Disc Magazine (11/08-15/1969), Who's Perfect?
Disc Magazine, November 8-15, 1969
Christine's rise from shopgirl to stardom
by Penny Valentine
Part I (11/08/69)
When Christine Perfect was 19 and studying to be a sculptress in Birmingham, she was roped into playing bass for a local group that didn't have a bass player.
The highpoint of their yearly engagement sheet at that time was playing at the Liberal club for one night each week.
The group later turned into Chicken Shack. The experience proved to be Christine Perfect's highly unlikely start in music. Unlikely because at the time Christine's background was hardly conducive to any entry into pop.
Christine Perfect. Born 1946 in the calm beauty of the Lake District. Brother, a lecturer in bio-chemistry, father a lecturer in music. Moved to Nottingham and then Birmingham. Attended Chillingham Road Junior School, Upland Secondary Modern School and Mosley Junior Art School.
"At Upland they seemed to think I had a lot of artistic talent which wasn't getting the right outlet. So I was transferred to Junior Art School when I was 13," she recalls.
From there it was a natural progression to Birmingham Art College. She stayed "until the bitter end at 20"-and emerged triumphant with an MDD degree. "Something that meant I was ready for precisely nothing."
Her interest in music which until this point had stayed somewhat in the background, had been naturally nurtured by her father's job.
"I had a pretty strict upbringing but my father was in many ways, an incredible eccentric. He even did 'gigs'-going to London to appear at the Wigmore Hall and places. And I got used to packing up and moving on when he changed lecturing jobs.
"I started writing songs at 16-whether they were any good is another matter-and later, when the Spencer Davis Group were the real stars of Birmingham, I'd trudge all over the place to watch them."
Despite her time being taken up with art, Christine had an innate love for show business. But her first outlet into the music field didn't come until she met two friends-Stan Webb and Andy Silvester-in a pub one night.
At the time they were playing with a group called "Shades Of Blue"-a name which Christine now shudders at and describes their music as rock/r-n-b. They were hardly at the pinnacle of success, but they did have a few dates booked and no bass guitarist. Christine had a very musical "ear" and a talent for picking things up. Which was how a lady artist of Birmingham found herself on stage one night bashing hell out of a guitar.
"We used to kill ourselves laughing, saying I looked like someone from the Honeycombs or the Applejacks."
When she finally emerged from art school, waving her degree at the world, the group had split. "The lead singer had got married and, as he owned all the equipment, Andy was working as an electrician's mate and Stan as a chef at the St. George's Hotel, Kidderminster."
At this point things took an even more curious turn. Finding she didn't have enough money to launch herself into the art world, Christine packed her bass and moved to London. Having exhausted all her friends' floors, she finally got herself a tiny flat and a job-as a window dresser in a large London store.
Her few months in this was possibly the only period of her life she hated.
"The girls were made to look as unobtrusive and ugly as possible. We wore trousers that came in at the bottom and those lousy check shirts that made us look like lorry drivers. The only lift in the day was when we had coffee break and trudged round Carnaby Street looking at all the great clothes."
One day on this pilgrimage, she bumped into a friend who told her that Andy and Stan had re-formed a group who played a-la Cream and Hendrix, and why didn't she write and ask if they needed a pianist? She did.
The day after receiveing a letter saying: "Yes-come and join us" she'd packed her case, thrown her trousers and check shirt away, and caught the train back to Birmingham.
"Two weeks after that," she recalls-still looking stunned at the way it happened. "I was sitting playing piano on the stage of the Star Club, Hamburg, wondering what the hell I was doing."
And so Chicken Shack was born-at a period when slave labour was the order of the day.
"We worked seven nights a week, for five hours a night on and off. But in a funny way I quite enjoyed the slog and being part of a group, somehow suddenly knowing where I was going."
Christine Perfect, daughter of a lecturer, sister of a bio-chemist, was now a fully fledged member of a group through a series of accidental and unexpected events.
1967 saw Chicken Shacks' first introduction to a British audience. Thrown in at the deep end, the occasion was the Windsor Jazz Festival in front of a highly critical selection of musicians. Christine was terrified.
"I met people like Clapton and Mayall and I thought I'd never make it on to the stage. But thanks to Stan we did well. Quite honestly nobody had ever seen a guitarist that went so mad and did such extraordinary things on stage. So everyone's attention was on him and I could relax."
It was Christine Perfect's name that appeared on the Chicken Shack's first single "It's Okay With Me Baby"-which she wrote.
From then on, Chicken Shack's rise to fame was on the increase. There was no room for decline. Their success was assured.
Christine Perfect was now a part and parcel of the pop world she had always loved from afar. But her position as a girl in a group of this kind had its drawbacks and took its toll.
To help her merge with the group image she dressed like the boys, to help her get through the hectic pace of living on the road she drank with the best of them. Her beer arm was almost constantly on the lift. She became ill.
Then towards the end of 1967 she met John McVie at a concert at the Saville Theatre, London. It was November. And it was a meeting that was to prove fafeful for them both.
"Four months later we started seeing each other about once a month on odd occasions. Then John went to America and I went with the group to Germany. When I got back he rang me and asked me out. Four days later he proposed and ten days after that we got married. I suppose it was very romantic in a way."
Her marriage to guitarist McVie was to change her whole outlook and attitude to life. She softened up and stopped drinking. It was one of the factors that made her decide to try a solo career.
Of all the people who have influenced Christine Perfect's extraordinary life, it has been the quiet McVie who has brought her the stability she obviously needed.
Part II (11/15/69)
Perfection in married life, by Christine and John...
Penny Valentine continues her close-up on the ex-Chicken Shack singer.
Her voice is dry with a tinge of North Country humour in it; she's not conventionally pretty-but she is pleasant and warm and that's half the battle.
She can change a plug with the expertise of an electrician's mate("Every girl has to learn to be an electrician when she goes on the road") and -up until two years ago-her domestic scene would have made a vicar's tea party collapse in disorder.
Today Christine Perfect is on her hands and knees cleaning the carpet. She is wearing jeans, an old sweater with holes in it, and her face is flushed. Somehow the sight is incongruous. You just don't expect a lady who can sing "I'd Rather Go Blind" to be on her hands and knees anywhere...
But Christine Perfect has changed a great deal since she married John McVie. "It may sound cow-like, but I'm much more contented and happy." And certainly she and McVie together exude a warm compatibility that has its basis far away from the music world.
They have just moved into a new spacious London flat, one floor up overlooking Gloucester Terrace, W2, with all mod cons except that the carpet is dirty and the kitchen roller blinds don't work.
It is their third flat since they were married two years ago, and they are saving to buy a house. "Ultimately," says John as we drink mugs of coffee and he offers to do Christine's shopping, "that's what I'm working for. It means I'm away for three or four months at a time and Christine, like all women, tends to get emotionally upset about it. But it's money for out future and, eventually, we'll be pleased I did it."
It always destroys me when John's away," says Christine mournfully. "It's like having my right arm missing. I pad about the flat feeling lost."
It wasn't always like this. At one time Christine Perfect was living with the Chicken Shack. The only girl with three men. Strangers who called were amazed when she opened the door at all hours of the day and night, and suspected all kinds of peculiar things. The lady had a somewhat strange reputation.
"They just couldn't understand," she says now, "that we were simply mates. Stan was going out with Andy's sister, and when Dave joined he naturally slotted into the role of good friend. People couldn't get it together-how I lived in the same house with nothing seamy going on. Well, people always want to believe what they want to believe-I mean, people will never believe that John and I have given up our boozing. The stigma always sticks."
"But really nobody chatted me up in the group. I wasn't even like a bird to them. Even the kids at gigs thought I was going with one of the group. It was a weird scene. The 'groupies' used to glare daggers at me, and it rather put them off their stroke when I was around."
"I felt sorry for them. Well, I would have probably been a 'groupie' if things hadn't worked out the way they did. I was in a position they all envied, being close to the group. You see, they all aspire to be on those kind of terms with a group. It's a kind of frustrated desire to be part of the show business scene.
"And I had that desire. I don't know how else I would have become a part of the pop world I loved if I hadn't been in a group-or a 'groupie'."
John perhaps knows her best. "He's my best friend," she says smiling at him. Her circle of real close friends is small-Fleetwood Mac, her manager Harry Simmonds, and the two girls with whom she went to art school.
She describes herself as a bit "live and let live."
"I don't care what people do as long as they don't actively interfere with me. I'm very calm and placid and it takes a lot to ruffle me. I haven't really got a temper to control and if someone DOES annoy me, well, I just get cross with myself."
"I suppose the only people I don't actually UNDERSTAND are 'straights'. It's intolerant, but I don't see how they can be so happy. I want to shake them and say "Don't you realise you're not living-just existing!' They're not getting the most out of their lives. Look, it took me to the age of 20 to realise I wasn't going to waste my life working behind a counter."
Somehow you feel that being in love and married to a man like McVie has ebbed a lot of her original ambition. She paints, sketches, sculpts and is busy with life. Her new solo career is really just an extension of all this.
"I suppose I'll be a bit nervous at first because I don't know what people will expect from me. I'm not another Julie Driscoll. It'll be nice to have a band just working for me. Before, Stan was pretty errratic and I never felt I always worked well within the group."
"Now, it'll be a soft rock band and I can choose when I want to work. If I want to earn money I can when John's away. If the solo thing doesn't work-well, look it's been handed to me on a silver platter. I'll have reaped some benefits and I can always paint, write songs or go back to sculpting for some kind of fulfilment."
A very telling portrait of John, sketched by Christine hangs on the wall of the flat. It is a drawing by someone who knows another human being inside out.
"You know," Christine laughs, "John and I want to pack up everything in a couple of years time and go on safari - travel a bit before we're too old. After that - well I think we're going to be the most conventional married couple in the world!"
Thanks for Lis and macfan57 for providing and transcribing this.
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