do it all over again the next day. The dissatisfaction ran deeper to a more personal and spiritual level. His next venture was about as far from the commercial packaging of big biz rock as you could get, One of his first moves in getting away from the whole star trip was down the 60’s path of “getting it together in the country”. Enthusiasm always outweighed judgment for Ronnie and he ended up being ripped off paying over the odds for a near derelict Borders farm. Still, he and his family made the best of it, sustained by one of his better business ventures, the Ronnie Lane mobile recording studio.
He’d always had a fascination with the old world of music hall, vaudeville and travelling circuses. This became the Passing Show – a further rejection of the rock’n’roll star trip, instead being all about the moment, back to the joyous vibe of playing what he wanted with a bunch of mates like Gallagher and Lyle, free of all the trappings and demands of the Faces. The idea was for it to be like when the fair comes to town for a week, setting up the tents and caravans, mixing clowns and acrobats with the music. This romantic vision produced some amazing nights but the practicalities of keeping the show on the road were prohibitive, and as always Lane was vulnerable to various con artists and freeloaders.
The album he produced with the Slim Chance group shows his back to the roots desire to get back to a folk/blues/country style – and an atypical but beautiful classic, The Poacher. As so often in his career, lack of promotion from the label meant limited sales. It was a similar story with the separate collaborations with Ron Wood and Pete Townshend – great reviews, little in the way of publicity or sales.
From there the story takes a darker turn. After a while, it becomes clear that his headaches and clumsiness aren’t just a bad hangover. MS is diagnosed, and from then on we’re in the depressing world of monetized medicine. Finding that the NHS wouldn’t provide the medicine he needs – shades of Tony Wilson’s death from renal cancer – he moved to the US in the hope that rumoured miracle cures would materialize. He gets involved in setting up a foundation for MS treatment and research, which soon becomes a snake pit of litigation as once again he’s taken advantage of. Meanwhile, his condition went downhill fast, while his money had almost run out. Kenney Jones made it his mission to get some of the old royalties from the Small Faces days, Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend did all they could, although some former colleagues don’t come out so well: there’s a very telling anecdote of his fury when Rod Stewart turns up with a cheque for £5000.
There’s a really affectionate feel to the author recounting of the story, so that you can’t help liking the man, for all his mistakes. It’s backed by an impressive amount of research, including family, friends and musical colleagues – although a certain lead singer is conspicuous by his absence. As always with Omnibus it’s a beautifully produced book, with plenty of well-chosen photos and it’s even got an index, rare these days.
Essential reading for anyone interested in the life and work of one of the true originals of British 60’s music.
Available at all good bookshops.
All words by Den Browne, you can read more on his author profile here:
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