Here’s a clip of British blues-rock good ol’ boys when they’re asleep, the Faces. It’s “Richmond” a track that appears on their 1971 record Long Player. This performance is from Top of The Pops that very same year.
Rod Stewart sang lead on many of the band’s tunes. But in this clip, that’s him playing rudimentary stand-up bass. This track was written and led by singer, bassist, and guitarist Ronnie Lane, AKA ‘Plonk’ who was born this day in 1946. He would have been 67 today.
Lane died in 1997 of a debilitating and drawn out fight with multiple sclerosis. But, before his death, he was a valued, and well-liked musician among everyone in the upper tiers of his generation of musicians. But, beyond being a rock ‘n’ roll mensch, what else did Ronnie Lane bring to the table?
Let’s start with this tune.
“Richmond” marks one of the key musical threads the Faces followed during their reasonably short, yet very potent musical turn between 1969 and 1975. The country-blues connection to be heard here is certainly appropriate to the song, a tale of being on the road, and feeling homesick. What better reason to sing the blues than missing your home, even if you are in New York City? In this case, home means Richmond just outside of London. This is an area known for clubs, pubs, lush greenspaces, quaint high-streets, and riverside lazing. I know, because I’ve been there myself, long after Ronnie Lane made it his stomping ground. I can see why he missed it.
One thing this song does is to balance out the swagger of the band’s catalogue. Really, this is a song about vulnerability, not rock ‘n’ roll debauchery. I think that’s what I like most about it. This is what Lane brought to the Faces, and to the Small Faces before that; vulnerability, and a characteristically laid-back fluidity in everything he laid down. His voice is like a simple pleasure, sort of Dylanesque by way of George Harrison. Of course, he was also a formidable instrumentalist as well, with an understated melodic approach to the bass, and velvet touch on the slide, as evidenced by this clip of the song between himself and fellow Face Ronnie Wood.
He’d apply his gifts to his own band Slim Chance when he quit the Faces in 1973. This was a band that trolled these same kinds of folky-blues strains as Faces did, with a similar emphasis on feel more so than virtuosity. Further into the decade, he made albums with both Pete Towshend (Rough Mix) and Eric Clapton (Lucky Seven). In 1979, he recorded a solo record – See Me – which also featured Clapton, along with ex-Wings and Grease Band guitarist Henry McCulloch.
But by the end of the 1970s, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease inherited from his mum. Lane had spent a portion of his childhood carrying her up and down the stairs with the help of friends, including future bandmate Kenney Jones. Like his mother had, Lane began to lose muscular control and coordination. His physical skills as a musician would be greatly challenged from that point onward.
Lane moved to Austin Texas in the mid-80s, where he’d form an American version of Slim Chance. Later, he’d move to Trinidad Colorado, where he’s spend his final years. All the while, his musical friends would help him pay his medical bills through various means, including concert benefits. He had run out of money, and was unable to work, with the royalties of Small Faces and Faces material still not freed up.
By 1997, he was gone, after having struggled with his condition for two decades. Yet, his influence made an impact on a whole new generation of musicians, including The Sex Pistols, Paul Weller, Ocean Colour Scene, Blur, The Replacements, and The Black Crowes, among many others.
For more information about Ronnie Lane, here’s a link to his obituary in the Independent, which includes career highlights, and recollections from friends.
And to get the word from the man himself, here’s an interview with Ronnie Lane, in which he describes his early years in the formation of the Small Faces. Even though he is in decline here, you can see he’s still got his sense of humour and effusive charm.
Happy birthday, Plonk!