Part 2 of the extract from Had Me A Real Good Time, Andy Neill’s biography of The Faces, detailing Mac’s early career and his arrival in The Small Faces.
Like many British R&B groups of the period, the Muleskinners were given the unexpected but nerve-racking opportunity to back several of their heroes. In September ’64 a visiting blues package was brought over featuring Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter. As well as these two greats, the Muleskinners also backed Howlin’ Wolf. “We played with the Wolf [in December ‘64] at the Ricky Tick, Reading, Corn Exchange, Chelmsford and an all-nighter at the Club Noreik in Tottenham. He was such a sweet man. [Howlin’ Wolf’s guitarist] Hubert Sumlin told me in recent years, ‘The Wolf loved you. He wanted to take you guys back to Chicago’.”
The Muleskinners recorded some further demos including Howlin Wolf’s ‘Back Door Man’. “I think we recorded at the same studio, Southern Music,” says Mac. “An Irish guy called Terry got us in there and he kind of produced the session.” A tough, Pretty Things-style re-recording of ‘Back Door Man’ (featuring Mac’s Hohner Cembalet) was released on Fontana in January ’65. However, with a plethora of similar-sounding R&B groups around the country, the record quickly vanished. This setback was further compounded by the absence of Dave Pether who became hospitalised following a road accident. “We had to keep finding guitarists to cover for him,” McLagan explains.
Ever since hearing Booker T & The MGs seminal ‘Green Onions’, Mac had been seduced by the warm, sexy and soulful sound Booker T. Jones got out of the Hammond L100. “With piano you had to learn a lot of clever stuff but with a Hammond you only have to put your hand on it and it stays, you don’t have to keep hitting it.”
Thanks to a Boosey & Hawkes trade advertisement in Melody Maker that caught Mac’s eye, a trial Hammond L101 was delivered to the McLagan home on Taunton Avenue. After winning his parents round to the idea, Alec was again pressed into signing HP forms for a Hammond L102 and Leslie cabinet. In a Beat Instrumental profile (dated April 1966), McLagan said, “I changed on to the Hammond last April. What a jump! At first I was completely lost. I felt like a little man with a big machine. The controls were a problem after the simple working electric piano. I learned something different every time I played it.”
Through Jack Barrie, of Marquee Artists, McLagan left the Muleskinners around June ‘65 to join an outfit Barrie was managing from Kings Lynn, Norfolk, Boz & The Boz People, formerly known as Boz & The Teatime Four.
Ian McLagan: “Boz wanted to sing jazz so I had to learn jazz chords and I wasn’t happy with it. We were playing all these kind of jazzy R&B things.* One night we played a US army base and we had to do three of these hour-long sets. After the first the bass player came over to me in the dressing room and said, ‘Do you fancy a smoke?’ I’d smelt dope before but never actually smoked it… the next set was just another world and I was so deep into it, I was turned right on, the sound was bigger, deeper and wider and the songs went on forever.”
McLagan was alarmed to discover that the Boz People displayed even less professionalism than the Muleskinners. “Boz was always a bit of a rascal and he wasn’t taking it as seriously as I wanted. We had these dates in Scotland booked and we broke down on the Friday somewhere north of London and Boz just laughed, ‘Ha ha, we broke down, oh well, what the fuck, we can’t get there’. So the van got fixed and on Saturday we set off again. We got as far as the North Circular as I recall and it broke down again. It was like the Russian flyers in A Night At The Opera, you know, ‘Well we got halfway there, we ran out of gas so we went back home.’ Sure enough Boz started giggling, so I said, ‘That’s it, I quit’. I got my case and I thumbed a lift back home.”
Now out of a gig and feeling despondent, McLagan was ready to quit the business. “My earnings were getting smaller and smaller each week and I was sick of all the travelling and having to lug my gear about.” It was then that fate intervened.
“I went to see my girlfriend Irene as I didn’t have anything to do Saturday night and I came back on the tube, she was in Manor House, I was in Hounslow. Completely wrong end of the bloody line. On the way back, I met a pal of mine, Phil Weatherburn, who was actually Gill’s cousin. He said, ‘Hello Mac, how’s the band?’ I said ‘I just quit’ and he said, ‘You should join the Small Faces’ and I went, ‘Yeah, very funny, Phil’. I’d actually already seen the Small Faces on Ready, Steady, Go! doing ‘Whatcha Gonna Do About It’. My dad had called me downstairs to watch them and I thought they were great especially Steve’s voice and the way they looked.
“On the Monday morning, November 1, about nine o’clock, the phone rang and it was Don Arden saying, ‘Can you come up to the office this afternoon? I’ve got a job for you’. I didn’t know what it was for. I thought it might have been for a recording session. While I was waiting in the outer office I looked at the photographs on the wall of all the bands Arden handled - the Nashville Teens, the Animals, the Clayton Squares, the Small Faces and I thought it couldn’t be the Small Faces, the Nashville Teens or the Animals, so it had to be the Clayton Squares who I’d never heard of.
“When he finally got me in, Arden said, ‘How much are you earning?’ and I lied and told him the figure that my dad was earning as a foreman in an engineering works which was £20 a week. I’d actually been on £5 a week with Boz & The Boz People and I was living at home. Arden said, ‘You start at £30, you’ll be on probation for a month and after a month if the guys like you and they want to keep you on, you’ll get an even split’. And I said, ‘What guys?’ He said ‘The Small Faces’ and I smiled to myself. I thought, ‘Fucking great!’
“Don said, ‘Come back at six o’clock’. I think it was probably around five or 5:30 and I walked to the Ship, the pub next to the Marquee. I wasn’t allowed to tell anybody, it was all top secret, mainly because I think Jimmy Winston didn’t know he’d been fired at that point, and also his girlfriend was the secretary in the outer office but I didn’t know that. So after a couple of pints I called my dad who’d just got home from work. I said, ‘Look, dad, I can’t tell you what’s going on but I’ve got a job with a band and I’m going away, it’s really exciting’. And bless his heart he guessed who it was. It was him who turned me on to the Small Faces in the first place.
“So I went back to Don’s office and I was two pints down on an empty stomach, I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. He invited me into his office again. Then the door opened and the three of them came in. Steve looked at me and just grabbed me. They picked me up off the ground and we all started laughing ‘cause we were all the same size.”
As a postscript, after a period of time had passed, Mac enquired as to whether he’d passed the audition. “Ronnie said ‘whaddya mean?’ so I told him about me being on probation. Ronnie said, ‘Did you hear that, Steve? Let’s get this sorted now’. So we went up to the office and Ronnie points at me and says, ‘Listen Don, we like this guy. Mac’s one of us now, fuck this probation bullshit’. That’s when my money dropped down to £20 a week!”
* The Boz People recorded four singles for EMI’s Columbia label in 1965-66 but McLagan cannot recall if he played on any of them during his brief tenure in the band.
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