Danny Kirwan

Daniel David Kirwan was born in South London on May 13th, 1950. He was discovered by Peter Green and Mick Fleetwood in
Photo  Chris Walter
Danny Kirwan
Photo Chris Walter
a Brixton pub, fronting a band called Boilerhouse. Green was so impressed with Kirwan's playing that he booked some dates for the group at the Marquee, and encouraged the trio to go professional. The 18 year old guitarist, by then a protégé' of Green and a fan of Fleetwood Mac, was up for it, but his rhythm section was not. Green then auditioned some musicians in the hopes of building a new group for Kirwan, but when no one worthwhile could be found, Danny was invited to join Fleetwood Mac in August 1968. Former Mac producer Mike Vernon recalls: "He had a guitar style that wasn't like anyone else I'd heard in England... there was a certain vibrato in the fingerwork that was quite unusual. And he had a really nice, melodious voice."

Peter, who had begun to feel as if Jeremy Spencer was 'holding him back,' was thrilled with the addition of a third guitarist; Kirwan was "full of ideas that helped move Fleetwood Mac out of the blues and into the rock music mainstream. He was an exceptional guitar player who, in turn, inspired Peter Green into writing the most moving and powerful songs of his life." Kirwan played lead on many Green compositions and was distinguished by a "unique, pronounced vibrato." Mick Fleetwood recalls that the shy guitarist "was the first person in a major way that laid the grounds for myself and John being able to feel quite comfortable with harmony...that, looking
Photo  Chris Walter
Fleetwood Mac
Photo Chris Walter
back on it, was Danny really contributing yet another level of musical openness that was to become a major part of Fleetwood Mac."

Although musically talented, Danny Kirwan's personality was a bit on the strange side. Christine McVie remembers him being "really, really neurotic and difficult to work with...he was one of those people that would never look you in the eye...to be around him was a very nerve-wracking thing. So he and I never actually wrote together at all." Bob Welch agrees, "He was one of the strangest people I've ever met, very nervous...but he was also a very intuitive musician and at the age of twenty-four, he played with surprising maturity and soulfulness. There was an idealistic and pure thing about him that was great." While the band was living at Benifold, Danny married his pregnant girlfriend, Claire, and had a son. Peter Green's thoughts on the matter: "I feel badly, because I introduced him to this girl, an ex-girlfriend of mine...She was mad, used to hit him with his Les Paul! I don't think he should have married her. Should have just had the baby.". Danny and Claire are now divorced.

Kirwan stayed with the band for several years, through both Green's and Spencer's departures, and Bob Welch's arrival. He made significant contributions to Future Games and Bare Trees. It was in 1972, when Fleetwood Mac was touring in support of Bare Trees that Danny's drinking
1998 Copyright Ron Chambliss; This print is available for sale in The Penguin Photo Gallery
Danny Kirwan, August 1970
Photo Ron Chambliss
and volatile behavior became a bit too much to handle. The whole situation came to a head one fall night when Kirwan and Welch got into an argument over tuning a guitar. Five minutes before the show, Kirwan smashed his head against a wall, then took his Les Paul guitar and broke it to pieces, refusing to go on-stage with the band. Instead, he sat at the sound board and watched the band flounder through the show, and went so far as to negatively critique it afterwards. Later on that night, the rest of the band decided they could not carry on on like that; the tour was cut short and Fleetwood was given the task of firing Danny Kirwan: "The scene was dreadful. No one had ever been asked to leave the band before, and Danny had no idea how alienated from him the rest of the band had become."

Upon leaving the band, Danny continued to pursue his musical interests, and in 1975 he released a solo album entitled Second Chapter (his band included ex-Chicken Shack members Andy Sylvester and Paul Raymond) which reportedly was none too impressive. His second album, Midnight in San Juan, released in 1977, was said to be better than its predecessor, but without the strength of the Fleetwood/McVie rhythm section behind him, his songs seemed (IMO) extremely limp.

These days, Danny Kirwan is rumored to be a destitute alcoholic. In his 1990 autobiography, Mick Fleetwood claimed Kirwan lived in a South London mental hospital. In a 1994 interview, Peter Green had this to say about his former bandmate, "Y'know, it was Mick who asked Danny to join, not me...I think Mick and I are responsible for where he is now. I wish I could help him, but I don't know how." An interviewer from Guitar Player managed to track Kirwan down in London and wrote, "Although friendly, he declined to be interviewed." As reported by 'Rekon' in the Fleetwood Mac Newsgroup on March 19, 1996, "Danny Kirwan is currently living in Covent Garden in London. He is still a down and out and is a
Danny Kirwan, 16 October 1993, London, provided by John Weydemeyer
Danny Kirwan
16 October 1993, London
semi-permanent resident of a hostel for the homeless there. He apparently remembers being a blues legend but never talks about it and if the subject is brought up he becomes very vague and can suddenly get angry for no reason. None of this is conjecture, these facts are from a reliable source." This is indeed unfortunate for Fleetwood Mac fans-- Kirwan must undoubtedly be the keeper of some wonderful memories and insights into the early days of this extraordinary band.

He did agree to a brief interview for a London newspaper in 1993, in which he said, "I've been through a bit of a rough patch but I'm not too bad. I get by and I suppose I am homeless, but then I've never really had a home since our early days on tour. I couldn't handle it mentally and I had to get out. I can't settle." At the time of the interview, Kirwan (then 42) was staying at St Mungo's Hostel in London, and looked "cheerful but dishevelled." He was living on social security and "dribs and drabs" of royalties from the band's early days. He stated, "If Mick would like to see me, then that would be nice. But he would have to come over here. America terrifies me. If he can't come, then that's OK. I don't really need anything. Unless he fancies popping a million pounds in the post..."

Although not present at the induction ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, Danny was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on January 12, 1998.

In his July 2000 Penguin Q&A, biographer 'Jet' Martin Celmins has this to report about Danny Kirwan: "Good news: I met Danny's ex-wife Clare recently who kindly helped me with liner notes for a Kirwan compilation called 'Ram Jam City' which Mooncrest recently released. Danny turned 50 this May and Clare showed me photos taken of him on his birthday. I was really pleased to notice him looking a lot fitter than was the case five years ago when I interviewed him. His hair is now short and he looks stronger and more together. Best news of all, perhaps, is that he keeps a guitar in his room and plays quite often for his own pleasure. He remains a very private person who keeps himself to himself and is nicely settled in the care centre where he's been for some time now. I know that some of his many well-wishers took to the idea of Danny possibly moving to Eric Clapton's Crossroads centre in Antigua for treatment: whilst this may be a poignant notion as a modern story of the blues, in reality his family feel that he is far better off staying where he is. Obviously they know what's best and isn't it great to know that music still is there in Danny's day-to-day life."


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