ROCK CHICKS AT WAR; Next Month a Concert Celebrates Ronnie Lane, the Faces Idol Whose Music Made Millions - and Rod Stewart a Star. but Lane's Real Legacy Is a Tale of Bitter Wives, Feuding Impoverished Children. and a Battle for Money That Would Have Sickened Him

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EARLY next month, some of the biggest names in British pop will gather at the Royal Albert Hall to pay tribute to a quiet, self- effacing - and ultimately tragic - figure who was their inspiration. Yet as stars such as Paul Weller, Ronnie Wood and Pete Townshend jam before 5,000 fans in memory of the late Ronnie Lane, celebrations will be clouded by a bitter feud between his second and third wives, Kate and Susan.

Although the dispute has simmered for almost 20 years, the two women live on either side of the Atlantic and have never vented their feelings face to face.

Now, it seems, they are locked on a collision course. For, amid an ugly new row over who should benefit from the charity concert on April 8, both Mrs Lanes are planning to attend.

Younger readers may not fully appreciate the significance of Ronnie Lane and his first major band, The Small Faces.

With classic songs like Itchycoo Park, All Or Nothing and Lazy Sunday, and a style that bridged the gap between the Mods and Hippies, they captured the spirit of the Sixties perhaps better than any group excepting The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Lane, who co-wrote their most memorable hits, went on to achieve further acclaim with Rod Stewart and The Faces. But in 1973, when they were set to make millions, he suddenly quit to tour England in a battered old van with a non-profit making 'rock 'n' roll circus'.

The bizarre venture, which was designed to show his contempt for the pampered lifestyle of the new rock superstars such as Stewart, left him flat broke. And, shortly afterwards, he learned he had the fatal wasting disease multiple sclerosis.

He died aged 51, in penury and obscurity, in 1997.

But the protracted animosity between Lane's wives dates back to the mid-Eighties, when, after his divorce from Kate in 1984, he left England for a new life in America.

There, he met and married Susan Gallegos, the daughter of a native American Indian chief.

The two women harbour many simmering grievances, most of which involve their respective children.

Kate, now 55, bore Ronnie two sons, Luke, 30, and Reuben, 25. Susan, 48, has two daughters, Thea, 22, and Lyris, 18, by a previous marriage. Lane adopted them after their wedding in Texas, in 1989.

This latest, and potentially most acrimonious argument centres on which of these two sets of children should receive the proceeds of next month's concert: something of an irony considering Lane's deep-seated loathing for material wealth.

THE EVENT was originally intended to benefit Luke, a [pounds sterling]350a-week lorry driver, and Reuben, a welder, who have never received a penny from their father's modest estate.

But as the sole beneficiary to Lane's estate (he left a pittance, but the coffers were swelled recently by a Small Faces greatest hits album which made the Top 30), Susan would only grant permission for the concert to go ahead if her daughters split the profits.

Kate Lane is furious. 'My boys have worked their socks off and have had nothing,' she said from her home in Shropshire. 'Ronnie would want me to fight this. The last thing he said to me was: "I want you to look after the boys and the Lane family name."' Luke Lane, who bears a striking resemblance to his father, had a slightly different view. 'Dad would have hated the idea of anyone arguing about money,' he told me sadly, at the tiny cottage in Church Stoke, Powys, where he lives with his pregnant girlfriend. 'I think he would be horrified if he could see what was going on just now.' He surely would. The concert's organisers are also aghast that, for all their good intentions, the event has reopened old wounds.

WHY, then, did the feud begin, and why, after all these years, does it continue to smoulder? More pertinently, who would Ronnie Lane have wished to receive the concert proceeds, expected to top [pounds sterling]60,000 after costs are paid? …