A Slow Decline to Lasting Silence

second_chapterDanny Kirwan: Second Chapter (Warner, UK)

When Danny Kirwan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, he was absent from the proceedings in New York. In terms of his contribution to popular music, this is a near-perfect act of symbolism. He was living a mundane routine of homelessness, a regular at a hostel for alcoholics in Soho (London), his semi-permanent address since his life had taken a downwards turn at the end of the Seventies.

Peter Green wasn't the sole casualty of Fleetwood Mac's marathon history, merely the most notable. Beyond drinking, Kirwan had also abused his subtle sensitive nature with the freely available chemicals of the time. Although Green has managed a return to the limelight after years of mental health problems, Kirwan is unlikely to be capable of even the most assisted of late curtain calls. He hasn't entered a recording studio for more than three decades, and his silence has long since dwarfed his years of utterance. He wrote many exquisite songs whilst in Fleetwood Mac, and his debut solo release from 1975, Second Chapter, is a superbly crafted piece of songwriting -- akin to McCartney at his best with pastoral moments.

Kirwan, never a natural performer, had been unceremoniously but understandably fired from Fleetwood Mac during a tour of the States. After a row with Bob Welch over guitar tunings, he'd flown into a terrible rage. By then a heavy drinker (he drank to calm his stage nerves), Kirwan began bashing his head against a wall, and he smashed his guitar, a vintage Les Paul Black Beauty. Refusing to join the band on stage, he heckled them throughout the gig. It was the end of his tenure with the band.

He and Jeremy Spencer had steered the band into more radio-friendly and commercial waters, but were to reap none of the attendant success resulting from their efforts. Spencer decamped to the Children of God cult, whilst Kirwan returned to London and a protracted period of uncertainty. His songs on albums including Kiln House, Bare Trees, and the astonishingly beautiful Future Games display his uncanny ear for haunting melodies and catchy pop. All these albums were million sellers in the U.S., although the change in styles meant they sold poorly in Britain.

Daniel David Kirwan was born in Brixton London on 13th May 1950. He was "discovered" by Peter Green, whose efforts to secure Kirwan's band Boiler House a deal with Blue Horizon came to nothing due to the reluctance of the other members to turn professional. He was eventually invited to join Fleetwood Mac. He was only eighteen. Mike Vernon recalls, "Danny had a guitar style that wasn't like anyone else I'd heard in England. It reminded me of Lowell Fulson. There was a certain vibrato to the finger work that was quite unusual. And he had a really nice melodious voice." It was later revealed that Kirwan was so serious about his work that he'd sometimes cry whilst playing. Green's affectionate nickname for him was "Ragtime Cowboy Joe."

Second Chapter was Kirwan's return to form after his sad exit from Fleetwood Mac. It boded well and features a wide variety of styles. That the opening cut, "Ram Jam City," failed to chart is bedeviling. An irritatingly infectious slice of country rock, it ought to have sold. DJM thought as much by issuing it twice, but to no avail.

"Odds and Ends" is a delight. a piece of Beatles-esque whimsy, more McCartney than Lennon, about a girl who runs an eclectic shop:

Selling books and old things
picture frames and gold rings
anything at all you can find.

The only problem is that she is never there. Affectionate and charming, it displays a deft lightness of touch. On "Hot Summer's Day," Kirwan hits his specialist forte. Melodic, pastoral pop is rarely delivered from finer hands. Enchanting and ethereal, it comes across like Al Stewart in collaboration with Nick Drake. Kirwan even manages to deliver the reggae-tinged "Mary Jane" without irking the proceedings, whilst "Ship a Dee Doo" revisits the divinely retro feel he and Spencer so effortlessly explored on Kiln House. Within "Love Can Always Bring You Happiness" there resides an element of "Albatross" with a jaunty pop lilt.

The title track, a poetic reflection on former loves, possesses a slightly jazzy edge, beautifully underscored by sumptuous strings. It failed to make much impact as a single, but as a song it still has a superlative quality, a delicious slice of classy, summery pop. "Lovely Days" remains one of the album's true gems with Kirwan at his elemental, ethereal best. Exquisitely arranged, picked strings glide around an elegant guitar motif. It wouldn't be out of place on a Nick Drake session.

"Falling in Love with You" returns to his astutely crafted pop; memorable and countrified, it skips along at a confident pace, whilst "Silver Streams" returns Kirwan to his melodic, haunting strengths. An upliftingly pure shower in sunshine song, it has a baroquely psychedelic air and is a minor masterpiece. "Best Girl in the World" is delightful, a song that would have more than sufficed in the Buckingham-Nicks era, as would "Cascades."

Kirwan continued to steer shy of live work, and therefore proved difficult to sell, despite the interest in him due to his success with Fleetwood Mac. He was aided and abetted by members of Chicken Shack, but remained a fragile entity.

Kirwan followed Second Chapter with the rather patchy Saturday Night in San Juan, but his final effort, Hello There Big Boy!, brings little of merit, despite the involvement of Dana Gillespie and fellow ex-Mac Bob Weston. On the sleeve Kirwan looks disturbed, a reluctant participant in his own project. Weston remembers him as "barricaded in a self-made womb of studio battle boards much of the time." Echoes of Nick Drake's Pink Moon oddness which he recorded with his back to those involved. A few years later Kirwan was a homeless alcoholic on the streets of his native London.

His story is far from unique in the annals of rock, but it is affecting and tragic that such a talented and sensitive musician should have fallen on such silence and decline. A diligent compilation would be a fitting tribute to all that he achieved in his much-truncated career. He contributed enough material to Fleetwood Mac to cover one disc, whilst his solo efforts would cover another three. There are sufficient demos of quality in the vaults, as evidenced by the Mooncrest release Ram Jam City a few years back, to complete a fourth. It probably won't happen, but it should, and despite Kirwan's faults and failings, his former band mates could, if they bothered, ensure that it did.

Just how much Danny Kirwan will see from this lovingly rendered reissue of Second Chapter is anyone's guess. He doesn't seem much interested in his past, although he is supposed to possess a guitar at his hostel room. Sightings suggest various broken characters. A mumbling, shaking wreck; a resigned hobo; an incoherent drunk. He was once much more than any of these sad versions. The last rehash package of Fleetwood Mac's Greatest Hits misspelled his name, a minor but revealing oversight.

At least he left a beguiling selection of songs as proof, and in the end proof is all any of us leave, if indeed we leave anything at all. - Robert Cochrane

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Mr. Cochrane is a poet and writer living in Manchester, England. His work has appeared in Mojo, Attitude, and Dazed & Confused. He has published three collections of poems, and Gone Tomorrow, his biography of the rock singer Jobriath, will appear via SAF in 2008.

Nick Drake is fabulous . I

Nick Drake is fabulous . I wish he had held on , yet he found peace. Syd Barrett is easier to compare with danny. Syd lived in an unknown mental and physical state long after he could not continue , and Danny's life has been similar since the 70's. like nick and Syd, danny is shy and very physically/ spirituallybeautiful . Danny hadn't the support that Syd had. Syd was crumbling, but even as David found it difficult to get Syd's best on the last 2 records, we are so lucky to have those songs. Syd is a bit embarrassing , buy never so much . We could hear the sadness of a gentle giant. Syd was thought to be crazy, but he wrote the most poignant song ever written about 'being there' Jug band blues is Syd lost to the world and he is very aware. Danny was thought to be lost , but how did he create incredibly beautiful songs during that time . It is only 7 years later from dismissal from fm that evidence suggests danny can not go on. Those 3 songs from hello there ..(you, California, summer days..) are the only musical evidence of danny with a problem. At the same time danny writes spaceman and Caroline , 2 phenomenal self portraits ( like jug band blues). Regardless of Syd and Danny's true states of mind , and nick , I know i am lucky beyond belief to have found them . May god bless them.

Danny Kirwan

Thank you for your upstanding declarations and praise of Mr. Danny Kirwan. I have just 'discovered' who this man is- (as it has been about a month now), and am in love with his talent, his guitarmanship, and the presence of his earlier days as a young musician. I wish I could take him home and care for him as a wife- hence, I am old enough to be his daughter- (whatever)! This has been a most interesting journey to learn about Danny Kirwan. God bless him, where ever he may be.

I think I told you he may be

I think I told you he may be south of the Thames near brixton , his home. This summer i spoke to the guy that gave danny the guitar he keeps in his room, and he thought he had moved north.Danny would be very safe and probably very happy in your arms, from what I have read of your words. His beautifulness is enormous

Karen?

Karen, I'm sorry but you don't have any facts to support anything you wrote and you said Kirwan was 16 whilst in Fleetwood Mac. That is totally untrue. Please tell us how you know all of these things, because you come off as a nutcase groupie. I love and admire Kirwan's music which is how I found this web page. He ushered in a new sound and was definitely a maticulous composer. I'm not going to say anything about his character because I have no insight to that matter, although he was in a homeless shelter and numerous people around him have testified to some problems he had/has. I wish him the best.

DANNY KIRWAN

ONE LAST THING: this article was written in 2008 yet the description of Danny which seems to show a shaming & a 'blaming of the victim' for mental illness cleverly uses descriptions, some from good sources, others from very vague sources, that we have all heard and know date back to between 20 & 30 yrs prior to the writing of this article. As for the rather specific 'facts' about Danny's state right now: this writer has no real clue at all, because no one does....no one at all save for a tiny few who see Danny personally & they don't speak to the media. Again I do not blame the writer for the half truths and lies and for the character butchering of such a good human being as Danny....but I do hold people accountable for simply passing those 'facts' down the line, repeating them ...instead of doing some thinking for themselves and seeing the historical facts vs the convenient lies about Danny's character; behavior; treatment of band members in FM; and what he did for them & that band.... This is sad. Sad.

Danny Kirwan Updates

Thanks for your updates. I do agree that history can be misleading especially if the person in question never sets the record straight.

I've often wondered why Bob Welch (RIP) is just a mere footnote in the history of Fleetwood Mac as well. He wasn't inducted into the RnR Hall of Fame with the band, even though he and Danny helped define their SoCal folk-rock sound and he wrote some of the band's most beloved FM "hits" on five albums and deserves said recognition. Always really dug Danny's tracks on Future Games and Bare Trees. I though he and Welch worked very well together.

A Slow Decline to Lasting Silence | Dusty Wright's Culture Catch

It's a shame you don't have a donate button! I'd without a doubt donate to this superb blog! I guess for now i'll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to new updates and will share this website with my Facebook group. Chat soon!

Bob sued the band. I have

Bob sued the band. I have read that he wanted danny out, and annoyingly bothered danny about being out of tune often. I have heard bob sing off key, not danny. I have heard a version of future games without danny- just bob plays guitar- bob was lucky to have danny and Weston add life to welch's songs. Danny was unlucky to have to deal with the mcvie/ fleetwood clique and a welch with a huge ego

DANNY KIRWAN

I find the article offensive to Danny's sterling character and an offense to historical fact. I know it was not ment to be and I am not angry with the aurthor...rather, i'm appauled at the sources that have repeated the old half truths for decades now, never bothering to do anything with the truth but hide it and have butchered Danny's character, while censoring-out the facts (facts which make others look bad not Danny) : this version of 'reality' belongs on the Kardashians or the Mob Wives and should not be meerly repeated to no end in the ( no-think, talking pod-head ) media. ..and for the convenience and comfort of questionable billionaires and a celebrity worshipping culture. ...DANNY KIRWAN was more than a great musician & brilliant artist: he was and is a good man & a great human being.

DANNY KIRWAN

i'm told my last comment is going to be cut down and published later. It should be published whole. It's time the facts about Danny were aloud to see the light of day: when the total character assassination of the man & lies & half truths about his behavior are aloud platforms like this from which to simply repeat things told by specious sources and which are repeated in the echoe chambers of the media. This place of all places should be braver by far.

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