Of all their stories rifts and reconciliations, Christine McVie’s return to FLEETWOOD MAC 17 years after her bewildered exit, may be the most extraordinary. And as they stand on the brink of enormous UK shows and (whisper it) an album, it’s the prompt for all five members to open up to MOJO. Cut: good times, bad times, “carnage and intrigue”, plus a massive rubber dildo called Harold. “There’s a lot of love, you know,” they tell JIM IRVIN
It shouldn’t work, but it does: the drummer fractionally behind the beat and bass slightly ahead. For close to 50 years, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie have been locked in their distinctive groove, and upon it they have built and maintained the strange, enduring entity that bears their names.
It’s known dizzying triumphs and weathered catastrophe and decline, and for the last 17 years it has had to cope without singer, keyboard player and hit-writer Christine McVie, MIA since the end of the 1998 tour which celebrated the reunion of the multiplatinum Rumours quintet. At home in England, she effectively shut herself off from her former life. But slowly she realised that she missed it. In 2014, she rejoined the fold.
Better still, she’s writing again – collaborating last year with Lindsey Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood as ex-husband John McVie recovered from a bout with colon cancer. Meanwhile, the quorate Mac have been traversing the U.S. with their On With The Show tour, demand for tickets exceeding all expectations. What began as 42 American shows became 80. This month that production arrives in Europe for a run that includes that six nights at London’s O2 and headline slot at the Isle of Wight festival.
In 1975, shortly after the release of the self-titled set the current line-up refer to as ‘the white album’, the quintet undertook its debut tour and a show at the Capitol Centre in Maryland was filmed. You can see it online. For anyone expecting the slickness and stardust they’ve been associated with, it’s a surprise. The sound is shaky, the stagecraft unfocused. Christine sings songs from the albums they made with Bob Welch, Lindsey tackles Oh Well and Green Manalishi from the Peter Green years. It’s curious but intriguing, the focal point keeps shifting with the musical styles, but that dude with the afro can sure play guitar, and check out the chick with the maracas flitting around the stage like a dragonfly… you can feel the audience being drawn in and won over. Within months this tentative unit will have intrigued its way to superstardom.
Forty years later, they elect to talk individually to MOJO – five stories that make up one. From blues roots and the Peter Green line-up’s doomed majesty, via catastrophe, exile and rebirth in the melodic riches of Rumours and beyond, riffs healed but scars still livid. In order of recruitment: Mick, John, Christine, Stevie and Lindsey. Fleetwood Mac.
“We’d Look At The Carnage And Say, ‘Shit, What Did We Do?’”
From the blues to booze and back, protected by a guardian angel named ‘Fred”, the Mac’s manic beanpole recalls roots, shoots, Peter Green and more.
Mick Fleetwood has the kind of physique that requires one to be permanently on. When you’re a doorway-filling 6ft tins, it’s pretty hard to be shy and retiring, so he doesn’t hang back. He steps, ducking, into the room, shakes hands vigorously and is off. Words tumble out of him pellmell. His train of thought often derails itself, but minutes later will come back around to vividly make his point. His speaking voice is still slightly posh, his chat peppered with expletives and youthful constructions. On-stage, the deranged mantis with the dangly balls and huge wingspan, utterly at home behind his vast drum kit, becomes a convivial ringmaster for the circus troupe that bears his name. Off-stage, dressed today in a crisp white shirt and an embroidered turquoise satin waistcoat, with his long white hair and beard, he resembles an affable pirate captain: wise, well-travelled, twinkly. And yes, seeing as you asked, he is still haunted by the BRIT Awards of 1989. For this severe dyslexic, repeated autocue failure in front of his peers brought back awful memories of classroom humiliation. It was his worst possible nightmare. It’s hard to think of anyone who deserved it less.
How did your lifetime relationship with the blues first begin?
Peter Bardens, organ player, playing me Nina Simone, Mose Allison, that sort of stuff. I came from The Shadows and Eden Kane, Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, that’s the stuff I’d learnt to play drums to. I got hooked in Notting Hill by Peter, introduced to the first hashish joint and Ladbroke Grove, West Indian culture and music. Then R&B was integrated into our relationship with Peter Green, who joined the band with me and Bardens – The Peter B’s. We did all instrumentals, Willie Mitchell, Jimmy Smith. Funky shit. Then I joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers for a short while. That was the real blues boot camp, doing Lowell Fulson, B.B. King and the shuffle, all that stuff.
Why was that generation so hooked on the blues, do you think?
It’s not necessarily just the blues thing. That’s obviously part of it, but for those who were slightly older than me – I was born after the war, 1947 – there was a big statement: “I don’t know what I’m doing, but I know what I don’t fucking want.” They didn’t want the same, business as usual, “Your country needs you” shit. That music, especially R&B, represented “I’m not working at the fucking steel mill.” You didn’t have to study or join the army, or to do what your dad and granddad did. Boom. I think it really appealed as a ticket out.
One of the first singles I ever cherished was Man Of The World. That really spoke to me.
Well, it’s a sad song. Had we known what Peter was saying… What’s that line? “How I wish that I’d never been born.” You know, whoa. It’s pregnant with passion, it’s a prayer, it’s a crying out.
That run of singles, Black Magic Woman to Green Manalishi, that Peter oversaw, may be the most intense, incredible run of 45s made by any band ever.
Yeah, I’ll take that. Fucking-A.
It’s one of the big rock’n’roll What-ifs. If there’s been Peter Green-led albums after Then Play On, which is incredible…
I think it would have been really profound. I have no doubt what was missed. I think we would have had a place sort of like Led Zeppelin in America. The creativity was on a par with where they took themselves. That’s what I think would have happened. I think we would have had a really, really elastic musical trip. Experimenting with sounds and styles and orchestras.
It was clear from his songs that Peter was searching for something spiritually. If he hadn’t had the collision with acid, do you think his trajectory would have gone away from the band anyway?
Well, that’s the big pregnant question. To do what we’re talking about here is incredibly vulnerable, sensitive stuff, that he delivered in a very powerful way, you would never think that the deliverer could not take the world. Maybe Peter was ill anyway. I’ve heard that the type of illness he got, his schizophrenia, might have happened anyhow. I don’t believe that. Peter… he was so fine.
This was the age of old-school, showbiz management. Were you getting any kind of useful advice or was it all just, “Never mind son. Here’s your itinerary, get in the van and see you later.”
Oh yes. There wasn’t any advice. And we didn’t request any. It was all about work. There were care-taking Svengalis, Brian Epstein, the image-making. We never had that.
It was a thing with Peter and I to be independent, not to sell your soul to the company store. One of my parents signed the hire purchase agreement on the van, an old wreck, but it meant we were in control, no one in management or the label could take that from us. Clever.
One of the earliest pictures of me and Pete, just the two of us, before the band actually was formed, was at a jazz festival. I had my hippy hair, the my Nehru jacket on. There he is with the mutton chops, the Bluesbreaker, you know. The odd couple, totally. We were there bartering microphones off the support bands. Because he said, “We need our own shit, we don’t fucking owe anyone favours.”
What are your favourite records from the post-Peter, pre-Buckingham Nicks years?
I love Bare Trees. Mystery To Me is a great album. Kiln House immediately after Peter left is, in retrospect, charming but wholly adrift. Danny [Kirwan] and Jeremy [Spencer] weren’t frontmen, they were petrified. We did all that lovely ‘pot-smoking-Buddy Holly’ shit. Basically a private recording session for Jeremy, to live out his rock’n’roll fantasies. That’s truly adrift. But out of that, Christine joined and it started to build into a musical relationship that Chris and Bob Welch. We decided to go to America and never came back. But we always used to sell. Not in Europe, we were done, but when we went to America we would sell 100,000-200,000 albums. It enabled us to play colleges, to work, to pay the bills.
There have been plenty of junctures in the Fleetwood Mac story where you could have quite justifiably said, “Well, this band’s fucked.” But you never did. Are you the world’s most extraordinary optimist?
Lindsey would call it, “You and your damned rose coloured glasses.” To which I would say, “Actually, Linds, they haven’t done too badly, have they? I’m keeping them on!” I’ll take some of the kudos, no doubt. I’m happy that this is a happy ending.
Were any of the decisions that you made clouded by drink and drugs at the time?
None. I think it’s my nature. I really don’t think that part of me ever changed. Are you still doing something you love to do? Yes.
Well, John and I could quietly make a joke about it, look at the carnage or the intrigue and go, “Shit, what did we do?” Of course there was no such thing. John’s my partner and he’s a silent partner. He’ll turn up if there’s something to turn up to, but he doesn’t weasel around like I did.
Do you mean he doesn’t express an opinion about the decisions?
Oh no, that’s not true. He just won’t go and game-play.
Let’s talk about Christine, because it’s great to have her back again, isn’t it?
This would be true.
How important was she in showing a way forward after Peter had gone? What was her musical contribution at that point?
Oh huge. Huge immediately.
The pop sense she brought was very prescient. She was four years in the future, wasn’t she?
Yes, equally Peter had that ability in a heavier way. They were off to the races as songwriters. The blues, from whence they had come, was and is always part of the fabric of Christine. If she unloaded Oh Daddy on-stage, she might be singing back in a club with Freddie King. It’s all there.
In your last interview for MOJO you said, “Now Christine’s back, this band won’t mutate again without her.” So it’s this line-up or nothing?
One hundred per cent. This is it, to me. Emotionally, if you think of the enormity of what has happened, that surprise of what has happened, the doors that have opened to be walked through… If you were writing a book, you’d go, “Isn’t it a shame I can’t end it like this?” We’ve had the chance to end it like that and I wouldn’t dream of it any other way.
But here you are, one of only half a dozen acts, surely, who are still as popular, more so perhaps, than they were 50 years ago?
I do a meet and greet thing every show. Often lovely young people, totally knowledgeable about the band. I say to them it’s like performance art now. It goes into a whole different realm. Look what’s happening in the audience, al the stories – 30, 40, sometime more years – in those seats. You didn’t expect to be performing tonight, but you are. Yes, it’s all the sadness and ups and downs and things that have happened to this funny band that you’re looking at, but it’s also your story and that, multiplied by 15, 20,000 people every night, is hugely powerful. I’m an observer on stage and I witness so much lovely stuff it’s unbelievable. We’re grateful. We’re really fucking lucky. But also, we’ve worked hard. I remember way back at the start, setting up my drums, I was in some little band in Notting Hill Gate. We were all underage and playing in a pub. We had been asked to turn up! I walked in with my drum kit, and said, “Where do I set up?” In my mind I’m going, “There’s a stage, this is a thing!” The landlord didn’t even look up, “Oh over there.” “Well, where’s the stage?” “Over there, on the carpet.” “Oh.”
But once you get on the carpet, you’d better fucking do something. You learn that very quickly, whether you’re asked to turn up for ham sandwich and beer, two and six, or just the privilege of playing. You’d better have a work ethic.
This band’s had a work ethic even in the craziest of times. I call him Fred. When I was a fucking nutcase, Fred would go, “Mick, you’d better go to sleep now,”and I’d go, “What the fuck do I want to go and sleep for? I’m 20 grams in and I’m for 10 days, I could give a shit.” Fred would say, “Because you’ve got eight more shows to do and you’re going to make a fool of yourself.”
What you’ve learnt then is, you can be the greatest player on earth, but if you don’t fucking turn up and unload the equipment with the boys, if you blow the gig, you’re not the guy for the band. It doesn’t matter when you’re in your living-room with your mates, listening to records and shaking a tambourine, but it matters as soon as the landlord says, “Get over on the carpet.”
Mac Nuggets #1
The Blues Years (’67-70) panned for gold by Mark Blake.
1. My Heart Beat Like a Hammer
From its opening burst of cockernee chit-chat there’s something fabulously grimy and English about the first song on the first Mac album. Jeremy Spencer plays the ancient bluesman, while his bandmates build the chugging riff on which a career was founded.
On: Fleetwood Mac (1968)
2. Looking for Somebody
At times it was as much about what Peter Green didn’t play as what he played. Rarely more so than on this lean slow blues, where Mick Fleetwood’s metronomic drums fill the big gaps between the bandleader’s voice and wheezing harmonica.
On: Fleetwood Mac (1968)
3. Need Your Love So Bad
Fleetwood Mac’s single version of this ‘50s blues staple followed B.B. King’s 1967 arrangement. The lush strings do little the dilute the yearning power of Green’s guitar or his voice. Allegedly an unconfident vocalist, there’s no sign of reticence here.
On: The Pious Bird of Good Omen (1969)
4. Black Magic Woman
Later a big hit for Santana, the Mac’s original helped these former blues snobs crack the UK Top 30. Testament to Green’s underrated pop skills, Mick Fleetwood described it like so: “Three minutes of sustain/reverb guitar with two exquisite solos.”
On: The Pious Bird of Good Omen (1969)
New kid Danny Kirwan couldn’t have hoped for a better introduction than playing on this Number 1 hit. A blissed-out reveries that belied bubbling intra-band tension, it was a showcase for Kirwan and Green’s intuitive guitar meld. Simply beautiful.
On: The Pious Bird of Good Omen (1969)
6. Man of the World
The opening “Shall I tell you about my life” hints at Green’s troubled mind. By the time he declares “I just wish that I’d never been born”, you’re left in no doubt. The loneliness of fame underlines by Green’s reflective solo.
On: Greatest Hits (1971)
7. Oh Well (Parts 1 & 2)
The spiralling riff is the bedrock of the song – split in half across the A- and B-side of the original 45 – that exudes jazz, classical and flamenco influences. Part fledgling heavy metal, part soundtrack to an unwritten spaghetti western; all brilliant.
On: Greatest Hits (1971)
8. Coming Your Way
The third Mac album saw the band burst into glorious Technicolor. This Danny Kirwan-sung composition barrels along a questing guitar riff with Fleetwood and John McVie swinging wildly behind. Also marvel at the heavy-grooving instroversh on the Live in Boston CD.
On: Then Play On (1969)
9. The Green Manalishi (With The Two Prong Crown)
Sabre-ratting, proto-heavy rock and a Top 10 single in 1970. The ‘green manalishi’ was Green’s dismissive nickname for money. At the time, the guitarist was urging his bandmates to give away theirs to help save the starving in Africa.
On: Greatest Hits (1971)
10. Tell Me All The Things You Do
Recorded after Green’s exit for the Jeremy Spencer-dominated fourth album, Kiln House. But this great cheery Kirwan track shone through, its brisk guitar groover embellished by uncredited new recruit Christine McVie’s piano.
On: Kiln House (1970)
“It Was Instantaneous, A Great Union, Great Chemistry”
“Brilliant” Jeremy and Harold The Dildo to a brush with death and unlikely rapport with the ex-wife: a rare tête-à-tête with the “silent partner”.
John McVie hasn’t granted an interview in 10 years. Any particular reason? “I’m no good at them. There’s a brain to mouth disconnect. The others can talk, I don’t have to.” But he’s being modest. He’s a good talker. MOJO is invited to his daughter’s house in Hollywood, where he stays while on tour in the US and where he recovered following his cancer treatment last year. His usual home is in Honolulu. It’s 10am and he’s sitting out front, smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee. That’s about it for vices these days. Since his illness, he has sworn off alcohol. He hasn’t consumed any other drugs for years. He is tanned and slim, though clearly a vintage-model rock star.
How did music first grab you?
The first turn-on was at my cousin’s house in Hounslow. We walked in the door and he was playing [Buddy Holly’s] Rave On. What the hell is that?! He kept on playing it and playing it, and I was hooked from that moment.
You grew up in Ealing. Was there any kind of “scene” there then?
There was only one club, really, the Ealing Jazz Club on Ealing Broadway, opposite the tube. Cyril Davies, Alexis Corner and Chris Barber had all played there. And the Stones, at one point. I think our group, the Krewsaders, played there once. God knows how or why – we were just a little instrumental band playing Shadows and Ventures stuff.
Who were you hanging out with? Any other musicians in the crowd?
I didn’t hang out with a pro musician until we moved to West Ealing and lived opposite the bass player with Cyril Davies, Cliff Barton. I was 16, coming to the end of grammar school and there was nothing happening there so we used to skive off and go up to his place and listen to his blues albums and go, “What the fuck is this?!” That was the first intro to the blues, about 1961. Eventually, he was the one who got me into John Mayall. John asked him if he’d leave Cyril and join the Bluesbreakers and he said, “No, but there’s this guy across the street, give him a chance.”
The same day I joined John I started work at the tax office in Brentford. But I was useless at maths, and that’s all it was. I guess some people got some really screwed up tax returns! They also sent me out front to answer these questions. There were a couple of breweries in the area and some of the customers used to come in pretty wasted, an irate drunken taxpayer meets this know-nothing kid… Someone jumped over the counter at me once.
What were your expectations when you joined Mayall?
It was just in the moment. “This is great!” There was no thought of the future. “Got some gigs!” “Wow, OK.”
How did Peter Green get involved with the Bluesbreakers?
I think he came up to John after a gig and said, “I’m as good as him,” meaning he could play as good as Eric [Clapton]. And he did.
Was that uncharacteristic bravado for Peter?
Oh, I think he was very sure of what he was doing, very focused. He basically took over Eric’s spot. John was calling the shots musically, but he gave Peter the solos and he’d take off.
Peter started, and christened, Fleetwood Mac, but you weren’t actually in at first.
When he left Mayall he asked me to join him and I said, “No, I’m quite happy where I am,” but he kept bugging me for about four or five weeks and Mick too, “Come on you’ve got to join.” After about six weeks we had a gig in Norwich and during a break I went across the street to meet them and said, “OK I’m in.” ‘Cos they were mates as well.
Anything else swaying your decision?
It was a good gig with John, but then he started bringing horns in. I thought it was getting too jazzy. Which it really wasn’t. I just equated horns with jazz and I wanted it to be Chicago blues.
You were a bit of a purist at that point?
Yeah, stupidly so. Very blinkered. But I’m glad I was, or we wouldn’t be sitting here now!
How quickly did you know that you’d made the right decision to join the Mac?
It was instantaneous. It was a great union, great chemistry, especially with Jeremy, he was fucking brilliant. Then Danny joined.
Strange chemistry in a way, though, with the comic element of Jeremy’s contributions…
Jeremy brought a different energy to it. He did a lot of different stuff. Tiger by Fabian. Elvis, Viva Las Vegas, he even had the gold lamé suit. He had it down. He was a great mimic. I think people liked it. They liked it better than having the road manager come out with a silver platter with a huge rubber dildo on it, called Harold. Like we did at the Marquee. We never got busted for bringing on Harold. It’s amazing. It was pretty obvious what it was.
Mick attached him to the kick drum, I understand.
Yeah, he used t have him wobbling around.
What was it like when Peter came in and said, “I’ve got this song,” and it’s Albatross or Oh Well? How would you react?
“What the fuck is this?” Usually. And then listen to it and listen to it. Jeremy and Peter had their own little Revoxes at home and could work up great demos. They’d bring those tapes in, so there wasn’t that much interaction. “This is how it goes.” OK, I’ll play this.
Has any other band changed as spectacularly as the Mac?
Not that I know of! (chuckles)
Peter’s departure was devastating but how was it when Jeremy and Danny dropped out, also in strange circumstances?
We’d got used to the traumas by then: “Oh shit, here we go again.” Jeremy was the most traumatic because of the manner of his departure. [While on tour in the US, Spencer disappeared into religious cult The Children of God.] It happened here in Hollywood. That was awful. We didn’t know what had happened to him. Looking back, it was clear he’d become more and more interested in religion and biblical stuff. So we shouldn’t have been surprised, but just the fact that he disappeared like that, anything could have happened to him. (He makes throat slitting motion)
Peter’s spiritual search was the subject of a lot of his songs. Were they influencing each other?
I don’t think so. They were on two different paths. Jeremy was more traditional and Peter was more esoteric. If you like: “What is the meaning?” and the inner self.
Other bands might have thrown in the towel. Why did you never give up?
It’s what we did. It’s a gig. Mick had a lot to do with it too. “No, we’ll soldier on, keep it going.” And he still is like that.
What was your influence in the making of those decisions?
Oh, I’m happy to go with the flow.
What was your feeling when he suggested Lindsey and Stevie?
Oh, it was magic. We met them socially and then did a first rehearsal just down the street from here on Beverly, in a basement. And when we heard Stevie, Lindsey and Chris singing a cappella, it was like, “Oh shit, this is great.”
How has the relationship with Mick altered over the years, if at all?
Same, same. He’s my best mate.
Do you see your role as a vital component that can’t be removed?
No, not at all. It’s just the rhythm section. I’m quite easily replaced.
After 50 years…
(Laughs) Well, yeah, I don’t think it’s gonna happen but it’s harder to replace the front line. We won’t do that again.
Fleetwood Mac has always had a particular kind of tension that other bands haven’t had to endure.
You can say that again.
Was all the craziness good for the creative energy? Were the Mac like moths to a flame, you needed the drama to be creative?
It wasn’t conscious. The main thing was to keep playing the music. It wasn’t as if we were saying, “Let’s have an argument and something edgy will come out of it.” It was never like that, far from it.
What do you think left with Christine in 1998?
Obviously we couldn’t do her songs and there was a void there, and more of a burden on Stevie and Lindsey for the writing. Now she and Lindsey have been doing new material. I wasn’t there. I was just getting out of hospital. But it’s good stuff.
Given all that was going on during the making, Rumours is a very upbeat, positive record.
Apparently there’s a song on there that Chris wrote about me. I never put that together, I’ve been playing it for years and it wasn’t until someone told me, “Chris wrote that about you.” Oh really?
That was Don’t Stop.
Yeah, I never twigged that at all. Should have been Go Your Own Way. Quickly!
How is it having Chris back in the Fleetwood Mac fold?
It’s a breath of fresh air. It’s fun. I get to talk to her on the plane. She’s a funny lady.
How do you assess your life in the band? Do you feel lucky?
Absolutely. To the max. Luck has been such a big part of my life. Luck: one phone call from Cliff Barton to John Mayall. Lucky that I caught the cancer so quickly. I’m a lucky guy. (He leans over and touches the wooden leg of a stool.)
Has seeing off cancer changed your attitude to the career?
Very much so. I got my priorities rearranged, definitely. These two people come first (he gestures to where his wife and daughter are, elsewhere in the house), this is much more important to me now.
How much longer do you think Mac can go on as a working band?
Not much longer, for me anyway. It’s not the music – it’s the peripherals, the travelling. Mick will go on until they put him against the wall and shoot him.
I do flash on it, what must I fucking look like, this old fart up there. But I look out and there’s kids, and kids on their shoulders now, and they all seem to be having a good time.
It’s sort of worrying… Jesus Christ, will there still be a demand when I’m 75?!
“Originally, Peter Was The Guy I Fancied”
Jekyll & Hyde John, “disgusting” fame and gilded exile: the prodigal Songbird rejoins the flock… “Look, I’m getting goosebumps!”
Christine McVie has silver hair and golden skin. She radiates light. She looks happy. She’s sitting in a room a a Santa Monica beachfront hotel, where the windows are full of the ocean. In moments of reveries, particularly when discussing her years away from the band, she apologises for gazing at the beach while answering questions. Her speaking voice is surprisingly similar to her singing voice, that long, flutey tone with an innate calmness to it. She is wearing dark, relaxed clothes with a few blingy accents, and a splint on her right hand, the result of a deplaning incident. She does little hand exercises while we speak, in readiness for the band’s fifth LA Forum show tomorrow night. Last year, I saw her accept her a lifetime achievement gong at the Ivor Novello Awards. The room full of peers went nuts, a sign that her music is held in great affection and that she occupies a unique place in British rock, the grand dame, representing her sex for longer and with more success than practically anyone else; yet she has always maintained a modest presence in the public eye, a quiet but vital ingredient in Fleetwood Mac since 1971. “Every meal needs a little bit of salt,” she says.
What were your ambitions before music came along?
I went to art college and studied sculpture. And I ended up doing window dressing. My parents wanted me to be an art teacher, but I knew I couldn’t handle a room full of kids.
What kind of sculpture were you doing?
I did little figures that sat on things, on shelves and corners. I’d do them in clay and cast them in bronze. Hey, I could do all the band members, get them cast. Merchandising! What a great idea!
What attracted you to the blues?
It was the emotion, the letting-go, a releasing of passions undisturbed for so long. When you heard all those guys back then, you were moved. It was raw, dark and dirty and sexy. I wasn’t a very good blues player. But Chicken Shack’s bass player, Andy Silvester, had a wall full of records and he lent me Freddie King’s albums and said, “Listen to his piano player Sonny Thompson.” I copied a few licks from him and went from there. That’s how I developed my style.
What did Fleetwood Mac mean to you before you joined?
We used to open for them when I was in Chicken Shack. We did the pub and club circuit together. Originally, I was really attracted to Peter, he was the guy I fancied, and then i met John and that was it. John and those haunting eyes. We fell in love, got married and I was just a stay-at-home bride. I didn’t have any aspirations to do anything else. Then they went to Germany and Peter had his brain turned upside down and left the band pretty soon afterwards. They were practising in Kiln House. Making that record that I drew the cover for, and I was just listening, hearing it going on, and Mick had one of his revelations: “Why don’t you join Fleetwood Mac?” And within 10 days I was on stage in New Orleans.
There weren’t many women in bands then. I was always the only girl. I didn’t think about it, or the future. You just go for it.
You had a ringside seat for the departure of Peter – what was its effect upon the band?
It was cataclysmic. So sudden. Then he gave his money away, changed his name back to Peter Greenbaum, became almost a hermit. It was awful. When I think of Then Play On, Oh Well, Green Manalishi, those fantastic creations… Look, I’m getting goosebumps. Peter was obsessed with Vaughan Williams, very influenced by him, that’s where Albatross stems from, I believe.
Tell me about making those albums after Peter left. You started to write.
We bought this big house in Hampshire called Benifolds. Mick, John and Jeremy and the families all lived in this strange house that used to be a vicarage. Downstairs were two huge empty rooms, one had a grand piano in it and I used to tinker with it and Mick would come down and say (whispers) “You ought to try and write songs, you should write.” I was gently nudged in the back. I started to try, because Mick was so encouraging. He’d go, “Wow that’s great! Let’s record it!” And suddenly we had drums on this thing that I thought was useless and it was sounding really good. That spurred me on because I believed whatever I wrote, Mick would turn it into something.
Bob Welch kicked me off into another great direction on the Mystery To Me album. We began doing really close three-part harmonies and I started to understand commercial music. I loved Bob’s music and his whole vibe. So sad about what happened to him. [Welch left in 1974 and committed suicide in 2012]
There have been so many disasters. Were you keeping your head while all about you were losing theirs?
No, I lost mine a few times. They would always call me the level-headed one, the Mother Earth, but I was crazy like them.
Was that required?
There’s a loss of inhibition when you’ve had a ‘couple of pints’. You go back home and go, “Argh,I’ll write something.” I’m not advocating this, but sometimes good stuff comes out of doing bad stuff. Sometimes a cup of tea doesn’t quite cut it while you’re writing a song.
You haven’t collaborated much as writers in the band, have you?
We have on these last songs we’ve done. Lindsey and I have written six songs together and they’re magical. We had a great time in the studio, him, Mick and myself. Very creative.
Why did you leave in 1998?
I’d been on the road for 30 years. I was tired of living out of a suitcase. I wanted my roots. My dad had just died, and I wanted to be close to my brother who lived in Canterbury. So I bought a house there and decided to move back to England. I’d also developed a fear of flying. So I sold my house in Beverly Hills, got on a big Jumbo, that was the last flight I took for 16 years. I’ve always had an umbilical cord with Mick, and we stayed in touch. But, on reflection, I realise that when I cut something off, it’s off. If I want to go, I don’t look back. No flexibility.
For the first five years I was restoring my house, that took a long time, to make everything perfect, the gardens and the decorating. I enjoyed all of that. And then I went into a spiral of isolation and decline, drank too much. I went to seek psychiatric help because of increasing depression, and never going anywhere except hanging around my 50-acre estate.
You didn’t live with anyone?
Four gardeners and two housekeepers and I got a couple of dogs that I adore and was completely protective of. But I was trapped. So I went to see this guy, who’s become a dear friend, and he said, “If you could get on a plane, where would you go?” I said I’d got Maui to see Mick. So he said, “Book a ticket, first class, for six months’ time and let’s get you there.” I called Mick and he was all excited and it turned out he was coming to England to do promotion, so I ended up flying back to Maui with him, and I was fine. Completely at ease with flying. I played a few songs in this little blues band he has on Maui and that’s when I started thinking, I like this, it feels good.
And you’d not missed it before then?
I never listened to a Fleetwood Mac record the whole 16 years. If something came on the radio I’d turn it off. Not that I didn’t love the music, I just denied myself the pride of having done something that great. I felt I didn’t deserve it or something. This is like talking to my psychiatrist!
But you’ve written these incredible, successful songs. You’ve very rare.
I got an Ivor Novello award last year!
I was there. You got a fantastic reception from the crowd.
Undeniably. That’s partially why I feel, “You know what, I am good at what I do.” It’s all to do with insecurity.
But you had presidents using your work as a theme tune!
I know. All of a sudden, I didn’t think I had what it took, so I had to retreat.
You also said the rock lifestyle had become wearisome.
Yes, I was looking at it all and I thought how disgusting and decadent is this? I really want to get away from all this. For years I’d just go to the pub and have fish and chips, not to the fancy restaurant in a limousine. I’d lead anything but the rich life, even though I had this big house.
Talking of decadence, didn’t you and Stevie used to get your hotel rooms redecorated before you checked in?
Not me, Stevie. We used to get grand pianos craned into our bedrooms. But I didn’t redesign my colour scheme. Stevie did for a while.
Did Rumours’ success feel like a vindication for all the hard work or was it disorientating?
It was so disorientating. With the loss of a marriage. Mick was going through terrible times with Jenny. Stevie and Lindsey were more abrasive than they are now. That’s still pretty abrasive. It’s like putting a wet hand into a socket whenever they meet. They do get on at all. That’s the bottom line.
They’d still collaborate on music together.
(Sharply) No they don’t! When?
In that period.
Oh then, yes. But he would take her songs home and work on them
John said to me this morning that he didn’t realise Don’t Stop was written for him.
I told him all along it was written about him, countless times, completely, totally, singly about him.
Was the fact that he hadn’t taken in that piece of information due to his drinking, do you think?
John’s been through a battle most of his life with drinking. When he got colon cancer that was an awakening for him. He stopped drinking. He’s such a stoic. He’s both proud and humble, I don’t know what the word is for that. He just goes, “Well, I’ve got this shit. I better go and fix it,” and that’s what he did. And amen, everybody wants to sit next to John on the plane, including me, so we can chat to him.
Why did your marriage fail, exactly?
Drink. He was raging drunk all the time. Jekyll & Hyde. He nearly stabbed me in the neck with a turkey knife once, in New York. I went down to Mick’s flat to sleep on the couch. He was a nasty, evil drunk, unrecognisable, and he knows it. He won’t mind me saying that, because he’s just not like that any more.
Which of your songs means the most to you?
Songbird. Stevie and I were in a condominium block and the boys were all in the Sausalito Record Plant house raving with girls and booze and everything. I had a little transistorised electric piano next to my bed and I woke up one night at about 3.30am and started playing it, I had it all, words, melody, chords in about 30 minutes. It was like a gift from the angels, but I had no way to record it. I thought, I’m never gonna remember this. So I went back to bed, and couldn’t sleep. I wrote the words down quickly.
Next day, I went into the studio shaking like a lead ‘cos I knew it was something special. I said, “Ken, [Caillat, Rumours co-producers/engineer] put the 2-track on, I want to record this song!” I think there were all in there, smoking opium.
As you do, first thing in the morning!
Well, it was teatime! First thing in the afternoon. And they were all transfixed after a few bars. I could see them [pulls jaw-dropped face]. And I was so relieved we got it on tape. It’s an anthem to humanity. Sometimes I feel like singing it, sometimes I don’t, but once you get in front of the audience and you see the people you wrote it for, that you want to sing it to, that gives you the energy.
How long can you keep doing this for?
As long as it takes! We’re going good.
Mac Nuggets #2
The ‘Bob Years’ (’71-74), cherry-picked by Mark Blake.
1. Woman of 1000 Years
Recorded while the Mac were living communally in a Hampshire mansion, smoking themselves silly. Danny Kirwan’s lost-boy voice suited this saucer-eyed, post-psychedelic evocation of ancient womanhood who “may be seen up in the sky, and from the land… or floating by, a fisherman’s day.”
On: Future Games (1971)
2. Future Games
American guitarist and singer-songwriter Bob Welch was the first to break Fleetwood Mac’s Brit hegemony, and steer them away from 12-bar-blues. This eight minute song (included briefly in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous) touches on jazz and even prog rock, with the new boy’s fragile vocals shimmering in the mix.
On: Future Games (1971)
3. Sands of Time
An almost-but-not-quite US hit from the band’s commercially tough post-Peter Green years. Kirwan’s lyric finds him communing with the elements, over a twin-guitar figure embellished by Fleetwood’s percussive flourishes.
On: Future Games (1971)
4. The Ghost
The essence of Welch-era Mac fuses blokey blues-rock guitar with a wonderfully melodic chorus. Still has cusp-of-the-‘70s reefer madness (“Just a blue star hanging out in space / Earth Town is a lovely place”), but you can hear the blueprint of the band’s future sound in its lazy grooves.
On: Bare Trees (1972)
5. Danny’s Chant
Composer Danny Kirwan’s wah-wah guitar and a pounding Fleetwood drum figure drives this space-blues, a vehicle for its creator’s wordless phonetic chanting. Think a cross between Albatross and John Kongos’ He’s Gonna Step On You Again.
On: Bare Trees (1972)
6. Sentimental Lady
Bob Welch re-recorded this track to help start his solo career in 1977. A straight-ahead love song dedicated to Welch’s then wife, its sun-kissed Hollywood chorus is augmented by Christine McVie’s measured, very English backing vocal.
On: Bare Trees (1972)
Welch’s fascination with UFOs, Native American mythology and unexplained phenomena helped fuel his songwriting. This spooked-sounding blues was inspired by a dream in which he saw a flying saucer land in the Mac’s communal back garden.
On: Mystery To Me (1973)
8. Emerald Eyes
The opening track on Mac’s modest hit LP Mystery to Me was a dreamy tribute to an ocularly gifted woman with “a hear that beats close to me.” What makes it is Fleetwood Mac/McVie’s trampolining rhythm, booming and bouncing over the whole song.
On: Mystery To Me (1973)
Christine McVie said she never felt confident about her songwriting until Buckingham and Nicks joined. This string-adored ballad suggests she’d nothing to worry about. See also Buckingham/Nicks-assisted live versions from ’75 and ’76 on YouTube.
On: Mystery to Me (1973)
10. Bermuda Triangle
On Welch’s final Mac album, their soon-to-be ex-songwriter theorises about “hole down in the ocean… or a fog that won’t let go” over Fleetwood’s skin-tight drumming and sleepy guitar figures. Stoner West Coast pop par excellence.
On: Heroes Are Hard To Find (1974)
“I Didn’t Leave Fleetwood Mac. My Brain Left Me.”
Borne from her cave by the “mystical” Mac; later, “dwindled” by tranks… the Gold Dust Woman mulls her group’s “romantic spell”: “It will never stop.”
Stevie Nicks lives in the sky. Her condominium overlooking Santa Monica beach appears to be cut into a cliff. Views of the ocean surround her. She calls it her “piece of heaven”. Light must flood the place during the day, but it’s 8pm when I arrive and apartment’s lighting is set to a crepuscular golden glow as if illuminated only by trapped fireflies. Stevie’s sprightly 17-year-old, Chinese crested yorkie provides a vocal welcome. Her assistant Karen introduces us. Stevie is small and trim, with smiling eyes, and dressed entirely in layers of black, as one would expect. Her long ash-blonde hair seems to envelop her when she sits down, and she looks at you through tinted glasses. Her speaking voice is husky and instantly recognisable/
When she sees I’m recording on my phone and iPad she launches into a lengthy diatribe about how she mistrusts all computers ever since former swain Joe Walsh took her to his computer-lined den, “all very boxy and ‘Jetsony’ looking”, way back in 1983, and showed her the future of electronic music. Asking her to play a melody on a keyboard, he demonstrated how it could be orchestrated with the touch of a button. “I looked at him and said, So we’ve all just been replaced by whatever this is?”
What did Fleetwood Mac mean to you before you joined?
I was aware that there was an English band with a girl in it that was blues orientated. I don’t know that I’d ever heard anything, so when we got the call on New Year’s Eve 1974, I was straight to Tower Records with every penny Lindsey and I had, and bought every one of their records in there and listened to them all, then made Lindsey listen to as much as I could get him to.
My statement to him was, “You with your guitar played can fit in very, very well.” But I also saw that they had a mystical side. “I think that we can add to and enhance this band. Also, Lindsey, we are fucking broke. I am tired of being a waitress and a cleaning lady. It’s not like you have to quit your job because you don’t have a job. I have three, so I’m calling this one. We’re joining Fleetwood Mac. Pack your bag. We’ll do it for six months and if it doesn’t work out, we’ll quit.” He was like, “OK, OK.”
When you did the Fleetwood Mac album, had you played any gigs beforehand?
We went straight into recording.
So the rest of the band didn’t really know what you did on-stage.
That must have been a revelation for them.
Well, the crazy thing is that the band that Lindsey and I were in in San Francisco, Fritz, was the Fleetwood Mac set-up, if you looked at it from the audience. I was there, there was a pianist here, there was a drummer and a lead guitar player. Lindsey was the bass player.
You knew how to work that format then.
Yes, we did. We’d opened for Hendrix, 75,000 people. We opened for Santana at the Monterey Carmel Pop Festival, right before Woodstock. We opened for Janis Joplin many times. We played the Fillmore, Winterland, the Avalon Ballroom.
So you weren’t inexperienced.
No, we weren’t. We did that for three solid years [1967-70]. We practiced four days a week and played two days. That was all muscle memory when we went into Fleetwood Mac. When we walked on stage, the only thing they’d ever seen us do is be in a recording studio or very small rehearsal hall for that month and a half. They really had no idea who we were going to be on-stage.
To me it was like coming out of the cave, because Lindsey and I really had been in a cave for four years. This was just like coming out into the light. It was just brilliant, beautiful and really fun, not to mention for the first four weeks we got paid $200 apiece. Then for the second four weeks we got paid $800 a week, each. It was like we were fucking rich. It was amazing. Eight $100 bills and we just signed out initials!
When it took off, it happened really quickly, didn’t it?
Really big and really fast, overwhelmingly so. It was shocking.
I was amused to read in Mick Fleetwood’s recent memoir, about you asking for hotel rooms to be painted pink in advance of your arrival. Is that true?
Such a lie. No, the only thing that was over the top – first couple of years, when Lindsey and I were still going together and Chris and John were still together – each member of each couple had their own room, usually adjoining. Then, as of the Rumours tour, if there was a presidential suite the girls got it. Or two presidentials, we got them, me and Chris. That was the way of the world. For women, it’s harder. You have makeup, hair, nails, all this shit you have to do.
I think the boys bitched about that, but in the long run it was like: Happy wife, happy life. Happy girls, happy world. Happy Chris and Stevie, life is easy. I just made that up!
Was achieving your dreams fulfilling or frightening?
It was pretty fantastic. Having Chris to share it with was pretty great. We became good friends really fast, we were each other’s confidante with everything that was going on with Lindsey and with John. Thank goodness we had each other.
How important was that tension in making Fleetwood Mac what it became?
Well, I think every band should have a girl in it, because it’s always going to make for cooler stuff going on than if it’s just a bunch of guys. It’s ultimately more romantic, no matter what. Even if nobody is going together, it still casts a romantic spell.
With Abba it was very important that they were two couples and their stories were coming through the songs. How true was that for Fleetwood Mac?
It was totally important and everybody is still writing about everybody else. It will never stop. Once you have that, even long after the couples are broken up, you still have that – when you sit down to write a couple of songs, that news from 100 years ago still creeps in.
Listening to Rumours again, I was struck by how effortless it sounds considering it was so hard won. It sounds really spontaneous and optimistic.
I think so. We were actually very grown up about what we took into the studio and what we left out in the lounge. I think that even if we had a bad night the night before, a bad argument where we were staying, or in the car, when we walked through the doors of the actual studio, we tried very hard to leave it outside. If we had an argument about something that was musical, it was always civil and we worked through it.
What did you make of Fleetwood Mac’s struggles in the ‘90s, when you weren’t involved in the band?
Really we can’t blame that on problems with Fleetwood Mac or problems with me… The problem was I was taking Klonopin, that was like a horse tranquiliser. I just stayed in my house and ordered out from Jerry’s Deli and watched TV and drew.
How did you begin taking it?
A month after I came out of Betty Ford [to get off cocaine], everybody was on me all the time, “What if you start doing coke again?” I’m like, “I’m not going to start doing coke again, so why don’t you all just back off?” Finally, one day, after the 50,000th call of somebody saying, “We’re worried that you’re going to slip,” I said, “So what do you want me to do?” They said “Well, what about you see a psychiatrist? Just talk to somebody about it.” To myself I’m like, “None of you even went to rehab, but OK.”
I went in to see this psychiatrist, who was the guy of the moment. He kept saying to me, “I think I have a drug that would be really good for you because you have trouble sleeping, you’re nervous it might [help make sure] that you don’t return to the coke. It’s Klonopin.” It was the darling of the drugs at that point. Finally I said, “OK, give it to me.”
I think that this man is the one man in the entire world who I can honestly say I hate. He put me on this stupid pill that yes, indeed, calmed me down, but all my crazy Stevie Nicksness just dwindled and fell away. I just stopped doing everything. Klonopin was a disaster.
What were the benefits for you? Why did you keep taking it?
There was no benefit, but you see it kicked in slowly. I just wasn’t good for anyone. I just stayed home. Then finally I woke up on December 12 or 1993 and said, “I’m really sick. I think I’m going to be dead in a week.”
I called up my best friend Glenn and said, “You need to come and get me and take me to a hospital.”
I went in for 47 days. It was hard. I almost died. I didn’t leave Fleetwood Mac. My brain left me. I left everybody. And it was because of the Klonopin. The second that was out of my body I was back.
And now the classic five are back together. Chris seems delighted by it all.
She is. As she says on-stage, “Most people don’t get to do something like this twice in their lives.” She has been gone for 16 years. I missed her so much. She’s such a great person, so funny, so much fun. She was here last night, I had to kick her out!
We have such a bond that I probably only had with my friend Robin who died of leukaemia. She is that dear to me. We’re probably the oldest really great old band that’s still out there doing almost a three hour set. It’s very physical and very strong. I think that we are a better band on-stage now than we were 25 years ago. I do.
Maybe just because we’ve been playing together for so long. We never really stopped playing together. Even in those breaks, in our heads, nobody ever felt like we had stopped. Nobody ever felt that Fleetwood Mac broke up.
Mac Nuggets #3
From Fleetwood Mac to Tusk (1975-1979), selected by Mark Blake
Based on Triad, novelist Mary Leader’s 1973 tale of witchcraft and possession, Rhiannon helped Stevie Nicks stamp her personality on Mac. So much so that her wild on-stage interpretation of the titular sorceress was later compared by Mick Fleetwood to “an exorcism”
On: Fleetwood Mac (1975)
2. Say You Love Me
Christine McVie’s seesawing love song was the first ‘White Album’ single to crack the UK. It’s “falling, falling, falling…” refrain as her soft lead vocal is counterpointed by Buckingham’s flintier voice is the essence of ‘70s Mac distilled into a few seconds.
On: Fleetwood Mac (1975)
3. World Turning
A rare entry from the Mac’s most unsung songwriting duo: Lindsey and Christine. The circling melody and lyric – “Everybody’s trying to say I’m wrong… Maybe I’m wrong” – seems to reflect Buckingham’s new whirlwind pace of life and, you suspect, his growing unease.
On: Fleetwood Mac (1975)
Stevie Nicks’ gentle exploration of a broken romance was her riposte to Buckingham’s harder-nosed Go Your Own Way. Composed on a Fender Rhodes in what had once been Sly Stone’s clandestine drug boudoir at Sausalito’s Record Plant Studios, it remains one of her signature songs.
On: Rumours (1977)
5. Go Your Own Way
The single that kicked off Rumours’ global conquest it a surprisingly nonlinear pop song. Buckingham’s mean lyric and guitar riff are direct enough, but makes it is Fleetwood’s offbeat, octopus-armed drumming. It’s all over the shop – and in a good way.
On: Rumours (1977)
6. Don’t Stop
Essentially Christine’s ‘cheer up’ message to a recently-dumped John McVie. “It’ll be better than before, yesterday’s gone…” she trills over an absurdly bouncy pop rhythm, provided, possibly through gritted teeth, by her bass-playing soon-to-be ex-husband.
On: Rumours (1977)
7. The Chain
A Fleetwood Mac song about being Fleetwood Mac, with all its residual emotional traumas, the band’s most self-referential song simmers with a similar musical tension. Over-exposure still hasn’t dulled the excitement of hearing that thudding bass call-to-arms and Buckingham’s manic closing solo.
On: Rumours (1977)
The greatest of all Nicks’ great songs about womanhood was, she revealed in 2014, inspired by she had after getting pregnant by Eagle Don Henley. It’s also the sort of haunted semi-ballad that now sounds like a trial run for her soon-to-commence solo career.
On: Tusk (1979)
9. Brown Eyes
A fine Christine McVie composition, hidden away on side three of Tusk and all but forgotten. The song’s “sha-la-la” refrain cuts through a sparse, almost ambient blues backing like a light glimpsed at the end of a tunnel.
On: Tusk (1979)
The title track to Mac’s commercial albatross single-handedly refutes any accusation that they were a solely middle-of-the-road musical venture. Its wonky fusion of tribal rhythms and honking brass is as off-piste and inspired now as in 1979.
On: Tusk (1979)
“We Lived In Denial. There Was No Closure”
On forgiving, forgetting and forging on – with caveats – by Fleetwood Mac’s creative powerhouse: “We really were doing fine as a four-piece…”
Lindsey Buckingham has a cold. In a few hours time he will be on stage. And he will stay there for a few hours. While the others take breaks during solos and acoustic slots, Lindsey is never off, either playing guitar at breakneck speed, charging around the stage or singing at full pelt. “I’m going arguably age-inappropriate stuff,” he says. “But I feel the same as I did 30 years ago.” Indeed, he doesn’t look anything like 65, on-stage or off. There is something of the man-machine in his fortitude and stamina, an intensity that’s almost unsettling. In conversation, he is eloquent and measured, carefully considering his answers. You suspect some of the turns of phrase are well rehearsed, though perhaps that’s unavoidable. For all his power on-stage and his skills on record – Mac’s most successful work has always featured him as musical director – there is something unlikely about him as a rock star and he has seldom attracted the kind of spotlight or notoriety of others of his generation who were less accomplished. This is probably welcomed. One senses that he prefers to operate below the radar. “I’ve always been a fairly insular person – which has worked for me quite well,” he says, laughing.
You were born in Palo Alto, famous now as the heart of Silicon Valley. What was it like then?
I was born in Palo Alto and raised in Atherton, an upper-middle-class town, where most of the wealthy Silicon Valley types live now. Back then it was lower-key, businessmen, a very Republican environment. Most of what existed down Highway 101 was strawberry fields and open space backing up to the bay. It was very quiet.
Your brother Greg was an Olympic swimmer and you were involved in sports for awhile. Was music a reaction against that kind of life?
It was never again anything. I was lucky to be part of such a functional family that spent so much time together. I had two older brothers, great parents. Of course I followed, to some degree, what was expected of me. I swam and played water polo in high school, as my brother had. I started playing guitar very young, when my brother brought home Heartbreak Hotel: “Wow, that’s a lot better than Patti Page.” I was seven. I never took lessons, I had a chord book and was very song-orientated. My brother was buying all the great45s of the time. I would sit in his room and learn these songs.
That was my inner life, but I never really felt like it was at odds with my friends or family life and it was really only upon graduating from high school that I started to deprogram a little bit. I got in a band and we all started to grow out hair out. My brother thought I was mad.
I was talking to Stevie about your time in Fritz.
She exaggerates that a little. That was good experience on a certain level. I ended up playing bass, I didn’t play lead ‘cos I was a finger picker and we were playing this weird acid rock that got weirder as it went along. We had this guy Javier who did all the writing. Stevie and I were cogs in the machine. The experience we got wasn’t so much about being creative, so much as a sense of a community, a little bit of stage craft, and being focused, ‘cos we rehearsed a great deal.
This is the odd thing, I was never particularly goal orientated towards music. It was a fun thing to do. I never thought, “I just gotta make it.” it just kind of happened almost in spite of myself. Stevie was way more ambitious than I was. Her dad was ambitious and willing to uproot his family over and over in order to keep moving up the corporate ladder. I think that affected her on some level – it taught her to make a splash! I think she was looking for something that needed to be fixed a bit more than I was.
How much did you hesitate when you received the offer to join Fleetwood Mac?
There were several reasons why joining Fleetwood Mac wasn’t a slam dunk. One was, as much as I’d been a fan of the Peter Green stuff and some of the stuff with Danny Kirwan, I was less aware of what went on later. The only clear idea I had about the band was that they hadn’t had a leader for quiet a while and that was something I could do. Also, Stevie and I had done the Buckingham Nicks album and it had come and gone and we were experiencing a great deal of disinterest from our manager and yet, because we’d opened for some other bands and gotten some exposure, we were starting to get regional interest in places, Florida and Alabama, and getting radio play, so who knows, if we’d decided to see that through, I don’t know what might have happened.
Fleetwood Mac has become a cool name to drop in the last decade.
Yes. We were a pariah for a while. We were the bad guys during new wave and the stuff that came after that. Though that was quite a while ago!
That provided an impulse when it came time to make Tusk, didn’t it? What was driving you to make such a stylistic shift?
Many things. Some of it was where the music had gone. There were so any new artists then that fuelled that impulse, reinforced the idea to go outside what we had done. On a much deeper level for me there was this sense that Rumours became this thing where the success had detached from the music and become about the success, and that’s a dangerous Michael Jackson-land. You really have to look at what’s going on if you arrive there. What happens with a lot of bands in that moment is you become a parody of yourself.
Tusk was a reaction to what was going on in our personal lives, and we wanted to free up the recording process and make it a little less efficient, if you will. There is this edict from the corporate world, “If it works, run it into the ground.” But even if we’d followed the formulas we now can identify from the Rumours album, I doubt we’d have been able to recreate anything as authentic and beautiful as Rumours, because at that point it becomes very top down. If you’re aspiring to be an artist you have to work from the bottom up. You have to make decisions based on what you think is interesting and important and going to move you forward as artists, even if it confounds the label or the listening public, which Tusk did.
Everyone seems really upbeat about this new phase and Christine’s return. How about you?
It’s interesting. We really were doing fine as a four-piece. When Mick called me and said, “I’ve been talking to Christine and I think she’s…” You know, on paper it was great but you never know how these things are going to play out. I called her up and said, “Chris, I think it’s a great idea, but you do know that if you come back you can’t leave again!” She was coming from this place that’s all about how she’s feeling about her life, and she realised how much she’s missed this. That doesn’t necessarily mean she was ready for 80 shows in the States, much less everything else we’re doing, so we took it step by step.
One thing that was really key was that she had some rough ideas for new songs, and was ver interested in me hearing them and taking them to a more recordable level. And I had a bunch of stuff that was just tracks with suggested melodies and we exchanged ideas and the synergy was immediate – and transcendent, in my opinion,
Judging by the demand, the public’s excited too.
I think the return of Christine is timely. You have an audience that’s made up of three generations, a great amount of young people who somehow, through the trickle down from parents, or through the circular nature of the culture, or the reappraisal of what we have done, have picked up on the body of work and to them it makes sense, and you see that reflected in certain younger artists out there too. It all hangs together as a circular moment for us. If you want to see it as the final act of a five act play or whatever, it just makes sense to everyone. So it’s generated that much more interest.
Would Fleetwood Mac have worked without the tensions? Was the trauma important to the creative drive?
Very good question. I have to assume it was. It may not be tangible on a musical level but it was certainly tangible on people’s interest in the records. It was well-known what we’d all been through, there was a subtext of heroism or something, that we’d pushed through and prevailed against odds that would have daunted someone else.
Are you all relishing making a new record?
I think Stevie’s a little torn. It has a lot to do with her life in general and trying to figure out what means something to her. I don’t whether or not she’ll come to the table for an album. I hope she does. I’ve said to her: “One of the things that was so beautiful for me about working on new songs with Chris was she wanted me to do that for her. That was something you used to want me to do for you – nobody’s done it better than I have. It tapped into something in me, Stevie, with Chris, that I’d almost forgotten, when it’s not just for yourself. If you would trust me to do that for you it would make me very happy.” I think it scares her a little.
Talking to Chris and Stevie about their times out of the band, I wonder if these hiatuses are an inevitable reaction to the success and craziness, a period of rebounding…
What we had to do during the making of Rumours was live in denial. We had to take all these emotions and conceal them all and get on with what needed to be done. There was no closure. Speaking of Stevie and me specifically: Did I want to go in and do the right thing for her every day like I did, most of the time? No, but I did it anyway. The only way I could do that was by living in denial, to compartmentalise my emotions. What you’re referring to is the latent rising up of things that had pushed back in the psyche. The flipside of having gotten through that any way we could.
Why do you think you all managed to stay alive and come back together?
Underneath all those other things there’s a lot of love. You also have to look at Mick, for years, before we even joined, it seems to have been his mission in life to keep this band together no matter what, whatever the cost. He wasn’t always sure why he was doing it, but he is a magnet on that level.
He says there’s a recognition between Mac and its audience of a strength and community.
It ties generations together. It ties personal lives together. It reinforces this sense of prevailing.
Long may it continue.
All right. I suppose I better go soundcheck.
Mac Nuggets #4
Mirage and after (1982-) sifted for truffles by Mark Blake.
1. Love In Store
From Mac’s multi-platinum, oft forgotten Mirage, this soaring, stellar Christine McVie pop song could have fallen off Rumours, and sounds like an attempt to woo back listeners disturbed by Tusk.
On: Mirage (1982)
A Stevie Nicks song yearning for her less complicated pre-Mac life: “back to the floor, that I love”, when she and Buckingham slept on a mattress in their apartment. Perversely, the pair were barely speaking when they cut this.
On: Mirage (1982)
3. Big Love
Mac’s mid-‘80s return meshed Tusk’s mad eclecticism with Rumours’ peerless songcraft on this taut, nervy single, with its orgasmic “oohs” and “aahs”, recorded by composer Lindsey alone and not, as suspected, with Stevie.
On: Tango In The Night (1987)
4. Tango In The Night
Buckingham donated many tracks meant for his next solo album to Tango In The Night, including this one, where cold, clinical ‘80s technology meets timeless lyrical angst. The closing guitar solo is like a welcome release – for Lindsey and the listener.
On: Tango In The Night (1987)
5. Little Lies
The chorus’s nursery-rhyme melody is a red herring. Like many great Mac moments, there’s deep anguish beneath the surface. Another of Christine’s love-gone-wrong songs, as she pleads to be kept in the dark rather than face up to harsh reality.
On: Tango In The Night (1987)
6. Seven Wonders
Nicks missed most of Tango…, lost in a chemical haze and/or promoting her third solo LP. This rare appearance was Tango…’s second single, her ghostly gasp riding a sublime pop chorus to imbue the line “I’ll never live to match the beauty again” with a hint of sadness.
On: Tango In The Night (1987)
Its inclusion in a mobile network provider’s TV ad means Everywhere will be forever identified with a moonwalking Shetland pony. The reality is a fine pop song with a lilting melody that confirms Tango… as a natural companion to Rumours.
On: Tango In The Night (1987)
8. Silver Springs (Live)
Intended for Rumours, but consigned to the B-side of Go Your Own Way, this charming, chorus-heavy Nicks ballad was revived for the class line-up’s reunion tour in the mid ‘90s.
On: The Dance (1997)
9. Murrow Turning Over In His Grace
The Christine-less Say You Will is better than history remembers. Exhibit A: this broody Lindsey rocker about modern-day media overload, which aspires to Chain-like levels of intensity in its guitar fadeout.
On: Say You Will (2003)
10. Say You Will
The sort-of comeback LP’s Nicks-composed title track cut has an über-Mad nagging chorus and a refrain that burrows into the subconscious, drilled how by Buckingham’s needling guitar and squeaky female backing vocals. They can do this sort of thing in their sleep.
On: Say You Will (2003)
by Jim Irvine / MOJO Magazine / 26th May, 2015