Fleetwood Mac: Dirty dancing

Fleetwood Mac swap partners for tango tour. It has been twenty years since Fleetwood Mac formed as a blues quartet, and long-time member Lindsey Buckingham celebrated the anniversary by leaving the group. As the group begins a new tour with two new members, Stevie Nicks is still fuming.

Fleetwood Mac swap partners for tango tour.

(Corbis)
Newest members Billy Burnette and Rick Vito rehearse for Fleetwood Mac’s Shake the Cage tour. (Corbis)

IT HAS been twenty years since Fleetwood Mac formed as a blues quartet, and long-time member Lindsey Buckingham celebrated the anniversary by leaving the group. As the group begins a new tour with two new members, Stevie Nicks is still fuming.

When Lindsey Buckingham announced his departure from Fleetwood Mac in mid-August, he threw the band’s future into doubt. “A lot of people probably expected us to do the old roll over on your back trick,” recalls Mick Fleetwood.

“What were we supposed to do?” asks Stevie Nicks, “Lindsey left. So did that mean we were done? No. Why should the rest of us quit just because of him?”

Mick adds, “Rather than shut down, we decided to press on and get out on the road.”

Tango in the Night, their first album in five years, was selling briskly; it recently passed the one million mark. There was every indication, then, that a Fleetwood Mac audience still existed. But who was going to fill Buckingham’s shoes on stage? “We did not hold auditions or anything,” answers Fleetwood. “I have been working with Billy [Brunette] – he played guitar with my [solo] group Zoo and had done some writing with Christine [McVie]. But he is not a lead guitar player, he is a great rhythm player and singer and writer, but he is not a lead man. So I also rung up Rick [Vito, who had previously played lead guitar with John McVie and John Mayall, as well as Jackson Browne and Bob Segar].”

Vito remembers, “I devoted a couple of days to learning the material. After I played with the band for a few hours, I think it was obvious it was gelling. I realized this could be fun and pretty great. But this chance…it was not something I would have sat down and thought about as being in my future.”

But both Vito and Burnette, introduced as permanent members at an August 18 press conference, are very much a part of Fleetwood Mac’s future. “The group will be my first priority,” says Burnette, who released an engaging solo album last year and is the son of 50’s rocker Dorsey Burnette. “I will continue to write on my own, but how much will depend on what they want to do.” After a brief pause he corrects himself: “I mean what we want to do.”

“Good answer,” snickers Stevie Nicks, seated next to him at a large conference table. The other members of Fleetwood Mac are there too. Seeing them all together in one room — an extremely rare occurrence away from the studio or concert halls — it is hard to ignore the magical aura they still project. They look like stars.

There is Stevie’s charming, impish smile, Mick’s rolling, Marty Feldman-eyes, Christine’s glimmering sapphire eyes, and John’s distinguished-looking salt and pepper stubble. Even Burnette and Vito could pass for daytime soap opera actors. Yet it is easy to understand how the guitarists, having only rehearsed with the band for a couple of weeks, could still feel like outsiders. But Nicks stresses, “They are not just fill-in guys. They are in the group. And everybody is playing as one unit now. Neither Billy nor Rick are freaking out on stage trying to get all their licks in.”

While it might seem odd that Buckingham was replaced by two guitarists, this move actually brings Fleetwood Mac closer to its original instrumental format. When the group was formed in England back in 1967, guitarists Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer worked in tandem with the enduring Fleetwood (drums) and John McVie (bass) rhythm section. A year later, Danny Kirwan was brought on board as a third guitarist.

This process shaped the bluesy sound of Fleetwood Mac, says singer/keyboardist Christine McVie, who officially joined the group in 1971. “When Californians Bob Welch, Bob Weston, then Buckingham eventually filled the guitarists spot, the groups sound, not surprisingly, shifted into more of a pop direction.” Christine believes, “I can now see us getting back to more of a blues thing. Rick…I do not want to say he is like Peter Green, but he plays wonderful blues a la Peter. And Billy’s got this great hard, driving voice. So we have definitely got a whole new can of beans here.”

This represents the first personnel change in Fleetwood Mac since 1975 when Buckingham and Nicks (formerly a duo act) joined up and helped catapult the band into American superstar territory. The albums Fleetwood Mac and Rumours, featuring such songs as “Rhiannon,” “Say You Love Me” and “Dreams” (the group’s first number one single), topped Billboard charts. And Rumours, which has now sold over 20 million copies worldwide, held the number one spot for 31 weeks (a record surpassed only by Michael Jackson’s Thriller) in 1977.

Mick reflects, “We had already been a highly successful band in England. In 1969, you could not get any bigger than we were over there. We did not reach that level in America until eight years later. But we could see it coming. It is not like we were a bunch of 18-year-old kids that had just put a band together and boom! and we have an album go through the ceiling. We were prepared and could deal with the inevitable comments like, Ah, look at you now, you have gone commercial on us.”

“When Lindsey and Stevie joined up,” says Christine, “we did not consciously alter our sound, but at the same time, I thought, Hmmm. I think this is something special we have got here.”

Stevie says, “The very first big concert I played with Fleetwood Mac, at the Oakland Coliseum with Peter Frampton [in 1976], I couldn’t believe all those people were out there. We were not famous. The record [Fleetwood Mac] had just come out. We hit the road. Then, within three months, we were all famous and on our way with the hits.”

Rather than follow up this commercial well-spring with similar material, the band unveiled an ambitious double-record set called Tusk in 1979. Filled with both conventional pop and adventurous percussion-dominated tracks, it cemented Lindsey Buckingham’s role as the group’s arranger/producer/musical director. He continued in this capacity for Fleetwood Mac Live (released in December 1980), Mirage (June 1982) and Tango in the Night (April, 1987).

Christine admits, “Lindsey and [co-producer] Richard [Dashut] were at the fore, without question, when it came to the ideas and the sound and the production. And they were very good at it. Of course, one has to say, nothing went on the albums that the rest of us did not like. If anything got a bit too left wing, which it might have in certain cases, I definitely would have put my foot down and said, Wait a minute lads.”

1987 Fleetwood Mac Tango in the Night
Press photo of Fleetwood Mac just prior to guitarist Lindsey Buckingham’s (middle) departure from the band in August 1987.

Stevie Nicks, whose stormy relationship with Buckingham has been well-documented, offers a different viewpoint. “In the studio, if Lindsey said the wall was gray, I will be absolutely sure it was pink. In order to get one of my songs on a record I will have to say, OK, the wall is gray, Lindsey. Otherwise, it was the back of the bus. Now this has nothing to do with the other members of Fleetwood Mac, who, from the beginning, have always been lovely to me, have always known how important my songs are to me, whereas, with Lindsey, he would rather I just stayed at home doing laundry. We are talking about a man who was in love with a woman and would just as soon she had faded out and just been his old lady or wife. Period.”

“Whooo,” sighs Christine after a full five seconds of silence. Mick interjects, “That situation changed somewhat, in my opinion.”

Stevie narrows her eyes and says, “Not when it came down to the real thing. Uh uh. Never changed.” When she launched her solo career in 1981 with the release of Bella Donna, Stevie admits, “There was a part of me that was saying, ‘See, I can do it myself. I do not need you every second to do everything for me.’”

On her first solo tour, however, she remembers, “In Houston, in front of 12,000 people, when they said, “Welcome, Stevie Nicks; I turned around and looked for Mick and Chris and John and could not believe I was walking out there by myself. I will do a song, then instead of being able to saunter off, have a touch-up done on my make-up, have my hair fluffed, and put on a different jacket, then saunter back on, I will hear, Hey, this ship is gonna sink if you go in there for five minutes! So I ran around on stage in circles for a couple of weeks.” Stevie adds, “I would just as soon not be the captain. I never liked being responsible for everything. Too much time is wasted handling problems that have nothing to do with music. Basically, I do not like being a businesswoman, which is what I have to be when I am on my own. Again, the only reason I started a solo career is because I wanted to do more of my songs. I will much rather work within Fleetwood Mac.”

Christine McVie echoes this sentiment, “I was never too keen on the idea of a solo thing,” she says. “I do not enjoy the pressure of being the only one up there who everybody looks to for leadership. I like being part of a group. But the time was trickling on by and [in 1983] I could see Fleetwood Mac was not going to be happening for a while, so I did an album [Christine McVie] and a tour [in 1984]. That was hard work. I had to do my own make-up and the whole bit. My make-up used to run down my face and by the end of the night, it was horrific. So no, I would not want to tour [solo] again. My life, musically speaking, has always been Fleetwood Mac — at least for the last 20 years — and I have enjoyed it thoroughly.”

It is doubtful anyone could have been happier to return to the Mac family than Mick Fleetwood. While he kept busy working with his side band, Zoo, and gave acting a shot, Fleetwood also ran into financial difficulties and had to file for bankruptcy. but the even-tempered drummer managed to keep his life together. Says Christine: “Mick is like the daddy for us all and he always sort of has been.” John McVie adds, “Musically, Mick is my first lock in.” “John and Mick,” Christine concludes, “they are the old backbone of the group.”

By his own admission, John needed a little support himself earlier this decade. Before the Tango in the Night sessions began in 1985, John’s life was dominated by a drinking problem — which he has since recovered from. Christine says, “He is really doing wonderfully now. But he is not the type of person who enjoys talking about himself. Like a great many rock bass players, he prefers to remain in the background. By nature,” says Christine, “John’s a very quiet, private person. He likes to read and keep to himself. On stage and in the studio, he is always so steady, he never loses the groove. On the last record, he played amazingly.”

Listening to Tango, the entire band appeared to be reaching frequent musical peaks. Stevie has never sounded better. (During “When I See You Again,” she sings the word baby about ten different ways). Christine’s “Little Lies,” the current Top 20 single, is poetic whimsy at its best. As for Lindsey Buckingham, he not only arranged and produced the record, but had a hand in writing seven of its 12 tracks. He sings so forcefully (particularly throughout Tango in the Night), plays guitar with such vigor and assurance, and seems to bring out the strengths of everyone around him, it is tough to figure how he could just walk away.

“During the sessions,” recalls Christine, “we sensed this was probably the last thing Lindsey would do with us. It was sort of said, but not said, you know? He admitted his solo career was becoming his priority. But by the end of the album, he did sort of agree to tour, then at the eleventh hour, he just pulled out, saying that he simply could not cope with it.”

Here is Lindsey’s statement, issued through his manager. “In 1985, I was working on my third solo album when the band came to me and asked me to produce the next Fleetwood Mac project. At that point, I put aside my solo work, which was half-finished, and committed myself for the next 17 months to produce Tango in the Night. It was always our understanding that upon completion of the Tango album I would return to my solo work. Of course I wish them all the success in the world on the road.”

Christine reveals, “Whenever we played live, Lindsey always did it sort of under sufferance. He simply does not like touring. He would just as soon stay in the studio. And that just is not the case with the rest of us.”

Buckingham chose not to respond further on his departure from Fleetwood Mac, and is now in the process of finishing up a solo project. He has also been in the studio as a producer for the Dream Academy and Brian Wilson.

“I have nothing but respect for Lindsey and what he is doing,” says Christine. “He was never less than honest with us. And after 12 years in the band, it must have been something of a wrench for him [to leave]. But if someone is not happy, then nobody is happy. I think his decision was best for everyone who is concerned.”

During rehearsals for the current Shake The Cage Tour, Mick says, “It felt good to be playing again and the songs came together rather fast. Before out last tour [the three-month Mirage Tour in ‘82] a lot of time was spent cogitating, then we will creep up onstage and play a bit. Now we seem to be much more focused, there are no distractions and the onus is on the band vs. the individual. I am all for solo projects, but when they create these long time lapses, everyone gets jittery. I mean, Fleetwood Mac used to be road dogs. So when we have a gap like this last one….over five years…”

“It makes you feel like you do not have a job,” says Stevie. With Fleetwood Mac touring schedule set to cover America this fall and include dates in Australia and Europe next year, she should not have to worry about checking the classifieds for a while. And she can put her solo career on hold indefinitely. That is not a problem Stevie says. “I can not think of nicer, more talented people to work with. I look forward to seeing them. I really do. For me, this is a pleasure thing. It makes everything else all right.”

1987 marks Fleetwood Mac’s 20th Anniversary, so it is surprising that the band (or their record company, Warner Bros.) has not made a bigger deal over the milestone. But as Mick points out, “Besides me and John, there have been so many different players.”

Stevie admits, “I have never met half the people who used to be in the band.”

“But the odds of seeing a grand anniversary celebration on stage is highly unlikely,” says Mick. “It might be fairly bizarre, though. I guess we could have then called this The Rolex Tour. but we have got enough going on without taking time out to look back. We are touring to establish the band as it is now.”

In the wake of Fleetwood Mac’s personnel shuffle, one has to wonder how it affected the balance of power within the band.

“What power?” asks Christine. “No one is coming out as a kind of boss. I guess you could say Lindsey used to fill that role in the studio, and at some point I am sure someone else will emerge. Right now, I seem to be the one who is taking care of the primary business. And Mick, like I said, is the group’s daddy. But we really do not have one person who acts as boss. We all just sit around and mutually agree on things. It is hard to say what will happen in the studio. We will just have to wait and see.”

© Dave Zimmer / BAM / October 23, 1987

Fleetwood Mac: War & Peace

The photo session and interview with McVie and Mick Fleetwood in their Mayfair Hotel suite passes off pleasantly. Fleetwood poses his six foot six inches with his usual good nature and improbable dandification: striped trousers and shirt, shiny waistcoat with fob-watch chain (curving across a hint of embonpoint), embroidered slippers, yellow and white socks and a matador’s hat. This is a man who, 25 years ago, used to drive a vintage Jaguar sports car to the dole queue and blow the giro on petrol rather than food.

1987 Fleetwood Mac Tango in the Night

“I WANT TO look eighteen or younger, right?” says Christine McVie, aged 42. “I know — an impossible task!”

“Could you hold your head a bit lower?” asks Adrian Boot, photographer. “It’s better for the structure of your face.”

“My double chin you mean?”

“Precisely. Nicely put though, wasn’t it?”

The photo session and interview with McVie and Mick Fleetwood in their Mayfair Hotel suite passes off pleasantly. Fleetwood poses his six foot six inches with his usual good nature and improbable dandification: striped trousers and shirt, shiny waistcoat with fob-watch chain (curving across a hint of embonpoint), embroidered slippers, yellow and white socks and a matador’s hat. This is a man who, 25 years ago, used to drive a vintage Jaguar sports car to the dole queue and blow the giro on petrol rather than food.

There is no sense of them carrying an exaggerated opinion of themselves. They still sound English, not Californian — Fleetwood slightly public school, McVie a trace of Brummie. But they do possess a comfortable awareness of status based with monumental solidity on Fleetwood Mac having sold the best part of 40 million albums around the world since 1975 and, in particular, on being one of the few bands who have written the soundtrack of a year, if not of an era. Rumours, released in February, 1977, stood at Number One in the US charts for 31 weeks, selling 20 million worldwide. It was the successor to Carole King’s Tapestry in the adult rock market. In Britain, if you couldn’t adjust to the Sex Pistols, you sang “Rhiannon” in the bath. It put a grateful record industry back on its feet.

So, of course, Fleetwood Mac are people for whom doors are opened. Before we can begin Fleetwood is caught up in making arrangements for that night’s Paul Simon concert and the “private” reception to follow. Very early that morning, when they flew in from California, he had immediately been offered seats for the Hagler-Leonard closed-circuit cinecast. he’d refused them, pleading jet lag with a reluctant nod at advancing years.

Journalistically this was a shame because Fleetwood Mac were just embarking on the same remarkable endeavour that Leonard had completed during the small hours — a successful comeback after five years out of the spotlight. Trying to remember all the old moves, keeping the chin out of the way.

Later that week a Sunday Mirror reporter tracked down Peter Green, the peerless guitarist who formed Fleetwood Mac in 1967, wandering around Richmond looking like a tramp. He is said to have a house in the area but he often sleeps on a bench at the railway station. The photographer tried to capture his filth, his obesity, caught him with a hand raised to show off his grotesquely long finger-nails. Children pull faces at him and call him “the werewolf”. He is a man on whom all doors are shut.

The name of the band used to be Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. Now the distance between them could hardly be greater. It’s not what anyone ever wanted. But it took Fleetwood Mac a very long time to learn how to keep pain out of their pursuit of happiness.

IT HAD STARTED so well. Fleetwood Mac’s drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie and singer/keyboards player Christine Perfect were founder members of the British R&B boom. Whether they knew it or not, they were barnstorming around with the aristocracy of a rock generation. Green replaced Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and was succeeded by Mick Taylor — McVie on bass for all of them. Fleetwood played with Rod Stewart in Shotgun Express and had a month with Mayall before being fired for drunkenness. Christine was a member of Chicken Shack and went out with Spencer Davis.

Then in ‘67, seeking freedom from Mayall’s demanding ego, Green invited Fleetwood and McVie to join him from the Bluesbreakers crowd, adding the unknown Jeremy Spencer, a manic Elmore James impersonator. They recorded their debut album in three days and it stayed in the British charts for 13 months. Then Green began to roll out Mac’s single hits — “Need Your Love So Bad,” “Albatross,” “Man Of The World,” “Oh Well” and “The Green Manalishi” — a brilliant series of evolutionary moves away from the straightahead blues (in the middle of which they further excited their public by enlisting a third lead guitarist, Danny Kirwan). By 1969 they were one of the biggest live draws on the European circuit. Things could hardly have been sweeter.

What hadn’t struck any of the principals was that things fall apart. Or, more particularly, that people fall apart.

Suddenly Green announced that a Roundhouse gig in London’s Chalk Farm on May 24, 1970, would be his last with the band. All the stuff Fleetwood and McVie took in their stride he simply couldn’t stand any more. A turmoil of social, moral and religious ideals was whirling through his head and, if what he said about it was rarely coherent, it added up to guilt. Guilt about girls he’d casually screwed. Guilt about the children of Biafra whose bellies ballooned while he made a fortune playing guitar. He tried to assuage it. He read a New Testament Jeremy Spencer had given him. He gave thousands to famine relief charities. He began to study classical music, an antidote, one imagines, to the devil’s rock for which he’d become so prominent a disciple.

Nothing worked. Certainly not Fleetwood’s persuasions. “I always told Peter, I don’t see why on earth you feel guilty about being liked and by being liked being successful,” says the drummer sitting in the Mayfair 17 years on, still passionate about it, still grieved. “But he said it was all evil, he had to give everything away. He was…highly sensitive.”

Fleetwood still insists on viewing it as a crisis of personal ethics. Many others can’t accept such an upheaval as possible from the shrewd, ambitious Green they knew and can only go along with the story that he was spiked with a huge amount of LSD one night in Germany.

Green himself said at the time: “I was drawing away from music into just being a Christian person and it made me very happy, but it only lasted two or three weeks…” It seems that, although the conviction remained, the happiness never came back. One of the great rock guitarists has spent the last 17 years as gravedigger, barman, hospital orderly, petrol pump attendant, mental hospital patient, tramp and God knows what else, with only brief and abortive interludes as a musician.

Oddly enough, Jeremy Spencer had always seemed a far more likely candidate for a crack-up with a very obvious conflict between loony humour and inner seriousness. He would assure journalists his favourite reading was The Bible yet it was Spencer who managed to get Mac banned from The Marquee club by going on stage with a wooden dildo protruding from his unzipped fly. But it may be that it was the question of his musical identity that really screwed him up.

As a blues purist he was obsessed with perfecting his imitation of Elmore James while as a stage performer his party piece was an impression of Elvis Presley. This went down a storm with the punters at the time, but privately Spencer was agonising about his inability to write anything that amounted to more than “Dust My Broom” Part 243. The first hint of it came when he didn’t appear at all on Mac’s third album, Then Play On, despairing he had nothing original to offer.

His exit was even more dramatic and startling than Green’s. On the afternoon of a gig in Los Angeles, in February ‘71, he went AWOL, He walked out to buy a paper and he wasn’t seen for four days until he was tracked down to a nearby commune run by a pre-Born Again religious sect called The Children Of God. And that was that. He never came back.

At the time Fleetwood described a conversation with him in which Spencer had poured out his fears about the San Andreas Fault and the pall of “evil” hanging over L.A. which he felt was out to “get him”, as well as his worries about acquiring wealth, the band losing touch with the “real” blues and, on listening to an old tape featuring Green, his own inferiority as a guitarist. Quite a mess.

Naturally Mac were horrified at his fate, feeling that he had been caught at a low ebb and “brainwashed” by a sinister cult, snatched away not only from the band but from his wife and children. However, it has to be recorded that his family joined him immediately and stayed, and that ever since, when old friends have sighted him in Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Greece, he has been described as on an even keel and content with life.

SUCH WAS Fleetwood Mac’s first great period of crisis. Fleetwood and the McVies — Christine had joined as Green’s replacement — responded in the way that was to become familiar. Tin hat over the ears, heads down. A cross between a family and a platoon, they had bought a country house at Bordon, Hampshire, converted it into flats and lived together there.

They had a certain wildness, but also a feeling for security. Christine had twice earlier quit music for domesticity with John. She even refused a Top Of The Pops spot for a solo single to go on a planned summer holiday with him. She had been especially upset that Spencer dumped them in the middle of a tour. In front of a reporter she told her husband: “We could have lost a lot of money, lost this house, and that’s everything you’ve worked for for the last eight years.”

You might imagine that McVie didn’t know he’d been playing bass to buy a house, but he was a high-wire man who was always taking sneaky looks at the safety net. He began his working life as a trainee tax inspector, had been very reluctant to leave Mayall, and to this day has only been in two bands. For all the legendary boozing and tumbling through two decades he’s not exactly a fly-by-night.

Fleetwood does seem to have a more fundamental confidence in his own indestructability, probably encouraged by his family background. His father was a wing-commander in the RAF and he spent his boyhood in places like Egypt (at the time of Suez) and Norway. “So I feel comfortable anywhere on this planet,” he says. His Dad is probably the only wingco to have had a pop LP dedicated to him — Tusk.

Through the band’s dog days of the early ‘70s, the core trio took in talented American Bob Welch, lost Danny Kirwan to stage fright (even Green had described him as “neurotic”), signed up mediocre artisans Dave Walker (from Savoy Brown) and Bob Weston (from Long John Baldry’s band), and kept on recording albums that sold 250,000 in the States and 5,000 in Britain. They paid their bills but it was an inglorious business.

That was when their manager Clifford Davis tried to kill them off and inadvertently helped to make them superstars instead. And the band’s penchant for the traumatic shifted ground notably from the psychological to the romantic and the fiscal.

First Bob Weston, their least blessed substitution, had an affair with Fleetwood’s wife Jenny Boyd (sister of Patti Boyd/Harrison/Clapton). In the circumstances Fleetwood — for once looking a bit of an emotional softy in the light of subsequent events — couldn’t stand being on the road. In Lincoln, Nebraska, he called a halt to Mac’s umpteenth US tour and they flew home. Then, astonishingly, Davis formed a new band and, in February, ‘74, put it out on tour in America as Fleetwood Mac. Ill-advisedly, he told Rolling Stone that Fleetwood and McVie’s names were nothing to do with it: “This band is my band. I’ve always been sort of the leader.”

Audiences walked out. The real Mac slapped an injunction on the impostors, but were then grounded by Davis’s counter-suit. “That was the only time I really got panicky!” says Christine. “Because we couldn’t work, not until we’d proved he didn’t own the name.”

By the time they’d extricated themselves, Davis and Weston were out and Mick Fleetwood was managing the band. The LP Heroes Are Hard To Find, delayed by a Davis claim, had been released to the same mass indifference that had greeted most of Mac’s output post-Green. It was obvious they needed a shake-up. At Fleetwood’s instigation they agreed to move en bloc to California, although Christine in particular took some convincing. “I hated the idea,” she recalls. “It was a very scary proposition.”

In December ‘74, Bob Welch gave up the unequal struggle to drag Mac up by their bootstraps and went off to form his own band, Paris. So Fleetwood Mac were down to the eternal triangle — and no guitarist.

Meanwhile in England the bogus Mac rechristened themselves Stretch and put out a single called “Why Did You Do It?,” a whinge at Fleetwood for taking them to court — and the bastard was a hit.

HOWEVER, THE Fleetwood Mac principle of unorchestrated manoeuvres in the dark was about to achieve its greatest triumph. Just before Welch left, the eager new manager was scouting L.A.’s cheaper studios with the next Mac album in mind. At Sound City, to demonstrate their equipment they played him a tape by a duo called Buckingham-Nicks. By chance Buckingham was down the corridor and looked in. Short of a guitarist a couple of weeks later, Fleetwood remembered the encounter and asked the duo round. They hit it off and Buckingham-Nicks were invited to join Fleetwood Mac, on New Year’s Day ‘75, without so much as a 12-bar jam to confirm that their rapport extended into music.

This epiphany has become enshrined in rock lore as one of the moments that made an epoch. For Mac though it was only typical. It had been just the same when Spencer got religion. Welch was the first candidate they saw and he too was signed up without picking a note.

Buckingham-Nicks liked Fleetwood and the McVies well enough but they weren’t overexcited about the prospects of joining what had apparently become an irremediably Second Division outfit. Although they had been struggling in L.A. lately, their backgrounds had prepared them to anticipate success in life: Stevie’s Dad had been — simultaneously — Vice President of The Greyhound Bus Company and President of Armour Canned Meats; Lindsey’s father owned a coffee company. Still, they’d been in the music business for eight years with barely a sniff of a breakthrough, and had been living together for five years in steady descent down the ladder of poverty. They decided to give it a try. Stevie asked Mick if she could borrow all Fleetwood Mac’s albums off him because she didn’t have any of them and she couldn’t afford to buy them.

They went back into L.A.’s Sound City studios and, using material already written by the two separate units, knocked out the Fleetwood Mac LP in ten days. Then, as ever, they toured for six months solid. Initially they were supporting top league earners like The Eagles and Jefferson Starship, but then their product started to perform. Christine McVie’s “Over My Head” was Mac’s first big single hit in the States, and the album went up to 9, then fell away to 40 before taking a real run at it when “Rhiannon” became a monster and finally reaching Number 1 60 weeks after release (a record!).

At last, the dairy — except that the cream had curdled. The seemingly stolid old band which had somehow made a habit of wrecking individuals was about to start ruining relationships.

THE EMOTIONAL chaos began on the road and carried on during the recording of Rumours throughout ‘76. The McVies reckoned that their 24-hour-a-day life together had added up to 40 years of normal time and they’d had enough. For Buckingham and Nicks perhaps it was just their inevitable moment coinciding with Fleetwood Mac’s unforeseen apotheosis — they too split up.

Perhaps the most titillating aspect of the real life rumours we all so enjoyed was the implication that, even in extremis, the band’s play-it-close instincts were still dominant. It seemed that a sort of multiple extended-family incest was taking place. McVie turned up with one of Peter Green’s exes. He and Fleetwood were both said to have had a fling with Nicks. Christine settled in with the group’s lighting engineer, Currie Grant, for the next several years. Meanwhile, Fleetwood divorced his wife and remarried her just over a year later (though they were divorced a second time by ‘79), Buckingham characteristically kept a lower profile (though “meeting a lot of beautiful women”). He was sharing a house with Rumours co-producer Richard Dashut and concentrating, as only a Californian can, on “redefining my individuality.”

The only extra-familial relationships being noised abroad suggested that even stars can get starry-eyed: John McVie was said to have an unrequited crush on Linda Ronstadt (though he ended up marrying his secretary, Julie Ann Rubens, in ‘78) and Stevie Nicks conducted a long-distance phone romance with Don Henley of The Eagles which eventually got a little more cosy.

But nobody quit, though nobody outside the band could understand how or why. Looking back, Christine still asserts: “Everyone cared about everyone else. There might have been problems between me and John, but that didn’t mean we didn’t care about Mick, Stevie and Lindsey and vice versa. We’re friends. Very interwoven. And to let something that successful just all apart, to say, Sod the rest of you, I’m buggering off — there was a certain responsibility not just to the band but to the whole unit. There were a lot of people on the payroll. And then there was the fact that we knew we were good. Whatever happened that was the overriding factor.”

For Buckingham it was clearly a matter of self-control and damage limitation. On Mac’s British tour in ‘77 one journalist watched while John McVie drank himself out of affability and into aggression until he threw a glass of vodka into Buckingham’s face. Buckingham laughed it off and calmed him down.

WITH THE intimate areas of their lives in circus uproar, a bit of straightforward hedonism must have looked very appealing to Fleetwood Mac. Indeed they seem to have relished it royally. Stevie Nicks in her Blanche Dubois mood savoured the moments: “Stepping into the black limousine with the white scarves, the excitement — to me it’s the height of elegance, it’s what I always wanted if I was going to be in a rock band.”

They bought mansions and Rolls Royces. Their merest snacks were banquets, the leftovers a feast. Back-stage vintage champagne was delivered by the crate and cocaine was sometimes wittily arrayed in coke bottle tops. Once, on Christine’s birthday, she came home to find that her then lover, Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, had dug out the garden in the shape of a heart and filled it with roses — their friends stood around the edge holding candles. The band spent a million dollars recording the double album Tusk and a lot on solo albums of various merit and success.

Buckingham insists that the extravagant images are greatly exaggerated: “I don’t believe we were full bore into all that. Just having two women there made for a rather more refined and couth atmosphere I would say…though sure, there have been abuses.”

The great pleasure hunt ran its course. On the down-side of elegance Stevie found herself checking into hotels some nights because her house was full of people she’d never met before. Christine McVie, claiming to be “too set in my ways” to be able to accommodate children, elected to have herself sterilised. The unsinkable Fleetwood was afflicted for a time with a weird variant on diabetes, then went bankrupt to the tune of £2m owed to two Californian banks, his lawyer, and WEA. He explained that he had overextended himself investing in property and run out of readies. Back on his feet now, though the “poorest” member of Mac, he reflects: “It was an interesting process. People expect you to fall apart. But it didn’t destroy me. What I’m saying is you can’t put credence in…being able to go out and buy a nice car isn’t the be-all and end-all of you as a person.”

But they began to pick up the pieces. In January 1983, Stevie Nicks married Kim Anderson (the husband of her close friend, Robin, who’d died of leukaemia five months previously). The ceremony took place on the tennis court of her house in Marina Del Ray (they’re now divorced).

Indeed, the mood has changed so much that it’s even possible for Lindsey Buckingham to reflect on what he might have lost by joining the band. “Sometimes I speculate on what I had to give up in terms of my own pure style of playing and writing. What troubled me was that the phenomenon of Rumours, the sales, took over from what the Work was.” Buckingham has the habit of saying “Work” with an audible capital. “You’ve got to remain true to the Work. And that’s quite hard to do at this level. These years have been extremely…demanding, not only in the Work but emotionally. There are lots of ways of getting hurt. Though I’ve lost touch with a lot of what happened. I guess I blocked it out.”

The time had come for Fleetwood Mac to settle down.

1987_tango_in_the_night_coverEVERYTHING ABOUT the recording of Tango In The Night was more pragmatic and practical than in their golden days. Although Fleetwood sticks to the party line about band independence free of record company molestation this is Buckingham’s story of the album:

“We hadn’t worked together for four years and we weren’t really used to seeing one another. When that happens there’s pressure from Warners of course and the people on the periphery, the lawyers and the management, start to move in to initiate an album. There was a group need to record but all our individual managers and lawyers had to talk because there was no one else to put the thing together on a logistics level — the band as such doesn’t have a manager since Mick stopped doing that. The meetings are a little chaotic. More people than I’ve ever seen. But…that’s show business.”

Fleetwood presents sincere pride in the new discipline with which they worked once they’d got through the paperwork to the music. Two to ten and then home to bed. A reformed character.

The album and single did much better than expected — the LP sold 1.5 million worldwide in six weeks — and they’ve made no secret of the fact that their attitude to success has undergone some modification over the last 20 years. Christine, 44 in July, married Eddy Quintela, a Portuguese musician (and co-writer of two tracks on the new LP) last autumn and is still based in Los Angeles. “You know when we got this success what I felt most was an immense sense of security. ‘Thank God I’ve got enough money so that whatever happens I can sort it out.’ My house, which I bought ten years ago, is the closest thing to the Cotswolds you could get. I tend to be very much of a home body. I love my home. I love looking after my roses. I’ve got a wonderful husband and three wonderful dogs…”

BUT THE raven’s still tapping at the window pane. Even after 17 years, the spectre of Peter Green still seems to haunt Mick Fleetwood and he’s remained determined to try and help him whenever he can.

For instance: Green seemed to touch bottom in ‘77 when he went round to Clifford Davis’s office with a gun and, in one of the most improbable rock business confrontations on record, demanded that the manager take back a £30,000 royalty cheque. Green was committed to mental hospital where, a few months later, Fleetwood phoned him inviting him to work on his solo African extravaganza, The Visitor, when he felt ready. “We had a really good time,” says Fleetwood. “He was objective, he was a lot better than I’d seen him for years. He spent some time with me and even got married at my house in L.A. (on January 4, 1978 to Jane Samuel). But all that went wrong and he seemed to slip back.”

Fleetwood the entrepreneur had been so hopeful that he lined Green up with a deal to relaunch his recording career but, to his mortification, when Green saw the contract he said it was “the devil’s work”. Back then, in his frustration, Fleetwood told a reporter: “I’ve totally given up with Peter. After a while it just wears me down.” Now he says: “I’ve got his phone number. I’ll check in with him before I leave. It’s just I get nervous because I don’t know whether he wants to talk or…It’s odd. He’s a stranger now really.”

Over in Richmond the Sunday Mirror man asked Peter Green whether he would ever play the guitar again. “I had one a while ago,” he said, “but it broke.”

© Phil Sutcliffe / Q / July 1987