music reporter

Lane docu, album help to remember the Face

Keyboardist Ian McLagan says of Ronnie Lane, his late friend and bandmate in the Small Faces and the Faces, "It's time people woke up to him, absolutely, but it's way late."

Lane, who succumbed to multiple sclerosis in 1997, is best known to American listeners for such '60s and '70s hits as "Itchycoo Park" and "Ooh La La" and for his well-publicized fight against his disease. But that's a fraction of the story, and Lane's amazing life and his little-heard solo work are coming to light with the DVD release of a new documentary and a CD anthology.

Just issued by Eagle Vision, "The Passing Show" is a feature — produced and directed by BBC staffers Rupert Williams and James Mackie — that takes a deep look at Lane's career. "Just for a Moment," released by Lane Signature Sounds through indie Burnside Distribution, marks the first American CD release for many of Lane's finest solo recordings.

Lane hardly was an obscure figure at the start of his career. The Small Faces, which bassist Lane co-founded with vocalist Steve Marriott, were the toast of mod London; after Marriott exited the band, Rod Stewart and Ron Wood were enlisted, and, as the Faces, the group went on to arena stardom.

According to McLagan, Lane chafed at Stewart's frontman status: "Ronnie was the main songwriter, and he wasn't going to sing any of those songs live. He had to leave." So after the 1973 release of "Ooh La La," Lane quit the Faces.

Like Pete Townshend, Lane was an early follower of the guru Meher Baba, and he eschewed most worldly possessions. He sank his money into one of England's first mobile recording studios, which he housed in an Airstream trailer. Some of his solo work was recorded in the open air at Fishpool, his ramshackle farm in Wales; on some tracks, one can hear birds chirping or children playing.

"Of course, Ronnie was the worst businessman in the country," says Kent Benjamin, a friend of Lane and an associate producer of "The Passing Show." Lane's maladroit fiscal approach culminated in the quixotic 1974 tour called the Passing Show, in which Lane and his band Slim Chance went on the road in caravans and performed in tents with a troupe of circus performers. Sometimes playing to a handful of people in the English provinces, the tour was a financial catastrophe.

"It hemorrhaged a rock star's fortune," Benjamin says. "He wound up with nothing, and then he got sick, and there was no bouncing back."

Lane's famous friends including Townshend, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and the Rolling Stones' Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts rallied around him and played a series of MS benefits in the '80s, but Lane's charitable organization ARMS collapsed under mismanagement and allegations of fraud. After living for a time in Texas, Lane died in a humble home in Trinidad, Colo.

"Passing Show," which is packed with rare and delightful footage and features interviews with Clapton, Townshend, McLagan, drummer Kenney Jones and others, offers a full-bodied portrait of Lane. His solo artistry is adeptly captured in the 20 tracks on "Just for a Moment"; his lilting yet muscular music — which combines rock, country, blues and traditional folk of all stripes — now sounds fresh, even prophetic.

McLagan, who released the Lane tribute album "Spiritual Boy" in April, says, "He followed his heart, whatever he did."