Band: Fleetwood Mac.
Danny Kirwan died aged sixty-eight on 8th June 2018 after contracting pneumonia. Danny was survived by his son Dominic from his nineteen seventy-one marriage to then-wife Clare from whom he was later divorced.
Danny was born in Brixton, South London, U.K. and his guitar skills garnered attention at an early age. He was only seventeen when he came to the attention of established British blues band Fleetwood Mac, while he was playing in London with his first band Boilerhouse, with Trevor Stevens on bass guitar and Dave Terrey on drums. He persuaded Fleetwood Mac's producer, Mike Vernon, to watch Boilerhouse rehearse in a South London basement boiler-room, after which Vernon informed Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green of his discovery. Peter was impressed, and Boilerhouse began playing support slots for Fleetwood Mac at London venues such as the Marquee Club in Wardour Street.
Peter Green took a managerial interest in Boilerhouse but Stevens and Terrey were not prepared to turn professional at the time, so Peter put an advert in Melody Maker to find another rhythm section to back Danny Kirwan. Over 300 applicants replied but after several auditions, none was deemed good enough to replace the pair by the hard-to-please Peter Green, so another solution was found. Fleetwood Mac had been playing as a quartet, but Peter Green had been looking for another guitarist to share some of the workload, in view of slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer's unwillingness to contribute much to his songs. Drummer Mick Fleetwood, previously a member of John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, suggested to Peter Green that Danny Kirwan could join Fleetwood Mac, and although neither Peter Green, nor bassist John McVie, both also former members of the Bluesbreakers, nor Spencer were entirely convinced, Fleetwood asked Danny Kirwan to join the band in August 1968. Danny Kirwan's arrival expanded Fleetwood Mac to a five-piece with three guitarists. He played his first gig with the band on 14th August at the Nag's Head Blue Horizon Club in Battersea, South London.
" Known to be "emotionally fragile", according to the Guardian, Peter Green added that in those early days, Danny Kirwan was so into his music that he cried as he played.
Danny Kirwan's first recorded work with the band was his contribution to Peter Green's instrumental hit single "Albatross". Peter Green later said "I would never have done 'Albatross' if it wasn't for Danny. I would never have had a number one hit record." The B-side of the single was Danny Kirwan's first published tune, the instrumental "Jigsaw Puzzle Blues". This was an old clarinet piece and Danny Kirwan adapted the piece for himself and Peter Green to play on guitar.
Danny Kirwan's skills came further to the forefront on the mid-1969 album Then Play On where he split the songwriting and lead vocal duties almost equally with Peter Green, with many of the performances featuring their dual lead Gibson Les Paul guitars. Since Spencer hardly played on the album, Danny Kirwan had a significant role in the recording. In fact, his "Coming Your Way" opened Side 1, and his varied musical influences are in evidence throughout, from the flowing instrumental "My Dream" to the 1930s-style "When You Say", which Peter Green had earmarked to be a single until his own composition, "Oh Well", took shape and was chosen instead.
The UK release of Then Play On featured two extra, slightly older, Danny Kirwan recordings – the sad blues "Without You", and the heavy "One Sunny Day", which was later covered by American blues musician Tinsley Ellis on his 1997 album Fire It Up. The US-only release English Rose from the same era included these two songs, plus the tense blues "Something Inside of Me" and the aforementioned "Jigsaw Puzzle Blues".
When the US track-listing of Then Play On was reordered to allow the inclusion of the full version of Peter Green's hit single "Oh Well", two of Danny Kirwan's songs ("My Dream" and "When You Say") were dropped. Only "Coming Your Way", the wistful "Although the Sun Is Shining", and his duet with Peter Green "Like Crying" appeared on all the later non-UK vinyl releases. On the 1990 CD release, Danny Kirwan's two dropped songs were reinstated, although "One Sunny Day" and "Without You" were now absent from releases in all territories, including the UK. The 2013 CD release restored the original UK track order, with "Without You" and "One Sunny Day" included.
Archival packages from this era, such as the Vaudeville Years and Show-Biz Blues double sets, include many more Danny Kirwan songs, showing blues influences as well as the more arcane tastes that led to songs like "Tell Me from the Start" which could have been mistaken for the 1920s-style group The Temperance Seven. Such unusual musical interests prompted band leader Peter Green to dub Danny Kirwan "Ragtime Cowboy Joe".
Although Fleetwood Mac's hit singles from 1969 to 1970 were all Peter Green-penned tunes, Danny Kirwan's style showed through thanks to Peter Green's increasing desire not to act as the band's main focus. He joined Peter Green in the dual guitar harmonies on "Albatross", and took the solo on "Oh Well Pt. 1". The final hit single from this line-up, "The Green Manalishi", was recorded in a difficult session after Peter Green had announced he was leaving the band. Producer Martin Birch recalls Peter Green growing increasingly frustrated at the results of the session, but that Danny Kirwan reassured him that they would stay there all night until they got it right.
The B-side of "The Peter Green Manalishi" was the instrumental "World in Harmony", the only track ever to receive a "Danny Kirwan/Peter Green" joint songwriting credit. Jeremy Spencer recalled that Danny Kirwan and Peter Green had begun to piece their guitar parts together "almost like orchestrally layered guitar work", something in which Spencer was not interested. Danny Kirwan and Peter Green had already worked on melodic twin guitar demos that sparked rumours in the music press in late 1969 of a duelling guitars project, which ultimately never came to fruition.
Despite the closeness of their musical partnership, Danny Kirwan and Peter Green did not always get on well personally, with Danny Kirwan's short temper being a problem. Although Danny Kirwan had high musical standards and concentrated more on rehearsing than the other members, with Peter Green recalling that Danny Kirwan always had to arrive anywhere an hour early, Peter Green was far more talented when it came to improvisational skills. Roadie Dennis Keane suggested that the success of "Albatross" and the follow-up single "Man of the World" went to Danny Kirwan's head, and he became more confident, to the point of trying to pressure Peter Green and compete with him. However, others, like producer Martin Birch, remember that Danny Kirwan was often seeking reassurance from Peter Green, and that he was always in awe of him: "I often got the impression that Danny was looking for Peter's approval."
After rumours in the music press in early 1970 that Danny Kirwan would leave Fleetwood Mac, it was Peter Green who left in May of that year, and Danny Kirwan later said that he was not surprised at his departure: "We played well together but we didn't get on. I was a bit temperamental you see."
In January 1969, Danny Kirwan made his first non–Fleetwood Mac appearance when he contributed to Otis Spann's blues album The Biggest Thing Since Colossus, along with Peter Green and McVie. After Then Play On had been completed, Danny Kirwan worked on Christine McVie's first solo album, simply titled Christine Perfect as she was still using her maiden name at that time. She recorded a version of Danny Kirwan's "When You Say" which was chosen as a single, with Danny Kirwan arranging the string section and acting as producer.
Danny Kirwan also worked on the first solo album from a then-current member of Fleetwood Mac, when Jeremy Spencer released his eponymously titled album in 1970. Danny Kirwan played rhythm guitar and sang backing vocals throughout. The album was not commercially successful but Spencer discovered that he and Danny Kirwan worked well together without Peter Green: "In retrospect, one of the most enjoyable things was working with Danny on it, as it brought out a side of him I hadn't seen."
Danny Kirwan was also asked to contribute as a session guitarist with the blues band Tramp on their album Tramp (1969). After he left Fleetwood Mac, Danny Kirwan worked with Tramp again on their second album, Put a Record On , and also with Chris Youlden of Savoy Brown on his solo album Nowhere Road .
After Peter Green left in 1970, the band considered splitting up, but they continued briefly as a four-piece before recruiting keyboard player Christine McVie. Danny Kirwan and Spencer handled the guitars and vocals together on the Kiln House album, released in the summer of that year, and they were able to continue the working relationship they had started during the recording of Spencer's solo album the previous year.
Danny Kirwan's songs on the album included "Station Man" (co-written with Spencer and John McVie) which became a live staple for some years, stretching into the post-1974 Buckingham-Nicks era. His other songs were "Jewel-Eyed Judy", dedicated to a friend of the band, Judy Wong; the energetic "Tell Me All the Things You Do", and "Earl Gray", an atmospheric instrumental which Danny Kirwan largely composed while Peter Peter Green was still in the band. Danny Kirwan could also be heard providing distinctive backing vocals to some of Spencer's numbers, such as the 1950s-flavoured album opener, "This Is the Rock".
Other Danny Kirwan compositions from the second half of 1970, such as those that eventually surfaced on the 2003 Madison Blues CD box set, included "Down at the Crown", with lyrics centring on a pub down the lane from the communal band house 'Benifold' in Headley, Hampshire. The unsuccessful single "Dragonfly", recorded late in the year, was also written by Danny Kirwan, and included lyrics adapted from a poem by W. H. Davies. Peter Peter Green said of "Dragonfly", "The best thing he ever wrote... that should have been a hit." This was not to be the last time Danny Kirwan used a poem as lyrics for a song, and may have been a solution to Danny Kirwan's apparent occasional lack of inspiration when writing lyrics. The B-side of the single, "The Purple Dancer", was written by Danny Kirwan, Fleetwood and John McVie and uniquely featured Danny Kirwan and Spencer duetting on lead vocals.
Two tours of the USA followed in support of Kiln House, but the second, in early 1971, was blighted by Spencer's bizarre departure from the group, when he disappeared one afternoon in Los Angeles, and was later discovered to have joined the religious cult the Children of God. After an uncomfortable time finishing the tour, during which Peter Peter Green was asked to come back and help out, Californian Bob Welch was recruited to replace Spencer without an audition after a brief period getting to know the band.
The last two Fleetwood Mac albums with Danny Kirwan featured his songs taking up about half of each album. His guitar work also showed noticeably in several songs written by Welch and McVie, as they developed their own songwriting techniques. Future Games, released in nineteen seventy-one, was a departure from its predecessor with the clear absence of Jeremy Spencer and his 50s rock 'n' roll parodies. Welch brought a couple of new songs, notably the lengthy title track, which featured both guitarists playing long instrumental sections. Danny Kirwan contributed the opener "Woman of 1000 Years" which, according to one unknown critic at the time, "floated on a languid sea of echo-laden acoustic and electric guitars". His other songs were the melodic "Sands of Time" which was chosen as a single in the USA, and the country-flavoured "Sometimes" which suggested the route he would take during his solo career. Danny Kirwan's influence can also clearly be heard on the two Christine McVie songs, "Morning Rain" and "Show Me a Smile".
The following year, Bare Trees was released, containing five Danny Kirwan songs including another instrumental, "Sunny Side of Heaven", and the album-closer "Dust" with its lyric taken from a romantic poem by British war poet Rupert Brooke, although Brooke was not credited. "Danny's Chant" featured heavy use of the wah-wah guitar effect and was effectively an instrumental piece but for Danny Kirwan's wordless scat vocals. "Bare Trees" and "Child of Mine", the latter touching upon the absence of Danny Kirwan's father during his childhood, opened each side of the LP and showed funk and slight jazz leanings. An unissued Danny Kirwan track, "Trinity", was played live for a period during 1971–1972 and the studio version was eventually released on the 1992 box set 25 Years – The Chain.
Danny Kirwan shouldered much of the songwriting responsibility during this troubled and uncertain period for the band, through the changes in both the line-up and in musical style. The pressure showed in his health and he suffered problems with alcoholism; stories abound of Danny Kirwan not eating for several days at a time, subsisting largely on beer. He gradually became estranged from the other band members, and things came to a head during the autumn of 1972. Before a concert on that year's US tour, Danny Kirwan and Welch rowed over tuning and Danny Kirwan flew into a rage, banging his head and fists against the wall, and then smashed his Gibson Les Paul guitar and refused to go onstage. Instead he watched while the rest of the band struggled through without him, and offered unwelcome criticism afterwards. Danny Kirwan was sacked by Fleetwood, who had hitherto been the only other member still speaking to him. Fleetwood later said: "It was a torment for him, really, to be up there, and it reduced him to someone who you just looked at and thought 'My God'. It was more a thing of, although he was asked to leave, the way I was looking at it was, I hoped, it was almost putting him out of his agony." He later commented, "I don't think he's ever forgiven me really."
Danny Kirwan's reaction was initially one of surprise, and it seemed he had little idea of how alienated from the other band members he had become, but shortly afterwards he met up with his replacement Bob Weston. Weston described the meeting: "He was aware that I was taking over, and rather sarcastically wished me the best of luck – then paused and added, 'You're gonna need it.' I read between the lines that he was pretty angry with the band."
However, in a 1993 interview with the Independent, Danny Kirwan looked back at his time with and leaving the group, expressing little resentment towards the band: "I was lucky to have played for the band at all. I just started off following them around, but I could play the guitar a bit and Mick felt sorry for me and put me in. I did it for about four years, to about 1972, but . . . I couldn't handle the lifestyle and the women and the travelling."
In early 1974, Danny Kirwan and another recently fired member of Fleetwood Mac, Dave Walker, joined forces with keyboardist Paul Raymond, bassist Andy Silvester and drummer Mac Poole to form a short-lived band called Hungry Fighter. This group played only one gig, at the University of Surrey in Guildford, England, which was not recorded. According to Walker, although Danny Kirwan's playing was "superb", the band did not function properly because "perhaps we were not focused enough musically, and in addition, Danny Danny Kirwan's problems were just starting and this made communication extremely difficult."
Guided by ex-Fleetwood Mac manager Clifford Davis, Danny Kirwan later recorded three solo albums for DJM Records, showing a gentler side as opposed to the blues guitar dynamics of his earlier Fleetwood Mac days. The first of these, Second Chapter, in nineteen seventy-five was filled with various musical influences, including a style close to that of Paul McCartney late in his Beatles career. Many songs were very simple musically, with little more than infectious melody and basic lyrics to carry them along. Lyrical themes rarely ventured beyond love. 1976's Midnight in San Juan featured a reggae-inspired cover of The Beatles' "Let It Be", which was released as a single in the USA. Otherwise, Danny Kirwan tended towards the simple tunes and dispensed with the heavy production which dominated the previous LP. Lyrically the subject matter still largely dwelt upon love, but apparently less cheerfully than before, with growing themes of loneliness and isolation, such as on the closing track "Castaway". There was also a song, "Look Around You", written by fellow Mac refugee Dave Walker, with whom Danny Kirwan had worked in Hungry Fighter a couple of years previously.
Danny Kirwan's last album, Hello There Big Boy!, featured guitar contributions by his Fleetwood Mac replacement, Bob Weston. Danny Kirwan was not well at this time and it is not clear how much, if any, guitar work he contributed to the recording, though he did sing on all the tracks. Far fewer of the songs were self-penned, and there was one song ("Only You") dug up from his Fleetwood Mac days. There were also backing vocalists for the first time, and the musical style was much less distinct. Producer Clifford Davis added the contribution of 87 musicians to the final recording, and later described the album as "so bad".
None of Danny Kirwan's solo releases was commercially successful, which could be attributed to his reluctance to perform live. Danny Kirwan did not play any live gigs after a few shows with Tramp and the single performance with Hungry Fighter, all in 1974, leaving all three of his solo albums completely unsupported by any form of extra exposure or active promotion apart from an irregular string of equally unsuccessful singles. None of his singles saw release in continental Europe, which might have been a source of success given Peter Peter Green's resurgence there, particularly in Germany.
Danny Kirwan was married in 1971, but was divorced a few years later. He had one son, Dominic.
In the late 1970s Danny Kirwan's mental health deteriorated significantly and since then he played no further part in the music industry. During the 1980s and 1990s, he endured a period of homelessness while living in London. In a 2009 BBC documentary about Peter Peter Green, Clifford Davis blamed Danny Kirwan's mental deterioration on the same incident that is alleged to have damaged Peter Green's mental stability—a reaction to LSD taken at a party at a commune in Munich in late March of 1970. Davis said, "Peter Peter Green and Danny Danny Kirwan both went together to that house in Munich, both of them took acid as I understand it, [and] both of them, as of that day, became seriously mentally ill."
However, other sources do not concur that Danny Kirwan was present at the commune in Munich. Fleetwood Mac roadie Dinky Dawson remembers that the only two to go to the party were Peter Green and another roadie, Dennis Keane, and that Danny Kirwan did not go. Dawson also states that when Keane returned to the band's hotel to explain that Peter Green would not leave the commune, neither Danny Kirwan nor Davis travelled to the commune to fetch Peter Green, leaving that job to Keane, Dawson and Mick Fleetwood. Keane himself concurs with Dawson, except that he telephoned Davis from the commune and did not physically return to the hotel to fetch help, and that Davis accompanied Dawson and Fleetwood to fetch Peter Green. Peter Green also commented, "To my knowledge only Dennis and myself out of the English lot went there." Jeremy Spencer has also stated that he was present at the commune, and has implied that he arrived later with Fleetwood. Neither Keane, Dawson, Peter Green nor Spencer mention Danny Kirwan being present at the commune.
Danny Kirwan was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 for his work as part of Fleetwood Mac, although he did not travel to the induction ceremony.
Danny Kirwan's three solo albums were given a belated CD release in February 2006, but only in Japan. A limited edition of 2,500 copies of "Second Chapter" was issued by Repertoire Records in early 2008. The rights and royalties situation regarding these releases is currently such that it is not commonly known if Danny Kirwan's estate will receive any income from them. Prior to this, only Second Chapter had been available on CD, for a brief period in Germany in 1993. The rights are now owned by Clifford Davis.