"Me brother ain't dead....he's still alive. As long as these boys keep playin'... and these people keep singing his songs...he's 'ere with us!"
On a chilly November evening, a joyous Stan Lane - brother of the late, great Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame singer, songwriter, bassist, founding member and heart and soul of the Small Faces and The Faces - is holding court at the hallowed Half Moon in Putney. This cherished, intimate venue has served as one of England's most beloved, essential music pubs since the early 1960s, presenting such seminal artists as Roy Harper, John Martyn, John Mayall, Dr. Feelgood, Bert Jansch, Alexis Corner, The Yardbirds, Kate Bush, the Rolling Stones, The Who, and Elvis Costello, among scores of others, to the working class residents in the Southwest London borough of Wandsworth.
"These boys" which Stan raises his glass to repeatedly throughout the evening, are the surviving, still thriving, re-united members of Ronnie Lane's legendary "hobo-billy" ensemble Slim Chance. An organic, multifaceted collective that Lane assembled after he bravely departed the aforementioned super-group in 1973, which was then comprised of Rod Stewart, Ron Wood, Ian McLagen, and Kenny Jones; Slim Chance afforded Lane the platform to pursue his diverse artistic and musical yearnings away from the spotlight. Young rockers are advised to seek out Ronnie's matchless canon and legacy: Small Faces, featuring Steve Marriott, continue to be a tremendous inspiration to rock artists on both sides of the pond almost 50 years after they hit their first note together. And swaggering, booze swilling musos given to velvet trousers, scarves, and tousled hair-dos all owe their careers and rehab memberships to the Faces with Woody and Rod the Mod.
Lane, who passed in 1997 after a long, heroic battle against multiple sclerosis, anchored both versions of the group with his melodic bass artistry, uncanny songwriting expertise, and unbridled spirit. The Ronnie Lane Appeal for ARMS (Action into Research Multiple Sclerosis) benefit concerts in the UK and USA in 1983 featured the stricken musician along with a who's who of rock royalty to raise funds and awareness. Though he suffered terribly from the disease for over 21 years, Lane somehow managed to make it to the stage until 1992.
Slim Chance never scaled the commercial heights of Ronnie's former bands - nor were they designed to. Their original records are long out of print - yet that sad fact does not render Slim Chance any less vital. Emphasizes bassist Steven Bingham, who joined Ronnie's initial Slim Chance line-up when the band-leader switched to rhythm guitar to facilitate his singing: "super stardom was not Ronnie's bag at all! He wanted to do his own thing, which was to continue writing and performing in his unique style."
Ronnie and Slim Chance's minstrel-like British folk inspired repertoire additionally incorporated American country, jazz, bluegrass, and rhythm and blues influences - long before modern day roots chart-toppers Mumford & Sons, Fleet Foxes, Laura Marling, The Decembertists, and Noah & The Whale, among others, were born. Slim Chance's legendary 1974 tour - a trek which included a traveling circus replete with jugglers, dancers, clowns, and animal acts - was beautifully documented in a must-see film entitled Passing Show: The Life and Music of Ronnie Lane (2006) by director Rupert Williams, who was also in attendance at the Half Moon to celebrate the return of Slim Chance.
"I'm so glad we got back together" says Bingham, who can hardly contain his enthusiasm during sound-check while his band-mates chide him as he is not often the subject of interviews. "There was something slightly un-finished about the first incarnation of Slim Chance. The Passing Show was an incredible adventure for him to undertake. It drained Ronnie financially and in other ways."
When his Slim Chance brethren Charlie Hart and Steve Simpson, noted individually for their work with such artists as Ian Dury, Eric Clapton, Frankie Miller, Eric Bibb, Roger Chapman, and Pete Brown, among others, approached Steve about resurrecting the band, the youthful bassist never hesitated. "I follow my instincts - I heard a million voices telling me to do this! I came home from our meeting late at night, woke up my wife and told her 'you won't believe this! I'm going to have another bash at Slim Chance!"
Previous to the modern day Slim Chance re-birth, among their most high profile appearances in recent times occurred at the Ronnie Lane Memorial Concert held on April 8, 2004. After years of haggling over issues best left to the explanation of music business attorneys, Ronnie's old friend and collaborator Pete Townshend intervened and now the masses can see and hear that historic event by way of the new Angel Air DVD: One for the Road: The Ronnie Lane Memorial Concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Slim Chance's performances with Townshend, Chris Jagger, Sam Brown, ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock, Mick Jones of The Clash, Paul Weller, and Ronnie Wood are transcendent.
In the summer 2011, Slim Chance alumni, including guitarist and long-time Cat Stevens / Yusuf Islam collaborator Alun Davis, returned to the studio to update compositions from all phases of Ronnie Lane's brilliant career on a riveting collection aptly titled The Show Goes On: Songs of Ronnie Lane (Fishpool Records).
And the show goes on for Slim Chance as well. Bingham reports that an album of all new Slim Chance compositions will be ready by Spring 2015. "We don't want to be a tribute band...Ronnie wouldn't have that! Our new songs will pick up where Slim Chance left off. And that's what is great about this band - we're not massively well-known, but the fans love us and that's what keeps us going strong."
As expected, Slim Chance raised the roof at the sold-out Half Moon. Pensioners outfitted in dubious 1970s garb complimented by tartan accessories, including several grand-dads sporting skullets, boogied alongside the hipsters who made the pilgrimage to hear the real deal whilst these pub-rock masters still traverse this mortal coil. Everyone knew the songs, the riffs, and Ronnie's inflections. In addition to a few new numbers, Slim Chance's set-list included such Lane classics as "Debris," "You're So Rude," "How Come," "Anniversary," "Silly Little Man," and "Ooh La La" the latter of which was performed with the welcome addition of buxom can-can dancers and Stan Lane on vocals and tambourine.
After the gig, Mr. Stan Lane stood regally outside the Half Moon in the pouring rain, bidding fans farewell, chatting with young rockers about Ronnie, and posing for pictures.
"I'm glad you American lads are here tonight - this is real English music, mate...real English rock 'n' roll..."