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Danny Kirwan obituary

Singer, songwriter and guitarist with Fleetwood Mac in the late 1960s and early 70s who brought great creativity to the band

Although he was only 18 when he joined Fleetwood Mac in 1968, Danny Kirwan, who has died aged 68, rapidly became a significant creative force within the group in their early years. It was the guitarist Peter Green who achieved enduring “guitar hero” status with the band, but Kirwan was also a fluent and accomplished player with a delicate touch, his playing particularly recognisable for its use of vibrato.

He was also a prolific songwriter whose compositions would help to move Fleetwood Mac away from their strictly blues roots towards the more melodic soft-rock that turned them into one of the world’s most successful acts.

Kirwan had been in the group for two months when he made his first recording with them, playing on their Green-composed single “Albatross,” a lilting instrumental assembled from contrasting guitar parts. It was an auspicious beginning, since this would be the band’s only UK No 1 hit. His first album with them, Then Play On (1969), contained seven of his songs, including the string-accompanied ballad “When You Say” among more conventionally bluesy material.

He had more writing credits on Kiln House (1970) – the group’s first album after the departure of Green – including the bouncy rocker “Tell Me All the Things You Do,” and he wrote the single “Dragonfly” (1970), with lyrics from a poem by WH Davies. Green considered “Dragonfly” to be the best song Kirwan ever wrote.

Future Games (1971) included the Kirwan-penned opening track “Woman of 1000 Years,” a piece of dreamy California-style psychedelia, and his proto-country rock effort Sometimes. Bare Trees (1972), the last Mac album Kirwan appeared on, featured five more of his songs, including the almost Eagles-like “Child of Mine” and the poignant soft-rock of “Dust” (the latter taking its lyrics from Rupert Brooke’s poem of the same name).

Kirwan can thus be seen as the missing link between the original Fleetwood Mac, planted squarely in the British blues boom, and the band’s megastar LA-based incarnation featuring Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham , when it would sell 40m copies of its 1977 album Rumours.

But Kirwan was unable to cash in on the band’s subsequent commercial bonanza. He had always been emotionally fragile, and Green recounted that Kirwan would often be in tears while he was playing. The strain of touring and performing drove him to drink and drugs, and he often neglected food altogether. He finally quit during a US tour in 1972, when he flew into a rage in the dressing room before one of the shows, smashed his Les Paul guitar and refused to take the stage with the rest of the band. Afterwards Mick Fleetwood told Kirwan he was out of the band.

Kirwan was born in Brixton, south London, though obscurity surrounds his upbringing. At 17 he was playing in a three-piece band called Boilerhouse, and after he persuaded Fleetwood Mac’s producer Mike Vernon to come and see them, Vernon recommended them to Green, who invited Boilerhouse to be the support band at Fleetwood Mac shows. Green had not been happy with his co-guitarist Jeremy Spencer and was looking for another guitar player, so Kirwan was invited aboard, joining the lineup in August 1968.

“I was lucky to have played for the band at all,” Kirwan told the Independent in a rare interview in 1993, after he had stepped out of the limelight. “I did it for about four years, to about 1972, but I couldn’t handle the lifestyle and the women and the travelling.” At this time he had been living in a St Mungo’s homeless hostel in central London, but had been tracked down by Fleetwood, who had last seen him in 1980.

After leaving Fleetwood Mac, Kirwan had put in a blink-and-you-missed-it stint with a band called Hungry Fighter, who played one solitary gig and made no recordings. He made three solo albums on the DJM label in the 1970s, Second Chapter (1975), Midnight in San Juan (1976) and Hello There Big Boy! (1979), but though the music was often melodic and attractive, Kirwan’s absence from live performance and lack of public visibility meant that the discs sold miserably and failed to chart.

He subsequently drifted away from music altogether, spending 10 years living rough and in a basement flat in Brixton, surviving on social security and royalty payments from his Fleetwood Mac work. In 1998, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Fleetwood Mac, but did not attend the ceremony.

He is survived by a son, Dominic, from his marriage to Clare Morris, which ended in divorce.

Daniel David Kirwan, guitarist, singer and songwriter, born 13 May 1950; died 8 June 2018

Adam Sweeting / The Guardian (UK) / June 14, 2018

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Danny Kirwan

Danny Kirwan passes away

Former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Danny Kirwan has passed away at the age of 68. Mick Fleetwood issued the following statement:

DANNY KIRWAN
MAY 13, 1950 ~ JUNE 8, 2018
A TRIBUTE FROM
MICK FLEETWOOD AND FLEETWOOD MAC

Today was greeted by the sad news of the passing of Danny Kirwan in London, England. Danny was a huge force in our early years. His love for the Blues led him to being asked to join Fleetwood Mac in 1968, where he made his musical home for many years.

Danny’s true legacy, in my mind, will forever live on in the music he wrote and played so beautifully as a part of the foundation of Fleetwood Mac, that has now endured for over fifty years.
Thank you, Danny Kirwan. You will forever be missed!
~Mick Fleetwood and Fleetwood Mac

ALBUMS FEATURING THE WORK OF DANNY KIRWAN:
Then Play On ​1969
Blues Jam at Chess ​1969
Kiln House ​1970
Future Games ​1971
Bare Trees ​1972

 

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Fleetwood Mac (1975)

Fleetwood Mac

NOT ONLY IS Fleetwood Mac no longer blues oriented, it isn’t even really British: The two newest members, Lindsey Buckingham (guitar and vocals) and Stevie Nicks (vocals, acoustic guitar) are American, and all five members are now based in Los Angeles.

The band began its spiritual journey to L.A. a half-dozen albums ago on Future Games when it was led by the often dazzling guitarist/singer Danny Kirwan. Kirwan is long gone but his inspiration lingers in the songs and singing of Christine McVie (who’s also developed into an effective keyboard player) and in the electric guitar playing of Buckingham, who likes to interpose aching, Kirwanesque leads and textured, Byrds-like rhythm lines. Thanks to their efforts, Fleetwood Mac is easily the group’s best and most consistent album since Bare Trees, the last to feature Kirwan.

The four songs written and sung by Christine McVie make it clearer than ever that she’s one of the best female vocalists in pop, and a deft song craftswoman as well. “Say You Love Me,” “Over My Head,” “Sugar Daddy” and “Warm Ways” transform conventional pop-song structures into durably attractive and believably genuine pieces – each sounds like an ideal radio song. McVie’s singing — slightly husky, not beautiful but unaffected — is simply captivating; she does everything right.

But her contributions have been a strong point since she first appeared with the group on Kiln House; what makes this album a marked improvement over the last several are the efforts of Buckingham, who gives Fleetwood Mac a distinguished and fitting guitar and vocal presence, something the band has lacked since Kirwan’s departure. Of the four tracks he dominates, “Monday Morning” has the most initial appeal, but the hard-edged guitar song, “World Turning” (a McVie/Buckingham collaboration) and the gorgeously somber “I’m So Afraid” stand out more and more as the album grows more familiar.

Nicks, on the other hand, has yet to integrate herself into the group style. Compared to McVie’s, her singing seems callow and mannered, especially on “Landslide,” where she sounds lost and out of place — although to be fair, this is more a problem of context than of absolute quality. Her “Rhiannon,” colored by Buckingham’s Kirwan-style guitar, works a little better and “Crystal,” on which Buckingham joins her on lead vocal, suggests that she may yet find a comfortable slot in this band.

Thanks to the rapport that is evident between McVie and Buckingham, Fleetwood Mac adds up to an impressively smooth transitional album.

© Bud Scoppa / Rolling Stone / September 25, 1975