Guitarist in Fleetwood Mac

Born: May 13, 1950

Died: June 8, 2018

DANNY Kirwan, who has died aged 68, was an English musician who was best known as a guitarist in Fleetwood Mac when they were still predominantly blues players. Recruited as an 18-year-old by founding member Peter Green the year after the group formed in 1968, the first piece of music Kirwan played on was the band’s fifth single Albatross the same year, the song which first brought them to wider attention.

In fact, Albatross was the only UK number one single Fleetwood Mac ever had and, despite his youth, Kirwan’s song Jigsaw Puzzle Blues was the B-side. He remained with Fleetwood Mac for four years between 1968 and 1972, the first two of which saw he and Green installed as the main driving force in the group. Although Green was the predominantly credited songwriter, Kirwan’s playing was to the fore on the other key tracks at this point, Man of the World (1969), The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown) (1970), and particularly Oh Well Part 1 (1969).

A combination of mental health problems and personality clashes – many of them with Kirwan – caused Green to leave Fleetwood Mac in 1970, and although the period immediately after was commercially unsuccessful and marked by a particular creative uncertainty, Kirwan contributed the writing of a number of tracks to their albums.

With slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer having departed to join a cult in 1971, the other key players during this era were founders Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, keyboard player Christine Perfect, and Green’s replacement Bob Welch. In total Kirwan contributed to four Fleetwood Mac albums; the third and most well-regarded of their blues era, Then Play On (1968), and a trio of post-Green records in Kiln House (1970), Future Games (1971) and Bare Trees (1972).

Five out of nine tracks on this latter album were written by Kirwan, and it’s fair to say he was as significant a driving force during this unheralded time in the group’s history. Yet emotional problems of his own, coupled with what members of the group later described as an over-reliance on alcohol, caused him to be fired after a gig in America in 1972 which he refused to play.

While in Fleetwood Mac, Kirwan played session guitar for the American blues pianist Otis Spann, and for the British blues band Tramp. After leaving the group he released three solo albums – Second Chapter (1975), Midnight in San Juan (1976) and Hello There Big Boy! (1979) – although each was unsuccessful, other than with Fleetwood Mac collectors.

Following this last solo record, Kirwan left the music industry and was known to have been homeless in London in the early 1990s. “I couldn’t handle it all mentally and I had to get out,” he told the Independent at the time. “I can’t settle.” Mick Fleetwood later said: “Looking back, Danny was not suited to this business. It was too much pressure.”

Daniel David Kirwan was born in Brixton, London, in 1950, a musical prodigy who taught himself guitar in a year and was spotted by Peter Green at the age of 17 playing in the blues group Boilerhouse.

Briefly married in the 1970s, and with at least one son, not much more is known of his life after Fleetwood Mac, the band which he helped shepherd during the years between blues-playing respect in the 1960s and eventual global stardom in the late ‘70s.

With the rest of the group he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, but he did not attend.