Ian McNabb

Ian McNabb

Infobox musical artist

Name = Ian McNabb
Background = solo_singer
Birth_name = Robert Ian McNabb
Alias = Boots
Born = birth date and age|1960|11|3
Liverpool, England, U.K.
Genre = Alternative rock, rock, singer-songwriter
Occupation = Musician, Songwriter
Years_active = 1980–present
Instrument = Vocals, guitar, keyboards, bass
Label = Fairfield, This Way Up
Associated_acts = The Icicle Works
The Wild Swans
The Lightning Seeds
The Waterboys

Ian McNabb (born Robert Ian McNabb, 3 November 1960, Liverpool, England) is known both for his work as leader and songwriter-in-chief of The Icicle Works in the 1980s, and his critically-acclaimed solo career throughout from the early 1990s to date. He has also played with musicians as diverse as Ringo Starr, Crazy Horse, Mike Scott (of The Waterboys), and Danny Thompson of folk legends Pentangle.

McNabb's first book, an autobiography entitled "Merseybeast", is due out in the autumn of 2008.

Early bands

Career with The Icicle Works (1980-1990)

* "Main entry: The Icicle Works"

McNabb first came to prominence as the lead vocalist and songwiter for The Icicle Works, a rock band that was founded in 1980 and had success in the UK with the top 20 single "Love Is A Wonderful Colour" in 1983. They also hit the top 40 in North America with the single "Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly)" in 1984.

The Icicle Works continued recording through the 1980s with limited success. In the UK, several of the band's follow-up singles charted, although none reached higher than #52. In the US, they briefly made the Modern Rock charts in 1988, but achieved no futher mainstream recognition and were regarded in North America as a one-hit wonder.

The original line-up of The Icicle Works broke up in 1988. McNabb put together a new "second generation" Icicle Works line-up in 1989, however this line-up was commercially unsuccessful and broke up the following year.

Affiliations with The Wild Swans and The Lightning Seeds (1990-1994)

Around the time the "second generation" Icicle Works were winding down, McNabb became a "de facto" member of The Wild Swans, playing guitar and singing back-up vocals on their second and final studio album, 1990's "Space Flower".

As well, he worked with Ian Broudie on Broudie's studio project The Lightning Seeds, providing backing vocals on the band's first three albums, released between 1990 and 1994. McNabb also co-wrote a total of two songs with Broudie that wound up on The Lightning Seeds' second and third albums, 1992's "Sense" and 1994's "Jollification".

olo career

Early solo career (1991-1993)

Following the split of the Icicle Works in 1990, and the subsequent dissolution of The Wild Swans, McNabb issued two singles in 1991 to little notice. He then resurfaced in 1993 with a collection of demos which would form the basis of his first solo album, "Truth and Beauty". Recorded on a shoestring, it won him a record deal with Andrew Lauder's new 'This Way Up' Label.

The album's first proper single "If Love Was Like Guitars" became a minor UK hit in 1993. Following this, the 1991 single "Great Dreams of Heaven" was re-released, but failed to gain much airplay, possibly due to lyrical references such as "babies being born H.I.V."

The next single pulled from the album ("I'm Game") failed to chart, so This Way Up went for a different strategy. "(I Go) My Own Way" was re-recorded with Stone Roses producer John Leckie at the helm, but it too failed to significantly impact on the UK charts. Still, This Way Up stuck with McNabb and vice versa.

"Head Like a Rock" and Crazy Horse (1994)

Post-"Truth and Beauty", McNabb was allegedly inspired to a rockier sound by the engineer who mastered that record, telling him "Aye, Ian, your rocking days are behind you." Legend has it that McNabb went back to his home in Liverpool, and recorded a demo of what would become the coruscating opener of "Head Like a Rock", "Fire Inside My Soul".

Label boss Andrew Lauder then suggested that McNabb go to record in America, which McNabb was skeptical about. He facetiously suggested to Lauder that his new material sounded like Neil Young and Crazy Horse, and if Lauder could get Crazy Horse to play on the record, he would go to America. A few phone calls later, McNabb found himself in a Los Angeles studio with Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina and bassist Billy Talbot. This cast-iron rhythm section appeared on four of the ten tracks on "Head Like a Rock", including the #54 UK hit "You Must Be Prepared To Dream". The album's other single, "Go Into The Light", did not feature Crazy Horse and peaked at UK #66.

"Head Like a Rock" was subsequently nominated for the 1994 Mercury Music Prize, and although M People would end up taking the award home, the attendant publicity surrounding the award-nominated album propelled "Head Like A Rock" into the UK album charts, where it peaked at #29.

Molina and Talbot toured with McNabb in 1994, featuring on the short live bonus CD which accompanied his next album, "Merseybeast". This performance also featured Noel Gallagher of Oasis on uncredited rhythm guitar as the group covered The Seeds' "Pushin' Too Hard". Gallagher's refusal to be credited reportedly inspired the later McNabb composition "Don't Patronise Me", although McNabb has always denied this accusation.

"Merseybeast" (1996)

The 1996 album "Merseybeast" saw McNabb with a new backing band called “The Afterlife”. But despite high expectations for the new CD, the album's first single, the fierce "Don't Put Your Spell On Me" only hit UK #72. The second single, the album's title track (which saw McNabb exploring his scouse roots and merging them with West Coast Americana) fared even worse, hitting UK #74.

Although generally well-received by critics and fans, in the end "Merseybeast" failed to capitalize on the commercial success of its predecessor. This led to a two-year hiatus on McNabb’s part from both touring under his own name, and recording full studio albums.

In 1997, This Way Up parted company with McNabb, and released a 'best-of' collection entitled "My Own Way: The Words & Music of Ian McNabb".

Working with others/The Acoustic Era (1998-2000)

1998 saw McNabb as part of a touring band for Mike Scott and The Waterboys, playing bass and sometimes keyboards. He also had occasion to serve as a touring bassist for one of his heroes, Ringo Starr, whose son Zak Starkey had gotten an early music industry break in 1988 when McNabb hired him to be a member of a late-running version of The Icicle Works.

On returning to performing his own material, McNabb focused on acoustic music, leading to a residency at the Birmingham club of Ronnie Scott. The material arising out of this became the low-key drummerless album "A Party Political Broadcast On Behalf of The Emotional Party", released by McNabb on his own Fairfield label in 1998. Aside from McNabb, the only other musicians on the album were Waterboys Mike Scott and Anthony Thistlethwaite, and legendary bassist Danny Thompson.

McNabb followed "APPBOBOTEP" with a live acoustic album, "Live at Life"(2000), compiled from a pair of Christmas gigs in 1999. The album included one newly-written track, "Why Are the Beautiful So Sad", which continued to chronicle McNabb’s dislike of celebrity culture as noted earlier in "Don’t Patronise Me".

Into the 21st century (2001-2004)

"Ian McNabb" (2001) marked McNabb’s full-band return, and was issued by Sanctuary Records. The album's opening track, “Livin’ Proof [Miracles Can Happen] ”, was written for the Go-Gos reunion which had recently taken place, but was declined by that band. McNabb's version was pressed as a promo single.

The album was moderately received critically, with reviewers complaining of a lack of variety in the rock bombast of the record as compared to its two predecessors. 2001 also saw the issuance of a demos and outtakes collection, "Waifs and Strays", which included previously unreleased material and alternate versions of familiar McNabb chestnuts.

McNabb returned to his own Fairfield label in 2002, and issued the low-key "The Gentleman Adventurer". Best described as a semi-acoustic album, it is similar in spirit to his first solo album, "Truth and Beauty", with occasional use of the drum machine to accompany more upbeat numbers such as "Ain’t No Way to Behave". Almost entirely performed by McNabb (with help from his long-time collaborator and bassist in the latter-day Icicle Works Roy Corkill), the album takes in a variety of styles from rock, through ballads, a touch of funk, and acoustic storytelling.

Another “bits and pieces” collection, "Boots" followed in 2003, the title being both McNabb’s nickname (after his penchant for wearing Beatles-style boots in the mid-80s while with The Icicle Works), and a reference to the ‘official bootleg’ nature of the release. The double disc set includes some very hard to find items, demos, and alternative versions.

2004 saw McNabb issuing a second 'Best Of' album, "Potency". This covered his whole solo oeuvre, showcasing his eclectic musical taste and output.

Return to the Top 40 (2005)

In 2005 McNabb successfully pushed a single, "Let The Young Girl Do What She Wants To" to #38 on the UK charts. This was McNabb's highest-ever chart placing as a solo artist, and his biggest hit since The Icicle Works' "Love Is a Wonderful Colour" reached #15 in early 1984, a span of over 21 years. This unexpected chart success was assisted considerably by his loyal fanbase buying several different formats of the single in an attempt to gain greater publicity and recognition for his then-current album, "Before All of This". But despite support from a number of prominent DJs such as Jeremy Vine and Janice Long on BBC Radio 2, further widespread success continued to elude McNabb.

Later in 2005, McNabb released "People Don't Stop Believin"', an album of b-sides and outtakes from "Before All of This".

Current Activity

In October 2006, after 15 years as a solo artist, McNabb unexpectedly revived the name "The Icicle Works" for a series of UK concerts. However, this new version of McNabb's old band did not feature any original Icicle Works members other than McNabb himself. In essence, McNabb seemed to be re-branding himself, using a somewhat more successful trade name in order to give his work increased exposure. Throughout 2007 and into early 2008, McNabb played dates as both a solo artist and with The Icicle Works.

In December 2007 McNabb's second live album ("How We Live - At The Philharmonic") was issued. The album was culled from two June 2007 shows at Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall (the first of which featured a support slot from a fellow Liverpool singer/songwriter Kevin Critchley with cellist/pianist Luke Moore).

A series of Icicle Works gigs in December 2007 were heavily criticized by fans on the Message Boards at www.ianmcnabb.com for their supposedly shambolic nature, especially with regards to McNabb's performance. Perhaps by way of an apology, The Icicle Works played 2 free shows in January 2008.

In January and February 2008, McNabb was involved with "The Number One Project", a concert and compilation album celebrating Liverpool's fifty-six #1 singles on the UK charts. McNabb played at the January concert, and subsequently appeared on the album, released in February, with his studio cover of John Lennon's "Woman".

olo Discography

"For McNabb's work with The Icicle Works, please see The Icicle Works."


tudio albums

Live albums

* "Live At Life" (2000)
* "How We Live - At The Philharmonic" (2007)

Compilation albums

* "My Own Way: The Words & Music of Ian McNabb" (1997) (best-of)
* "Waifs and Strays" (2001) (demos + rarities)
* "Boots" (2003) (demos + outtakes + rarities)
* "Potency: The Best of Ian McNabb" (2004) (greatest hits + rare b-sides)
* "People Don't Stop Believin"' (2005) (b-sides + outtakes from "Before All Of This")


*"The Crazy Dreamer", review of "Head Like a Rock", from "Vox", ???? 1994.
* [http://www.allmusic.com/ Allmusic.com] entry for Icicle Works
* [http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:2ojveaz04xa7 AllMusic.com] entry for Ian McNabb.
*Information posted by Ian McNabb on [http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/ianmcnabb/ Yahoo!Groups] discussion list
*Biography on official [http://www.ianmcnabb.com/ Ian McNabb] website
*Liner notes to McNabb albums, particularly "Waifs and Strays", "Boots"
*"The Right to Imagination & Madness", by Martin Roach (London: Independent Music Press, 1994) ISBN 1-897783-03-5.
*"Guinness Rockopedia", by David Roberts (London: Guinness World Records Ltd., 1998) ISBN 0-85112-072-5.
*"The Great Rock Discography", by M.C. Strong (Edinburgh: Mojo Books, 2000) ISBN 1-84195-017-3.

External links

* [http://www.ianmcnabb.com/ Official Ian McNabb website]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio2/soldonsong/whatson/ianmcnabb_questions.shtml Ian McNabb on BBC Radio 2's "Sold on Song"]
* [http://homepage.ntlworld.com/david.greer70/Macca/title.htm Ian McNabb and The Icicle Works Guitar Tab and Chord website]

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