Daniel David Kirwan (guitarist for Fleetwood Mac) was born on May 13, 1950 as Daniel David Langran and grew up in Brixton, South London. His parents separated when he was young. His mother, Phyllis Rose Langran then married Aloysious J. Kirwan in 1958 when Danny was eight. Kirwan left school in 1967 with six O-levels and worked for a year as an insurance clerk in Fenchurch Street in the City of London.
His mother was a singer and as a consequence he grew up listening to the music of jazz musicians such as Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, Belgian gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and 1930s–40s groups such as the Ink Spots. He began learning guitar at the relative late age of 15 and quickly became an accomplished self-taught guitarist and musician, influenced by guitarists such as Hank Marvin of the Shadows, Django Reinhardt, Jimi Hendrix, and particularly by Eric Clapton’s playing in the Bluesbreakers. Kirwan was 17 when he came to the attention of the newly formed blues band Fleetwood Mac in London while fronting his first band Boilerhouse, a blues three-piece with Trevor Stevens on bass guitar and Dave Terrey on drums. Boilerhouse played support slots for Fleetwood Mac at London venues such as the Nag’s Head in Battersea and John Gee’s Marquee Club in Wardour Street.
Danny Kirwan was a natural guitarist, much in the same vein as Peter Green, who could make a string sing and a note come alive without any pedal support, just his fingers. Officially the story is that Peter Green in search for a more melodic blues direction for the band, saw Danny as his perfect counterpart and Mick Fleetwood later said: “Danny was a huge force in our early years … Danny’s true legacy, in my mind, will forever live on in the music he wrote and played so beautifully as a part of the foundation of Fleetwood Mac, that has now endured for over fifty years. Danny was a quantum leap ahead of us creatively … He is the lost component. In many ways, Danny is a forgotten hero.”
Danny Kirwan himself however downplayed his contributions to Fleetwood Mac’s sound and ethos. “I was lucky to have played for the band at all,” Kirwan told the British paper. “I just started off following them around, but I could play the guitar a bit and Mick felt sorry for me and put me in. I did it for about four years, to about 1972, but … I couldn’t handle the lifestyle and the women and the traveling.”
Danny’s guitar playing was very melodic, much in the style of the Incredible Stringband and some California Commune bands like Mad River and Love in the late sixties, which was styled as psychedelic underground. Danny did vibrato bends and pull-offs that were until then hardly ever heard.
Danny had joined the band in 1968, barely 18 years old. He appeared on five of Fleetwood Mac’s albums: 1969’s Then Play On and Blues Jam at Chess; 1970’s Kiln House; 1971’s Future Games; and finally on 1972’s Bare Trees. His compositions clearly made an impact on everyone of those albums. But Danny became the second “victim” of Fleetwood Mac after his buddy Peter Green left the band in 1970. You see in those early days, the members in Fleetwood Mac were hard partying rockers. They had fun and were living the high-life. Peter Green out of a growing mental illness pushed by drug abuse was the first one to leave and young Danny Kirwan had lost his mentor and music partner.
When American westcoast guitarist Bob Welch was brought in to replace Peter Green, Danny entered a vacuum, as band victim #3, slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer was already translating their hard charging life style into a religious obsession. (He was supposed to tour North America with the band in early 1971, but he went missing shortly before Fleetwood Mac was to play a concert in Los Angeles. Spencer supposedly left the hotel he and the group were staying at to get some groceries, but he never returned.)
In 1999 Welch said Kirwan had been “a talented, gifted musician, almost equal to Peter Green in his beautiful guitar playing and faultless string bends,” but commented in a later interview: “Danny wasn’t a very lighthearted person, to say the least. He probably shouldn’t have been drinking as much as he did, even at his young age. He was always very intense about his work, as I was, but he didn’t seem to ever be able to distance himself from it and laugh about it.”
Before a concert on a US tour in August 1972, a backstage argument between a drunken Kirwan and Welch resulted in Kirwan smashing his guitar, trashing the dressing room and refusing to go on stage. Having reportedly smashed his head bloody on a wall, Kirwan watched the band struggle through the set without him, with Welch trying to cover his guitar parts. Welch remembered, “I was extremely pissed off, and the set seemed to drag on forever.” The band fired Kirwan, and the artistic direction of Fleetwood Mac was left in the hands of Welch and Christine McVie. Fleetwood said later that the pressure had become too much for Kirwan, and he had suffered a breakdown.
Danny Kirwin released three albums as a solo artist from 1975 to 1979, during which years he also recorded albums with Otis Spann, Chris Youlden, and Tramp, as well as worked with his former Fleetwood Mac colleagues Jeremy Spencer and Christine McVie on some of their solo projects. As a member of Fleetwood Mac, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, even though he did not come to the induction.
For most of the 1980s and 90s he battled mental illness, alcoholism and homelessness. It emerged that he had been living in basements and shelters, making ends meet through social security and small royalty payments.
In 1993, after Mick Fleetwood made inquiries about his well-being, the London paper The Independent and the U.K.’s Missing Persons Bureau tracked him down in a homeless shelter in London’s West End, where Kirwan had been living for the past four years in reasonable comfort, arranged for by his family.
Danny Kirwan died Friday June 8, 2018 in London at the age of 68, presumably according to his ex-wife from pro-longed pneumonia.