Times UK Fleetwood Mac Article
IMAGINE if they reassembled the cast of Dallas or Dynasty for a 2003 update. It would be preposterous, of course. But unmissable. Back in the mid-Seventies Fleetwood Mac were the rock’n’roll equivalent — a long-running, real-life soap opera with a plot as twisted as any TV series. Now, improbably, they are back for another episode of the convoluted, torrid melo-drama that helped to take Rumours to record-breaking sales.
On the eve of the release of a new album, Say You Will, the drummer, Mick Fleetwood, looks back at the wreckage. “The vibration of what happened is still alive,” he insists. “There’s an incredible amount of emotional investment outside of the music within this band. It’s not theatre, it’s for real.”
Indeed, for those involved the trauma was all too real. For those who missed these gripping episodes, here’s a synopsis. Back in 1976, when Fleetwood Mac recorded Rumours, they resembled a guidance counsellor’s waiting room rather than a rock band. The six-year romance between Stevie Nicks and the guitarist Lindsey Buckingham had recently ended in recrimination. The eight-year marriage of the bassist John McVie and keyboard player Christine McVie had just come to a rancorous end and Christine was having an affair with the band’s lighting director. Fleetwood, too, was going through a messy divorce of his own and would soon complicate matters further by embarking on an affair with Nicks.
None of them was on speaking terms and, outside of being trapped in the same band, the only common currency was the velvet bag of cocaine which sat under the mixing desk during the fraught recording sessions. Normal people would have walked away and got on with their lives. Instead, Fleetwood Mac wrote songs to each other, like pages torn from their most intimate diaries, which detailed graphically every jealousy and hurt. The result was a classic album with sales of more than 30 million.
The success of Rumours made them all multimillionaires and the dictates of commerce kept them together. But it was at a price. Over the next decade the dysfunction grew worse as the band descended into a world of drink, drugs and excess. Nicks checked into the Betty Ford clinic for cocaine addiction but then sank into an even more debilitating dependency on tranquillisers. John McVie had an alcohol-induced seizure and was arrested on cocaine and firearms charges. Fleetwood was destroying himself with cocaine and brandy. And Christine McVie and Buckingham were not far behind.
The breaking point came in 1987, after they had just scored another No 1 album with Tango in the Night. “Everyone was at their worst, including myself,” Buckingham recalls. “We’d made the progression from what could be seen as an acceptable or excusable amount of drug use to a situation where we had all hit the wall. It was our darkest period.” He walked out, calling the rest of the band “a bunch of selfish bastards” and vowing never to speak to them again.
Yet here he is, back with his old colleagues at Culver City Studios, Los Angeles, where Fleetwood Mac are rehearsing for a world tour. They last reassembled briefly in 1997 for live dates but didn’t make a studio album. Since then, Christine McVie has gone, retiring from rock’n’roll queen to become an English country lady, but the rest of the cast are present.
For Buckingham, Say You Will is a vindication of his walk-out 16 years ago. With slightly tangled logic he declares: “If I hadn’t left then, I wouldn’t be in this place now. So it all makes sense in some way. That’s part of the beauty of us being back together.”
At 54, he seems far more relaxed than the intense figure of old. “I’m now married and a father for the first time, with two children under five,” he says. “I think all that calms you down in increments. I’m just happier. I spent quite a few years in emotional exile and that included all my time in Fleetwood Mac.”
In particular, there was never a time when his relationship with Nicks wasn’t characterised by “dysfunction” and “denial”, he says. “Most couples in that position don’t carry on seeing each other all the time.
“Being in a band is like still living with someone. We weren’t able to resolve things because I don’t think we were focused enough even to know what needed to be resolved. We had to put some time and distance between us.”
And yet they all recognise that it is what Nicks calls “the gothic romance” of Fleetwood Mac’s past that continues to make them a marketable commodity today. “Christine may have gone,” Fleetwood observes. “But Stevie is surrounded by three men, two of whom she’s had relationships with. That still makes for interesting copy.”
Say You Will includes a generous 18 songs, nine written by Buckingham and a further nine by Nicks, opening a new chapter in a book that Nicks had long believed to have been closed. “Not all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could put it back together again,” she sang in a direct reference to Fleetwood Mac on her solo album Trouble In Shangri-La two years ago. So what changed her mind? “I guess it’s like the restless spirit of Fleetwood Mac still needs to find peace,” she says. “That sounds a bit Wuthering Heights. But in a way it is. I don’t think any of us could ever be in any other band.”
At 54 and even without make-up, you can see what made her one of the great beauties of her age when she twirled her way through Rhiannon and Dreams all those years ago. But she has damaged her hip and is walking gingerly. “You become more brittle as you get old. But it’s all a state of mind and I’m trying to have a young attitude,” she says defiantly.
She admits to missing Christine McVie’s sisterly support “every day” and, in her absence, recruited her new best-girlfriend Sheryl Crow to guest on two of her new songs, including the autobiographical-sounding Silver Girl. “I penned that about Sheryl,” she says. “It’s an ode to a lady rock star who’s always on the road and has a very hard time having relationships and settling down. So it’s also totally about me. Being a female rock star is great and it’s fabulous and you make lots of money. But every relationship I’ve ever had has been destroyed by this business.”
For the next hour, Nicks talks with extraordinary candour about her broken relationships and addictions. Then she looks you straight in the eye and announces: “I’m really a very private person, you know.” It is impossible not to like her.
Buckingham, who produced the album, appears the most changed of the old protagonists. “It was very difficult for me for years to have to work with Stevie when I didn’t want to be around her,” he admits.
“But this time when we started again I found I really liked the chemistry of the band without the baggage we carried around for so long. We can acknowledge what happened. But we are different people.”
Even without the volatile chemistry, Say You Will still manages to roll back the years and sounds exactly like classic Fleetwood Mac. “From my point of view it’s the best work we’ve ever done in terms of the execution and sophistication,” Buckingham says. “Which I guess is appropriate for a bunch of people who are all in their fifties now.”
Nicks seems genuinely pleased that her old lover at last appears to have found satisfaction. “This is very much Lindsey’s record and hopefully it will give him back a sense of purpose and delight,” she says.
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