Another extract, this one quite lengthy, from Had Me A Real Good Time, Andy Neill’s Faces biography. Perhaps due to the number of marital breakdowns and other romantic fall-outs within The Faces’ inner circle, Andy was able to interview a bevy of ex-wags who weren’t coy about the way The Faces went about their business. He also spoke a several members of their predominantly American road crew.
It is April 1973 and all is not well in the Faces camp. Rod doesn’t like the new album and isn’t afraid to say so, and Ronnie is on the verge of quitting.
Ooh La La was launched with a pre-release playback party at the Warner Bros. offices and a more upmarket gathering at Tramp, on Jermyn Street, the London nightclub of choice for the well-heeled, A-list rock stars and footballers on the razz. The band had graduated to the Mayfair set from the less refined Speakeasy and it was now their playground of choice, along with the likes of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ringo Starr and Keith Moon. Surrounded by tarted up Can Can girls flashing their frilly knickers, the band posed for the press with glasses in hand, a dishevelled Ronnie Lane looking particularly worse for wear.
Before leaving for America, the band fitted in four British dates around towns and cities left off the previous tour. These included Sunderland on Friday, April 13. It was a week since the FA Cup semi-finals where Sunderland beat Arsenal 2-1 to progress to the final against Leeds. John Peel, a staunch Liverpool and Faces supporter, cherished the memory of that night as one of his favourite ever gigs when both band and audience bonded in one unholy communion. “I’m supposed to have danced in the wings with a bottle of Blue Nun in my arm,” Peel later recalled. “And I’m a person who never dances. Never, never, never.”
The day after the show at Worcester Gaumont, Roy Hollingworth interviewed Rod at his home in Windsor and found him in a bored, surly frame of mind. When the journalist gave his favourable verdict on Ooh La La, Stewart registered surprise. “It was a bloody mess… But I shouldn’t say that should I? … It was a disgrace but I’m not going to say anything more about it.” Hollingworth tried diverting the conversation to a lighter bent but Rod was on a roll – he hit out at The Faces sticking to the same material, their problems in playing the new songs live and the wasteful work pattern in the studio. Stewart later claimed he’d been misquoted but the damage had been done.
When the interview, carrying a banner headline ‘Rod: Our new album is a disgrace… a bloody mess’, was printed prominently on page three in the Melody Maker dated April 21, all hell broke loose. “It was very mean spirited of Rod to slam Ooh La La in the press immediately after it came out,” says McLagan. “He was making his own albums, fair enough but he didn’t have to slag ours off and he had no right to because it wasn’t a bad album… The irony is he could have contributed more to it but he didn’t so he had even less of a reason to criticise.”
Amid ill feeling emanating from Rod’s outburst the Faces ninth US tour started just days later with Jo Jo Gunne supporting.* From the beginning it was, to borrow a familiar phrase, never a dull moment especially as Lane deliberately disobeyed the band’s unwritten ‘no wives on the road’ edict.
[Roadie] Russ Schlagbaum: “The other guys were really pissed off, they felt that Kate [Lane] was putting all this shit in Ronnie’s head. I got the shock of my life because my girlfriend Barbara Morice, who was Ronnie’s secretary, came over with Kate. In Columbus, Ohio, there were a load of girls that I knew from college around, I was working for one of the world’s biggest rock’n’roll bands and I’m all set up. I walk into the lobby of the Holiday Inn and there stands my English girlfriend who I thought I’d left behind in Richmond. It was like ‘Holy fuck, what do I now?’ I thought it was very odd that Ronnie would bring someone over to play au pair but then leave the child with a hotel caretaker or some sort so that Kate and Barbara could go to the gig. They all travelled round in this great big Ford station wagon and I have to give Laney credit because he busted his ass to drive those distances from gig to gig with these women and a kid until the end of the tour in Indianapolis.”
On May 10, the intractable situation came to a head at Nassau Coliseum, Long Island as Schlagbaum recounts: “It started at the hotel earlier in the day. [Roadie] Charlie Fernandez came in, saying ‘Whoa, something really weird is brewing’. The band got to the gig, had an argument in the dressing room before they went on and while they were walking on stage. I’m standing there, holding Ronnie Lane’s bass. He walks right by me and goes over to Mac and throws a glass of wine in his face, walks back and while I’m putting the bass on Ronnie, Mac picks up a tambourine and throws it as hard as he can. Ronnie ducks and it just misses him. The audience had no idea, they’re thinking it’s all part of the act. The band carried on arguing throughout the set and afterwards, they locked themselves in the dressing room for hours. Chuch and I were pissed off because we wanted to get back to the hotel for the party and the women but the keys to the truck were in the dressing room so we couldn’t leave. We said ‘Can’t we get in?’ and [Faces tour manager] John Barnes said, ‘Absolutely nobody can come in’. They had this huge row and that’s when Ronnie decided he was leaving the band.
“The next gig was in Roanoke, Virginia and nobody was speaking to Ronnie except Woody who was his usual bubbly self, you know, ‘Let’s put all the bad stuff behind us and have some fun.’ Woody was always desperate that everyone should have a good time. Laney always used to wander round in circles onstage so that his guitar cord would end up in a huge knot, which was always a problem for me but that night he just stood still back by his amps and played bass.”
Mac, who was celebrating his 28th birthday, remembers Lane coming up to his face during the gig and swearing at him whereupon an enraged McLagan kicked him up the arse and chased him off the stage. Alongside “Fuck the gig!” and the even more endearing “Bollocks, you cunt!” “I’m leaving the group” was a common Faces catchphrase – a mock cry wolf uttered whenever there was any minor hassle or pressure to deal with, usually with drink in hand and tongue firmly in cheek. But now Ronnie Lane was implacable as Mac recalled, “When he said ‘I’m leaving the group’, I said, ‘Oh, for fuck’s sake, Ronnie.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you come with me and we’ll get another band together?’ I said, ‘I’m in the band I want to be in with you. I don’t want you to leave.’”
An uncorroborated story has it that after a gig on the tour, the resentment directed at Stewart from Lane descended to a confrontation where Rod, all satin and white gloves, sized up the bass player in his rag and bone man clobber and remarked, “What are you trying to be – a spiv or a Ted?” to which Lane retorted, “Well I’d rather look like a fucking Teddy Boy than an old tart who’s going through the change.” Lane later acidly remarked he knew it was time to move on when Rod “started buying his clothes from Miss Selfridge.”
For Lane it must have seemed a bitter irony – feeling he had no alternative but to leave the band he’d formed – ten years on from finding Kenney Jones in the British Prince. And his chief grievance being the vocalist he had objected to joining in the first place. It is unfair to lay all the blame at Rod’s feet for being the catalyst behind Lane’s decision, and it should be reiterated that Stewart did not want Lane to leave the Faces either. Onstage they were something of a double act – Ronnie doing his best to make ‘the LV’ (lead vocalist as Rod was sardonically referred to) crack up while Rod would piggyback Ronnie around the stage or help keep him vertical. Most crucially Lane’s levelling humour kept Rod’s excesses in check. During the fraught vocal overdubs for Ooh La La, Rod made it known to Circus reporter Barra Greyson that, in his opinion, “Ronnie’s the real songwriter.”
Going further back to the Never A Dull Moment sessions, Rod had expressed concern for his comrade, telling Nick Logan, “I saw Ronnie Lane the other day and he was looking a bit bleary eyed. I must ring him up and persuade him to take an early night.” Although in the same interview, he did admit having problems interpreting Lane’s compositions. “Ron [Wood] and I have this incredible thing between us. We could both be on opposite sides of the world and Ron could phone and play me a tune, and I could put the lyrics to it. Whereas I don’t have that same thing with Ronnie Lane because of the chords and the structures he uses. I can’t get into them.”
“They always took the mickey out of Ronnie’s songs,” says Jan Jones. “Kenney used to laugh about it. He’d come in from Olympic and I’d say, ‘How did it go?’ and he’d say, ‘We’ve got the statutory Ronnie Lane song, ‘rinky-dinky-dink…’’’ Musically Ronnie and Rod were like chalk and cheese but I loved the blend of Ronnie Lane and Rod’s voice.”
The Faces were predominantly a band built for the stage but, as Mac points out, “apart from singing the opening verse of ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’, Ronnie didn’t really get to do anything with the band so it was no wonder he felt frustrated.”
Russ Schlagbaum: “Everyone thought Laney was insane. ‘Why the fuck would he leave the Faces right at their peak? He’s got to be out of his mind. It must be the woman he’s with’. Of course, Kate had a lot to do with it but Ronnie was on the alert from the very beginning. Ronnie saw through the Rod thing and he told Mac and Kenney, ‘Rod’s gonna leave you in the shit like Steve [Marriott] did’, but they wouldn’t have it. They didn’t want to get off the golden cart at that point.”
Ronnie’s brother Stan takes a similar view. “I used to say to Ronnie, ‘You only jump off the boat if it’s sinking.’ And for the first time in his life he was making plenty of money. But I think that Kate was a bad influence at that time because she wanted to be a hippie and live on a farm and all that shit. I think she was the force that dragged Ronnie away from the Faces plus he was pissed off with Rod so I think between the two of them it turned him.”
‘Faces Go To Town’ ran the front page of the May 19 edition of Sounds announcing that the band were to play three major London concerts at the Edmonton Sundown on June 1, 3 and 4 as a prelude to a full scale European tour with dates to be recorded for a proposed live album. But of far more drama and consequence was the paper’s announcement a week later: ‘Plonk Quits Faces’. “Following speculation about the future of the Faces, Ronnie Lane announced this week his decision to leave. Prior to leaving for a holiday in France, he said ‘It’s time for me to move on. I feel the need for a change.’”
The resultant hoopla surrounding the gigs involved fans queuing for over seven hours for tickets with the 3,500 capacity audiences being jammed against the barriers and the inevitable cases of fainting. Such was the fervour that a fourth and final show on June 6 was added. Ironically the Edmonton shows were some of the best the Faces played. “Ronnie was feeling good, his anger had passed,” says Russ. “It was accepted - he was leaving, there was no changing his mind and that was it. There wasn’t a lot of tension – or there appeared not to be.”
“All I mainly recall of Edmonton is the bar onstage,” support act Andy Bown says. “I couldn’t believe Rod had his wine frozen at the correct room temperature in an ice bucket. I thought what a spoilt bastard but nowadays that’s nothing.”
Aware of the sense of occasion, Gaff Management hired Mike Mansfield Television to videotape the final night. After a long wait in which an announcement was made that the Faces had been stopped by police on the way to the gig, a line of Can Can girls came on for a vibrant display before the Faces finally took their places on the wide, palm-treed stage with white rubber flooring – Rod in sparkling vest and long tartan scarf with a green feather boa tied around his waist, the two Ronnie’s fags clamped in mouths and Mac with candle atop the Steinway to add atmosphere as well as being handy for lighting ciggies. Kenney sat behind his new Ludwig ‘liquorice allsorts’ kit. If it weren’t for the presence of ‘Farewell Ronnie’ signs scattered among the ubiquitous tartan scarves in the audience, it was difficult to determine this was Lane’s last gig – as if the subject was verboten. The encore of ‘Memphis’ over, Lane joined the others to take his final bow, joining in on the traditional ‘We’ll Meet Again’ sing-along as the five Faces left the stage together.
“That last night at Edmonton was absolutely fucking fantastic,” says Stan Lane. “I was up in the balcony and it was moving. I was shitting meself because I thought it was all going to collapse. Ronnie left there that night and he came with me in the motor and we went to Tramp. He sees Marc Bolan, goes up to him and says, ‘You haven’t got a job for an out of work bass player, have ya?’”