Monday, April 16, 2018

A band is more than the sum of its members

by Neil McCormick
The Sunday Telegraph

‘It is impossible to imagine the Beatles with any other configuration than John, Paul, George and Ringo’

Fleetwood Mac have changed their line-up. Again. The vintage rock band have had 18 members over 51 years, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at their willingness to swap things about even at this late stage. Indeed, the latest twist in their convoluted saga has something of a superstar transfer about it. Last week, it was announced that vocalist and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham had left, with a source close to the band alleging the split was a result of “musical differences regarding the tour”. Two new members, singer songwriter Neil Finn, of Crowded House, and lead guitarist Mike Campbell, of the late Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, have been brought in to replace his copious talents.

The question fans will be asking is what impact this latest rejig will have on the integrity of the band. The rest of Fleetwood Mac remains familiar, although the rhythm section of drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie are the only members who have been there since the beginning (lending the band their name). Vocalist Stevie Nicks joined in 1974, left in 1991 and rejoined in 1996, while singing keyboard player Christine McVie joined in 1970, left in 1998 and rejoined 2014. And who now remembers Dave Walker, vocalist for the Mac in 1972-73, who subsequently replaced Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath for a year in 1977-78? It’s hard to imagine Sabbath and the Mac existing in the same musical universe, let alone sharing members. Perhaps given their revolving door policy, they should form a supergroup: Black Mac. Did you know that Sabbath have had eight singers and 25 members over their own 50-year career?


There is an ideal concept of a pop group as a close-knit, quasi-family unit, a perfect balance of musical personalities. It is impossible to imagine the Beatles with any other configuration than John, Paul, George and Ringo. But they were among a minority of successful bands that kept the same line-up after their first hit, who broke up when they fell out, and never reformed. The reality for most bands has turned out to be far more fluid. From The Rolling Stones to Arctic Monkeys, almost every major group still performing live after 10 years has gone through line-up changes. Indeed, it is easier to identify exceptions: ZZ Top (same line-up for 49 years), U2 (42 years), Radiohead (33 years), Coldplay (20 years) and, er, I think that’s about it.

Some groups manage these transitions more seamlessly than others. Pink Floyd became a supergroup after leader Syd Barrett was replaced by school friend David Gilmour. Genesis promoted drummer Phil Collins to frontman upon the departure of Peter Gabriel, but who now remembers when Stiltskin frontman Ray Wilson took over the microphone in 1997 for a final Genesis album that was such a critical and commercial flop they had to cancel a world tour? Some groups, including Iron Maiden, Metallica and Nirvana only reached their full artistic and commercial potential after line-up changes, so the classic version of the band is not actually the original.

There are groups who have changed their line-ups so often, there are no original members left – including The Hollies and Dr Feelgood – or have gone through so many changes they end up with competing versions arguing about who has the right to the name, including Yes, The Sweet and The Beat. Backline musicians come and go, but a distinctive singing voice and physical presence are harder to replicate, and many bands become little more than interchangeable vehicles for a frontman, including Robert Smith’s The Cure, Billy Corgan’s Smashing Pumpkins and Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails.

Does that mean a band is really just a brand – a corporate vehicle on which to hang a set of songs? As a fan and regular concertgoer, I have to believe there is something more to it than that. Otherwise we might as well give up on the originals, and just go see tribute bands. In fact, there’s no reason why a reshuffle can’t offer a band a whole new lease of artistic life. That’s what makes Fleetwood Mac’s latest incarnation so intriguing. They have always sought out creative solutions to the problem of musicians departing, and Finn and Campbell are incredibly talented and successful musicians in their own rights. They don’t need to join any band to pay the mortgage; they have presumably been lured in by an opportunity to play fantastic songs and become part of an incredible saga.

I can’t wait to see the results, especially if the Mac are adventurous enough to add Finn’s gorgeous songs to the set. Stevie Nicks duetting on Don’t Dream It’s Over while Campbell rips out a tasty lead: who could resist that? Indeed, given the number of members they have had over their career, Crowded House might actually be a better name for the band.

7 comments:

Annie Olivo said...

Please don't pee on me and telling me it's raining.
I will NOT go see them without Lindsey. I saw them already without Lindsey
and it was an utter let down and less than. BYE BYE FM!!

Anonymous said...

You make it all sound so easy.... They are 70 or close to it could they not have just one more tour "Farewell Tour" I was really looking forward to seeing 5 Fireflies together one more time... Put you differences aside.. and on the the show... I will not be going just not the same

Tessa said...

Obviously none of us know what is going on. I've read several books about FM. And if it's the usual circumstances, Lyndsey is struggling with not having his way. He's one of those guys that is very bold in his language but shallow with his actions. Could you imagine dealing with someone who's always angry and volatile? No thanks, they're too old for the bs.

Anonymous said...

I saw them years ago without Lindsey. Was VERY disappointed. I'd rather remember them from 2014 tour and pretend that was goodbye.

Anonymous said...

DON'T STOP thinking about tomorrow 'cause yesterday is gone. It's shameful of Mac just go ahead with the tour and what really made them to think everything's good? It wouldn't and it's certainly not and I'm sure that many of us fans would have shown respect had Mac just decided not go on with the tour after all. That would be class act as far as ALL 5 members of the band and THE CHAIN goes. It just wouldn't be same without Lindsey, same as without Christine for over 16 years. I've seen Mac performed since RUMOURS tour in 1978 and you know you get your money worth. Not worth it spending on this tour and I hope Mac don't have regret because they're in their 70's.

tsfmnlb said...

You’ve read several books, so you think you know him? You can’t even spell his name right. The rest of them are, no doubt, are perfect rays of sunshine, right? Give me a break.

Anonymous said...

last show for me in 2004 in Melbourne Australia, great show .
A bit late to turn into a Pop band.
Enjoyed the journey, but time to say goodbye.

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