He's one of our own - Ronnie Lane

Thursday, 31 March 2016

This post is published to celebrate what would have been Ronnie Lane's 70th birthday - on 1 April.

Forest Gate youngster, Ronnie Lane's life (1 April 1946 - 4 June 1997) was perhaps best summed up by one of his greatest hits, penned with Steve Marriott:  All or Nothing.


Ronnie, as a
 mod, with the
 Small Faces
Ronnie was a key figure in two of Britain's most influential bands in the 1960's and 70's (The Small Faces and The Faces), yet died in poverty and obscurity aged only 51 in a remote town in the American Rockies.  This is his story.

Ronnie was the son of a Forest Gate lorry driver, Stan, and his wife Elsie, and spent his childhood at 385 Romford Road - see photo. Stan was the main influence on his early life and took responsibility for raising Ronnie and his older brother, Stan junior, as his mother began to suffer from the same debilitating disease - Multiple Sclerosis - that was to end Ronnie's life, prematurely.


385 Romford Road, today

Brother Stan referred to their mum as a "cold fish", and Ronnie always spoke of his dad in revered terms, barely mentioning his mother, in later years.

Encouraged by his dad, Ronnie picked up a guitar for the first time aged 14.

Soon after he left school (which he detested) he signed up to an art course at what was later to become Lister school. He subsequently drifted around a series of mundane jobs (electrician's mate, pipefitter's mate, scooter messenger, fairground worker etc) until he got his first musical break, as a guitar tester for Selmer's.


Looking to form a band, c 1964

He soon got the music bug and was quickly putting up adverts in local shop windows (see photo of an example)looking to recruit band members. This lead to the foundation of his first band, The Outcasts, with local drummer Kenny (later Kenney, of Who fame) Jones.

The band quickly fell apart, however, but the pair of them teamed up with fellow local boy Steve Marriott (brought up at 26 Strone Road, Manor Park, opposite the Ruskin Arms), and Jimmy Winston on keyboards. Ronnie switched from playing lead guitar, to bass and Marriott gave him the nickname, Plonk, as a result.


Ronnie recording, and in his element
The four of them were snapped up by Don Arden, the notoriously aggressive manager, who promoted them as a band to appeal to Mods.

Ronnie was a friend of Kenny Johnson, who later went on to run the Lotus Club on Woodgrange Road. Kenny had the band playing at the club a few times and arranged for them to rehearse in his brother, Eddie's, Stratford pub, The Two Puddings.  See here.

The Small Faces, as they were to be called - they were all under 5' 5" tall - had their first hit: Whatcha Gonna Do About It - in October 1965.

They were widely seen as being cheap imitations of The Who, at first. They rapidly ditched Jimmy Winston and replaced him with a Ronnie Lane -look-alike, Ian McLagan, on keyboards.

The Marriott/Lane song writing duo penned a dozen hits for the band over the next three years, including All or Nothing, a number 1 in September 1966.

They played twice at Billy Walker's Upper Cut Club, on Woodgrange Road (see below for the adverts and the Stratford Express report).


Advert for the first
 Upper Cut gig,
 January 1967
Stratford Express,
 6 Jan 1967
Add caption

Stratford Express 13 Jan 1967

The controversial Arden had the band on wages, without passing on the royalties for their songs, claiming that they were " too high on alcohol and drugs the whole time" to be able to handle more money.



Second Upper Cut gig, July 1967



... and the trouble that followed

The band eventually disentangled themselves from his clutches, and from the Decca label they recorded on.  They then teamed up with Andrew Loog Oldham - then manager of the Rolling Stones - and signed up to a new record label, Immediate, that he launched in 1967.

A stream of hits followed, including Itchycoo Park. The location of the park has been one of pop music's long running obsessions, but in the autumn of 1967, Ronnie called it "A place we used to go to in Ilford years ago (a bombsite, next to a railway line, according to Kenny Jones). Some bloke we know suggested it to us because it was full of nettles and you keep scratching".


Press profile (Valentine's magazine)
 of Ronnie in 1967

Other successes followed, like Lazy Sunday Afternoon and the seminal Ogden's Nut Gone Flake album, which topped the charts for six weeks.


Ronnie (centre) at recording of
Ogden's Nut Gone Flake album

Then - the almost inevitable, for the time:  members of the band turned to LSD and Indian mysticism and tensions mounted over "musical differences"; Marriott left and went on to form Humble Pie; the Immediate label went broke - and it took over two decades for the band members to get their royalties from the remnants of the company.

Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood, both formerly of the Jeff Beck Group joined the rump of the Small Faces, and because these new pair weren't particularly short, the "Small" in the band's name was dropped - to become The Faces.

Stewart was to prove to be another Marriott, as far as Lane was concerned - more interested in going his own way.  He soon had huge hits with Maggie May and the Every Picture Tells a Story album, as a solo performer; so Ronnie dropped out of The Faces, in protest, in 1973.

It was to be largely downhill, in music, health and money terms for Ronnie Lane from now.

He had an unsuccessful spell at running a sheep farm in Fishpool, in Wales - he was no farmer. He put together another band, perhaps by way of prediction, known as Slim Chance, which had a spectacularly badly managed and financially disastrous tour, and bankrupted Ronnie.

By this time, his health was starting to deteriorate. At first he put the clumsiness he was developing down to the long-term effects of drink and drug abuse. Slowly the realisation dawned, however, he was struck by the same debilitating MS that was to kill his mother.

Around this time he developed close friendships with both Eric Clapton and Pete Townsend (of The Who), both of whom were later to help him financially, in trying to treat his disease.

Ronnie went to Florida in the early 80's and in desperation began experimenting with some quack remedies to address his MS. 

His musical allies (Pete Townsend, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Steve Winwood, Kenney Jones, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, Andy Fairweather-Low etc) rallied and helped support his charity ARMS (Action Research into Multiple Sclerosis) and raised over $1m. in benefit concerts for the cause.

A branch of the charity was set up in the USA, but 90% of the proceeds were frittered away in "administrative costs", with long-standing litigious repercussions.

Ronnie relocated to Austin, Texas in 1987, where he met his third wife, Susan Gallegos, of  Hispanic/North American heritage (her father had been an Apache chief). As his condition deteriorated, he began to withdraw socially.


Ronnie in Austin c 1987

In 1994 the couple moved to the relatively remote settlement of Trinidad in the Colorado Rockies (pop 5,000). By now Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood were beginning to take care of his medical bills, and royalties from the music he had created over two decades earlier began to trickle in.


Ronnie with stick at Faces benefit
 reunion for MTV, with Bill Wyman,
 far left, deputising for him for the gig

His mobility and speech rapidly deteriorated and he died of the same disease that killed his mother, in 1997. He was buried in a private ceremony, just hours afterwards.

The inscription on his grave indicates that in his later years he turned his back on his rock 'n roll hell-raising, and in his final interviews denounced the use and effects of alcohol and drug abuse.
Ronnie's grave - Trinidad, Colorado (1)


Ronnie's grave, Trinidad, Colorado (2)
His memory lives on, but not just through his music.

In a rare moment of wry humour, Newham Council recognised him around the turn of what would have been his 55th birthday by naming a road after him in Manor Park (see photo).


Newham's tribute: Ronnie Lane, Manor Park.
 Was it wit, or co-incidence that the choice of
location is one of the shortest streets in the borough?

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.

A tribute to the Small Faces, All or Nothing,  has recently been put together by former East End Actress, Carol Harrison, and it runs at the Vaults Theatre, Waterloo until 30 April this year.

Footnote: We are indebted to Mojo Magazine for an article authored by Wayne Penne on Ronnie Lane, in September 1997 for much of the material and insight in the above post.

4 comments:

  1. R.I.P. Ronnie, on what would have been your 70th birthday. Going to the 'Three Tuns Inn' Bishops Castle tomorrow to see 'Slim Chance'. Will be a great night to remember such a 'Great Bloke'

    ReplyDelete
  2. We went last night. To the All or Nothing show. It's an absolutely cracker and very highly recommended to anyone even remotely interested in the Small Faces. A latter day Steve Marriott is the narrator through a production that is both musically excellent and dramatically pleasing. There's a fair bit of humour too - particularly at the expense of the then musical establishment and radio/TV DJs.

    It has been a box office hit and the run will extend till 21 May, when it will tour. Crawley and Norwich are early out if London slots.

    The venue is a bit tricky to find, under the labyrinth of arches and vaults of Waterloo station. But the place has been well decked out and adds atmosphere galore to the show. Ben Sherman shirts and combed-bak hair aren't obligatory dress, but you'll doubtless see a few balding grey haired men with paunches still trying them out in an effort to wish away 50 years, if you go!

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  3. Thanks for recommending the show 'All Or Nothing' . . . . saw it last night and it was one of the best stage shows I've seen in a long, long time! Great music, an enthusiastic cast and a cheering audience made it real fun night out. Ta muchly.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great story and great memories and RIP, Ronnie Lane... seem to remember that a classmate of mine (Dave Kirby) actually lived in 385 Romford Road after he was there and actually found a letter he`d left there; bizarre memory! John

    ReplyDelete

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