Ian McNabbFriday, 8 December 2023 Time: 8pm
In 1981 prolific Liverpool musician Ian McNabb formed The Icicle Works with Chris Sharrock (drums), and Chris Layhe (bass and vocals). The band quickly gained a following through their debut single release, Nirvana, and extensive live performances up and down the country. The Icicle Works became part of the Liverpool renaissance movement of the eighties, alongside acts such as Echo And The Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes, WAH!, Heat, OMD, Black, Dead Or Alive, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, The Lotus Eaters, and China Crisis. They signed to Beggar’s Banquet records, and under the guidance of Martin Mills scored a top 20 hit with Love Is A Wonderful Colour in the U.K ; and top 40 placings in the U.S, Canada, and Europe with Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream), on their eponymous debut album. The Icicle Works achieved top 40 placings in the UK for all four of their albums, The Icicle Works, The Small Price Of A Bicycle, If You Want To Defeat Your Enemy Sing His Songs, and Blind until they split up in 1988.
Following a brief signing to Epic records in 1989 Ian began a collaboration with his friend and previous Icicle Works producer, Ian Broudie. A number of songs featured on subsequent Lightning Seeds records, which became hugely successful. Ian then signed to Andrew Lauder’s new imprint, This Way Up, in 1992, which yielded three albums: Truth And Beauty, Head Like A Rock (which was recorded in part with Neil Young’s band Crazy Horse in L.A and subsequently nominated for a Mercury Music Prize in 1994), and Merseybeast, the latter 2 albums achieving top 30 placings; and the first heralded as “One of the best records released in Q magazine’s lifetime”.
When This Way Up records ceased to be in 1997 Ian found himself without a record deal and so accepted an invitation to join his friend Mike Scott (The Waterboys) on bass guitar for a lengthy European and Japanese tour. Ian self-financed another record in 1998, A Party Political Broadcast On Behalf Of The Emotional Party, which featured Danny Thompson (John Martyn, Nick Drake amongst others) on upright bass. They toured together that Autumn to promote the record. At the end of the decade Ian released the live disc Live at Life, recorded over two nights at Liverpool’s Life Cafe. Ian then joined The Waterboys on keyboards for a European tour. When this was completed, Ian accepted Ian Broudie’s invitation to record on ‘The Barge’, Pete Townshend’s studio, which Broudie was currently renting, moored next to Pete’s Eel Pie complex. The resulting album, Ian McNabb, saw a return of Ian’s love of guitar driven pop/rock and was released on Sanctuary Records in 2001.
After a stint briefly playing bass guitar in Ringo Starr’s band in 2002, throughout the 00s Ian released a further five solo albums: Waifs And Strays, The Gentleman Adventurer, Before All Of This, How We Live, and Great Things - all self-financed and issued on his own Fairfield Records imprint to a small, dedicated fan base. All albums were supported by extensive touring.
In 2009 Ian unleashed his autobiography Merseybeast which has become something of a cult classic amongst the rock fraternity (Peter Buck of R.E.M contacted Ian recently to tell him that he’d only just discovered the book and loved it!). It has since been released as an audio book, narrated by Ian himself.
So far this decade, Ian has released Little Episodes, Eclectic Warrior, and Kruggerands, all harder rocking albums which both feature the band Cold Shoulder; Respectfully Yours, a long promised album of cover versions; and the first of two albums that form a trilogy, Star, Smile, Strong, which features collaborations with Prof Brian Cox, a co-write with Ralph Molina (from Crazy Horse), and the unexpected return of Icicle Works drummer Chris Sharrock (who had gone on to work with The La’s, World Party, Del Amitri, Dave Stewart, Mick Jagger, Robbie Williams, Oasis, and both Liam and Noel Gallagher in their solo endeavours). He also released the album Our Future In Space, which once again features Cold Shoulder, and the song Aquamarine co-written with R.E.Ms Peter Buck.
In September 2019, Ian announced the forthcoming release of Utopian, which would complete the trilogy, and mark his 20th solo studio album. Owing to hold-ups brought about by the pandemic, Utopian was not officially released until April 2021. “It’s possible that we now hold the World record for the longest pre-order”, said McNabb recently.
Ian turned 60 in November 2020. Sadly, again due to the pandemic, all plans to celebrate with a lavish hometown show had to be cancelled and his Utopian tour, was pushed back into 2022.
Ian’s notoriety has grown on social media throughout the pandemic with his sometimes controversial opinions landing him in a spat with actor Russell Crowe in January 2021. The twitter exchange in which Crowe defended a comment that McNabb made about Master & Commander, was first picked up by Vanity Fair, and within hours was being covered internationally.
2021 saw the release of another new album, Ascending, which revisits the Icicle Works earliest cassette demo’s, and work is underway on the latest edition to the discography Nabby Road, named after the studio which Ian set up at home during lockdown. “It’s been my salvation, really - and while I do write stuff to keep myself entertained, I record it for the fans - they make all of this possible, and I love them dearly!”
Ian still lives in Liverpool. Until her untimely passing in March 2022, he was full time carer for his Mum, Pat. Affectionately known to friends and fans alike as ‘Mammo’; she is missed by all her who came to love her, and the internet depended on her commentary of The Brit Awards, and Eurovision! McNabb Towers will never be the same.
Ian tours whenever he can, and continues to write and listen to music constantly. As he reaches his 40th year of performing live shows, he intends to share more stories and hours of greatest hits with all those who choose to turn out to see him.