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Robert Ian McNabb (born 3 November 1960) is an English singer-songwriter and musician. Previously the frontman of The Icicle Works, McNabb has since embarked on a solo career and performed with Ringo Starr, Neil Young/Crazy Horse, Mike Scott (of The Waterboys), and Danny Thompson of folk band Pentangle.
McNabb on stage in Birmingham, England
|Birth name||Robert Ian McNabb|
|Also known as||Boots|
|Born||3 November 1960|
Mossley Hill, Liverpool, England
|Genres||Alternative rock, new wave|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, keyboards, bass|
|Labels||Fairfield, This Way Up|
|Associated acts||The Icicle Works|
The Wild Swans
The Lightning Seeds
McNabb's first book, an autobiography entitled Merseybeast, was published in October 2008.
Robert Ian McNabb was born in Lourdes Hospital (now Spire Liverpool Hospital) in Mossley Hill, Liverpool, the first and only child of Patricia (née Forsyth) and Robert Gerard McNabb. At 18 months old he contracted pneumonia, leaving him with a damaged left lung.
He had a brief stint as a child model, and a resultant photo was later featured on the album art of Potency: The Best of Ian McNabb.
McNabb cites his earliest musical influences as being from watching T. Rex's "Born to Boogie" and That'll Be the Day starring David Essex at the age of 10. After this he began attending guitar and music theory lessons.
McNabb's first musical performance was playing "You're Sixteen" at Fairfield Conservative Club in Liverpool in 1974. In 1975, he auditioned and joined the young cabaret group Daybreak (Later renamed "Young World"). The group played at men's clubs around the North-West of England during the mid-1970s. The group unsuccessfully auditioned for television talent show Opportunity Knocks. Chris Sharrock later joined the group, where McNabb first became friends with him, he would go on to drum for The Icicle Works. McNabb wrote his first song at age 15, titled "Apologise (I Will)".
McNabb quit Young World near the end of 1976 and joined an all-male teen cabaret group called City Lights. In 1977 the group auditioned for ITV's New Faces but were unsuccessful. McNabb began attending the Mabel Fletcher College of Music and Drama.
He quit City Lights in February 1980, having agreed to start a band with Chris Sharrock.
The Icicle WorksEdit
The Icicle Works had success in the UK with the top 20 single "Love Is a Wonderful Colour" in 1983. They also hit the top 40 in the United States and Canada 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 No. 52. In the US, they briefly made the Modern Rock charts in 1988, but achieved no further mainstream recognition and were regarded in the US and Canada 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, which released one album in 1990. However, the album was commercially unsuccessful and the band broke up the following year.
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. He then retired the name for a few years, before playing a handful of "30th Anniversary" shows as The Icicle Works in 2011.
1991–1997: This Way Up eraEdit
Around the time of the split of the Icicle Works in 1990, McNabb spent some time as a de facto member of The Wild Swans, playing guitar and singing background vocals. The Wild Swans dissolved in late 1990, and McNabb then issued two solo 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 budget in Oldham, Greater Manchester, it won him a record deal with Andrew Lauder's new 'This Way Up' Label.
The album's first 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. The next single pulled from the album, "I'm Game", failed to chart. "(I Go) My Own Way" was re-recorded with The Stone Roses producer John Leckie, but it too failed to significantly impact on the UK chart. Label boss Andrew Lauder then suggested that McNabb go to record in America, which McNabb was sceptical 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 rhythm section appeared on four of the ten tracks on Head Like a Rock, including the No. 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 No. 66.
Molina and Talbot toured with McNabb in 1994, featuring on the short live bonus CD which accompanied his next album, Merseybeast (1996). This performance also featured Noel Gallagher of Oasis on uncredited rhythm guitar as the group covered The Seeds' "Pushin' Too Hard". Merseybeast saw McNabb with a new backing band called The Afterlife. The album's first single, "Don't Put Your Spell on Me" reached UK No. 72. The second single, the album's title track "Merseybeast" fared even worse, hitting UK No. 74.
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.
1998–present: Fairfield Records eraEdit
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 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 bassist Danny Thompson. The album also produced one single, "Little Princess" which failed to chart.
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".
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-Go's 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 issue 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-1980s 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: The Best of Ian McNabb. This covered his whole solo oeuvre, showcasing his eclectic musical taste and output.
In 2005, McNabb successfully pushed a single, "Let The Young Girl Do What She Wants To" to No. 38 on the UK Singles Chart. 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 No. 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.
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.
In January and February 2008, McNabb was involved with "The Number Ones Project", a concert and compilation album celebrating Liverpool's fifty-six No. 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".
In late 2008, McNabb participated in a concert reunion of City Lights]. At the end of the year, McNabb released his autobiography, entitled Merseybeast: A Musical Memoir.
McNabb's eighth studio album, Great Things, was first made available at gigs in September 2009. As of November, it was made available for sale on McNabb's website. His ninth album, Little Episodes was available exclusively through his website beginning in February 2012. McNabb's tenth studio album, Eclectic Warrior, was created as a pledge music project, and was released on 18 March 2013. The Liverpudlian band Cold Shoulder played on the record, and toured with McNabb on the subsequent tour.
In June 2014, McNabb joined radio station 'Radio Wirral' and was appointed to host a regular Friday night slot from 10 pm until 12 midnight. This slot, titled 'The Ian McNabb Show', started broadcasting on 20 June 2014 and continued for a few months.
In August 2015, McNabb released the side album Krugerrands, his second release in collaboration with Cold Shoulder. He also revived The Icicle Works moniker and current lineup for a sporadic set of concerts throughout the rest of the year and on into 2016.
In March 2016, McNabb released his first album of covers, titled Respectfully Yours.
Star Smile Strong, his eleventh studio album, was released in April 2017. Part 1 of a trilogy.
Our Future In Space, his twelfth studio album, was released in June 2018. Part 2 of a trilogy.
Currently Ian is working on his next studio album (part 3 of a trilogy), which will be titled Utopian and will be a double album (with 20 tracks to celebrate that this will be his 20th studio album, starting with the five he recorded with The Icicle Works) released in 2021. Originally the plan was to release the album in 2020 and than tour the country, but the pandemic changed this much to the chagrin of Ian according to the posts on his blog.
- Truth and Beauty (1993)
- Head Like a Rock (1994)
- Merseybeast (1996)
- A Party Political Broadcast on Behalf of the Emotional Party (1998)
- Ian McNabb (2001)
- The Gentleman Adventurer (2002)
- Before All of This (2005)
- Great Things (2009)
- Little Episodes (2012)
- Eclectic Warrior (2013)
- Star Smile Strong (2017)
- Our Future in Space (2018)
Collaborations with other artistsEdit
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 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.
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 had an early music industry break in 1988 when McNabb hired him to be a member of a late-running version of The Icicle Works.
McNabb has also contributed guitar on Amsterdam's album The Journey (2005) and Gary Cooke's debut album Songs for Everyday Use (2006).
- "The Crazy Dreamer", review of Head Like a Rock, from Vox, 1994.
- Allmusic.com entry for Icicle Works
- AllMusic.com entry for Ian McNabb.
- Information posted by Ian McNabb on Yahoo!Groups discussion list
- Biography on official 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.