Christine McVie: Why I went back to Fleetwood Mac

She wrote some of the band’s best known hits but walked away for a quiet life in the country. But now Christine McVie is back with Fleetwood Mac on a tour which is heading to New Zealand. She talks about her return to the fold.

Fleetwood Mac, from left: Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, John McVie and Christine McVie.

Speaking from London, Christine McVie sounds a bit like a more mellow, less posh Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous.

There’s a lovely, light, warm huskiness, and plenty of character in the voice that’s been missing from the Fleetwood Mac line-up for the past 17 years – the voice (and pen) behind many of their hits, like Don’t Stop, Little Lies, Songbird, and You Make Loving Fun.

But now that voice is back.

Rumours swirled after McVie appeared on stage with the band in Dublin and London during their 2013 tour, and in January 2014 it was announced that she was officially back in the band.

And now, more than halfway through their current world tour – entitled On With The Show – the 71-year-old sounds totally convinced she made the right decision, and is thrilled to be touring again.

“We’re having a ball. Every night, I look across the stage from where I’m playing piano, stage right, and I can see the rest of them, John, Mick, Stevie, and Lindsey, and it awes me every night. I just think, blimey, you guys are fantastic. I think the difference this time is that we’re all smiling.”

Not that she had any dissatisfaction with the band or the music, or even the performing when she left the group in 1998. McVie felt she had to leave for a far more simple reason: she couldn’t deal with aeroplanes anymore.

“It was never the playing or the people, it was just that I’d developed a hideous fear of flying! And I loathed living out of a suitcase forever and I really longed for some roots. I wanted to have a home, where I could go home, and unlock my door, and go in, and be settled. I was tired of being a gypsy. And that was fine really.”

She’d been doing it for nearly 30 years, after all, and as has been well documented, some of those years were pretty rocky – McVie was probably the least naughty of the five.

But the band had its fair share of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll excess. So the appeal of some time out at an old country farmhouse in England was understandable. She wanted a bit of isolation, a bit of quiet, and a different kind of life.

“I restored the house from the roof downwards, and I had fun with that for about five years, imagining I was living this country life with the welly boots and the dogs and the Range Rover. And then I just started to get bored.

“And I hadn’t really sat at a piano very much at all during that time, so I started to play again, and drifted around, writing and so on, and I did make a solo album with my nephew Dan Perfect, called In The Mean Time. But because of my fear of flying, I didn’t promote it. And so it was released and did nothing at all” she laughs.

She pottered about for another few years, but her boredom and isolation got worse, and so she decided to seek help for her fear of flying, and for the various other issues she was grappling with.

“I went to a psychiatrist, and I was looking for help with other problems as well, isolation problems – all sorts of stuff started happening being in the country on my own – so I sought help, and this chap, who has since become a really good friend, he said, ‘Well what are you going to do for the rest of your life? Are you going to sit around, and drive your Range Rover, and put your Hunter boots on, and that’s it?”

That got her thinking. He also asked where she’d most like to go if she could get on a plane, and she knew the answer immediately: Hawaii – where Mick Fleetwood is based on Maui.

“So my psychiatrist said ‘Why don’t you book yourself a ticket? You don’t have to get on the plane, just book the ticket. So I did.”

Serendipitously, Fleetwood happened to be coming to London for promotional duties around the same time, and decided to align his return ticket with McVie’s so she could (hopefully) fly to Maui with him. And she did it.

“It was funny, I stepped on the aeroplane, and I texted my psychiatrist and said, ‘Oooh, I don’t know about this, I’m smelling the jet fumes’, and he replied ‘No, that’s the perfume of freedom’. And I thought, ‘Yeah! That’s cool’.

“So we took off and I didn’t even think about it, and I haven’t since. I’m free! It’s an incredible feeling when you’re grounded and you feel like you can’t really go anywhere, I felt like I was stuck. No chance of coming to Australia and New Zealand. But now it’s fantastic.”

Of course overcoming her fear of flying was one step, but rejoining the band was another.

Christine McVie performing in LA in 1979, at the height of Fleetwood Mac’s fame.

While she was in Maui, she got up on stage with Fleetwood at his local venue, and really enjoyed jamming along. So then when whole band went to Britain in 2013, she thought she’d try getting up on stage as part of Fleetwood Mac again, as a special guest.

“I was terrified. I had met them in Dublin, and rehearsed with them. But it was a very strange feeling walking on to the stage – I was terrified, because the technology has changed so much since I was in the band originally, now we use these really sophisticated in-ear contraptions, which I wasn’t used to at all, and all those little things took a bit of getting used to.”

But the overwhelmingly positive response to her appearance convinced McVie it was time to ask her bandmates if she could rejoin the band – and they welcomed her with open arms.

Now she’s convinced Fleetwood Mac are the best they’ve ever been.

“I feel more at home on stage than ever, much more confident, and happier.

” I love the way we sound. And, not trying to blow my own trumpet, but we sound better than we’ve ever sounded before I believe. I think we all now have an appreciation of what we were 18 years ago. Because for quite a few years in the middle there they couldn’t play things like Little Lies and Make Loving Fun. And then me rejoining and playing my part on the piano, and the little nuances I contribute, and the backing vocals, it’s making us all realise ‘Gosh, that really is a great song’.”

In fact things are going so well that they’ve already started recording a new album.

Lindsey Buckingham and McVie started writing new songs together in February last year, and the band has recently finished a nearly two-month run in Studio D at the Village Recorder in Los Angeles, where they also made 1979’s Tusk.

“We did about eight songs so far, which are all fantastic. One is about my flying fear, which is called Carnival Begin, which is a really beautiful song.

“Stevie was working on another project so she hasn’t come in yet, but she will. And we’re planning on trying to have an album finished by early next year, and releasing it in the spring.

“It’s exciting, because the songs feel fresh – they’re modern, they’re sexy, they’re great.”

Writing with Buckingham again felt completely natural too – like the proverbial pair of worn slippers.

“We just fell right back into the same slot,” she laughs. “It was as though time had not existed all those years, we just fell into this great songwriting partnership again immediately. It’s chemistry really.”

And the things that inspire her songwriting haven’t changed much either. “I’m still emotionally a 17-year-old, always looking for the right man, you know!”

But even though she professes to still be searching for Mr Right, the tumultuous relationships of her 20s and 30s are well laid to rest, including her 1976 divorce from bandmate, bassist John McVie, and now they feel more like a family than ever.

“When we’re flying between shows, I just often look around our little plane, and look at everybody, and everyone is chatting and laughing or sleeping or eating, and I just feel, this is really a family.

“For all our differences and history and unsettled times in the past, we’ve come out of it, on the other side, and we can celebrate that. Our diversity is still keeping us together somehow. Don’t ask me how, but it’s magic.”

Who: Christine McVie and Fleetwood Mac
What: On With The Show tour
Where and when: Performing at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on November 21 and 22.

Lydia Jenkin / New Zealand Herald / Saturday, 6th June 2015

Fleetwood Mac on 18th world tour

Still rock and roll but pills and joints now about arthritis

Mick Fleetwood snorted seven MILES of cocaine while Stevie Nicks has a hole bigger than a 5p piece in her septum – but those hellraising days are behind them.

Cleaning up: Stevie, Mick and Lindsey at O2 Arena last week

Multi-million dollars of cocaine ordered in bulk, 14 black limousines on tours where pink-painted dressing rooms had to have a white piano installed, and, of course, alcohol. Lots of it.

For years Fleetwood Mac rode a wave of drug-fuelled excess.

Drummer Mick Fleetwood last year revealed how he’d worked out that all the cocaine he’d snorted would make a line seven miles long.

And singer Stevie Nicks took so much she has a hole bigger than a 5p piece in her septum.

They once hired Hitler’s private railway car to travel across Europe, allegedly to avoid drug searches. It even came with the same elderly attendant who served the Fuhrer.

1975: Mick, Stevie, Lindsey, Chrissie and John

But as we meet it’s clear their days of hell-raising are well and truly over. They’ve swapped cocaine and champagne for, er, ice baths and physio.

Cornwall-born Mick says he has ice wraps in his dressing room to help combat arthritis.

“I’m like an old race horse – it’s not like I’m ancient ancient, but these things are sort of worn out a bit,” says Mick, rubbing his shoulders. He’s has wristbands for his tendonitis too.

“I’ve got a deep-freeze in my room in order to do what I’m doing… you take care of yourself.”

He’s 70 this month but insists: “I’m not letting up any – I’m playing harder than I ever played, apparently.”

Drummer: Mick is feeling his age

Fleetwood Mac descend on the Isle Of Wight Festival next week for 91st performance in current On With The Show tour.

It’s been an epic journey for Mick, Stevie, 67, bassist John McVie, 69, his ex-wife Chrissie, 71, who sings and plays keyboards, and singer-guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, 65. And not without its battle wounds.

“I have a bone spur in my toe from wearing my ballerina platform shoes on stage every night,” explains Arizona-born Stevie.

“And I had a fall in 2013 where I really hurt my left knee. Somehow a couple of weeks ago I reinjured it. I think I stepped down a little too hard on it on stage.

“I have to find new boots. Steel-toe capped boots that do not touch the toe. If anything is lying on that bone spur it’s going to make it bigger and I’m going to have surgery.

“And I am not having somebody cut my toe open. There’s just no way!”

In good Nicks: Stevie gives it her all despite “battle wounds”

Bandmate Chrissie, meanwhile, is getting used to being back on board. Born in Cumbria and once a solo singer called Christine Perfect, she quit in 1997, quoting exhaustion and fear of flying.

She sold her house in LA and spent 16 years living a reclusive life in a village near Canterbury.

Although she’s loves being back, she has her own medical issues.

As a blues player, she has to spread her fingers for keyboard octaves, which means she now needs a wrist cuff for her tendons and she clutches a squidgy bag in her right hand.

“You have to mobilise your fingers. I’ve had this since before Christmas,” she says of a lump on her hand.

“It takes a long time to heal. If I was 16 it would be better by now.”

She and Stevie go through half an hour of vocal training every night. Does she drink soothing stuff like honey tinctures?

“Spritzers,” she says with a wink. “Wine and soda water.”

Her ex John, meanwhile, was diagnosed with cancer in 2013 during rehearsals for their mammoth tour.

Mick says: “He’s 100% better. It’s super cool. It wasn’t allowed to be devastating ’cause John’s so strong.

“With me it would be more of a drama. With him it was like, ‘Let me get this put right. This is what I’ve got to do. Gonna do it. Done.’ ”

Was Londoner John’s illness why Chrissie decided to return?

“I’ve always loved John. And I always will. But that was not part of why I came back,” she says. “And I always knew he’d beat it.”

Things aren’t too awkward on stage for Chrissie and John. They married in 1969, split in 1976, and John has a daughter in her 20s with his second wife.

Playing with ex: John on stage in London

For Stevie and Lindsey it’s more complicated.

They were a couple when they joined the band in 1975, split just before 1977’s mega-selling Rumours, album, then Stevie had a secret affair with Mick.

So is having Chrissie back good for Stevie?

“Oh absolutely,” chuckles Mick. “She’s there on stage with two of her ex-boyfriends. One really more than a boyfriend. One really half of her life. So it’s all been a positive thing.”

The “half her life” man is Californian Lindsey. They have what you might call a love-hate relationship.

Asked whether things are now “chill”, Lindsey laughs: “Chill or chilly?” No, things are great.

“It’s odd to think on that on some strange level Stevie and I could still possibly be a work in progress. In a way it’s sort of touching, isn’t it?”

Stevie is less convinced. “He is who he is,” she says. He and I have our rifts. We don’t agree on anything. And that’s just the way it is.

“Has he changed and become this really graciously, charmingly loving guy all of sudden? No. He never will. He’s always gonna be Lindsey.”

Complex: Lindsey’s past with Stevie

But they’ve clearly found a way to make it work. An 18th world tour is an accomplishment only rivalled by the likes of the Rolling Stones.

Mick says: “Mick Jagger literally doing somersaults and running around the stage at 72 is truly astonishing. We’re much more consistent. We’re in good shape. And all the voices are really very, very intact. Which is not always the case.”

One unlikely friend of the band is One Direction’s Harry Styles, who gave Stevie a handmade birthday cake in London last week.

Mick says: “We’re penpals! I took my two 13-year-old daughters and their mates to see One Direction. And that point, the girls are going, ‘Dad, just don’t embarrass us! No dad-dancing!’

“But had the meet-and-greet thing… and what happened in front of my daughters was Dad became a superstar!

“They all wanted to meet me! My ante got upped! All their songwriting team wanted to meet me. That’s when I met Harry and he’s come to three of our shows. He writes to me from weird places.”

New generation: Harry and sister Gemma, right, at gig

Mick is hoping for a new Fleetwood Mac album because they have “a s***load of new songs”.

But Stevie says: “Honestly, I just don’t know about it. This tour has been so hard and so breathtakingly overwhelming.”

She adds: “I have to look great, I have to feel great, I have to sound great. And I cannot be thinking about future albums or poetry or songs right now.

“Now we have Europe to conquer. It’s really important that we are spectacular. And that’s all that I can worry about right now.”

With that we leave the band to their spritzers and deep freeze…

Halina Watts / The Mirror / Friday, 5th June 2015

We Want To Be Together

Of all their stories rifts and reconciliations, Christine McVie’s return to FLEETWOOD MAC 17 years after her bewildered exit, may be the most extraordinary. And as they stand on the brink of enormous UK shows and (whisper it) an album, it’s the prompt for all five members to open up to MOJO. Cut: good times, bad times, “carnage and intrigue”, plus a massive rubber dildo called Harold. “There’s a lot of love, you know,” they tell JIM IRVIN

It shouldn’t work, but it does: the drummer fractionally behind the beat and bass slightly ahead. For close to 50 years, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie have been locked in their distinctive groove, and upon it they have built and maintained the strange, enduring entity that bears their names.

It’s known dizzying triumphs and weathered catastrophe and decline, and for the last 17 years it has had to cope without singer, keyboard player and hit-writer Christine McVie, MIA since the end of the 1998 tour which celebrated the reunion of the multiplatinum Rumours quintet. At home in England, she effectively shut herself off from her former life. But slowly she realised that she missed it. In 2014, she rejoined the fold.

Better still, she’s writing again – collaborating last year with Lindsey Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood as ex-husband John McVie recovered from a bout with colon cancer. Meanwhile, the quorate Mac have been traversing the U.S. with their On With The Show tour, demand for tickets exceeding all expectations. What began as 42 American shows became 80. This month that production arrives in Europe for a run that includes that six nights at London’s O2 and headline slot at the Isle of Wight festival.

In 1975, shortly after the release of the self-titled set the current line-up refer to as ‘the white album’, the quintet undertook its debut tour and a show at the Capitol Centre in Maryland was filmed. You can see it online. For anyone expecting the slickness and stardust they’ve been associated with, it’s a surprise. The sound is shaky, the stagecraft unfocused. Christine sings songs from the albums they made with Bob Welch, Lindsey tackles Oh Well and Green Manalishi from the Peter Green years. It’s curious but intriguing, the focal point keeps shifting with the musical styles, but that dude with the afro can sure play guitar, and check out the chick with the maracas flitting around the stage like a dragonfly… you can feel the audience being drawn in and won over. Within months this tentative unit will have intrigued its way to superstardom.

Forty years later, they elect to talk individually to MOJO – five stories that make up one. From blues roots and the Peter Green line-up’s doomed majesty, via catastrophe, exile and rebirth in the melodic riches of Rumours and beyond, riffs healed but scars still livid. In order of recruitment: Mick, John, Christine, Stevie and Lindsey. Fleetwood Mac.

“We’d Look At The Carnage And Say, ‘Shit, What Did We Do?’”

From the blues to booze and back, protected by a guardian angel named ‘Fred”, the Mac’s manic beanpole recalls roots, shoots, Peter Green and more.

Mick Fleetwood has the kind of physique that requires one to be permanently on. When you’re a doorway-filling 6ft tins, it’s pretty hard to be shy and retiring, so he doesn’t hang back. He steps, ducking, into the room, shakes hands vigorously and is off. Words tumble out of him pellmell. His train of thought often derails itself, but minutes later will come back around to vividly make his point. His speaking voice is still slightly posh, his chat peppered with expletives and youthful constructions. On-stage, the deranged mantis with the dangly balls and huge wingspan, utterly at home behind his vast drum kit, becomes a convivial ringmaster for the circus troupe that bears his name. Off-stage, dressed today in a crisp white shirt and an embroidered turquoise satin waistcoat, with his long white hair and beard, he resembles an affable pirate captain: wise, well-travelled, twinkly. And yes, seeing as you asked, he is still haunted by the BRIT Awards of 1989. For this severe dyslexic, repeated autocue failure in front of his peers brought back awful memories of classroom humiliation. It was his worst possible nightmare. It’s hard to think of anyone who deserved it less.

How did your lifetime relationship with the blues first begin?

Peter Bardens, organ player, playing me Nina Simone, Mose Allison, that sort of stuff. I came from The Shadows and Eden Kane, Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, that’s the stuff I’d learnt to play drums to. I got hooked in Notting Hill by Peter, introduced to the first hashish joint and Ladbroke Grove, West Indian culture and music. Then R&B was integrated into our relationship with Peter Green, who joined the band with me and Bardens – The Peter B’s. We did all instrumentals, Willie Mitchell, Jimmy Smith. Funky shit. Then I joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers for a short while. That was the real blues boot camp, doing Lowell Fulson, B.B. King and the shuffle, all that stuff.

Why was that generation so hooked on the blues, do you think?

It’s not necessarily just the blues thing. That’s obviously part of it, but for those who were slightly older than me – I was born after the war, 1947 – there was a big statement: “I don’t know what I’m doing, but I know what I don’t fucking want.” They didn’t want the same, business as usual, “Your country needs you” shit. That music, especially R&B, represented “I’m not working at the fucking steel mill.” You didn’t have to study or join the army, or to do what your dad and granddad did. Boom. I think it really appealed as a ticket out.

One of the first singles I ever cherished was Man Of The World. That really spoke to me.

Well, it’s a sad song. Had we known what Peter was saying… What’s that line? “How I wish that I’d never been born.” You know, whoa. It’s pregnant with passion, it’s a prayer, it’s a crying out.

That run of singles, Black Magic Woman to Green Manalishi, that Peter oversaw, may be the most intense, incredible run of 45s made by any band ever.

Yeah, I’ll take that. Fucking-A.

It’s one of the big rock’n’roll What-ifs. If there’s been Peter Green-led albums after Then Play On, which is incredible…

I think it would have been really profound. I have no doubt what was missed. I think we would have had a place sort of like Led Zeppelin in America. The creativity was on a par with where they took themselves. That’s what I think would have happened. I think we would have had a really, really elastic musical trip. Experimenting with sounds and styles and orchestras.

It was clear from his songs that Peter was searching for something spiritually. If he hadn’t had the collision with acid, do you think his trajectory would have gone away from the band anyway?

Well, that’s the big pregnant question. To do what we’re talking about here is incredibly vulnerable, sensitive stuff, that he delivered in a very powerful way, you would never think that the deliverer could not take the world. Maybe Peter was ill anyway. I’ve heard that the type of illness he got, his schizophrenia, might have happened anyhow. I don’t believe that. Peter… he was so fine.

This was the age of old-school, showbiz management. Were you getting any kind of useful advice or was it all just, “Never mind son. Here’s your itinerary, get in the van and see you later.”

Oh yes. There wasn’t any advice. And we didn’t request any. It was all about work. There were care-taking Svengalis, Brian Epstein, the image-making. We never had that.

It was a thing with Peter and I to be independent, not to sell your soul to the company store. One of my parents signed the hire purchase agreement on the van, an old wreck, but it meant we were in control, no one in management or the label could take that from us. Clever.

One of the earliest pictures of me and Pete, just the two of us, before the band actually was formed, was at a jazz festival. I had my hippy hair, the my Nehru jacket on. There he is with the mutton chops, the Bluesbreaker, you know. The odd couple, totally. We were there bartering microphones off the support bands. Because he said, “We need our own shit, we don’t fucking owe anyone favours.”

What are your favourite records from the post-Peter, pre-Buckingham Nicks years?

I love Bare Trees. Mystery To Me is a great album. Kiln House immediately after Peter left is, in retrospect, charming but wholly adrift. Danny [Kirwan] and Jeremy [Spencer] weren’t frontmen, they were petrified. We did all that lovely ‘pot-smoking-Buddy Holly’ shit. Basically a private recording session for Jeremy, to live out his rock’n’roll fantasies. That’s truly adrift. But out of that, Christine joined and it started to build into a musical relationship that Chris and Bob Welch. We decided to go to America and never came back. But we always used to sell. Not in Europe, we were done, but when we went to America we would sell 100,000-200,000 albums. It enabled us to play colleges, to work, to pay the bills.

There have been plenty of junctures in the Fleetwood Mac story where you could have quite justifiably said, “Well, this band’s fucked.” But you never did. Are you the world’s most extraordinary optimist?

Lindsey would call it, “You and your damned rose coloured glasses.” To which I would say, “Actually, Linds, they haven’t done too badly, have they? I’m keeping them on!” I’ll take some of the kudos, no doubt. I’m happy that this is a happy ending.

Were any of the decisions that you made clouded by drink and drugs at the time?

None. I think it’s my nature. I really don’t think that part of me ever changed. Are you still doing something you love to do? Yes.

Well, John and I could quietly make a joke about it, look at the carnage or the intrigue and go, “Shit, what did we do?” Of course there was no such thing. John’s my partner and he’s a silent partner. He’ll turn up if there’s something to turn up to, but he doesn’t weasel around like I did.

Do you mean he doesn’t express an opinion about the decisions?

Oh no, that’s not true. He just won’t go and game-play.

Let’s talk about Christine, because it’s great to have her back again, isn’t it?

This would be true.

How important was she in showing a way forward after Peter had gone? What was her musical contribution at that point?

Oh huge. Huge immediately.

The pop sense she brought was very prescient. She was four years in the future, wasn’t she?

Yes, equally Peter had that ability in a heavier way. They were off to the races as songwriters. The blues, from whence they had come, was and is always part of the fabric of Christine. If she unloaded Oh Daddy on-stage, she might be singing back in a club with Freddie King. It’s all there.

In your last interview for MOJO you said, “Now Christine’s back, this band won’t mutate again without her.” So it’s this line-up or nothing?

One hundred per cent. This is it, to me. Emotionally, if you think of the enormity of what has happened, that surprise of what has happened, the doors that have opened to be walked through… If you were writing a book, you’d go, “Isn’t it a shame I can’t end it like this?” We’ve had the chance to end it like that and I wouldn’t dream of it any other way.

But here you are, one of only half a dozen acts, surely, who are still as popular, more so perhaps, than they were 50 years ago?

I do a meet and greet thing every show. Often lovely young people, totally knowledgeable about the band. I say to them it’s like performance art now. It goes into a whole different realm. Look what’s happening in the audience, al the stories – 30, 40, sometime more years – in those seats. You didn’t expect to be performing tonight, but you are. Yes, it’s all the sadness and ups and downs and things that have happened to this funny band that you’re looking at, but it’s also your story and that, multiplied by 15, 20,000 people every night, is hugely powerful. I’m an observer on stage and I witness so much lovely stuff it’s unbelievable. We’re grateful. We’re really fucking lucky. But also, we’ve worked hard. I remember way back at the start, setting up my drums, I was in some little band in Notting Hill Gate. We were all underage and playing in a pub. We had been asked to turn up! I walked in with my drum kit, and said, “Where do I set up?” In my mind I’m going, “There’s a stage, this is a thing!” The landlord didn’t even look up, “Oh over there.” “Well, where’s the stage?” “Over there, on the carpet.” “Oh.”

But once you get on the carpet, you’d better fucking do something. You learn that very quickly, whether you’re asked to turn up for ham sandwich and beer, two and six, or just the privilege of playing. You’d better have a work ethic.

This band’s had a work ethic even in the craziest of times. I call him Fred. When I was a fucking nutcase, Fred would go, “Mick, you’d better go to sleep now,”and I’d go, “What the fuck do I want to go and sleep for? I’m 20 grams in and I’m for 10 days, I could give a shit.” Fred would say, “Because you’ve got eight more shows to do and you’re going to make a fool of yourself.”

What you’ve learnt then is, you can be the greatest player on earth, but if you don’t fucking turn up and unload the equipment with the boys, if you blow the gig, you’re not the guy for the band. It doesn’t matter when you’re in your living-room with your mates, listening to records and shaking a tambourine, but it matters as soon as the landlord says, “Get over on the carpet.”

Mac Nuggets #1

The Blues Years (’67-70) panned for gold by Mark Blake.

1. My Heart Beat Like a Hammer

From its opening burst of cockernee chit-chat there’s something fabulously grimy and English about the first song on the first Mac album. Jeremy Spencer plays the ancient bluesman, while his bandmates build the chugging riff on which a career was founded.
On: Fleetwood Mac (1968)

2. Looking for Somebody

At times it was as much about what Peter Green didn’t play as what he played. Rarely more so than on this lean slow blues, where Mick Fleetwood’s metronomic drums fill the big gaps between the bandleader’s voice and wheezing harmonica.
On: Fleetwood Mac (1968)

3. Need Your Love So Bad

Fleetwood Mac’s single version of this ‘50s blues staple followed B.B. King’s 1967 arrangement. The lush strings do little the dilute the yearning power of Green’s guitar or his voice. Allegedly an unconfident vocalist, there’s no sign of reticence here.
On: The Pious Bird of Good Omen (1969)

4. Black Magic Woman

Later a big hit for Santana, the Mac’s original helped these former blues snobs crack the UK Top 30. Testament to Green’s underrated pop skills, Mick Fleetwood described it like so: “Three minutes of sustain/reverb guitar with two exquisite solos.”
On: The Pious Bird of Good Omen (1969)

5. Albatross

New kid Danny Kirwan couldn’t have hoped for a better introduction than playing on this Number 1 hit. A blissed-out reveries that belied bubbling intra-band tension, it was a showcase for Kirwan and Green’s intuitive guitar meld. Simply beautiful.
On: The Pious Bird of Good Omen (1969)

6. Man of the World

The opening “Shall I tell you about my life” hints at Green’s troubled mind. By the time he declares “I just wish that I’d never been born”, you’re left in no doubt. The loneliness of fame underlines by Green’s reflective solo.
On: Greatest Hits (1971)

7. Oh Well (Parts 1 & 2)

The spiralling riff is the bedrock of the song – split in half across the A- and B-side of the original 45 – that exudes jazz, classical and flamenco influences. Part fledgling heavy metal, part soundtrack to an unwritten spaghetti western; all brilliant.
On: Greatest Hits (1971)

8. Coming Your Way

The third Mac album saw the band burst into glorious Technicolor. This Danny Kirwan-sung composition barrels along a questing guitar riff with Fleetwood and John McVie swinging wildly behind. Also marvel at the heavy-grooving instroversh on the Live in Boston CD.
On: Then Play On (1969)

9. The Green Manalishi (With The Two Prong Crown)

Sabre-ratting, proto-heavy rock and a Top 10 single in 1970. The ‘green manalishi’ was Green’s dismissive nickname for money. At the time, the guitarist was urging his bandmates to give away theirs to help save the starving in Africa.
On: Greatest Hits (1971)

10. Tell Me All The Things You Do

Recorded after Green’s exit for the Jeremy Spencer-dominated fourth album, Kiln House. But this great cheery Kirwan track shone through, its brisk guitar groover embellished by uncredited new recruit Christine McVie’s piano.
On: Kiln House (1970)

“It Was Instantaneous, A Great Union, Great Chemistry”

“Brilliant” Jeremy and Harold The Dildo to a brush with death and unlikely rapport with the ex-wife: a rare tête-à-tête with the “silent partner”.

John McVie hasn’t granted an interview in 10 years. Any particular reason? “I’m no good at them. There’s a brain to mouth disconnect. The others can talk, I don’t have to.” But he’s being modest. He’s a good talker. MOJO is invited to his daughter’s house in Hollywood, where he stays while on tour in the US and where he recovered following his cancer treatment last year. His usual home is in Honolulu. It’s 10am and he’s sitting out front, smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee. That’s about it for vices these days. Since his illness, he has sworn off alcohol. He hasn’t consumed any other drugs for years. He is tanned and slim, though clearly a vintage-model rock star.

How did music first grab you?

The first turn-on was at my cousin’s house in Hounslow. We walked in the door and he was playing [Buddy Holly’s] Rave On. What the hell is that?! He kept on playing it and playing it, and I was hooked from that moment.

You grew up in Ealing. Was there any kind of “scene” there then?

There was only one club, really, the Ealing Jazz Club on Ealing Broadway, opposite the tube. Cyril Davies, Alexis Corner and Chris Barber had all played there. And the Stones, at one point. I think our group, the Krewsaders, played there once. God knows how or why – we were just a little instrumental band playing Shadows and Ventures stuff.

Who were you hanging out with? Any other musicians in the crowd?

I didn’t hang out with a pro musician until we moved to West Ealing and lived opposite the bass player with Cyril Davies, Cliff Barton. I was 16, coming to the end of grammar school and there was nothing happening there so we used to skive off and go up to his place and listen to his blues albums and go, “What the fuck is this?!” That was the first intro to the blues, about 1961. Eventually, he was the one who got me into John Mayall. John asked him if he’d leave Cyril and join the Bluesbreakers and he said, “No, but there’s this guy across the street, give him a chance.”

The same day I joined John I started work at the tax office in Brentford. But I was useless at maths, and that’s all it was. I guess some people got some really screwed up tax returns! They also sent me out front to answer these questions. There were a couple of breweries in the area and some of the customers used to come in pretty wasted, an irate drunken taxpayer meets this know-nothing kid… Someone jumped over the counter at me once.

What were your expectations when you joined Mayall?

It was just in the moment. “This is great!” There was no thought of the future. “Got some gigs!” “Wow, OK.”

How did Peter Green get involved with the Bluesbreakers?

I think he came up to John after a gig and said, “I’m as good as him,” meaning he could play as good as Eric [Clapton]. And he did.

Was that uncharacteristic bravado for Peter?

Oh, I think he was very sure of what he was doing, very focused. He basically took over Eric’s spot. John was calling the shots musically, but he gave Peter the solos and he’d take off.

Peter started, and christened, Fleetwood Mac, but you weren’t actually in at first.

When he left Mayall he asked me to join him and I said, “No, I’m quite happy where I am,” but he kept bugging me for about four or five weeks and Mick too, “Come on you’ve got to join.” After about six weeks we had a gig in Norwich and during a break I went across the street to meet them and said, “OK I’m in.” ‘Cos they were mates as well.

Anything else swaying your decision?

It was a good gig with John, but then he started bringing horns in. I thought it was getting too jazzy. Which it really wasn’t. I just equated horns with jazz and I wanted it to be Chicago blues.

You were a bit of a purist at that point?

Yeah, stupidly so. Very blinkered. But I’m glad I was, or we wouldn’t be sitting here now!

How quickly did you know that you’d made the right decision to join the Mac?

It was instantaneous. It was a great union, great chemistry, especially with Jeremy, he was fucking brilliant. Then Danny joined.

Strange chemistry in a way, though, with the comic element of Jeremy’s contributions…

Jeremy brought a different energy to it. He did a lot of different stuff. Tiger by Fabian. Elvis, Viva Las Vegas, he even had the gold lamé suit. He had it down. He was a great mimic. I think people liked it. They liked it better than having the road manager come out with a silver platter with a huge rubber dildo on it, called Harold. Like we did at the Marquee. We never got busted for bringing on Harold. It’s amazing. It was pretty obvious what it was.

Mick attached him to the kick drum, I understand.

Yeah, he used t have him wobbling around.

What was it like when Peter came in and said, “I’ve got this song,” and it’s Albatross or Oh Well? How would you react?

“What the fuck is this?” Usually. And then listen to it and listen to it. Jeremy and Peter had their own little Revoxes at home and could work up great demos. They’d bring those tapes in, so there wasn’t that much interaction. “This is how it goes.” OK, I’ll play this.

Has any other band changed as spectacularly as the Mac?

Not that I know of! (chuckles)

Peter’s departure was devastating but how was it when Jeremy and Danny dropped out, also in strange circumstances?

We’d got used to the traumas by then: “Oh shit, here we go again.” Jeremy was the most traumatic because of the manner of his departure. [While on tour in the US, Spencer disappeared into religious cult The Children of God.] It happened here in Hollywood. That was awful. We didn’t know what had happened to him. Looking back, it was clear he’d become more and more interested in religion and biblical stuff. So we shouldn’t have been surprised, but just the fact that he disappeared like that, anything could have happened to him. (He makes throat slitting motion)

Peter’s spiritual search was the subject of a lot of his songs. Were they influencing each other?

I don’t think so. They were on two different paths. Jeremy was more traditional and Peter was more esoteric. If you like: “What is the meaning?” and the inner self.

Other bands might have thrown in the towel. Why did you never give up?

It’s what we did. It’s a gig. Mick had a lot to do with it too. “No, we’ll soldier on, keep it going.” And he still is like that.

What was your influence in the making of those decisions?

Oh, I’m happy to go with the flow.

What was your feeling when he suggested Lindsey and Stevie?

Oh, it was magic. We met them socially and then did a first rehearsal just down the street from here on Beverly, in a basement. And when we heard Stevie, Lindsey and Chris singing a cappella, it was like, “Oh shit, this is great.”

How has the relationship with Mick altered over the years, if at all?

Same, same. He’s my best mate.

Do you see your role as a vital component that can’t be removed?

No, not at all. It’s just the rhythm section. I’m quite easily replaced.

After 50 years…

(Laughs) Well, yeah, I don’t think it’s gonna happen but it’s harder to replace the front line. We won’t do that again.

Fleetwood Mac has always had a particular kind of tension that other bands haven’t had to endure.

You can say that again.

Was all the craziness good for the creative energy? Were the Mac like moths to a flame, you needed the drama to be creative?

It wasn’t conscious. The main thing was to keep playing the music. It wasn’t as if we were saying, “Let’s have an argument and something edgy will come out of it.” It was never like that, far from it.

What do you think left with Christine in 1998?

Obviously we couldn’t do her songs and there was a void there, and more of a burden on Stevie and Lindsey for the writing. Now she and Lindsey have been doing new material. I wasn’t there. I was just getting out of hospital. But it’s good stuff.

Given all that was going on during the making, Rumours is a very upbeat, positive record.

Apparently there’s a song on there that Chris wrote about me. I never put that together, I’ve been playing it for years and it wasn’t until someone told me, “Chris wrote that about you.” Oh really?

That was Don’t Stop.

Yeah, I never twigged that at all. Should have been Go Your Own Way. Quickly!

How is it having Chris back in the Fleetwood Mac fold?

It’s a breath of fresh air. It’s fun. I get to talk to her on the plane. She’s a funny lady.

How do you assess your life in the band? Do you feel lucky?

Absolutely. To the max. Luck has been such a big part of my life. Luck: one phone call from Cliff Barton to John Mayall. Lucky that I caught the cancer so quickly. I’m a lucky guy. (He leans over and touches the wooden leg of a stool.)

Has seeing off cancer changed your attitude to the career?

Very much so. I got my priorities rearranged, definitely. These two people come first (he gestures to where his wife and daughter are, elsewhere in the house), this is much more important to me now.

How much longer do you think Mac can go on as a working band?

Not much longer, for me anyway. It’s not the music – it’s the peripherals, the travelling. Mick will go on until they put him against the wall and shoot him.

I do flash on it, what must I fucking look like, this old fart up there. But I look out and there’s kids, and kids on their shoulders now, and they all seem to be having a good time.

It’s sort of worrying… Jesus Christ, will there still be a demand when I’m 75?!

“Originally, Peter Was The Guy I Fancied”

Jekyll & Hyde John, “disgusting” fame and gilded exile: the prodigal Songbird rejoins the flock… “Look, I’m getting goosebumps!”

Christine McVie has silver hair and golden skin. She radiates light. She looks happy. She’s sitting in a room a a Santa Monica beachfront hotel, where the windows are full of the ocean. In moments of reveries, particularly when discussing her years away from the band, she apologises for gazing at the beach while answering questions. Her speaking voice is surprisingly similar to her singing voice, that long, flutey tone with an innate calmness to it. She is wearing dark, relaxed clothes with a few blingy accents, and a splint on her right hand, the result of a deplaning incident. She does little hand exercises while we speak, in readiness for the band’s fifth LA Forum show tomorrow night. Last year, I saw her accept her a lifetime achievement gong at the Ivor Novello Awards. The room full of peers went nuts, a sign that her music is held in great affection and that she occupies a unique place in British rock, the grand dame, representing her sex for longer and with more success than practically anyone else; yet she has always maintained a modest presence in the public eye, a quiet but vital ingredient in Fleetwood Mac since 1971. “Every meal needs a little bit of salt,” she says.

What were your ambitions before music came along?

I went to art college and studied sculpture. And I ended up doing window dressing. My parents wanted me to be an art teacher, but I knew I couldn’t handle a room full of kids.

What kind of sculpture were you doing?

I did little figures that sat on things, on shelves and corners. I’d do them in clay and cast them in bronze. Hey, I could do all the band members, get them cast. Merchandising! What a great idea!

What attracted you to the blues?

It was the emotion, the letting-go, a releasing of passions undisturbed for so long. When you heard all those guys back then, you were moved. It was raw, dark and dirty and sexy. I wasn’t a very good blues player. But Chicken Shack’s bass player, Andy Silvester, had a wall full of records and he lent me Freddie King’s albums and said, “Listen to his piano player Sonny Thompson.” I copied a few licks from him and went from there. That’s how I developed my style.

What did Fleetwood Mac mean to you before you joined?

We used to open for them when I was in Chicken Shack. We did the pub and club circuit together. Originally, I was really attracted to Peter, he was the guy I fancied, and then i met John and that was it. John and those haunting eyes. We fell in love, got married and I was just a stay-at-home bride. I didn’t have any aspirations to do anything else. Then they went to Germany and Peter had his brain turned upside down and left the band pretty soon afterwards. They were practising in Kiln House. Making that record that I drew the cover for, and I was just listening, hearing it going on, and Mick had one of his revelations: “Why don’t you join Fleetwood Mac?” And within 10 days I was on stage in New Orleans.

There weren’t many women in bands then. I was always the only girl. I didn’t think about it, or the future. You just go for it.

You had a ringside seat for the departure of Peter – what was its effect upon the band?

It was cataclysmic. So sudden. Then he gave his money away, changed his name back to Peter Greenbaum, became almost a hermit. It was awful. When I think of Then Play On, Oh Well, Green Manalishi, those fantastic creations… Look, I’m getting goosebumps. Peter was obsessed with Vaughan Williams, very influenced by him, that’s where Albatross stems from, I believe.

Tell me about making those albums after Peter left. You started to write.

We bought this big house in Hampshire called Benifolds. Mick, John and Jeremy and the families all lived in this strange house that used to be a vicarage. Downstairs were two huge empty rooms, one had a grand piano in it and I used to tinker with it and Mick would come down and say (whispers) “You ought to try and write songs, you should write.” I was gently nudged in the back. I started to try, because Mick was so encouraging. He’d go, “Wow that’s great! Let’s record it!” And suddenly we had drums on this thing that I thought was useless and it was sounding really good. That spurred me on because I believed whatever I wrote, Mick would turn it into something.

Bob Welch kicked me off into another great direction on the Mystery To Me album. We began doing really close three-part harmonies and I started to understand commercial music. I loved Bob’s music and his whole vibe. So sad about what happened to him. [Welch left in 1974 and committed suicide in 2012]

There have been so many disasters. Were you keeping your head while all about you were losing theirs?

No, I lost mine a few times. They would always call me the level-headed one, the Mother Earth, but I was crazy like them.

Was that required?

There’s a loss of inhibition when you’ve had a ‘couple of pints’. You go back home and go, “Argh,I’ll write something.” I’m not advocating this, but sometimes good stuff comes out of doing bad stuff. Sometimes a cup of tea doesn’t quite cut it while you’re writing a song.

You haven’t collaborated much as writers in the band, have you?

We have on these last songs we’ve done. Lindsey and I have written six songs together and they’re magical. We had a great time in the studio, him, Mick and myself. Very creative.

Why did you leave in 1998?

I’d been on the road for 30 years. I was tired of living out of a suitcase. I wanted my roots. My dad had just died, and I wanted to be close to my brother who lived in Canterbury. So I bought a house there and decided to move back to England. I’d also developed a fear of flying. So I sold my house in Beverly Hills, got on a big Jumbo, that was the last flight I took for 16 years. I’ve always had an umbilical cord with Mick, and we stayed in touch. But, on reflection, I realise that when I cut something off, it’s off. If I want to go, I don’t look back. No flexibility.

For the first five years I was restoring my house, that took a long time, to make everything perfect, the gardens and the decorating. I enjoyed all of that. And then I went into a spiral of isolation and decline, drank too much. I went to seek psychiatric help because of increasing depression, and never going anywhere except hanging around my 50-acre estate.

You didn’t live with anyone?

Four gardeners and two housekeepers and I got a couple of dogs that I adore and was completely protective of. But I was trapped. So I went to see this guy, who’s become a dear friend, and he said, “If you could get on a plane, where would you go?” I said I’d got Maui to see Mick. So he said, “Book a ticket, first class, for six months’ time and let’s get you there.” I called Mick and he was all excited and it turned out he was coming to England to do promotion, so I ended up flying back to Maui with him, and I was fine. Completely at ease with flying. I played a few songs in this little blues band he has on Maui and that’s when I started thinking, I like this, it feels good.

And you’d not missed it before then?

I never listened to a Fleetwood Mac record the whole 16 years. If something came on the radio I’d turn it off. Not that I didn’t love the music, I just denied myself the pride of having done something that great. I felt I didn’t deserve it or something. This is like talking to my psychiatrist!

But you’ve written these incredible, successful songs. You’ve very rare.

I got an Ivor Novello award last year!

I was there. You got a fantastic reception from the crowd.

Undeniably. That’s partially why I feel, “You know what, I am good at what I do.” It’s all to do with insecurity.

But you had presidents using your work as a theme tune!

I know. All of a sudden, I didn’t think I had what it took, so I had to retreat.

You also said the rock lifestyle had become wearisome.

Yes, I was looking at it all and I thought how disgusting and decadent is this? I really want to get away from all this. For years I’d just go to the pub and have fish and chips, not to the fancy restaurant in a limousine. I’d lead anything but the rich life, even though I had this big house.

Talking of decadence, didn’t you and Stevie used to get your hotel rooms redecorated before you checked in?

Not me, Stevie. We used to get grand pianos craned into our bedrooms. But I didn’t redesign my colour scheme. Stevie did for a while.

Did Rumours’ success feel like a vindication for all the hard work or was it disorientating?

It was so disorientating. With the loss of a marriage. Mick was going through terrible times with Jenny. Stevie and Lindsey were more abrasive than they are now. That’s still pretty abrasive. It’s like putting a wet hand into a socket whenever they meet. They do get on at all. That’s the bottom line.

They’d still collaborate on music together.

(Sharply) No they don’t! When?

In that period.

Oh then, yes. But he would take her songs home and work on them

John said to me this morning that he didn’t realise Don’t Stop was written for him.

I told him all along it was written about him, countless times, completely, totally, singly about him.

Was the fact that he hadn’t taken in that piece of information due to his drinking, do you think?

John’s been through a battle most of his life with drinking. When he got colon cancer that was an awakening for him. He stopped drinking. He’s such a stoic. He’s both proud and humble, I don’t know what the word is for that. He just goes, “Well, I’ve got this shit. I better go and fix it,” and that’s what he did. And amen, everybody wants to sit next to John on the plane, including me, so we can chat to him.

Why did your marriage fail, exactly?

Drink. He was raging drunk all the time. Jekyll & Hyde. He nearly stabbed me in the neck with a turkey knife once, in New York. I went down to Mick’s flat to sleep on the couch. He was a nasty, evil drunk, unrecognisable, and he knows it. He won’t mind me saying that, because he’s just not like that any more.

Which of your songs means the most to you?

Songbird. Stevie and I were in a condominium block and the boys were all in the Sausalito Record Plant house raving with girls and booze and everything. I had a little transistorised electric piano next to my bed and I woke up one night at about 3.30am and started playing it, I had it all, words, melody, chords in about 30 minutes. It was like a gift from the angels, but I had no way to record it. I thought, I’m never gonna remember this. So I went back to bed, and couldn’t sleep. I wrote the words down quickly.

Next day, I went into the studio shaking like a lead ‘cos I knew it was something special. I said, “Ken, [Caillat, Rumours co-producers/engineer] put the 2-track on, I want to record this song!” I think there were all in there, smoking opium.

As you do, first thing in the morning!

Well, it was teatime! First thing in the afternoon. And they were all transfixed after a few bars. I could see them [pulls jaw-dropped face]. And I was so relieved we got it on tape. It’s an anthem to humanity. Sometimes I feel like singing it, sometimes I don’t, but once you get in front of the audience and you see the people you wrote it for, that you want to sing it to, that gives you the energy.

How long can you keep doing this for?

As long as it takes! We’re going good.

Mac Nuggets #2

The ‘Bob Years’ (’71-74), cherry-picked by Mark Blake.

1. Woman of 1000 Years

Recorded while the Mac were living communally in a Hampshire mansion, smoking themselves silly. Danny Kirwan’s lost-boy voice suited this saucer-eyed, post-psychedelic evocation of ancient womanhood who “may be seen up in the sky, and from the land… or floating by, a fisherman’s day.”
On: Future Games (1971)

2. Future Games

American guitarist and singer-songwriter Bob Welch was the first to break Fleetwood Mac’s Brit hegemony, and steer them away from 12-bar-blues. This eight minute song (included briefly in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous) touches on jazz and even prog rock, with the new boy’s fragile vocals shimmering in the mix.
On: Future Games (1971)

3. Sands of Time

An almost-but-not-quite US hit from the band’s commercially tough post-Peter Green years. Kirwan’s lyric finds him communing with the elements, over a twin-guitar figure embellished by Fleetwood’s percussive flourishes.
On: Future Games (1971)

4. The Ghost

The essence of Welch-era Mac fuses blokey blues-rock guitar with a wonderfully melodic chorus. Still has cusp-of-the-‘70s reefer madness (“Just a blue star hanging out in space / Earth Town is a lovely place”), but you can hear the blueprint of the band’s future sound in its lazy grooves.
On: Bare Trees (1972)

5. Danny’s Chant

Composer Danny Kirwan’s wah-wah guitar and a pounding Fleetwood drum figure drives this space-blues, a vehicle for its creator’s wordless phonetic chanting. Think a cross between Albatross and John Kongos’ He’s Gonna Step On You Again.
On: Bare Trees (1972)

6. Sentimental Lady

Bob Welch re-recorded this track to help start his solo career in 1977. A straight-ahead love song dedicated to Welch’s then wife, its sun-kissed Hollywood chorus is augmented by Christine McVie’s measured, very English backing vocal.
On: Bare Trees (1972)

7. Hypnotized

Welch’s fascination with UFOs, Native American mythology and unexplained phenomena helped fuel his songwriting. This spooked-sounding blues was inspired by a dream in which he saw a flying saucer land in the Mac’s communal back garden.
On: Mystery To Me (1973)

8. Emerald Eyes

The opening track on Mac’s modest hit LP Mystery to Me was a dreamy tribute to an ocularly gifted woman with “a hear that beats close to me.” What makes it is Fleetwood Mac/McVie’s trampolining rhythm, booming and bouncing over the whole song.
On: Mystery To Me (1973)

9. Why

Christine McVie said she never felt confident about her songwriting until Buckingham and Nicks joined. This string-adored ballad suggests she’d nothing to worry about. See also Buckingham/Nicks-assisted live versions from ’75 and ’76 on YouTube.
On: Mystery to Me (1973)

10. Bermuda Triangle

On Welch’s final Mac album, their soon-to-be ex-songwriter theorises about “hole down in the ocean… or a fog that won’t let go” over Fleetwood’s skin-tight drumming and sleepy guitar figures. Stoner West Coast pop par excellence.
On: Heroes Are Hard To Find (1974)

“I Didn’t Leave Fleetwood Mac. My Brain Left Me.”

Borne from her cave by the “mystical” Mac; later, “dwindled” by tranks… the Gold Dust Woman mulls her group’s “romantic spell”: “It will never stop.”

Stevie Nicks lives in the sky. Her condominium overlooking Santa Monica beach appears to be cut into a cliff. Views of the ocean surround her. She calls it her “piece of heaven”. Light must flood the place during the day, but it’s 8pm when I arrive and apartment’s lighting is set to a crepuscular golden glow as if illuminated only by trapped fireflies. Stevie’s sprightly 17-year-old, Chinese crested yorkie provides a vocal welcome. Her assistant Karen introduces us. Stevie is small and trim, with smiling eyes, and dressed entirely in layers of black, as one would expect. Her long ash-blonde hair seems to envelop her when she sits down, and she looks at you through tinted glasses. Her speaking voice is husky and instantly recognisable/

When she sees I’m recording on my phone and iPad she launches into a lengthy diatribe about how she mistrusts all computers ever since former swain Joe Walsh took her to his computer-lined den, “all very boxy and ‘Jetsony’ looking”, way back in 1983, and showed her the future of electronic music. Asking her to play a melody on a keyboard, he demonstrated how it could be orchestrated with the touch of a button. “I looked at him and said, So we’ve all just been replaced by whatever this is?”

What did Fleetwood Mac mean to you before you joined?

I was aware that there was an English band with a girl in it that was blues orientated. I don’t know that I’d ever heard anything, so when we got the call on New Year’s Eve 1974, I was straight to Tower Records with every penny Lindsey and I had, and bought every one of their records in there and listened to them all, then made Lindsey listen to as much as I could get him to.

My statement to him was, “You with your guitar played can fit in very, very well.” But I also saw that they had a mystical side. “I think that we can add to and enhance this band. Also, Lindsey, we are fucking broke. I am tired of being a waitress and a cleaning lady. It’s not like you have to quit your job because you don’t have a job. I have three, so I’m calling this one. We’re joining Fleetwood Mac. Pack your bag. We’ll do it for six months and if it doesn’t work out, we’ll quit.” He was like, “OK, OK.”

When you did the Fleetwood Mac album, had you played any gigs beforehand?

We went straight into recording.

So the rest of the band didn’t really know what you did on-stage.

No idea.

That must have been a revelation for them.

Well, the crazy thing is that the band that Lindsey and I were in in San Francisco, Fritz, was the Fleetwood Mac set-up, if you looked at it from the audience. I was there, there was a pianist here, there was a drummer and a lead guitar player. Lindsey was the bass player.

You knew how to work that format then.

Yes, we did. We’d opened for Hendrix, 75,000 people. We opened for Santana at the Monterey Carmel Pop Festival, right before Woodstock. We opened for Janis Joplin many times. We played the Fillmore, Winterland, the Avalon Ballroom.

So you weren’t inexperienced.

No, we weren’t. We did that for three solid years [1967-70]. We practiced four days a week and played two days. That was all muscle memory when we went into Fleetwood Mac. When we walked on stage, the only thing they’d ever seen us do is be in a recording studio or very small rehearsal hall for that month and a half. They really had no idea who we were going to be on-stage.

To me it was like coming out of the cave, because Lindsey and I really had been in a cave for four years. This was just like coming out into the light. It was just brilliant, beautiful and really fun, not to mention for the first four weeks we got paid $200 apiece. Then for the second four weeks we got paid $800 a week, each. It was like we were fucking rich. It was amazing. Eight $100 bills and we just signed out initials!

When it took off, it happened really quickly, didn’t it?

Really big and really fast, overwhelmingly so. It was shocking.

I was amused to read in Mick Fleetwood’s recent memoir, about you asking for hotel rooms to be painted pink in advance of your arrival. Is that true?

Such a lie. No, the only thing that was over the top – first couple of years, when Lindsey and I were still going together and Chris and John were still together – each member of each couple had their own room, usually adjoining. Then, as of the Rumours tour, if there was a presidential suite the girls got it. Or two presidentials, we got them, me and Chris. That was the way of the world. For women, it’s harder. You have makeup, hair, nails, all this shit you have to do.

I think the boys bitched about that, but in the long run it was like: Happy wife, happy life. Happy girls, happy world. Happy Chris and Stevie, life is easy. I just made that up!

Was achieving your dreams fulfilling or frightening?

It was pretty fantastic. Having Chris to share it with was pretty great. We became good friends really fast, we were each other’s confidante with everything that was going on with Lindsey and with John. Thank goodness we had each other.

How important was that tension in making Fleetwood Mac what it became?

Well, I think every band should have a girl in it, because it’s always going to make for cooler stuff going on than if it’s just a bunch of guys. It’s ultimately more romantic, no matter what. Even if nobody is going together, it still casts a romantic spell.

With Abba it was very important that they were two couples and their stories were coming through the songs. How true was that for Fleetwood Mac?

It was totally important and everybody is still writing about everybody else. It will never stop. Once you have that, even long after the couples are broken up, you still have that – when you sit down to write a couple of songs, that news from 100 years ago still creeps in.

Listening to Rumours again, I was struck by how effortless it sounds considering it was so hard won. It sounds really spontaneous and optimistic.

I think so. We were actually very grown up about what we took into the studio and what we left out in the lounge. I think that even if we had a bad night the night before, a bad argument where we were staying, or in the car, when we walked through the doors of the actual studio, we tried very hard to leave it outside. If we had an argument about something that was musical, it was always civil and we worked through it.

What did you make of Fleetwood Mac’s struggles in the ‘90s, when you weren’t involved in the band?

Really we can’t blame that on problems with Fleetwood Mac or problems with me… The problem was I was taking Klonopin, that was like a horse tranquiliser. I just stayed in my house and ordered out from Jerry’s Deli and watched TV and drew.

How did you begin taking it?

A month after I came out of Betty Ford [to get off cocaine], everybody was on me all the time, “What if you start doing coke again?” I’m like, “I’m not going to start doing coke again, so why don’t you all just back off?” Finally, one day, after the 50,000th call of somebody saying, “We’re worried that you’re going to slip,” I said, “So what do you want me to do?” They said “Well, what about you see a psychiatrist? Just talk to somebody about it.” To myself I’m like, “None of you even went to rehab, but OK.”

I went in to see this psychiatrist, who was the guy of the moment. He kept saying to me, “I think I have a drug that would be really good for you because you have trouble sleeping, you’re nervous it might [help make sure] that you don’t return to the coke. It’s Klonopin.” It was the darling of the drugs at that point. Finally I said, “OK, give it to me.”

I think that this man is the one man in the entire world who I can honestly say I hate. He put me on this stupid pill that yes, indeed, calmed me down, but all my crazy Stevie Nicksness just dwindled and fell away. I just stopped doing everything. Klonopin was a disaster.

What were the benefits for you? Why did you keep taking it?

There was no benefit, but you see it kicked in slowly. I just wasn’t good for anyone. I just stayed home. Then finally I woke up on December 12 or 1993 and said, “I’m really sick. I think I’m going to be dead in a week.”

I called up my best friend Glenn and said, “You need to come and get me and take me to a hospital.”

I went in for 47 days. It was hard. I almost died. I didn’t leave Fleetwood Mac. My brain left me. I left everybody. And it was because of the Klonopin. The second that was out of my body I was back.

And now the classic five are back together. Chris seems delighted by it all.

She is. As she says on-stage, “Most people don’t get to do something like this twice in their lives.” She has been gone for 16 years. I missed her so much. She’s such a great person, so funny, so much fun. She was here last night, I had to kick her out!

We have such a bond that I probably only had with my friend Robin who died of leukaemia. She is that dear to me. We’re probably the oldest really great old band that’s still out there doing almost a three hour set. It’s very physical and very strong. I think that we are a better band on-stage now than we were 25 years ago. I do.


Maybe just because we’ve been playing together for so long. We never really stopped playing together. Even in those breaks, in our heads, nobody ever felt like we had stopped. Nobody ever felt that Fleetwood Mac broke up.

Mac Nuggets #3

From Fleetwood Mac to Tusk (1975-1979), selected by Mark Blake

1. Rhiannon

Based on Triad, novelist Mary Leader’s 1973 tale of witchcraft and possession, Rhiannon helped Stevie Nicks stamp her personality on Mac. So much so that her wild on-stage interpretation of the titular sorceress was later compared by Mick Fleetwood to “an exorcism”
On: Fleetwood Mac (1975)

2. Say You Love Me

Christine McVie’s seesawing love song was the first ‘White Album’ single to crack the UK. It’s “falling, falling, falling…” refrain as her soft lead vocal is counterpointed by Buckingham’s flintier voice is the essence of ‘70s Mac distilled into a few seconds.
On: Fleetwood Mac (1975)

3. World Turning

A rare entry from the Mac’s most unsung songwriting duo: Lindsey and Christine. The circling melody and lyric – “Everybody’s trying to say I’m wrong… Maybe I’m wrong” – seems to reflect Buckingham’s new whirlwind pace of life and, you suspect, his growing unease.
On: Fleetwood Mac (1975)

4. Dreams

Stevie Nicks’ gentle exploration of a broken romance was her riposte to Buckingham’s harder-nosed Go Your Own Way. Composed on a Fender Rhodes in what had once been Sly Stone’s clandestine drug boudoir at Sausalito’s Record Plant Studios, it remains one of her signature songs.
On: Rumours (1977)

5. Go Your Own Way

The single that kicked off Rumours’ global conquest it a surprisingly nonlinear pop song. Buckingham’s mean lyric and guitar riff are direct enough, but makes it is Fleetwood’s offbeat, octopus-armed drumming. It’s all over the shop – and in a good way.
On: Rumours (1977)

6. Don’t Stop

Essentially Christine’s ‘cheer up’ message to a recently-dumped John McVie. “It’ll be better than before, yesterday’s gone…” she trills over an absurdly bouncy pop rhythm, provided, possibly through gritted teeth, by her bass-playing soon-to-be ex-husband.
On: Rumours (1977)

7. The Chain

A Fleetwood Mac song about being Fleetwood Mac, with all its residual emotional traumas, the band’s most self-referential song simmers with a similar musical tension. Over-exposure still hasn’t dulled the excitement of hearing that thudding bass call-to-arms and Buckingham’s manic closing solo.
On: Rumours (1977)

8. Sara

The greatest of all Nicks’ great songs about womanhood was, she revealed in 2014, inspired by she had after getting pregnant by Eagle Don Henley. It’s also the sort of haunted semi-ballad that now sounds like a trial run for her soon-to-commence solo career.
On: Tusk (1979)

9. Brown Eyes

A fine Christine McVie composition, hidden away on side three of Tusk and all but forgotten. The song’s “sha-la-la” refrain cuts through a sparse, almost ambient blues backing like a light glimpsed at the end of a tunnel.
On: Tusk (1979)

10. Tusk

The title track to Mac’s commercial albatross single-handedly refutes any accusation that they were a solely middle-of-the-road musical venture. Its wonky fusion of tribal rhythms and honking brass is as off-piste and inspired now as in 1979.
On: Tusk (1979)

“We Lived In Denial. There Was No Closure”

On forgiving, forgetting and forging on – with caveats – by Fleetwood Mac’s creative powerhouse: “We really were doing fine as a four-piece…”

Lindsey Buckingham has a cold. In a few hours time he will be on stage. And he will stay there for a few hours. While the others take breaks during solos and acoustic slots, Lindsey is never off, either playing guitar at breakneck speed, charging around the stage or singing at full pelt. “I’m going arguably age-inappropriate stuff,” he says. “But I feel the same as I did 30 years ago.” Indeed, he doesn’t look anything like 65, on-stage or off. There is something of the man-machine in his fortitude and stamina, an intensity that’s almost unsettling. In conversation, he is eloquent and measured, carefully considering his answers. You suspect some of the turns of phrase are well rehearsed, though perhaps that’s unavoidable. For all his power on-stage and his skills on record – Mac’s most successful work has always featured him as musical director – there is something unlikely about him as a rock star and he has seldom attracted the kind of spotlight or notoriety of others of his generation who were less accomplished. This is probably welcomed. One senses that he prefers to operate below the radar. “I’ve always been a fairly insular person – which has worked for me quite well,” he says, laughing.

You were born in Palo Alto, famous now as the heart of Silicon Valley. What was it like then?

I was born in Palo Alto and raised in Atherton, an upper-middle-class town, where most of the wealthy Silicon Valley types live now. Back then it was lower-key, businessmen, a very Republican environment. Most of what existed down Highway 101 was strawberry fields and open space backing up to the bay. It was very quiet.

Your brother Greg was an Olympic swimmer and you were involved in sports for awhile. Was music a reaction against that kind of life?

It was never again anything. I was lucky to be part of such a functional family that spent so much time together. I had two older brothers, great parents. Of course I followed, to some degree, what was expected of me. I swam and played water polo in high school, as my brother had. I started playing guitar very young, when my brother brought home Heartbreak Hotel: “Wow, that’s a lot better than Patti Page.” I was seven. I never took lessons, I had a chord book and was very song-orientated. My brother was buying all the great45s of the time. I would sit in his room and learn these songs.

That was my inner life, but I never really felt like it was at odds with my friends or family life and it was really only upon graduating from high school that I started to deprogram a little bit. I got in a band and we all started to grow out hair out. My brother thought I was mad.

I was talking to Stevie about your time in Fritz.

She exaggerates that a little. That was good experience on a certain level. I ended up playing bass, I didn’t play lead ‘cos I was a finger picker and we were playing this weird acid rock that got weirder as it went along. We had this guy Javier who did all the writing. Stevie and I were cogs in the machine. The experience we got wasn’t so much about being creative, so much as a sense of a community, a little bit of stage craft, and being focused, ‘cos we rehearsed a great deal.

This is the odd thing, I was never particularly goal orientated towards music. It was a fun thing to do. I never thought, “I just gotta make it.” it just kind of happened almost in spite of myself. Stevie was way more ambitious than I was. Her dad was ambitious and willing to uproot his family over and over in order to keep moving up the corporate ladder. I think that affected her on some level – it taught her to make a splash! I think she was looking for something that needed to be fixed a bit more than I was.

How much did you hesitate when you received the offer to join Fleetwood Mac?

There were several reasons why joining Fleetwood Mac wasn’t a slam dunk. One was, as much as I’d been a fan of the Peter Green stuff and some of the stuff with Danny Kirwan, I was less aware of what went on later. The only clear idea I had about the band was that they hadn’t had a leader for quiet a while and that was something I could do. Also, Stevie and I had done the Buckingham Nicks album and it had come and gone and we were experiencing a great deal of disinterest from our manager and yet, because we’d opened for some other bands and gotten some exposure, we were starting to get regional interest in places, Florida and Alabama, and getting radio play, so who knows, if we’d decided to see that through, I don’t know what might have happened.

Fleetwood Mac has become a cool name to drop in the last decade.

Yes. We were a pariah for a while. We were the bad guys during new wave and the stuff that came after that. Though that was quite a while ago!

That provided an impulse when it came time to make Tusk, didn’t it? What was driving you to make such a stylistic shift?

Many things. Some of it was where the music had gone. There were so any new artists then that fuelled that impulse, reinforced the idea to go outside what we had done. On a much deeper level for me there was this sense that Rumours became this thing where the success had detached from the music and become about the success, and that’s a dangerous Michael Jackson-land. You really have to look at what’s going on if you arrive there. What happens with a lot of bands in that moment is you become a parody of yourself.

Tusk was a reaction to what was going on in our personal lives, and we wanted to free up the recording process and make it a little less efficient, if you will. There is this edict from the corporate world, “If it works, run it into the ground.” But even if we’d followed the formulas we now can identify from the Rumours album, I doubt we’d have been able to recreate anything as authentic and beautiful as Rumours, because at that point it becomes very top down. If you’re aspiring to be an artist you have to work from the bottom up. You have to make decisions based on what you think is interesting and important and going to move you forward as artists, even if it confounds the label or the listening public, which Tusk did.

Everyone seems really upbeat about this new phase and Christine’s return. How about you?

It’s interesting. We really were doing fine as a four-piece. When Mick called me and said, “I’ve been talking to Christine and I think she’s…” You know, on paper it was great but you never know how these things are going to play out. I called her up and said, “Chris, I think it’s a great idea, but you do know that if you come back you can’t leave again!” She was coming from this place that’s all about how she’s feeling about her life, and she realised how much she’s missed this. That doesn’t necessarily mean she was ready for 80 shows in the States, much less everything else we’re doing, so we took it step by step.

One thing that was really key was that she had some rough ideas for new songs, and was ver interested in me hearing them and taking them to a more recordable level. And I had a bunch of stuff that was just tracks with suggested melodies and we exchanged ideas and the synergy was immediate – and transcendent, in my opinion,

Judging by the demand, the public’s excited too.

I think the return of Christine is timely. You have an audience that’s made up of three generations, a great amount of young people who somehow, through the trickle down from parents, or through the circular nature of the culture, or the reappraisal of what we have done, have picked up on the body of work and to them it makes sense, and you see that reflected in certain younger artists out there too. It all hangs together as a circular moment for us. If you want to see it as the final act of a five act play or whatever, it just makes sense to everyone. So it’s generated that much more interest.

Would Fleetwood Mac have worked without the tensions? Was the trauma important to the creative drive?

Very good question. I have to assume it was. It may not be tangible on a musical level but it was certainly tangible on people’s interest in the records. It was well-known what we’d all been through, there was a subtext of heroism or something, that we’d pushed through and prevailed against odds that would have daunted someone else.

Are you all relishing making a new record?

I think Stevie’s a little torn. It has a lot to do with her life in general and trying to figure out what means something to her. I don’t whether or not she’ll come to the table for an album. I hope she does. I’ve said to her: “One of the things that was so beautiful for me about working on new songs with Chris was she wanted me to do that for her. That was something you used to want me to do for you – nobody’s done it better than I have. It tapped into something in me, Stevie, with Chris, that I’d almost forgotten, when it’s not just for yourself. If you would trust me to do that for you it would make me very happy.” I think it scares her a little.

Talking to Chris and Stevie about their times out of the band, I wonder if these hiatuses are an inevitable reaction to the success and craziness, a period of rebounding…

What we had to do during the making of Rumours was live in denial. We had to take all these emotions and conceal them all and get on with what needed to be done. There was no closure. Speaking of Stevie and me specifically: Did I want to go in and do the right thing for her every day like I did, most of the time? No, but I did it anyway. The only way I could do that was by living in denial, to compartmentalise my emotions. What you’re referring to is the latent rising up of things that had pushed back in the psyche. The flipside of having gotten through that any way we could.

Why do you think you all managed to stay alive and come back together?

Underneath all those other things there’s a lot of love. You also have to look at Mick, for years, before we even joined, it seems to have been his mission in life to keep this band together no matter what, whatever the cost. He wasn’t always sure why he was doing it, but he is a magnet on that level.

He says there’s a recognition between Mac and its audience of a strength and community.

It ties generations together. It ties personal lives together. It reinforces this sense of prevailing.

Long may it continue.

All right. I suppose I better go soundcheck.

Mac Nuggets #4

Mirage and after (1982-) sifted for truffles by Mark Blake.

1. Love In Store

From Mac’s multi-platinum, oft forgotten Mirage, this soaring, stellar Christine McVie pop song could have fallen off Rumours, and sounds like an attempt to woo back listeners disturbed by Tusk.
On: Mirage (1982)

2. Gypsy

A Stevie Nicks song yearning for her less complicated pre-Mac life: “back to the floor, that I love”, when she and Buckingham slept on a mattress in their apartment. Perversely, the pair were barely speaking when they cut this.
On: Mirage (1982)

3. Big Love

Mac’s mid-‘80s return meshed Tusk’s mad eclecticism with Rumours’ peerless songcraft on this taut, nervy single, with its orgasmic “oohs” and “aahs”, recorded by composer Lindsey alone and not, as suspected, with Stevie.
On: Tango In The Night (1987)

4. Tango In The Night

Buckingham donated many tracks meant for his next solo album to Tango In The Night, including this one, where cold, clinical ‘80s technology meets timeless lyrical angst. The closing guitar solo is like a welcome release – for Lindsey and the listener.
On: Tango In The Night (1987)

5. Little Lies

The chorus’s nursery-rhyme melody is a red herring. Like many great Mac moments, there’s deep anguish beneath the surface. Another of Christine’s love-gone-wrong songs, as she pleads to be kept in the dark rather than face up to harsh reality.
On: Tango In The Night (1987)

6. Seven Wonders

Nicks missed most of Tango…, lost in a chemical haze and/or promoting her third solo LP. This rare appearance was Tango…’s second single, her ghostly gasp riding a sublime pop chorus to imbue the line “I’ll never live to match the beauty again” with a hint of sadness.
On: Tango In The Night (1987)

7. Everywhere

Its inclusion in a mobile network provider’s TV ad means Everywhere will be forever identified with a moonwalking Shetland pony. The reality is a fine pop song with a lilting melody that confirms Tango… as a natural companion to Rumours.
On: Tango In The Night (1987)

8. Silver Springs (Live)

Intended for Rumours, but consigned to the B-side of Go Your Own Way, this charming, chorus-heavy Nicks ballad was revived for the class line-up’s reunion tour in the mid ‘90s.
On: The Dance (1997)

9. Murrow Turning Over In His Grace

The Christine-less Say You Will is better than history remembers. Exhibit A: this broody Lindsey rocker about modern-day media overload, which aspires to Chain-like levels of intensity in its guitar fadeout.
On: Say You Will (2003)

10. Say You Will

The sort-of comeback LP’s Nicks-composed title track cut has an über-Mad nagging chorus and a refrain that burrows into the subconscious, drilled how by Buckingham’s needling guitar and squeaky female backing vocals. They can do this sort of thing in their sleep.
On: Say You Will (2003)

by Jim Irvine / MOJO Magazine / 26th May, 2015


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‘When in doubt, be Stevie Nicks’

The iconic singer releases a record amid fierce interest in her work and persona

A night owl by nature, Stevie Nicks was unable to sleep on a recent Saturday night in Manhattan and had scheduled a late interview to help pass the evening. So 1:30 a.m. found her looking out on the terrace of her rented penthouse atop the Palace Hotel, with a hypnotic view of the Rockefeller Plaza. Amid a torrent of recollections—of her band, Fritz; of the duo she later created with former lover and Fritz guitarist, Lindsey Buckingham; and, of course, of Fleetwood Mac—Nicks began to hum a hip-hop tune. “Which rapper is it that I love who says, ‘Mo’ money more problems?’ ” she asked, pausing in the midst of Notorious B.I.G.’s biggest hit. “He spoke the truth. Don’t I know it!”

Nicks’s truth is peppered with tales of fate and near-fatalities: Fleetwood Mac’s opulent success, the long nights of work wrought with “enough alcohol and cocaine to guarantee years of addiction,” the speculative stories that followed them around for years (orgies and paganism were favoured topics).

Related: An extended web-only Q&A with Stevie Nicks

The history is relevant; her recent solo album, 24 Karat Gold, reinterprets demos written before, during and after Fleetwood Mac’s rise. In it, Nicks doesn’t simply cover her own work; she acts as a musical necromancer who resurrects old sounds and personal stories of burned love, life on the road and facing demons. The song Twisted, first released on the soundtrack for the 1996 disaster-drama Twister, flicks at the appetite for danger all five band members shared. “It was originally written about a group of tornado chasers who dedicate their lives to hunting down storms,” she said. “The parallels to Fleetwood Mac are so there.” The mix of emotion, narcotics and creative egos brought forth a bounty of songs, and turbulent romances. Nicks ended her relationship with Buckingham in 1975, and had an affair with drummer Mick Fleetwood. Christine McVie, the band’s keyboardist-vocalist, left the guitarist for the sound engineer. “After the show, we wouldn’t go out,” Nicks said. “[Christine] would drink wine spritzers and I’d drink tequila alone in our adjoined rooms. The boys were angry at us [and] we had to see them in the morning to work.”

Nicks’s record is timed to a Fleetwood Mac reunion; the group is booked for more than 40 dates in Europe and Australia, and McVie rejoins them after a 16-year hiatus. On tour, Nicks and Buckingham, who share time alone on stage during the ballad Landslide, remain uncomfortable co-workers. “Fences will never be mended with Lindsey and me,” Nicks said. “We don’t agree on anything. If something’s going on [and] I’m doing something that Lindsey doesn’t like, his manager tells my manager. I don’t care what he thinks.”

Stevie Nicks

The distance is working for Nicks. The solo project, produced by former Eurythmics guitarist-producer Dave Stewart, contains some of the best recordings she has made in two decades. The work riffs on the witchy reputation she has propagated referencing Welsh mythology and wearing sorceress-style shawls, and which is enjoying something of a moment. Nicks had a cameo on the HBO series American Horror Story: Coven last year and was a guest judge on The Voice. “I could never be Madonna,” she shrugged. “It’s too much work to be a chameleon.” She will not be dressed by stylists—“They steal your personality”—or coerced by A&R people (“Nobody has the balls to tell me what to do”). Her ’70s bohemian look is referenced by fashion designers ranging from Rodarte to Ralph Lauren. Her duets with Dixie Chicks and Taylor Swift are awards-show ratings draws. The 18-year-old editor Tavi Gevinson gave this advice to her platoon of Millennial followers in a TED talk: “When in doubt, just be Stevie Nicks.”

The 66-year-old Nicks does not own a cellphone or computer, but she’s aware of the momentum behind her. She wants to record a sequel to 24 Karat Gold. She plans to launch a capsule collection of clothing, a jewellery line and a perfume. “I spend so many late nights mixing scents with cinnamon,” she said. She had advice for young, scantily clad singers she sees backstage at awards shows. “It’s degrading, and it makes women appear to be fancy little hookers. If you are not at least somewhat of a feminist, you’re going to be taken advantage of.”

Elio Iannucci / Maclean’s Magazine / Sunday, 25th January 2015

‘I lived that song many times’

In conversation with Stevie Nicks

Stevie Nicks talks with Elio Iannacci on a recent cameo, a Fleetwood Mac reunion and a new solo album decades in the making

Q (Elio Iannacci): Your album 24 Karat Gold took more than 30 years to make. Has there been some sort of cathartic release now that the demos are re-recorded?

A (Stevie Nicks): I haven’t gotten to enjoy it at all. Rehearsal for the Fleetwood Mac tour started the sixth of August, and we made 24 Karat Gold in three five-day weeks in Nashville, and then came back to my house in Los Angeles and did three more five-day weeks.

Q: Rather than have a current photo of yourself taken for the album cover, why did you choose to use a photograph from the ’70s?

A: It takes away the conceptual thing of finding a photographer that you like, that’s going to shoot you right, that’s going to get a picture where you don’t look 9,000 years old. I have all these old Polaroids smashed together in shoeboxes. I pulled out one [photo] and said, “This is the cover; it’s a golden picture. That’s solved.”

Q: Who took them?

A: I took all of them. In those days, Polaroids came with a little [self-shooting] plug that had a button on the end of it. So I can be sitting here and build my set around this couch if I wanted to. I’d usually put flowers or found a lamp to put a shawl over and then start shooting.

Q: Would you consider them your version of selfies?

A: It’s not a selfie at all. It’s a self-portrait. I did most of those Polaroids on the road. I’d read something by Horst, the photographer. He said, “Don’t take a lot of pictures. Pretend like you have no film.” With phone cameras, you take millions of shots. This was carefully planned. An exhibit of them already showed in L.A. and Art Basel in Miami. I’ve made a lot of money.

Q: You’ve also sketched quite a bit. Are there plans to exhibit your drawings?

A: Yes, at some point. Strangely enough, I’ve been drawing all afternoon. I’ve just been working on a drawing I drew in 2007 when Mick [Fleetwood]‘s little girl [Ruby]—who has a twin [sister, Tessa]—almost drowned. I started with a drawing of [Tessa], who felt responsible. Then I drew another girl next to her and she became like the fairy queen. I called it the Fairy Guardians. I sketch the faces upside down because it’s like drawing from the left side of the brain or the right side of the brain. I never took an art lesson in my life.

Q: A song on 24 Karat Gold called Belle Fleur—originally from your debut disc—mines the memories of people you called “canyon ladies.” Joni Mitchell defined these women as people who were domestic and in traditional relationships in her song Ladies of the Canyon. Is there a connection?

A: This song wasn’t about that. Belle Fleur was about not being able to have a relationship because you were a rock ’n’ roll star. Those women are me, [my sister] Lori … and friends I had from 1975 to 1978. The [lyric] “When you come to the door of the long black car”—that’s the limousine that’s coming to take you away. Then your boyfriend is standing on the porch waving at you, like, “When are you going to be back?” And you’re like, “I don’t know, maybe three months?” But then we would add shows to a tour and I could end up not being back for six months. It was difficult for the men in my life. I lived that song so many times.

Q: The songs also implies there is a joy to that kind of unbridled freedom.

A: The [experience] causes you to become one with the road. I’m comparing it to the witches in the mountains. That’s just my metaphor with the [lyric] “Mountain women live in the canyon / dancing all night long.” That’s just us coming back from shows and taking Polaroids all night long.

Q: Many of your songs have been able to foresee your own future.

A: The real premonition songs were I Never Promised You a Rose Garden and After the Glitter Fades, which starts with the line “I never thought I’d make it here in Hollywood.” They were poems I wrote before I joined Fleetwood Mac. The lyrics are so telling: “Now I have a big house with pillars standing tall all around / I’ve got a garden with roses dangling down to the ground / and I’ve got money, men to love me / and acres of land / I’ve got all these things / I’ve got all these things but a small gold band on my finger on my left hand.” I think that’s probably the most astute premonition I ever had.

Q: A lyric from the song I Don’t Care from 24 Karat Gold reveals your disdain for getting a proposal with a diamond ring. At what point did you know that you couldn’t get married?

A: Right away! In the beginning of my relationship with Lindsey, I realized that being in a relationship with a very powerful, controlling man probably wouldn’t work out for me in the future as an artist. Something in my little songwriter’s heart said, “This is what I’m always going to do. I’m going to do that whether I’m with Lindsey or whether I go and find another guitar player to play music for me and we go play at Chuck’s Steak House.”

Q: Were you ever close to having a husband?

A: If I look back over all the men in my life, there’s the first category: those are the great loves. They didn’t understand. Even if they were in the business, they were jealous and they were resentful and had a hard time with my life and they didn’t like all my friends. They didn’t like the fact that the witches of the canyon were around all the time. The next category were men who really liked me, guys who trusted me—they were not the least bit resentful of what I did when I was on tour. They would say, “Bye, keep in touch, have a good time, be great on stage and maybe I’ll fly out and see you some weekend,” but we didn’t connect in other ways because my life, my career, just got bigger.

Q: They couldn’t keep up?

A: Guess what: I had two full-on careers going! [My solo record] Bella Donna took three months to [record]—which was not very long. When it was put out, it went to No. 1. I did a very short six-week tour for it and then went straight back to Fleetwood Mac. My [close] friend Robin had leukemia and was dying all the way through the making of Bella Donna.

Q: Yet so many of 24 Karat Gold’s songs are not about affairs but of what you call “the great loves.”

A: Those are the glory songs. I couldn’t write that album today. None of those songs were written after a one-night stand because there weren’t very many of those in my life. Those are all about relationships that lasted. All my relationships lasted.

Q: 24 Karat Gold could easily have a Part 2 or 3 because of the number of demos you have. What would you include on it?

A: I think that this is one of the best records I’ve ever made. So I can’t just let this record go. When the Fleetwood Mac tour is over, I might go straight back to Nashville and record eight or nine songs, and Warner Brothers can take it and repackage the album. I have another 10 demos. There’s a song that’s called City of Hope that I love that needs to go out because that’s [the name of the California-based hospital] Robin was in. I spent a lot of time driving through the big sign that says “City of Hope” when there was no hope. With a bottle of brandy and a gram of cocaine, thinking, “Please God, don’t let her die.”

Q: You also have a song about JFK. Is it on your list of possibilities to record for the second volume of 24 Karat Gold?

A: I’ll probably do that, too. It’s called The Kennedys. That was about a strange dream I had about meeting the Kennedy men, at a cocktail party benefit in the Hamptons. I went in to play the piano and sing [for the party] and Martin Luther King walked me down the hallway. It has this amazing part that I just think would fit with the world right now: “Please God, show them the way. Please God, on this day. Spirits all gather round. Peace will come if you really want it. Peace will come if you fight harder. I think we’re just in time to save it.” I’m ready for Jack Kennedy’s dreams. I’m ready for there to be somebody leading the country that somehow puts some kind of a respect and charisma into things … basically the same thing that Clinton had.

Q: When I interviewed Cher last year, she said was 100 per cent behind Hillary Clinton becoming the next U.S. president.

A: Well I am, too. Hillary is experienced. Bill Clinton will tell you that he was in college with her and she was so much more motivated than he was. She’s the one. When I first met her with her [daughter] Chelsea, it was such a moment. She’s funny and she’s really nice. You don’t think that when you meet her but she is really sweet.

Q: Why is she the best choice?

A: She’s so damn smart. As far as the Republicans go—and my parents were both Republicans—there is no rising star. If you think of the great Republican presidents, there is no that guy. There is no John Kennedy rising in the Republican world. There is no Ronald Reagan. In the Democratic world, there is no that guy either. There is Hillary. Period. She’s my around age, and I’m 66 and a half years old. I hope that she doesn’t go like [whispers]: “I just can’t do it,” because she has a daughter, a granddaughter and a life and Bill. You have to forget about your life and determinedly and totally throw yourself into being the leader of this country.

Q: You know something about being determined. You’ve had to fight for many of your songs to get recorded. Which song would you identify as being the toughest one to release?

A: The battle of Silver Springs was pretty bad. [Fleetwood Mac] took that off [Fleetwood Mac’s 11th studio album, Rumors] and they didn’t even ask me. They replaced it with I Don’t Want to Know—which was a good song, but it was short. They took Silver Springs off because they thought it was too long on the record and there was no way to cut it down. I was told in the parking lot after it had already been done.

Q: You must have felt avenged when it finally hit the charts 20 years later.

A: I had given that song to my mother so it was kind of a bummer, because it ended up being kind of a dead gift. What was great was that when we went back together to do [a live album, 1996’s The Dance] it was the single. My mom ended up getting a $50,000 cheque two months after The Dance went out. To my mother, it had been a million-dollar cheque.

Q: Regarding the Fleetwood Mac tour, does it get any easier to share a stage with an ex who is singing about a soured relationship you had decades ago?

A: I just try to sink back into it and that’s not the hard part for me. The hard part for me is how physically difficult the three-hour set is. I walk off stage and I get into the hallways, and the first thing that comes out of my mouth is “This is too much for me!” It’s too hard, it’s too long, this set should only be an hour and a half long—we are all over 65! This is 40 shows! I feel like my bones are breaking.

Q: On tour, you thank American Horror Story for giving your song Seven Wonders a new life. Was appearing on the show an easy thing to do?

A: It could have been corny . . . but I thought it was just awesome. We really did just make a music video with me singing parts of Seven Wonders and Has Anyone Ever Written Anything For You. I must have sung it [for the series’ star, Jessica Lange] 20 times because they had to film it from every possible vantage point. Jessica Lange is not an easy girl to get to know, but after singing to her for 10 hours, I think we made a connection. Afterward, I wrote her a long letter. In the scenes [we shared], she helped me by doing her part perfect every time.

Q: What would you say has been the most emotional moment you’ve experienced while being on tour with the band?

A: When I finish [performing] Silver Springs [with Lindsey Buckingham], Christine [McVie, Fleetwood Mac’s keyboardist and vocalist] waits for me and takes my hand. We walk off and we never let go of each other until we get to our tent. In that 30 seconds, it’s like my heart just comes out of my body.

Q: Do you feel that putting your solo work and art on hold for Fleetwood Mac has been worth it?

A: You get to a point in your life where some things have got to go if anything else new is going to come in. Then you face the fact that the Fleetwood Mac tickets sold out in three weeks for 80 shows. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. I don’t want the audiences to be disappointed. I want everybody to be happy. I want the people in Fleetwood Mac to be happy. I do adore being back with Christine. She’s had a 16-year rest [McVie took a 16-year touring hiatus from the band]. She’s like ready to rock. I had forgotten how wonderful that was. I had forgotten how close we were.

Elio Iannacci / Maclean’s Magazine / Friday, January 23, 2015

Witchy Woman: Stevie Nicks on her crazy Coven role

The legendary Fleetwood Mac frontwoman, 65, went from inspiring the cult hit American Horror Story: Coven to making an awesome cameo in the Jan. 8 episode. We talk to her about the role — and whether she’ll return to cast more spells.

AHS co-creator Ryan Murphy said it was tough to get you to actually appear on the show. How did he finally convince you?

When they asked if they could use my music, they just said, “There’s a character, and you’re a muse because she listens only to you, and she lives out in the swamp.” And that was good enough for me! [Fleetwood Mac] was in Europe, but we were able to pull up the first couple episodes. Of course, I fell into the spell. Then all of a sudden I had five weeks at home, and I was like, “Can I just do a walk-through? [Like] ‘Hello, witches! Goodbye, witches!” I had no idea I’d be written in until I got to New Orleans. I don’t want to go down in history as “Stevie Nicks: rock & roll star par excellence — terrible actress.” So I didn’t sleep very well.

What was your experience like on the set?

I did these scenes with Jessica [Lange], and I got to really watch an amazing actress act. I realized, Boy this is much harder than what I do. I get on, I’m on for two and a half hours, I get off stage, I get on the plane and go to the next city and order room service.

Murphy says you have tons of script ideas — and that you’ll be back for the Jan. 29 finale.

I know they’re like, “Are you part of the writing team now?” It’s just that I’m so unfortunately full of ideas! I wrote them a letter last night that said, “You know, my friends think I should up rock & roll and just go to work for you.” [Laughs]

Ray Rahman / EW / January 2014