by Ed Power
Weekend Review Magazine
|Irish Independent Oct 18, 2014|
Weekend Review Magazine
Weekend Review Magazine
When Christine McVie rejoined Fleetwood Mac for the first time since the late 1990s, it was a reminder a great band is more than the sum of its parts, writes Ed Power.
In September 2013, Fleetwood Mac gathered backstage at Dublin’s O2 arena. Several hours later the multimillion-selling soft rockers were to perform the first of two sold-out shows at the 14,000 capacity venue. But Ireland wasn’t on their minds at that moment. Instead, the group were tentatively renewing acquaintances with Christine McVie, the dulcet-voiced keyboard player who had authored some of their biggest hits before leaving the band — fleeing it, really — in 1997.
Nerves were in the air. McVie had barely spoken to the rest of the lineup in the intervening decade and a half. Now, after a gruelling divorce and a spell of depression, she was contemplating a comeback. She’d flown to Dublin to rehearse, with a view to joining Fleetwood Mac on stage in London later in the tour. Deep within the concrete labyrinth that constitutes the O2’s backstage area, the tension was palpable: would the old chemistry still endure? What of old enmities? Fleetwood Mac’s history was notoriously fractious. Was the band broken, impossible to repair?
Thirteen months later we have our answer. At 71, McVie has reconnected with Fleetwood Mac for their North American tour and the reviews are unanimous: with McVie on board, the final part of the jigsaw has clicked into position and, for the first time since the Clinton-era, “the Mac” are operating at the height of the powers. A 2015 European trek is rumoured and will inevitably include at least one Dublin date. Coming back to Ireland, there would surely be a sense of things moving full circle — of the band returning to the place their renewal began.
You don’t have to be a Fleetwood Mac devotee (though it nowadays seems as if most everyone is) to be struck by their reinvention. On paper, McVie’s contribution was peripheral. Yes, she was responsible for such wistful perennials as ‘ Little Lies’, ‘ Everywhere’ and ‘You Make Loving Fun’.
Then, the group contained a multitude of writers and she was some way down the pecking order. It is impossible to imagine Fleetwood Mac without singer and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham (he briefly left in the late 80s, calling the group’s future into question) or the ethereal Stevie Nicks — or, for that matter, without drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie (the warhorses from whom the outfit takes its moniker).
If anyone was disposable, surely it was McVie (briefly married to the bass player, she kept his name). On tour, she seemed reflexively wary; her vocals, breathy and understated, never vied for the spotlight with Buckingham’s tortured yelp or Nicks’ Enya-goes-to-California rasp. And yet, she brought a vital quality, in the absence of which Fleetwood Mac just weren’t Fleetwood Mac. For sure they were a fine rock group — nonetheless, without McVie, Buckingham’s intensity overpowered the band’s live shows and they were the poorer for it.
This says a great deal about Fleetwood Mac but even more about the inscrutable nature of musical chemistry. There are countless other examples. Who’d have imagined, for instance, that the departure of REM’s drummer, Bill Berry, in 1997 would plunge the group into a slow death spin. Granted, they slogged on and released some decent(ish) LPs before calling it quits in 2011. Nevertheless REM after Berry was never the same — when, tired of the touring, he announced his departure, it was the end of the band as we knew it.
Similarly, it was not generally understood that the loss of drummer ‘ Reni’ was a deathknell for influential “Madchester” group The Stone Roses. He was the percussionist — however, that was merely the beginning of his significance. With his free-wheeling grooves and lack of ego, he embodied the Roses’ best qualities: after he walked with the completion of their second LP, the band collapsed in on itself. The original line-up returned in 2012 and it was a reminder how important every wheel on the wagon can be: reviewers singled out Reni’s contribution as a saving grace in a patchy comeback.
With a background in the British blues revival of the late 60s, Christine McVie was a talented player. That wasn’t why she mattered. Consider, Oasis, who cheerfully shed threefifths of the squad behind Definitely Maybe and (What’s The Story?) Morning Glory and were much reduced. Similarly, surely it is no coincidence Larry Mullen Jr — a mere drummer — graces the cover of the new U2 album. Would U2 be U2 were he or Adam Clayton to walk away? Could The Rolling Stones continue calling themselves The Rolling Stone minus Charlie Watts, the quiet man in a gang of well-heeled rogues?
Of course, few of these bands have a history as complicated as that of Fleetwood Mac. As has been chronicled endlessly — indeed constitutes virtually a mini industry on to itself — during the making of their defining album, 1977’s Rumours, the five members were tied together via a series of messy romantic entanglements. Buckingham and Nicks had joined Fleetwood Mac as a musical and romantic couple, eventually breaking-up under the strain of working and living together: Christine McVie had split from John, fed up with his drinking (they refused to discuss non-musical matters in the studio). And Fleetwood, father of two young children, was recently divorced (for good measure he had conducted a fling with Nicks).
This being the music industry in the 1970s, drugs and alcohol were conspicuous too. “Until then, Fleetwood Mac hadn’t had much experience with this Andean rocket fuel,” Fleetwood recalls in his autobiography. “Now we discovered that a toot now and then relieved the boredom of long hours in the studio with little nourishment.
‘We weren’t just singing to each other but screaming, and everything was enlarged by the intake of illegal substances,” was how Christine recollected the time. “I used to go onstage and drink a bottle of Dom Pérignon, and drink one off-stage afterwards. It’s not the kind of party I’d like to go to now.”
Rather than drive Fleetwood Mac apart, the madness acted like a glue, holding together five exhausted, occasionally unhinged, individuals who, under normal circumstances, might have found it difficult to be in the same room.
Indeed, it was telling that McVie would exit Fleetwood Mac not amid the mania and decadence of the Rumours era but in a period of relative calm. In 1997, circa the release of their comeback live LP The Dance, she developed a chronic fear of flying. Given Fleetwood Mac were gearing up for a mammoth world tour, this obviously created difficulties. There was too much cash at stake for anyone to contemplate cancelling — instead, McVie walked, taking with her the underdog vim so crucial to the band’s make-up.
“Well, I initially developed a great fear of flying. It was a real phobia. I also bought a house in England and decided, to a degree, I was really tired of the road,” she said later. “I wasn’t just burned out . . . I was tired of traveling and living out of a suitcase. I’m quite a domestic person by nature and the nomad thing had got a bit stale on me, really,” she said later.
“It was never anything personal between the five of us. It was just that I felt my time had come and I just thought that I really wanted to leave Los Angeles and make a home in England. That was the root of it, really.”
Her perspective changed with the break-up several years ago of her marriage. Living alone in rural Kent her sense of isolation calcified into depression. So she reached out to her former-band mates.
“I went over to Dublin,” said McVie. “and it was decided that I would go on stage and do ‘Don’t Stop’ with them at the [London] O2. We rehearsed it in Dublin and everyone was looking over at each other smiling thinking this was fantastic. For me, I was looking over at my family again and it was effortless.”