As Fleetwood Mac return to Britain 40 years after they first formed, the band that once outsold The Beatles have proved extraordinary survivors
RETURN OF THE MAC
‘We were selfabsorbed… it’s more fun now’
By Adam Edwards
IF THE brass trumpet that kicks off the Beatles’ All You Need Is Love is the defining sound of the late-Sixties then the falsetto chorus of Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way is the soundtrack to the second half of the Seventies.
It was the opening track to the band’s 1977 album Rumours, the best-selling LP of that decade and still one of the 10 best-selling albums of all time. I doubt if there are many fortysomething men who don’t think fondly of blonde singer Stevie Nicks when they hear The Chain, the music that nowadays introduces Formula One motor racing on TV.
Yet there was no more curious group than this unstable offspring of the Sixties that metamorphosed into a soap opera. And despite the madness that was “The Mac”, the one-time blues combo still managed to become one of the biggest bands in the world.
This week The Mac return, starting tomorrow in Glasgow and taking in Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham, Dublin and London’s Wembley Arena, after a six-year absence. The Unleashed Tour is their latest offering in a saga that has lasted 40 years.
And yet when they started the band’s fans believed that there was not a gang of more ordinary blokes. Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, so-called because its three stalwarts were Green on lead guitar, John McVie on bass and Mick Fleetwood on drums, was heir to the legendary British blues acts such as John Mayall, the Yardbirds and Cream.
The music transcended the fashion – or lack of it. The band’s raw first LP, released in 1968, called simply Fleetwood Mac, has variously been described as “a masterpiece” and “the best electric blues album in a generation”.
It had to be good, as were its two follow-ups, because when one looked behind the album covers it was impossible to believe that the collection of hairy musicians could ever be rock stars, let alone one day win adulation as superstars.
The 6ft 7in drummer looked like an upturned mop, the brilliant lead guitarist Peter Green went bonkers after taking too much LSD, a second lead guitarist Jeremy Spencer joined a religious sect and guitarist Danny Kirwan was such an alcoholic that he was sacked. And all this was before the girls joined.
In California, left with only the rump of the band, Fleetwood and McVie teamed up with singer Stevie Nicks and her partner Lindsey Buckingham. With McVie’s wife Christine on vocals the five began to evolve into what the world would come to know as the classic Fleetwood Mac.
Furthermore, while the members were beginning to establish themselves as a first-rate soft rock outfit their relationships were in turmoil. Nicks and Buckingham were breaking up while the marriage of McVie and Christine was on the rocks. Meanwhile Mick Fleetwood (who was having an on-off affair with Nicks) was in the throes of divorce from his first wife Jenny Boyd – sister of Eric Clapton’s wife Patti.
The break-ups were chronicled in the Rumours album, so-called because the band members were all writing songs about one another (Buckingham’s Go Your Own Way was aimed at Nicks, for example, while Christine McVie’s Don’t Stop was about her husband.) The record was described by one band member as “bringing out the voyeur in everyone”.
Whether that was true or not it was a piece of recording brilliance that sold more than 40 million and sent the band into the stratosphere.
But the record came with a price. Christine McVie began a series of relationships with various rock stars including Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. Nicks became addicted to cocaine and then prescription drugs and had affairs with two different members of The Eagles.
McVie became an alcoholic and was arrested for possession of a gun while Fleetwood incomprehensibly went bankrupt after a series of property deals. He also remarried Jenny Boyd and then divorced her again.
“We decided to be comfortable and lost control,” was how Fleetwood would later describe those years in his autobiography.
Since those heady days the band has broken up and re-formed at regular intervals. Buckingham left for nine years and in 1998 Christine McVie retired and lives quietly in Kent.
Now The Mac are about to perform their greatest hits across the UK. Despite the current incarnation of the band featuring Nicks, Buckingham, Fleetwood and John McVie, it is, says Stevie Nicks, very different to its heyday in the Seventies. There are no drugs, no dippy guitarists and no damaging affairs (and no Christine McVie of course).
“Thirty years ago we were all so self-absorbed,” says Nicks. “Things are a lot more fun now.”
But it is worth remembering that self-absorption produced one of the great post-war musical achievements. For if the Sixties legacy was Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles, then the Seventies have left us Rumours by rock ’n’ roll’s strangest band – Fleetwood Mac.