“I cared for Danny a lot and I care for his legacy. He is the lost component. In many ways, Danny is a forgotten hero”
Guitarist was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of former Fleetwood Mac guitarist, singer and songwriter Danny Kirwan, who died in his home city of London on 8 June at the age of 68. The English musician enjoyed success with the band between 1968 and 1972, expanding the band’s guitar-lineup to three when he joined, alongside Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer.
The late 60s was one of the seminal periods for the blues, and for the first time in the genre’s history it was young British musicians who played a central role in its creative evolution. And Kirwan’s work with Mac was crucial to that. But like Spencer and Green, his initial glory and later troubles would be rooted in his time with the band.
It was an 18-year-old Kirwan’s passion for the blues that brought him to the attention of Mick Fleetwood, who saw the teenager fronting his band Boilerhouse in a Brixton pub. Soon the drummer mooted the teen as the final piece to create a three-guitar dynamic following the release of their second album Mr Wonderful l in the summer of 1968. With Spencer’s studio contributions to the band receding, Kirwan joined in time for his first recorded appearance with Fleetwood alongside Green on the instrumental number one hit Albatross in November of that year.
Kirwan would record four albums with the band, including 1969’s final record with Peter Green, Then Play On, but would be the first member to ever be dismissed from Mac’s ranks when the fallout from his alcoholism became untenable during the 1972 tour in support of the Bare Trees record. For the next two decades Kirwan would go through a period of struggle, reportedly including stays in hostels for the homeless in London and mental health problems before moving into the relative stability of residential care.
He remains Mac’s most underrated guitarist, shining brightly in the shadow of Peter Green and crucial to the band’s evolution from blues and beyond. It’s Kirwan that takes the main solo on Oh Well, before he came into his own with contributions to unsung fourth album Kiln House following Green’s exit from the group.
Early Mac and Bluesbreakers producer Mike Vernon recalled the sensitive and intense Kirwan’s vibrato as especially strong. “He had a guitar style that wasn’t like anyone else I’d heard in England,” said Vernon. “There was a certain vibrato in the fingerwork that was quite unusual. And he had a really nice, melodious voice.”
Kirwan was one of the eight contributing members to Fleetwood Mac’s storied recording history who was invited to attend the band’s induction to the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1998. But he didn’t attend. Nevertheless, a few years later rumours began to circulate of a potential reunion involving the early lineup’s members. But by April 2006, during a question-and-answer session on The Penguin Fleetwood Mac fan website, bassist John McVie made it clear Kirwan’s life far away from the music industry in relative isolation was a dealbreaker.
“If we could get Peter and Jeremy to do it, I’d probably, maybe, do it,” revealed the bassist. “I know Mick would do it in a flash. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s much chance of Danny doing it. Bless his heart.”
But in reflecting on the band he cofounded, Mick Fleetwood ultimately sees Kirwan’s legacy as deeply valuable beyond the obvious sadness that followed his musical career. “I cared for Danny a lot and I care for his legacy a lot,” he said. “Lindsey Buckingham also has a huge regard for Danny. He is the lost component. In many ways, Danny is a forgotten hero.”
Danny Kirwan performing onstage at Sundown, Mile End on 23 November 1973