BOOK REVIEW: Return of the Mac

The father of the Mac Mick Fleetwood tells our reporter how his bohemian childhood still inspires him and the band

Mick Fleetwood and I are taking tea in a stylish hotel overlooking London’s Hyde Park. We are talking about his father Mike, who died in 1978 aged 62. Suddenly, Mick spots something out of the window.

“See the horses?” he says, looking out of the window and leaping out of his chair to point them out to me.

“It’s so cool, talking about Daddy and there he is!” Knowing the somewhat colourful background of Fleetwood and his eponymous band (past issues with cocaine and alcohol, for example), you could be forgiven for thinking the drummer had flipped.

But no. What we are looking at is the Household Cavalry crossing the park in the autumn sunshine, breastplates gleaming.

“He was a Royal Horse Guard and he used to make that same ride. Mummy (his mother Biddy, now 97) used to sit in the building that’s now the Mandarin Oriental Hotel over there when she was a young woman,” he points, “and she watched those men on the horses crossing the park and she ended up being with my dad. So cool.”

Fleetwood, now 67, is obviously still in awe of his late father, who ended up buying himself out of the Army, and joining the RAF for the duration of the Second World War. The pair were remarkably close; certainly closer than you would usually expect an upright Air Force man and his academically ungifted musician son to be, and it is to Mike’s sense of leadership and understanding of personality that Mick attributes the fact that he has been the father figure of his band Fleetwood Mac through 47 years of personnel changes, musical differences, illnesses and romances.

Throughout it all, as well as keeping time for the supergroup, he has kept the band together. He has now written a second autobiography, Play On, about his life. This is still entwined with the Mac, who are currently on a world tour coming to Britain in May, rejoined by songwriter and keyboard player Christine McVie after a break from the band of a mere 16 years.

I don’t write people off and I would much rather leave the door open than push people away, no matter what has happened. I would rather prefer to work at being liked than to be cynically truthful with people all the time and closing the door in their face
Mick Fleetwood, Fleetwood Mac drummer

Mike and Biddy already had two daughters when Mick came along, and were not the 1950s parents you would expect. “None of us had conventional careers,” remembers Mick. “My parents knew that none of us were destined for cookie-cutter jobs. They already had a blueprint with Sally (who became a sculptor and clothes designer) and they sent her off to art school. Then Susan wanted to be an actress and then they had this little lad who wasn’t getting anything from school, so they let me go off and live in London with Sally and pursue a music career.”

Mike Fleetwood was the sort of chap they do not make any more; a self-made man from Liverpool who travelled to Germany before the war, witnessing gatherings that would see Adolf Hitler rise to power; becoming a soldier and then an airman and then, before entering the world of Civvy Street and bringing up a family, pursuing a career as a writer.

“Dad was not all the huff and puff of the RAF; there was this dreamy, poetic thing there for sure. It was the perfect template for me. He had an attitude of ‘as long as something gets done, it doesn’t matter who gets the kudos. That serves no purpose other than to say me, me, me’.”

Fleetwood Mac are arguably one of the most interesting mega-bands. From a blues outfit at the start, with John McVie still in the band which bears his and Mick’s names, Bob Brunning and the extraordinary guitarist Peter Green, the band has gone through several incarnations until arriving at the current, classic line up of Fleetwood, McVie, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie.

The band are back together again for a new album and tour, and Fleetwood is clearly delighted. He draws a large circle in the air, and says: “It is, as I say on stage, the completing of a circle. Christine returning to the band; well, that was a door that was never closed, and that has always been the better choice for me.

“I don’t write people off and I would much rather leave the door open than push people away, no matter what has happened. I would rather prefer to work at being liked than to be cynically truthful with people all the time and closing the door in their face.”

I’m amazed when Fleetwood says that he has never really thought about the band as one where men and women are on an equal footing as performers and songwriters; one of what I think is the band’s strengths. “I’ve never been that Superman creature, all huff and puff, and making a delineation between us. My parents and my sisters were the perfect template of being in touch with your feminine side. And it’s fun.”

Being Mick Fleetwood, it has to be said, does look like more fun than several barrelfuls of monkeys, despite the aforementioned brushes with substances that were doing him no good, and a bankruptcy. Now living on the Hawaiian island of Maui, where his mum Biddy also lives, he exudes rangy elegance, with a dress sense also influenced by his father.

“He always loved clothes; the military makes you learn to turn out, and at my boarding school you learned to turn out. If you don’t spit and polish your shoes, or press your shorts at night under the mattress, you’d be in trouble.”

Today, he looks every tall, slim, tanned, Bohemian rock star dresser, in white skinny jeans, a mango-coloured shirt worn under a buttery-soft light brown suede waistcoat. Fleetwood admits that he loves shopping, but it wasn’t so easy as a teenager, despite living in cool Notting Hill.

‘Being gangly and tall and having no money was a huge problem, so when I came to London, I started dressing myself like so many others, from secondhand stores, with Liberty fabric jackets, jeans, all that kind of stuff that actually fit. I loathed shirt sleeves as they were always too short; I ended up looking like David Byrne from Talking Heads in Stop Making Sense!”

Being a tall teenager has been a bizarre help in Fleetwood’s showbiz career. “Being six foot six, thin as a beanpole, probably looking quite odd –‘Is that a boy or a girl?’,” he mimics, in the way our parents baffled generation did. “And you’re walking around Notting Hill Gate in blue jeans, with a pair of wooden balls hanging from your belt and hair down to your bottom, you get used to being looked at for being different.”

• To order Play On by Mick Fleetwood and Anthony Bozza (Hodder & Stoughton), £20, call the Express Bookshop on 01872 562310.

Alternatively send a cheque or postal order to: Play On Offer, PO Box 200, Falmouth, Cornwall, TR11 4WJ or visit expressbookshop.com. UK delivery is free. For details of the band’s tour, visit mickfleetwoodofficial.com

Clair Woodward / Sunday Express (UK) / Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Play On — Now, Then, and Fleetwood Mac by Mick Fleetwood and Anthony Bozza

2014-1028-mick-fleetwood-play-on-300At 67 years old, the founder of the eponymous band Fleetwood Mac isn’t ready to reveal the secrets behind rumours of band’s debauchery

When I read a musician’s autobiography I really want to know what’s driven them to create their art, everything from musical influences to the inspiration for their lyrics. Some musicians, such as Graham Nash, deliver, others just don’t quite ‘bring it on home.’

For Mick Fleetwood, the drummer and mainstay of the wildly popular Fleetwood Mac, the responsibility to the reader becomes even more onerous, what with fractured relationships that simultaneously fascinated fans while threatening to tear the group apart. Who is the song, “Sara” about anyway? What about “The Chain?” Then of course the real nitty-gritty: just who was sleeping with whom?

Fleetwood, now 67, hails from a generation of British rockers who drew their inspiration from musicians such as Buddy Holly and Little Richard. He’s been playing rock for at least 50 years, 40 of those with the same musicians. Members drift in and out of the band over the years, while Fleetwood provides the glue that guides them through rocky times and back to where they are now. With the publication of Fleetwood’s book, Play On, his new photography exhibit and a new tour, he’s enjoying his life more than ever.

He begins by talking about his early life and the formation of Fleetwood Mac. Fleetwood received his first set of drums from his parents at the age of 11. His first band, the Cheynes, toured Britain with the likes of The Yardbirds, The Animals, the Spencer Davis Group, eventually opening for the Rolling Stones, tidbits any music aficionado loves to hear. He then did a stint with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers where he met John McVie. A fellow musician dubbed their rhythm section Fleetwood Mac; the name stuck when they formed their band which included McVie’s wife Christine, a talented pianist. They met with success in Britain and the U.S. but it wasn’t until they lost their lead guitarist in 1974 and offered Lindsey Buckingham the job that they really took off. Buckingham, who had been playing in a band with Stevie Nicks with limited success, accepted the offer on the condition Nicks come with him. The rest is history.

One of Fleetwood’s big challenges is that, as he admits half way through Play On, he never wrote any of their songs. Rather they were the work of Nicks, Buckingham and Christine McVie. While, he offers some tidbits about their inspiration, it’s quite limited.

Instead, he concentrates quite a bit on his own relationships, which gets to be a bit daunting after awhile. Twice-married to Jenny Boyd (sister of Patty Boyd, married to George Harrison), he and Jenny break up so many times, you find yourself screaming, ‘Jenny, do not jump on a plane again!’ Especially when, at one point, he’s still married to Jenny, having an affair with Stevie Nicks and sleeping with her friend, Sara, who, yes, is Nicks’ inspiration for the song, “Sara.”

Fleetwood also talks about the drugs, especially cocaine; he describes the infamous studio Sound City, where they encountered Nicks and Buckingham, saying “there seemed to be white powder peeling off the walls in every room.”

After reading the autobiography of a couple of rock musicians — Graham Nash, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton — you wonder if their prime motivator is cocaine rather than a burning desire to make music.

Fleetwood says its use during their first album together — their breakout album Fleetwood Mac, which he’s dubbed the “white album” — fuelled stories of their debauchery that he won’t confirm or deny. “It’s all so tired at this point.” What’s with that? Inquiring minds might like to know.

While he doesn’t offer those details, he does admit to going bankrupt twice and also apologizes to his children with Boyd for putting them through so much heartbreak.

Despite its shortcomings, Fleetwood provides an interesting overview of the band which makes watching their current tour that much more enjoyable. His voice and outlook are happy and he comes across as a kind, thoughtful man. Even if the book is limited in what it can offer, it still makes for some fascinating reading.

Georgie Binks is the author of A Crack in the Pavement

Georgie Binks / The Star / Saturday, November 1, 2014

Meet Mick Fleetwood at NYC Barnes and Noble book signing

If you are in the New York area, meet Mick Fleetwood at the 5th Ave Barnes and Noble on Tuesday, October 28, at 1pm, as he signs copies of his new book Play On: Now, Then, and Fleetwood Mac. Click here to read more about the book-signing event in New York.

Mick with be doing a second book signing in Los Angeles on Sunday, November 28, at Barnes and Noble in The Grove shopping center.