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Ronnie Lane's Escape To The Country

When Ronnie Lane quit The Faces, he swapped starry lead singers and showbiz bullshit for a new life down on the farm, and a new band, the raggle-taggle rock’n’roll gypsies Slim Chance.

Ronald Frederick Lane was a star but he never took his stardom that seriously. “I like showing off, doing a song and shaking a leg on stage, but I don’t want to play all those silly games that go on, any more,” he said in 1975. Sixties rock icons, of which he was one, didn’t float his boat: “As far as I’m concerned, if half of them had never been stars they would have done something better; it’s totally stardom that’s fucked them up. Or this illusion of stardom – it’s not even real. Alright, let the little girls’ magazines say it’s glamorous and all that, but Christ, we’re grown men aren’t we? We should know better. But no. All the ‘stars’ think it’s glamorous too…”

He was a man of his word. Two years earlier, Ronnie had walked away from his gig as the bassist with The Faces, the boozin’, carousin’ reprobates who had risen from the ashes of his earlier band, the Small Faces. But the man who his old muckers called both ‘Plonk’ and ‘Three-Piece’ didn’t just quit his band – he quit the rock’n’roll world, upping sticks and moving to a rundown farmhouse on the Welsh borders, where he put together a new band, Slim Chance, and lived out his gypsy dreams.

“Ronnie really dropped out,” says bassist Steve Bingham, who played in the original Slim Chance and is part of the line-up that re-formed in 2010 and still plays today. “Him and his wife, Kate, embraced the whole cosmic gypsy look. What a mischievous geezer and wind-up merchant he was.”

It was his old mate, Ian McLagan who nailed Ronnie Lane. “Short and sweet was our Ron,” said McLagan, who played with Lane in the Small Faces/Faces. “He loved a joke. He used to cry with laughter. He had that real cockney knees-up attitude. He didn’t know the meaning of ‘pretentious’.”

But Lane had raised eyebrows in the Small Faces when he developed a voguish interest in Eastern religion. Funny, weird little Ronnie set up a shrine in his dressing room, complete with a hippie scroll and a peach cut into quarters, around which he burned incense. The others weren’t impressed. “When we saw him, we ate the peach and burnt the scroll,” said Small Faces singer Steve Marriott. ‘Cor blimey, Mrs Jones, ’ow’s your Bert’s lumbago’ was what the Small Faces wanted. Not this oddness. Ronnie bit his lip but he didn’t button his attitude. He marched to his own beat and no one else’s.

He was still marching to his own beat on June 6, 1973, when The Faces played the Sundown Theatre in Edmonton, North London. As their customary encore of We’ll Meet Again drew to a close, few outside the band and their nearest’n’dearest knew it was Ronnie Lane’s last show with the old gang. Watching footage of the show now, everything seems hunky dory until you notice the if-looks-could-kill glances aimed at Rod Stewart’s back by the embittered bass player during Jealous Guy.

Ronnie’s hostility towards the singer had been building until it reached boiling point. Stewart – or “that c**t Rod”, as he habitually called his bandmate – had not only usurped the rest of the group and turned them into his glorified backing band, but he’d also bad-mouthed their most recent album, Ooh La La, in the press. “A stinking rotten album,” was Rod’s assessment, though his absence from half the sessions hardly gave him much authority. The bassist, who had written the entire second side of the record (including the title track, which had only been green-lit by Stewart after insisting guitarist Ronnie Wood sing it, as Rod couldn’t find the key and didn’t like Lane’s rendition), was livid. He couldn’t wait, he said, “to fuck off”.

Matters came to a head during the Faces’ 1973 US tour. On May 10, after a gig in Nassau County, Ronnie told the others he was leaving. The tour ended the following night with an onstage riot after Lane swore viciously at Ian McLagan, who responded by throwing a drink at his bandmate’s head and aiming a kick at his nuts. A month later, after the gig in Edmonton, Ronnie was gone. No tears were shed, no party was thrown for ‘Three-Piece’. More a case of goodbye and good riddance.

“Ronnie had it with all the cocaine, champagne and the private jets,” says the Faces’ tour manager Russell Schlagbaum, who was on the road with them in the States when it all fell apart. “He started travelling with his wife, Kate, and he brought the family, which was a no-no. The rule of the road was ‘no girlfriends’. Do all the drugs and fuck all the groupies you like, then get back to normal in England. Here were Ron and Kate carrying a child in a wicker basket, making no eye contact with the others. Everyone’s thinking: ‘What’s happened to Ronnie Lane?’ He was dressed like a gypsy with earrings and shabby clothes.”

At the time, Faces drummer Kenney Jones recalled Ronnie and Kate as “this grubby, dirty-looking couple. And we started seeing a lot of Kate. Too much.”

The Small Faces’ mod gear had long been confined to the wardrobe, replaced by tweeds and battered boots. Modernist chic became Celtic hillbilly. But Ronnie always had a tinker’s soul. His folksy, vulnerable side showed in songs such as Devotion, Stone and Flags And Banners. Although his undeniable masterpiece was Debris, from the Faces’ A Nod’s As Good As A Wink… To A Blind Horse. Sung in Plaistow vernacular, it was a portrait of his dad, Stan Lane, laid off from his job as a long‑distance lorry driver, sifting through the ‘odds and ends’ at an East End Sunday market.

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