Spotlight: On Danny Kirwan

Mike Vernon first spotted Kirwan, all of seventeen at the time, playing guitar in a trio called Boilerhouse, with Trevor Stevens on bass and Dave Terrey on drums, “…I seem to remember him playing this Watkins beginner guitar yet making these wild sounds that reminded me in a way of Lowell Fulson… I was desperate to record him but I didn’t think his band had what it took” (mirroring his reaction seeing Jeremy Spencer with The Levi Set)          

Vernon booked Boilerhouse to open for Fleetwood Mac at his Blue Horizon Club in the Nag’s Head pub on September twenty-fifth, 1967 and this was most likely the first time Green heard Kirwan play.

Green’s biographer, Martin Celmins states that after this show, Boilerhouse “often supported” Fleetwood Mac at the Marquee Club.  Subsequent research by Christopher Hjort shows this to be an exaggeration at best: Fleetwood Mac played the Marquee Club just four more times before the end of the year, and Boilerhouse only opened for them once, on December twenty-ninth. 

 The band had also played support for Fleetwood Mac at the King and Queen in Brighton on November eighth.

The last time the two groups appeared on the same bill was at a charity show at the Middle Earth Club on February fifteenth, 1968.  Four verifiable appearances over a period of five months.

It is as frustrating as it is unfortunate that almost all that we know (or believe that we know) about Danny Kirwan comes to us through second or even third hand accounts.  The stories that are repeatedly told, already distorted by the teller’s perspective, are then too often subject to speculation, conjecture and embellishment (usually without malice) by those writing about him (both professionals and fans) all hoping to solve the enigma of this talented, troubled man.

Too often, the impression one gets of Kirwan depends on who is speaking of him and the story being told.

Celmins wrote that Kirwan “…set his heart on joining Fleetwood Mac the first time he saw them…” (throughout the book he tells the reader what Kirwan was thinking or feeling at during specific events without explanation as to how he would know)

He then goes on to quote Fleetwood Mac’s first roadie, Huw Pryce as saying that it was “clear” to him that Kirwan was “angling” from the start, “When we had gigs in London, Danny would often show up in the afternoon, hang around, and offer to help me carry the gear in.  He and Peter would jam after the soundcheck and before the doors were opened.  Peter really enjoyed that.”

What exactly Kirwan was “angling” for here, is not clear to me; this strikes me as the behavior of a fan; and regardless of however naïve he may have been, why would he think that he would simply be invited to join an already established band? 

It also seems to me that in that story, everybody wins: Kirwan got the opportunity to play with a personal hero; Pryce got help with the equipment and Green “enjoyed” himself.

Dinky Dawson, who would take over for Pryce as the band’s roadie wrote of his first encounter with Kirwan: Dawson’s first day on the job finds him having to haul all of the band’s equipment up the stairs to the Blue Horizon Club on his own.  After one of the trips, a young man walked in behind him into the still empty club carrying a guitar case and an amp.  Taking him to be a street musician coming to watch a “real” band, Dawson still didn’t hesitate to accept his offer to help bring up the rest of the equipment.

All of the gear now up the stairs, the young man then began to explain how everything was to be set up on stage.  Only then did Dawson realize that this “busker” was Danny Kirwan.

It was his first gig with the band too, which was why his equipment wasn’t in the van.

So, was Kirwan an angel-faced hustler or a genuinely nice young man only too happy to lend a helping hand?

It was almost a year between when Green first heard Kirwan play and when he was invited to join the band, so either Kirwan was a really lousy hustler, or he was willing to play a long game.

Was Boilerhouse still active during those eleven months?  Hjort quotes from a March second article in Melody Maker that mentions a “…fifteen year old guitar wonder Danny Kirwin” (yes the writer got both his age and the spelling of his name incorrect) but there is no mention of him or the band again until August. 

Celmins writes that Danny had quit his job as an insurance clerk and decided to turn pro (Stephens and Terrey apparently had no intention of joining him) so he was going to need a new band.

The question is when did Danny do this?  Did he wait until Green was back in England? 

Fleetwood Mac had only just returned from their first American tour the third week of July.  They played a few dates once back home and then decided to take a three week holiday beginning in August, thus allowing Green to focus on helping Danny. 

Did Kirwan ask for Green’s help or did Green offer to help him?  We simply don’t know.

An article in the August twenty-forth 1968 issue of Record Mirror states Green and Kirwan auditioned “three hundred” musicians, (Hjort unquestioningly repeats that number, but Celmins wisely pares it down to “dozens”) but “…none were considered to be of high enough standard”.    By whom?  Green or Kirwan?

With Kirwan still in need of a band, he was asked to join Fleetwood Mac.

In the August thirty-first 1968 Record Mirror, Kirwan told Ian Middleton, “(Peter)… liked what I was doing and eventually asked me to join the band.  I was very pleased as I’d only been playing ‘blues guitar’ for a couple of years.”

With the publication of Mick Fleetwood’s first autobiography and Celmins’ biography of Green, the narrative changed and it was Fleetwood who lobbied hard to bring Kirwan into the band.  In the liner notes to “The Vaudeville Years” collection, Celmins quotes Green and McVie on their initial reluctance to have him join.  He also quotes Bob Brunning as saying that Spencer wasn’t crazy about the idea either, but in the end Fleetwood prevailed.

Kirwan played his first show as a member of Fleetwood Mac on August nineteenth, 1968.  (Celmins has it on the fourteenth, but that is incorrect.)

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