In the long and difficult history of Fleetwood Mac, a band whose many tribulations prove, beyond question, that truth is stranger than fiction, the sad fate of Danny Kirwan, the guitarist and songwriter who helped to create some of their finest music, usually is overlooked. The whereabouts and condition of Danny Kirwan, who was expelled from Fleetwood Mac in 1972, are currently unknown to the general public, but his special talent continues to be highly regarded by discerning fans.
Danny Kirwan was born in 1950, in London, England, and became a member of Fleetwood Mac in 1968, when he was in his late teens. With Danny Kirwan playing his guitar alongside the guitars of Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer, Fleetwood Mac soon became one of the standout bands in the United Kingdom, offering a trenchant form of electric blues that was both earthy and thoughtful. Then Play On, released by Fleetwood Mac in 1969, was the first of their albums to feature Danny Kirwan, and provides ample evidence of his strong abilities as a musician and a composer, particularly his gift for melody and harmony, on tracks such as “Coming Your Way” and “Although the Sun Is Shining.”
When Peter Green, who had been the main figure in Fleetwood Mac, became mentally ill and chose to leave the band in 1970, both Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer were forced to the forefront as guitarists and singers. The next album by Fleetwood Mac, Kiln House, has a sound that is quite different from their earlier albums, but it proved that the band could continue without Peter Green. Among its ten tracks, it features two songs written by Danny Kirwan, “Earl Grey” and “Tell Me All the Things You Do,” as well as two other songs, “Station Man” and “Jewel Eyed Judy,” written by Danny Kirwan with members of the band.
In February of 1971, while Fleetwood Mac was on tour in California, Jeremy Spencer departed from the band without warning and joined a Christian colony known as the Children of God, forcing Danny Kirwan even more to the forefront. Bob Welch, an American guitarist and songwriter, was quickly brought into the band, and in September, 1971, they released a new album, Future Games. The first track on Future Games, “Woman of 1000 Years,” a song written and sung by Danny Kirwan, shows his musical skill at its best, conveying an otherworldly mood with delicate layers of guitars and voices. “Sands of Time,” another song by Danny Kirwan, also has a dreamlike texture. His other song on the album, “Sometimes,” is a tuneful expression of regret, sung with sweetness and melancholy.
Bare Trees was released in 1972, and was the last album by Fleetwood Mac to include the songs and musicianship of Danny Kirwan. His five songs on Bare Trees display an undeniable degree of depth and maturity, making up the core of the album. “Child of Mine” and “Bare Trees” are driving rockers with solid riffs. “Sunny Side of Heaven” is a wordless composition that floats along on shimmery waves of graceful beauty. “Danny’s Chant” is a bold workout for guitar and wah-wah, combined with a free-form vocal. “Dust” is a plaintive setting of a poem by Rupert Brooke. It appeared that Danny Kirwan’s ability to write and perform music was gaining in strength, but in his private life, he had begun to fall apart.
The reasons for the decline and breakdown of Danny Kirwan are not entirely clear, but by all accounts, he never had been an easygoing or well-balanced person. His withdrawn temperament was ill-suited to the harsh obligations of fame and business, which frequently is the case with talented people. In addition, he was known to be drinking heavily, and his excessive consumption of alcohol undoubtedly had a harmful effect on his situation.
Danny Kirwan’s tenure with Fleetwood Mac came to a sudden end in August of 1972, during a tour of America. Minutes before a performance, he got into a backstage quarrel with Bob Welch, becoming extremely angry and refusing to play with the band. (He supposedly smashed his own head against a wall and broke his electric guitar into pieces.) Fleetwood Mac went on stage without him, and later that night, Mick Fleetwood dismissed him from the band.
Danny Kirwan went on to record several albums on his own (Second Chapter, Midnight in San Juan, Hello There Big Boy!), but he rarely performed in public after leaving Fleetwood Mac, and his albums mostly came and went without much notice. It seems that by the end of the 1970s, he had ceased to pursue any musical activities. Since then, there have been reports that he was living on the streets in London, completely overcome by alcoholism, as well as later reports that he was living in a shelter for homeless people. What is known for certain is that Danny Kirwan’s problems undermined his life and prevented his talent from reaching its full potential.
Fleetwood Mac carried on to become one of the biggest bands of the 1970s and 1980s, but the name of Danny Kirwan, the sensitive guitarist who gave a great deal of himself to their music before he went by the wayside, generally is accorded no more than a brief reference in their well-known story. As a singular musician whose contributions to the band were unquestionably impressive, he is deserving of a kinder estimation.
Powered by Sidelines