'Dragonfly' is one of my favourite songs of all time. Written by Danny Kirwan of Fleetwood Mac, it was released as a single by the band in March 1971 - the month and year I was born. It is based on a poem by the Welsh poet W.H. Davies called 'The Dragonfly'. The song’s delicate guitar lines and poignant atmosphere cleverly reflect the poem’s subject matter:
"It was a fleeting visit all too brief, in three short minutes he had been and gone."
I have loved ‘Dragonfly’ since the moment I heard it. It's perhaps Danny's crowning achievement. Peter Green certainly thought it was the best thing Danny did. What makes the song doubly poignant now is that it could have been written about Kirwan himself, given his brief but brilliant music career.
Danny was fired from Fleetwood Mac the next year following a drunken outburst prior to a gig where he smashed up his gorgeous 'Black Beauty' Les Paul and refused to go on stage. Although he wrote some fine songs in a brief solo career that followed, Kirwan faced increasing problems with alcoholism and retired from the music business in 1979. He was reported to be living in a hostel for people suffering from substance abuse in London in the nineties. His current whereabouts are unknown but it is thought that his ex-wife, Clare Morris, is handling his affairs.
I keep reflecting on the fact that it was so amazing that Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac (to distinguish it from later incarnations) had three lead guitarists, two of whom were possibly the greatest ever exponents of white blues guitar playing. No disrespect to Page, Clapton, Beck or even Jeremy Spencer, but Peter and Danny just seemed to be able to plumb deeper into their souls and express their feelings - whether joy or anguish - in a way I haven't really heard in other white guitarists. Their stories (which are so strangely inter-connected) are tragedies, I suppose we have to conclude, but what wonderful musical legacies they have left behind.
I recorded my version of ‘Dragonfly’ (available here as a free download), and my tribute song to Danny, 'Man Of 1000 Years', as an attempt to contribute to keeping knowledge of Danny’s music alive. Were we worthy of so fine a guest?
Now, when the roses are half buds, half flowers,
And loveliest, the king of flies has come-
It was a fleeting visit, all too brief;
In three short minutes he had been and gone
He rested there, upon an apple leaf-
A gorgeous opal crown set on his head,
Although the garden is a lovely place
Was it worthy of so fine a guest?
Words by W.H. Davies, music by Daniel David Kirwan
Check out Danny and Fleetwood Mac performing a fantastic live televised version of 'Dragonfly' here.