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Old 06-15-2018, 07:20 PM
michelej1 michelej1 is offline
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The Times

When Danny Kirwan joined Fleetwood Mac in 1968 his arrival created a three-pronged guitar attack that turned the group into one of the biggest-selling bands in Britain.

His unique vibrato style helped the instrumental Albatross to No 1, and further chart-topping hits featuring his distinctive guitar work followed with Man Of The World and Oh Well. Yet by 1972 Kirwan and both his fellow guitarists had gone, all three of them succumbing to psychotic breakdowns in what came to be known as “the curse of Fleetwood Mac”.

The first of them, Peter Green, quit in 1970, giving away his guitars and his money after a schizophrenic attack brought on by hallucinogenic drugs. Jeremy Spencer disappeared the next year, walking out of the band’s hotel, saying he was going to buy a magazine. He never returned and was later found to have joined a religious cult.

Yet Kirwan’s meltdown was in many ways the most dramatic of all. Sensitive and mentally fragile, he struggled to deal with fame and responsibility, went days on end without eating and developed a crippling stage fright, which in turn drove him to alcoholism.

His career as a rock star came to a shattering halt one night in 1972 on tour in America. Back stage while the band were tuning up before going on, something snapped and he hurled his Les Paul guitar at a dressing-room mirror, showering broken glass over his bandmates. Smashing his fists and head against the wall until they were bleeding, he refused to take the stage and instead spent the gig heckling from the audience as the band struggled on without him. He was sacked and never played with Fleetwood Mac again.

He made a doomed attempt to launch a solo career, but by 1980 Kirwan had disappeared, lost in an alcoholic haze. He briefly reappeared on the radar in 1993, when Mick Fleetwood employed the Missing Persons Bureau to trace him. He was found living in a London hostel for the homeless and had reportedly spent several years sleeping on park benches.

“I’ve been through a bit of a rough patch, but I’m not too bad,” he told a reporter who had got wind of his story and tracked him down to his favourite pub in the West End. “I couldn’t handle it all mentally — the lifestyle and the women and the travelling. I had to get out. I can’t settle.”

He then disappeared again for another quarter of a century, until his death was reported on Fleetwood Mac’s website. The “curse of Fleetwood Mac” claimed further victims when Bob Welch (obituary, June 9, 2012), the guitarist who had replaced Spencer, committed suicide.

Daniel David Kirwan was born in 1950 in Brixton, south London. Like so much of his life, his childhood is a mystery, although a line in one of his songs, Child of Mine, in which he sang, “I won’t leave you, no not like my father did,” was believed to be autobiographical. A self-taught guitarist, he was playing in an amateur blues trio called Boilerhouse by the age of 17.

After Fleetwood Mac’s producer Mike Vernon heard them rehearsing in a south London basement, he recommended them to Green, who offered to manage the group and arranged for them to support Fleetwood Mac at venues such as the Marquee Club in Soho, London.

When Kirwan’s bandmates expressed a reluctance to give up their day jobs and turn professional, Green placed an ad in Melody Maker to find a new drummer and bass player. More than 300 applied, but none of those auditioned was deemed to be up to the mark and so Kirwan was invited by Mick Fleetwood to join Fleetwood Mac by default.

“I was lucky to have played for the band at all,” Kirwan said when he briefly resurfaced in 1993. “I just started off following them around, but I could play the guitar a bit and Mick put me in.”

Angel-faced with his long blond hair and a sad, faraway look in his eyes, Kirwan made his first appearance with the band at the Nag’s Head in Battersea, south London, in 1968. According to Green, he was so moved by the music that he cried on stage as he was playing.

Despite his extreme youth, Kirwan’s contribution to the group was substantial, particularly after Green’s departure, when he reluctantly stepped up as the band’s main songwriter. On albums such as Future Games and Bare Trees, Kirwan’s songs took Fleetwood Mac away from the group’s blues roots and towards a more melodic, soft-rock style. Several of his compositions adapted lyrics by his favourite poets, including Rupert Brooke.

As the group’s albums stopped charting and they struggled to maintain a stable line-up, fans often refer to the period as the “wilderness years”, before the arrival of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks a few years later turned Fleetwood Mac into one of the biggest-selling bands. It would, perhaps, be fairer to see it as an era of transition, with Kirwan as the bridge.

Yet the pressure proved too much. “Danny wasn’t a very light-hearted person, to say the least,” his bandmate Welch recalled. “He was always very intense about his work, but didn’t seem to be able to distance himself from it. Danny was the definition of ‘deadly serious’.”

Somewhere along the way in the early 1970s he acquired a wife and a son, but soon lost them again and nobody in the Fleetwood Mac camp knows what became of them. Living on social security and “dribs and drabs” of royalties from his songs, he claimed to have spent years travelling with all of his possessions in a rucksack, perhaps inspired by The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp by WH Davies, one of his favourite writers and whose poetry he set to music in his song Dragonfly.

He was one of eight past and present members of Fleetwood Mac inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, but did not attend the ceremony. Ever a man of mystery, nobody knew how to contact him. Even the Missing Persons Bureau could not track him down for the event.

Danny Kirwan, musician, was born on May 13, 1950. He died of unknown causes on June 8, 2018, aged 68
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