… and he stoppeth one of three. With a cautionary tale about a troupe of travelling musicians who, seeking their fortunes, embarked upon a journey to a distant land. A tale about an Albatross, about success beyond dreams, about the ghostly spectre of dissipation and disaster that would haunt them in its wake. For this is the saga of Fleetwood Mac — “the rollercoaster that soared to very great heights”, as Mick Fleetwood reminds Mat Snow.
IN THE neighbourhood of Van Nuys, just half an hour from Hollywood, lies a small TV and film studio complex. Here they shot vintage episodes of Bewitched and The Munsters, and cheerily scrawled testimonials from the likes of Marion Brando hang on the dressing room walls.
But in these last few weeks a different drama has been played out in the main studio space. A stage has been erected, full lighting rig set up and a sound system tuned to state-of-the-art fidelity. All around, buzzing walkie-talkies direct men in designer stubble and $200 high-top trainers to make those last minute checks and adjustments. For it is here that one of sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’s longest-running soap operas is once more preparing to go on the road. With a fine new album called Behind the Mask to bring to the multitudes, Fleetwood Mac are back.
Tonight a very select gathering has assembled. Like audiences everywhere, they will guzzle beer and soda, and cheer for their favourite songs during the full-length two-hour dry run. But they will applaud this stadium-sized show at a distance of mere feet — an intimate setting for an intimate occasion. It is “family night” for Fleetwood Mac, in which three generations of relatives and close friends will join hands to salute the stars of the current line-up. But as the latest Fleetwood Mac, plus stagehands, spear-carriers and assorted extras, takes the stage for the traditional cast photograph, there is a conspicuously empty space.
But here he comes, striding royally through the assembly, a clear head taller than the loftiest amongst us. Yet despite that regal presence and noble deportment, his entrance earns universal cheers of the utmost familiarity, even mirth. Could it be the knee-breeches of a kind last worn by a chamberlain to Prince Albert that excite such jocularity? Perhaps his swishing cape seems amusingly redolent of a bygone, more theatrical age? Or would the vintage cricketer’s cap look more at home on the head of W.G. Grace than on a Malibu-resident rock drummer, however gleaming his pate? Indeed, only a single earring in whose silver housing is set the noisy end of a rattlesnake’s tail hints as to which particular branch of show business its wearer clings.
Mick Fleetwood is that rare beast, a rude mechanical from the backline who has somehow ended up running the whole show. Far more than a mere musician, he treads the boards with all the eccentric pomp of an actor-manager of the old school. And in the company that has always borne his name, he has seen them come and go, he doesn’t mind telling you. Oh yes, he has a tale or two…
LIKE CREAM THE PREVIOUS year, Fleetwood Mac were formed in 1967 from a core of musicians who had graduated via a higher education at that renowned London Institute of Bluesology, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. With such aces as Hendrix, Clapton and Beck pulling the crowds, there was no shortage of opportunities for a guitarist of Peter Green’s calibre. In just a few months in Clapton’s old job, he had carved himself a son-of-God-sized reputation, so after he was fired by the egocentric Mayall, along with drummer Mick Fleetwood, he was persuaded to form a band.
Mick was invited aboard; a second guitarist, Elmore-James fanatic Jeremy Spencer, was introduced; and Bob Brunning filled in on bass until their first-choice candidate could be convinced that giving up his Bluesbreakers job wouldn’t be a disaster: “John McVie was asked, but basically wouldn’t join until the money was right,” Mick chuckles.
“When we were all in the Bluesbreakers, John Mayall gave Peter some studio time as a birthday present,” Mick remembers. “Peter, John and myself did the session, and one of the songs was an instrumental called ‘Fleetwood Mac’. It was very much Peter’s wish that it be the name of the band; he was very against that ‘Eric is God’ guitar hero thing of the time. The fact that the first record was credited to Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac was against his wishes; the record company insisted on it. He just wanted to be part of a band and, many years later, I’m grateful.”
In 1968, when brooms were being dusted and moneymakers shaken the length and breadth of Britain, the blues purism of Fleetwood Mac’s debut LP struck a popular chord:
“We recorded the one with the dog and the dustbin on the front at Decca’s studio off Regent Street, and it was probably done in about three days, all live. We set our PA up in the studio and played it like a gig. We were immediately successful. Our first album didn’t quite get to Number I but it was way up in the charts for a whole year. Yet it was nearly all covers.
“The following that Peter had was a very strong movement,” Mick recalls. “These people in the clubs and ballrooms would travel all over the place. Fleetwood Mac was their band. Then other bands got drawn into it; even Jethro Tull were categorised as a blues band, but with all due respect they were never a blues band. Quite frankly, I never considered Ten Years After a blues band either; they were a boogie band. Alvin Lee was not a blues player, he was an aspiring jazz guitarist who riffed his way to success. It became like anyone with a Marshall amp who played a few hackneyed blues licks was a ‘blues’ player. We were a lot more special. In terms of immediate peers, there was Eric, though he was flying off at a different tangent. It was quite competitive, really. Peter was, in the nicest possible sense, very ambitious. He knew what was right, which is why his legacy, even in the short amount of time he made it, is still very much alive.”
Peter Green’s legacy is a subject on which Mick is passionate. One suspects that not a day goes by — even 20 years on — without him pondering anew what went wrong.
“It’s no secret that Peter is a changed man; he is not the person that I knew, quite frankly. I met B.B. King about a year and a half ago in San Francisco and the first thing he says is that Peter is one guy who wasn’t faking it; he really had the goods. He taught me and John a lot about music, understanding what economy means, not going the route of trying to impress people by riffing yourself out of existence. It transcended music to affect my approach to life as a person.
“Peter and I came from very different backgrounds. He was an East End lad with a very definite chip on his shoulder — a Jewish boy who got beaten up. He got away from it, but it caught him up in the end when it all went wrong. We were extremely close partners and friends; he knew my parents very well. My father was a wing commander and Peter’s approach — don’t piss around, stay true to the fundamentals — had a lot to do with the way I was brought up. I found that easy to identify with and Peter knew that. There were a lot of better drummers around in terms of technique, but he knew that when I play, it’s from here.” Mick thumps his chest.
Though the band was Peter Green’s vehicle, the guitarist continued to be self-effacement itself when it came to image. Fleetwood Mac’s second LP, Mr Wonderful, presented on its gatefold cover the lanky and less-than-cheesecake drummer, pretty much naked to the elements and with a slightly pained expression to prove it. And it could have been so much worse: “Being on the cover was one of my kooky ideas. I went down to my godmother who has a farm in Kent because I had an idea that didn’t come off — but I nearly got killed doing it. I specifically had an image of a double album folding out, presenting the back of a cow’s legs with the udders hanging down; and what I had to do was get underneath this cow as if about to suck the udders! Fucking dangerous!
“We were a rude old bunch,” Mick sniggers. “Old Johnny Durex filled with milk hanging off the tuning pegs, dildoes hanging off my drum kit. It wasn’t just this studious blues manual band, though some of the fans were so fanatical. We were totally devoted to the blues, but there was a spirit of healthy fun too. To some extent, we were just a bunch of lads just fucking around.”
The wider public, meanwhile, came to know Fleetwood Mac as purveyors of moodily intense hit singles. Later successfully covered by Santana, Green’s “Black Magic Woman” and a version of Little Willie John’s “Need Your Love So Bad” just missed the Top 30 in 1968. But the following year “Albatross” went to Number 1, and “Man Of The World” and “Oh Well” made it to Number 2. Completing this classic quartet, “The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Prong Crown)” made the Top 10 in 1970.
“We weren’t a band that sat around thinking about pumping out hit records. Those singles were not written to be hits; they were written by Peter from his heart. The words to the song ‘Man Of The World’ were very literal: here was a guy that was really concerned. When ‘Albatross’ came out, we were still very much, quote, a blues band. It was an extension of ‘The Supernatural’, an instrumental Peter wrote when he was with John Mayall; obviously it was influenced by Santo & Johnny’s lap steel hit ‘Sleep Walk’. It went to Number 1 during our first tour of the States, and when we came back it was all over the music papers: they’ve sold out. It signposted what was going to happen; Then Play On epitomised that vision Peter had of going forward, and that’s when Jeremy got left behind. Apart from a couple of piano things, he wasn’t on that album. We just didn’t want to keep treading water, and that album was the real start of Fleetwood Mac.”
From 1969, Then Play On is a blues-rock masterpiece. Yet even as Peter Green had found his own songwriting voice, he deliberately split the focus of the band which could have been his alone.
“He was very gracious to Danny Kirwan, who had just joined Fleetwood Mac from Boilerhouse, a young lad of 18. Here’s half the album. I remember when he said it — Danny, come up with half the songs. He had the goods — a perfect vibrato, a little choirboy voice. He was singing the blues in the most English of ways; he was very wholesome.
“John wasn’t really consulted on this by Peter and I, he was just told… He is quite happy to this day not to be confronted with the logistics, but John McVie and his opinions are very much part of the band. He is very insightful, a lot more than I am. I know that I’ve done a lot of the donkey work keeping this band going — it’s a fact. But John will say something like. Watch out for this person, and more often than not he’ll be right.
“Peter and I always roomed together,” Mick explains. “I was privy to everything that was going on with what we planned to do, from the nitty gritty to the music. On Then Play On, working with producer Martin Birch, Peter started experimenting. That album still holds up, and the tragedy is that that was it, there was no more…”
“PETER WAS ONE OF THOSE people who should never have taken acid,” Mick sighs, “and he said that himself on a little interview the BBC did. When that came on the TV, I was just crying like a baby. It had just dawned on me how heavy this was… Oh Pete, bless your fucking heart. He’s still aware, but it comes in and out. But he’ll still walk in a room, and you know that someone has walked in, I tell you. It may not feel comfortable, but he’s always had that.
“There had been mumblings on the American tour; Peter started trying to persuade us to give all our money away.” Mick sighs, the memory evidently still hanging heavy. “We had all these band meetings in hotels, and we’d sit there for hours, basically going over that whole Haight-Ashbury hangover. John and I would say, Well, you can do it, but we aren’t giving our fucking money away. Pete would say, You’re wrong, you’re wrong; it’ll all come back on us. I’m telling you. Once we were playing the Fillmore East and he came over to the drums and mumbled, ‘We’ve got to do it’. I knew what he was talking about — he wanted us to play for no money, for nothing. Later on in the set, I called him over and said, while were still playing, ‘I won’t give my money awav, Pete, but what we should do is continue doing what we’re doing, but do with the money something constructive, like finance an orphanage’. That’s as far as it got. But, as we all know, he gave it away in the end. He’s still got money, but his brother takes care of it now.
“He was desperate to make a stand using our really quite substantial success platform. In Europe, Fleetwood Mac were the biggest band around; we were outselling The Beatles. When Peter appeared on Top Of The Pops with his beard down to here, a big crucifix and a monk’s robe — that wasn’t theatre, that was him. Then he started talking to the press, and I kept telling him, ‘Pete, people are going to get the wrong idea; not only are you being misquoted, but it’s making you look like a kook.’ He was very bright, but he was an East End lad and it just doesn’t come off right: Oh, I dunno, I just want to give all my money away. He was on a crusade in his mind, and we had no idea how deep he was really getting into it. Having been a very ambitious person who was aware that he had a power, that power ended up repulsing him. He thought, I’ve done it now — and what’s it all about, Alfie? That’s why he became a gravedigger; he went off the deep end. I would have never ever dreamt that that would have happened in a million years. I knew him so well: he was so focused, he ran the band, he was charming, amusing, just a wonderful person. And,” Mick snaps his fingers, “off he went and never came back.”
Peter Green’s final crisis took place in Germany. He was hanging around with a set of moneyed hippies (“spoilt brats”) and “taking a lot of acid”, having already decided to quit: “He left in the most responsible of ways — he didn’t just turn into a space cadet overnight — playing out some time with the band so we had time to absorb it. In doing that he was probably a lot more tortured than anyone realised,” Mick sighs.
In August 1970, Peter’s place was taken not by another rough-voiced guitarist but by Melody Maker’s “Female Vocalist Of The Year”, Christine Perfect, who later took her husband John McVie’s surname. She had played piano on the Mr. Wonderful song “Love That Burns” and, as singer with Brit-bluesers Chicken Shack, had scored a Top 20 hit with a cover of Etta James’s “I’d Rather Go Blind.”
“lt was a relief working with Christine because, having been in Chicken Shack, she was one of the lads.” Mick enthuses. “But we weren’t about to treat her with any disrespect. She’s a wonderful lady — strong, won’t be pushed, around, very practical and a real team player. The difference between her and Stevie Nicks,” he fast-forwards, “is very apparent. Stevie is this… thing,” Mick flaps his arms none too articulately. “She dreams away a bit caught up in stardom. Then you look at Christine working away, always at the studio while Stevie is hardly ever there. That’s fine, just different. In the chemistry of the band, Stevie is balanced out by the English faction. This balance makes up the alchemy, this strange bond that has lasted. And let’s face it. it’s been under pressure sometimes.”
PRESSURE OF THE SELF- inflicted kind took the band to further lows — and highs. On their first tour of America, Fleetwood Mac had met a man without whom their story — especially Peter Green’s — might have turned out very differently. A former radar technician by name Augustus Owsley Stanley III, but usually just Owsley for short, he was also known as Bear, after his company Bear Research Group. It was this dummy organisation that in early 1965 bought the constituent chemicals to manufacture one and a half million doses of LSD, establishing Owsley for years afterwards as the unchallenged Tycoon of Trips.
“Karmically, there is a grey area, but quite literally Owsley turned the world on,” Mick expounds. “A lot of casualties came out of it and I’m not advocating it, but the Woodstocks wouldn’t have happened without it — and he was behind it all. To this day I still keep in touch with him. He makes this fantastic jewellery and lives half the year in a tent on the Gold Coast near Cairns in Australia. A fascinating guy.
“When The Grateful Dead had originally met us in San Francisco, we had no idea who they were,” he continues. “They’d heard we were coming into town through Bill Graham and were really gracious, good people. They took care of these funny English guys, and that’s when we met Owsley. He’d say. Come on, try some of this. Ooooh no! Don’t touch it! Maybe a little bit of pot and a few beers… But eventually we succumbed, and had wild times.
“The next time we met them was in New York, and we went to visit them to pay our respects. Pete and I got up on stage with them to jam, and went back to a place called the Gorham Hotel, by this time severely peaking. We were in my room, and were actually getting scared, all sitting around on my floor holding hands, just holding on to reality. I remember distinctly — and this is not nice — turning around and looking at Pete. And he was a skeleton. It didn’t just go away: he was a skeleton — but moving. I somehow had enough savvy not to say. You’re dead. And just when we were really worried that this was too much for us bunch, Owsley phoned up as if he’d been listening to us, and proceeded to talk us down one by one on the phone. We got through the night.”
Karmically though, Owsley’s time was running out: “The police were out to bust Owsley’s ass, and they busted the Grateful Dead too. He lost all his money keeping out of jail for years, but eventually they got him. That Dead song with the line ‘Busted down on Bourbon Street’ [“Truckin’,” from American Beauty], that was the night that Fleetwood Mac played with them at the Warehouse in New Orleans. Owsley had spiked the water fountains and, after our set, John McVie was out of it and couldn’t handle the fact that the Dead were going to get up and play! So he stood in the audience while the rest of us jammed with the Dead. The audience loved it — a massive freakout.
“That was what caused Owsley eventually to go to jail. We were nearly there. We were following their car back to the hotel, absolutely out of it on acid. I drove the car from the back seat with my feet while somebody else worked the pedals from the side — nobody was in the driver’s seat. Oh God!” Mick nearly weeps. “We got lost, and by the time we arrived, they’d been busted…
“Back in those days with acid and mescalin and stuff, we had a laugh — to start with. But these were isolated incidents. We weren’t drug-oriented at all, really. But when Jerry went off, we’d been in San Francisco, on mescalin…”
The tale of Jeremy Spencer is not as well-known as that of Peter Green, but it is no less unhappy and strange. And it all happened only eight months after Green had quit the band.
“I roomed with Jerry, and we were like Mutt and Jeff,” Mick remembers. “He was a very funny little guy and I was like his stool pigeon. He did Elvis impressions in his Elvis suit with a dildo hanging out of his trousers — ‘Hunka hunka love’! We had police in the States telling us we’d better stop it or they’d lock us up. Jerry wasn’t a big drinker but I started drinking; we used to get wild, destroying the drum kit. We used to do some filthy stuff. One night at the Whisky [Los Angeles’s Whisky-A-Go-Go club] we sang a cappella round the mic the most revolting song which, of course, Jerry had made up…” Mick then quotes a couplet which combines the gynaecological, scatological and sexual in a manner far too unsavoury for the printed page. “What brought it on?” he shakes with merriment. “I’ve no idea!
“Jeremy was always, from when I first met him, very religious,” Mick stresses. “He always carried a Bible sewn into his jacket. This monster on stage with dicks hanging out, and yet when you’d go to pick him up in his bedsit, he’d he there with slippers on, always wrapped in his cardigan reading the Bible with Fiona cooking in the kitchen. But the day we came to LA and the day he disappeared, as I say, we’d all been taking mescalin. It was just after that big earthquake, and all the way on the plane Jeremy was saying, something’s going to happen. Literally, something’s going to happen, all the way there. We said, Listen, Jeremy, we’ve got a gig; you’ve got to cope. He said. There’s darkness there, and sure enough, we got off the plane and I took picture of Jeremy with Fleetwood Mac. We checked into a sleazy old hotel just off Hollywood Boulevard and from there he went down to his regular head-type bookshop where he bought his religious books. Outside the bookstore were the Children Of God, and they started talking to him. At that particular hour he was ripe for the picking — and they whisked him off.
“Obviously we didn’t do the gig. We went looking for him and even had psychics. I remember driving, and it was very eerie; this grey, electric atmosphere was all over LA, and after the earthquake there were all these twisted freeways. We went round these communes, and they were very protective — spooky, bizarre to say the least. At last they found him in some warehouse. His head was shaved and he had a different name. Basically, he was like a zombie.
“I haven’t heard from him for a long time,” Mick regrets. “I used to bump into him and get letters from him. He stayed with me in the States when I was living high on the hog in Bel Air. He was still with the Children of God, but he had his personality and humour back. I said, Jeremy, you’re very welcome to stay here, and I don’t really want to talk about it, but you know what I think; I don’t think the situation you’re in is right. And it wasn’t: it was crooked and weird — a lot of very sick stuff was going on.
“They’d use their women to bring money in, taking with the hierarchy living in the Bahamas. It’s organised; they had dossiers on people. This girl who was going with Jeremy was not part of the Children of God, and she found these documents where Jeremy had to write out what was happening day by day and week by week. It was so horrific — ‘Today the fish gave me…’ People were called fish. She gave the stuff to the FBI and confronted Jeremy about it, but he had been doing it for so long that I don’t think he could face the fact that it was wrong. Eventually he turned up in South America, and the last I heard about him was that he narrowly escaped the Tamil massacres in Sri Lanka; a girl who was in the Children of God came up to me in Melbourne and told me. I don’t know where he is now.”
FOLLOWING JEREMY SPENCER’S exit in February, 1971 didn’t get any better for Fleetwood Mac. Though they replaced Spencer with the far more versatile Bob Welch, this LA singer-songwriter-guitarist couldn’t stop Fleetwood Mac’s commercial rot in the UK. The band’s fourth studio LP, Kiln House, only struggled to Number 39 — their last UK chart entry for a new album until 1976. In Britain at least, Peter Green was Fleetwood Mac; without him, the fans melted away.
“The band changed so dramatically that our English audience just couldn’t make the transition,” Mick recalls. “We didn’t sell any records. That’s when we started spending all our time in America. We had a good base, selling 200-250,000 albums, paying Warners’ light bill and earning a good living. We were what they call over here a cult band, enjoying the quite lucrative college circuit. Some good stuff came out of it. Christine wrote some really good songs and Bob Welch had a very distinctive style: Bermuda Triangle and Hypnotized are strong songs.”
In 1972 Danny Kirwan was fired for persistent stage fright, and replaced by former Long John Baldry guitarist Bob Weston and, from Savoy Brown, singer Dave Walker — unfortunate recruitments both. “Getting Dave Walker was our manager Clifford Davis’s idea: We’ve got to get a lead singer out front who can start boogying! Mick lampoons him bitterly. “John McVie always loathed Clifford Davis. Always. And the feeling was totally mutual. To put it politely, John never trusted him — and we all know that story…”
To promote their 1973 LP Mystery To Me, the band set out to tour America. But when it was revealed that Mick’s wife Jenny (sister of Patti Boyd/Harrison/Clapton) was having an affair with Bob Weston, the tour ended in disarray, with Weston fired, soon followed by Walker. Meanwhile, Davis put together a fake Fleetwood Mac (there was not one bona fide member in their ranks) to fulfil the live commitments. The resulting legal dispute went in the real band’s favour. “But I’m sure he’s doing quite fine,” Mick grimaces drily. “He’s still collecting royalties from us.”
Moving swiftly on to a happier aspect of that troubled year, Fleetwood Mac released an album called Penguin, in honour of John McVie’s affection for the waddling Antarctic bird of book and biscuit fame. “He’s got a penguin tattooed on his arm,” Mick chortles. “John is a very good photographer, and when he was first married to Christine and lived near London Zoo, he used to spend hours regularly taking pictures of penguins, photographing them fucking each other. On the back of Future Games (1971) he said, I don’t want a picture of me, I want a picture of a penguin with John McVie written on it. To this day you will always see a penguin of some sort on our albums, even on the painting on Tango in The Night. There’s just something funny about a penguin. I suppose it’s because they’re like people.”
THOUGH 1974 WAS OVERSHADOWED by the Clifford Davis legal dispute, unbeknownst to Fleetwood Mac the light at the end of the tunnel was only just round the corner. Yet another lineup convulsion was to transform this storm-tossed “cult band” into an even more storm-tossed global phenomenon. It all started when Mick was doing his customary “donkey work”, checking out studios in LA for the recording of the album to be called Heroes Are Hard to Find, and he found himself in Sound City,
“By a complete coincidence the engineer happened to play the Buckingham-Nicks album made in the same studio. I’ve always kept my ears opened for a good guitar player, and his finger style was interesting and the songs I liked. They were actually in the studio, and I remember looking at Stevie through the window and thinking, she’s pretty little thing. But I thought no more about it. Then we went back out on the road with the Heroes Are Hard to Find album and tour, and Bob flipped out — he was having troubles at home. It was our big comeback tour after the Clifford Davis episode which damaged us a lot. All the promoters said, Ooooh, I don’t know. Nobody’ll know if you’re the real band or not. Our money went down appreciably. It was a blow and we had to work really hard to re-establish ourselves. We so nearly had a hit record, and Bob became disheartened. He blew up after our last gig.
“So for our next album, I made a phone call to that studio and said. Remember that album you were playing me? I was after the guitar player, Lindsey, but then I realised they came as a package. I found out later that she wrote a lot of the songs, which was important. I said to John and Chris, These are the people we should get. Chris said, All I ask is if I can’t stand this woman, Stevie, then I don’t want to do it. It turned out to be no problem at all; they used to hang out a lot in the early days, though they don’t now because they have such different lifestyles. I phoned them up and said, What about it? The only Fleetwood Mac album they knew was Then Play On.”
Once on the road, it was soon clear that the new band chemistry was greater than the sum of its parts, and their first album together was titled, as a simple declaration of rebirth, Fleetwood Mac. At last, everything was clearly right.
“So much so, in fact, that I went to see the head of Warners, Mo Ostin, having had a couple of brandies across the road,” Mick chuckles. “It was naïve, because we were under contract anyway, but I said, This album is something different and exciting, and unless you really consider and can say honestly that you really feel as excited as we do about the music on this record, then we don’t want to be on your label.
“That was the beginning of the rollercoaster that soared to very great heights.”
LIKE ALL GOOD ROLLERCOASTERS, at first the ride was a slow upward haul. Fleetwood Mac, the LP, took 15 months from first entering the US chart in August 1975 to get to Number 1, assisted by three Top 20 singles, “Over My Head,” “Rhiannon” (“This is about a Welsh witch,” as Stevie Nicks would helpfully introduce it live) and “Say You Love Me.” As the rollercoaster gathered pace, so did those aboard make whoopee — without, it would seem, a thought for the consequences.
“Oh yes, it was party time,” agrees Mick cheerfully. “It was a rollercoaster to the nth degree, full hog. Ferraris, jets everywhere — it was the big time. Very big time. We were living the life—and people didn’t talk about the music, just 12 million albums, then 18 million albums. That’s all they talked about — demographics. Nothing about the music at all, which was a bit of a drag. John picked the title Rumours because there was so much shit going on. We’d come off the back of a five-million-selling album and everyone was frothing at the mouth. And then the shit hit the fan with all the personal things.”
To recap an oft-told tale, both in-band couples — the McVies and the Buckingham-Nickses — split up as did Fleetwood from his wife; and hearsay accumulated to the effect that everyone was behaving as if scripted by Andrea Newman. Released in 1977, Rumours flew in the face of the punky new fashion to the tune of some 25 million copies worldwide — to this day second only in sales to Thriller. Like Michael’s milestone album, a highly polished surface concealed a cauldron of simmering tensions and seething passions. And as “Go Your Own Way,” “Don’t Stop,” “Dreams” and “You Make Loving Fun” hogged the singles chart that year, it was confidently predicted that Fleetwood Mac’s elevation to pop’s toppermost would also be their swansong.
“People basically were waiting for us to break up; the record company was sweating: they’ll never be able to get out on the road. But there we were,” proclaims Mick. “There was a lot going on, and it was very hard. But never once did we consider hanging it up. Never even mentioned it. All we knew was that we were on a forward rampage and none of us was about to give up. All that mire of torment went straight on to vinyl; the whole of Rumours was about that. As John said, it was like living out a soap opera.
“The fact that we were very honest about what was going on ended up stoking the fire; rather than saying it was none of their business, we were very forthcoming with information to let people right into our lives. We’d say, Yeah, what’s going on is hell, actually. I miss my wife, she doesn’t like me any more — and she’s playing piano 10 feet away from me! Anything that happens now that can be construed as awkward and stressful is chicken feed compared to then. In a sick sort of way, that added another strength.”
Nor did the lifestyle of the now rich and famous Fleetwood Mac stretch merely to hanky-panky. Mention their name back in the late ‘70s and those in the know would tap their noses meaningfully.
“All that stuff is true, yes, but out of whack. I’ve definitely had my fair share of drugs in my day, but I’m not one to go crawling round the floor like a complete derelict. All that thing about my bankruptcy . . .”
Ah yes. On May 1, 1984, Mick Fleetwood filed for bankruptcy, a feat of quite staggering financial ineptitude, one would have thought, for someone whose band had sold over 40 million albums. There were some ugly rumours . . .
“All that thing about my bankruptcy, that it all went up my nose — three, four million dollar, I’d be fucking dead,” Mick not unreasonably insists. “That was not the reason I went bankrupt: the reason was I bought too much real estate and ran out of money. I was very badly advised, which is still pending. I’d better be careful what I say about that because if it’s settled, it will eventually be in court and a rather large sum of money will be coming back to me,” he gloats. “That’s life and I don’t mind talking about it. But it was like having cancer or something: Oh dear, better not talk about it to Rolling Stone… I said. Hey look, I’d much prefer to tell them first-hand — have them come over to the house and watch the furniture being taken out!
“But the bankruptcy and the drugs was got way out of whack. It’s what people choose to relish, I suppose. The honest thing to say is, yes, of course drugs are bad — I’ve got two wonderful children. But if I drink half a bottle of brandy, that’s not too good for me either. And if you’re asking me do I still do drugs, the answer is no. I’ve outgrown that; there’s a point in your life when it just becomes boring.”
Would it be glib simply to characterise 1979’s Tusk as the ultimate coke-head double-album?
“Oh no, we were doing a fair chunk of the old tootski in those days,” Mick chortles, “and when people said that over a year was a long time to make an album, that’s the way the band is. We don’t clock in and punch our music out.”
If the two years Fleetwood Mac took to make Tusk — or should it have been called Beak? — might be considered a little on the self-indulgent side, then let us hope that no one was holding their breath waiting for the next installment. The obligatory double live album aside, Fleetwood Mac waited for three years before Mirage, a mere single LP, hit the racks.
“Mirage was a halfway house. It was a blur of brandy, really,” Mick reveals. “We recorded half of it in a chateau just outside Paris. No drugs at all — but a lot of drink. We had a ball. Ironically enough, between Tango and this album, which took about eight months of solid work to make, there was no boozing, no partying, no sessions after midnight, no two-day binges — and it made not a ha’p’orth of difference in terms of time. We thought we’d be a big machine, but no. When you have six people who all have a say, it’s not a nightmare because we’re all on the same wavelength, but it is a lengthy process. We were trying this, trying that, pulling things apart.
“People often say that it’s ridiculous that we spend years putting albums together. It’s our money that we’ve worked hard for and it’s our effort we’re putting back into our trade. If we were cheapwads we’d make a schlock album, saying it’s going to sell anyway, but that’s not what this band is about. We really take a lot of care trying to get as near to perfect as we can get to where we’re at that moment in time,” Mick declares in fluent psychobabble. “If it costs a million bucks, it costs a million bucks. It’s fucking worth it. I don’t think it’s an indulgence but proof of the pudding of where, quote, this band is coming from.”
THE FIVE LONG YEARS BETWEEN Mirage and 1987’s Tango in the Night saw not only Stevie Nicks’ solo career blossom but also the slowest exit yet from the ranks of Fleetwood Mac — that of Lindsey Buckingham, his departure confirmed in June ‘88.
“The band breaking up was never talked about, but I’m sure Lindsey thought he’d let this fade out. He felt frustrated, that we were played out. He’s a very talented guy, very intense and not the perfect person to be in a band in the first place — he’d be the first to admit it. He’s far happier on his own. In fact, before he joined the band, that’s what he used to do: play with his tape recorder and do everything the way he wants to do it — he happens to be a huge Brian Wilson fan and so am I [a cover of a Wilson obscurity, Farmer’s Daughter from the Beach Boys’ Surfin’ USA album, was a regular feature of the Mac’s set]. There were mumblings in the ranks from Christine, John and myself that it was time to do something — and then it didn’t happen and didn’t happen. Christine did a soundtrack for a film [Blake Edwards’s A Fine Mess] and asked Lindsey to co-produce it, and John and me to play on it. Before we knew it, we had the band in the studio. That was the catalyst. I took it into my hands to say we’re starting. The producer we enlisted, to be quite candid about it, was a ploy, a crafty ploy that had some legitimacy to it. He was chosen not just as a front, but I had a sneaking suspicion that Lindsey wouldn’t enjoy working with this producer.”
So you were forcing Lindsey to decide whether or not he was in or out of the band?
“Exactly — no more waiting. And it worked.”
Lindsey was finessed into co-producing Tango himself; but then came the little matter of touring. “He didn’t want to go out on the road, and we knew that, and he kept putting us off,” says Mick, “We said, You — out of anyone with the amount of work you put into this album — you’re not going out on the road? That’s crazy! You want to piss this down the drain? Don’t you want people to hear this? But by saying we were going anyway, we got him off the fence. He said he’d do it. Also, he said he wanted two, maybe three other guitar players, percussion players, all sorts of interesting things. So now we were over a barrel. Whatever you want, we said, just let’s get out there. For a while he looked as if he was going to do it — but he changed his mind after we booked the tour. It was not amusing. He’d realised he’d been forced into a situation and had cracked. He said that touring would have destroyed him and been hell for everyone else, and that’s not what this is all about. He made the right decision.”
LINDSEY’S PLACE HAS BEEN taken by two versatile singer-guitarists, Billy Burnette and Rick Vito. They’re already contributing songs to the Fleetwood Mac repertoire — something the band’s tub-thumping founder member has so far failed to do. But help is at hand in the shape of Mick’s latest investment, the Hotz MIDI Translator, developed by its inventor Jimmy Hotz with Mick’s money and to be marketed by Atari.
Its strange sonoroties are to be heard in the introduction to the new album’s “In The Back Of My Mind.” A console with touch-sensitive pads that can be attached to the body and played like someone looking for his wallet, playing it at family night, Mick gives a very good impression of Fagin doing “You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two” from Oliver! “A completely new instrument,” Mick raves; “it will revolutionise people’s access to making music.”
At last, then, Mick Fleetwood, who for 23 years has had his name in lights, might find it in the small print of a songwriting royalty statement — where the real money is. “I used to manage Fleetwood Mac for about seven years, on 10 per cent, after expenses. It helped level it out. That has ceased to be, which is a bit of a drag,” Mick chortles. “But that’s showbiz!”
Mat Snow / Q / May 1990