Last Friday, Danny Kirwan passed away.
Kirwan was just 18 when Peter Green asked him to join Fleetwood Mac, giving the band a three-guitar lineup that included Jeremy Spencer.
The Guardian’s obit says Green was prompted to bring Kirwan into the fold because he wasn’t happy with Spencer.
I couldn’t find anything independent that confirmed that, but the one album that lineup made, Then Play On, was pretty much done without any involvement from Spencer, save for some piano.
The 1969 album marked Kirwan’s debut with the band, and found him bringing a more conventional pop and rock sensibility to the Mac, exemplified in the dreamy slow burn of opener Coming Your Way:
The interplay between Green and Kirwan on Then Play On is sublime, and often smoldering, and Kirwan’s songs are all delights, from the stripped down chicken scratch blues of Like Crying to the stately, languid My Dream.
by 1970’s Kiln House, Green had left the band, and Kirwan stepped up with four songs he wrote or co-wrote, including the churning Station Man, which features Christine McVie on backing vocals:
By 1971’s Future Games, Spencer was gone, but Christine McVie and Bob Welch had joined their ranks, and the result was a set of post-psychedelic dream rock, with Kirwan’s Woman of 1000 Years being a particular highlight.
It sounds like it was recorded in a fugue state and is probably the most underrated song in the band’s catalog.
Kirwan’s final album with the band, Bare Trees, was released in spring 1972, just months after Future Games, and Kirwan contributed several songs to it, most notably the moody Dust, which was adapted from a poem by Rupert Brooke.
In some ways, Dust feels like an epitaph, a final rumination on the vagaries of life from a man seemingly too young to be singing about death, and yet Kirwan’s mental health, compromised by the life of a touring musician but also by drink and drugs, was such that he got into a fight with Bob Welch before a concert, refused to play, and was kicked out.
Kirwan would record solo, but little came of those albums, and he spent considerable time homeless in the decades that followed, as if Fleetwood Mac had been his home
Although he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Kirwan’s contributions to the band, and the fact he was in large part responsible for helping Fleetwood Mac navigate times of considerable turmoil, tend to be overlooked by the masses to a large extent.
But for four years, Kirwan wrote and recorded some of the best songs in the Fleetwood Mac catalog, and it is a shame it takes his passing to bring attention to that work.