Fleetwood Mac Interview (Circus Magazine March 31, 1981)
Fleetwood Mac Leaves its Stormy Past Behind By Richard Hogan Circus Magazine, March 31, 1981
Fleetwood Mac Leaves its Stormy Past Behind
By Richard Hogan
Circus Magazine, March 31, 1981
“This probably sounds like a real spoiled brat, me telling you this," says Fleetwood Mac vocalist Christine McVie, "but in the old days we had to get our own luggage! We had to drive our own cars to gigs. We'd have to be doing about fifty- five air connections on North Central, and get blown around. By the time you got to the city of the gig, you had to drive there yourself, and you were a nervous wreck on stage. Sometimes you had to get up at six in the a.m. to get another connection.
"We definitely started at the bottom, I'll say that."
McVie, the woman who wrote the hit songs "Don't Stop," "Over My Head" and "You Make Loving Fun," is speaking from the English-style Beverly Hills home she frequently shares with musician Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. It's one of three residences used by the couple, and it's a lot more luxurious than the London flat Christine lived in when she first became a professional musician with the hard-rocking Chicken Shack in the late '60s.
With all the platinum records she has behind her, McVie can easily manage the high lifestyle of all five current members of the now-successful band responsible for Fleetwood Mac Live (Warner Bros.). Christine's home houses (among other things) her sculpture studio, her Steinway grand piano and the Sony cassette machine she uses for composing songs like "One More Night," her most recent; written contribution to the live set.
"We can afford luxuries that we couldn't when we were starting out," says the former blues singer with the dirty blonde hair. "Our own plane, for example. We're very well-taken care of now; we spend a lot of money pampering ourselves."
Fleetwood spends so much money indulging itself that the making of Fleetwood Mac Live turned into a classic superstar case of over-preparing for a final result. Covering nearly four years of concerts and rehearsals from Munich to Brisbane, its 18 songs form a capsule record of roughly 400 Fleetwood performances. As one critic wrote, it's a "warts and all" album. "Don't Stop" and "One More Night" come off without a hitch, but the vocals on Brian Wilson's oldie, "The Farmer's Daughter," remain unretouched for the world to behold in all their off-key, falsetto splendor.
The lack of overall polish doesn't seem to be bothering fans. Even at $13.98, and with no tour to promote it, Fleetwood Mac Live has become a Top 15 record almost overnight. Except for its incongruous song sequence, the album is true to the style of the on-the-road diaries that few groups besides the Grateful Dead or the old Bluesbreakers have ever attempted.
While several Fleetwood hits and concert favorites are omitted ("You Make Loving Fun," "The Green Manalishi," "The Chain" and "Station Man" are all missing), the double LP does expose the range of the band —from silk-smooth balladry ("Over and Over") to heavy metal intensity ("I'm So Afraid"). The wonder of the record industry is that an album that's essentially a recap of two recent Fleetwood LPs—Fleetwood Mac and Rumours — is selling as well as it is without having more than a pair of new songs to offer. Some retailers now think that the remastered studio record. Rumours (Nautilus), with its crisp and spready sound, may have a second wind as well.
"My feeling about [good] live albums is this," says producer/arranger Clifford Adams, who, using the professional name Cliff Davis, managed Fleetwood Mac from its formation in August 1967 until its Americanization in 1974. "Sometimes you can get an artist who, no matter how they sound in the studio, simply excel live. And Fleetwood Mac made their name as a live band."
"Fleetwood Mac has never done a live album before in any form of this band," claims drummer and charter member Mick Fleetwood. "It seemed to me that after a year on the road [1979-1980], there was no better time to release one."
Fleetwood is probably right about there being no better time —especially with the band members too spread out geographically even to consider starting a new studio record before spring. Yet Fleetwood Mac Live does not, in fact, mark the first non-studio recorded efforts of these veteran rockers. A live Fleetwood project announced in Billboard magazine got underway in 1977, but was shelved. Four of the performances on the record just released ("Monday Morning," "Dreams," "Don't Stop" and "Don't Let Me Down Again") are taken from the '77 tapes. And even these were not the first.
In 1970, engineer Dinky Dawson, who worked for the band, used a mobile unit to record three Fleetwood concerts that featured such never-released numbers as "Jumpin' at Shadows," "Only You" and a live "Green Manalishi" sung by guitarist Peter Green. The set was tentatively titled Fleetwood Mac Live at the Boston Tea Party, and, although the present band would like to keep the record from being released here (it doesn't own the master), the album may still see the light of day in Britain and Europe.
There was one other extensive, in-person recording session. In 1968, the whole band — which was then fronted by Green, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan — cut a live-in-the-studio LP with some Chess bluesmen which is still available on Sire as Fleetwood Mac in Chicago.
Without the experience of these earlier live ventures behind it, it's unlikely that the band could have pulled off Fleetwood Mac Live as well as it did. Fleetwood Mac's rich sound is not an easy one to get from just four instruments at a time (the fourth instrument being roadie Ray Lindsey's acoustic guitar), and is especially difficult to capture live. The foundation of the present harmonic Fleetwood style, which many have credited to American vocalists Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, was actually laid down in 1969 practice sessions at the instigation of guitarist Danny Kirwan. His chorusy song "Station Man" was long a staple of the new Fleetwood Mac's repertoire. Later, Jeremy Spencer and keyboardist Christine McVie followed Kirwan's example, and the origin became blurred with change after personnel change. "We all work so closely, all rely so much on each other," Kirwan said in 1971, "that we're totally integrated."
As the group toured Europe and America, fine-tuning its vocal sound as it worked out more intricate arrangements to "Only You" (from the live-in- Boston tape), "Future Games" and "Sands of Time," Fleetwood Mac became as well-known as a rocking harmony band as it had been as a blues rock outfit. After Kirwan and Bob Welch were both long gone, the band hired Buckingham and Nicks (who had asexual tenor/alto ranges much like Danny's and Christine's) and in early 1975 coaxed the new singers into augmenting an already-developed sound. The visual appeal and the hit-writing talent of the newcomers, added to Christine McVie's strengths in the same areas, made the group a much more formidable commercial force.
Birmingham-born Christine McVie, who joined Fleetwood in 1970, has a long memory when it comes to the band's development as a live attraction.
"We don't get the same kind of jitters as we did," McVie says with a low- pitched, northern English inflection, "cause we're so established now. Now we know we don't have to worry about monitor problems, and we know that everything works like a well-oiled machine. If we don't sound good, it's our own fault."
"In the old days, the monitors would go out and the lights would blow up. You couldn't very well count on a good recording except in a studio. I'd be making do on stage with a piano that made obscene noises —it would make this atrocious crackling, farting noise. It would sound like some sort of alien parrot trying to get through. Things like that would make you very nervous and very irritated. Now, no expense is spared with the equipment. If we don't sound good, we don't get people to come see us." Christine always takes a Yamaha C-3 grand piano and a fiberglass-cased Hammond organ on the road with her; they're part of the 14,000 pounds of equipment the crew hauls to every gig. Like the overhead of a private plane and limousines, that sort of equipment expense forms part of the explanation for the high prices of Fleetwood Mac tickets and records. And Christine acknowledges that she no longer has to tend to instruments herself.
"Touring is more strenuous when you're starting off in show business that it is when you're successful," admits McVie. "I'm talking ten years ago now. Chicken Shack? That was absurd! We didn't even have cars—we just had an old van. We had to jump, the choke on constantly to get it to move." Christine laughs at the memory. "We couldn't afford a roadie then. Sometimes, if the van broke down, we had to sleep the night in the back." McVie was the only woman in the boisterous Chicken Shack. "Always windows steaming up in the middle of winter. It was a nightmare."
Now Christine McVie plays songs about dreams instead. "I'm not painting a ridiculously rosy picture if I say that our personal problems are history." The only reminder Fleetwood Mac Live contains of the good old bad old days is a standout performance of Peter Green's "Oh Well," by far the most powerful song on the album. Even though he's not the right physical type to fit the song's point of view, Lindsey Buckingham wails Green's tormented lyrics as if he'd lived through Fleetwood's early days himself:
I can't help about the shape I'm in./I can't sing, I ain't pretty and my legs are thin./ Don't ask me what I think of you/I might not give the answer that you want me to.
The live album exposes more of the musicians' emotions —"a little bit of un- zipping," as Christine would say —than their recent studio records have. Other than its documentary value, that's the great strength of Fleetwood Mac Live. Still, getting these four sides of vinyl meant splicing tapes chosen from hundreds of shows that spanned four years of this wealthy band's career. Why was Dinky Dawson able to get a whole LP out of just three shows by a band that was, in its own words, "at the bottom"?
"You look back on it," says Christine, "and the best times are the time when you had to struggle a bit. It's a different kind of exhilaration that we get from playing now," she explains. "We no longer get the thrill of wondering how we're gonna go over."
Fleetwood Mac rarely plays a show longer than two hours any more, and Christine, 37, calls even that amount of time on stage "physically tiring." After playing, she told Contemporary Keyboard magazine, "I take a break and have a drink, or just stagger off the stage until my arms recover." In the days of the Boston Tea Party shows, Clifford Adams points out, the young band's resiliency to performing was a lot greater. . . and potentially more advantageous to a mobile recording project, presuming that no "alien parrots" were flying about the venue.
"I remember one evening," Adams reminisces, "when we were doing New York-the Fillmore East-and [Bill] Graham came to me, trying to get them off stage at 3:55 in the morning. They'd been on for six hours, and the kids wouldn't let 'em go."
"It's not the same kind of exhilaration now," McVie admits. "It's a different kind of excitement. The thrill of playing our regular show is a thrill in a very self- confident way. The main feeling we know we're gonna get is, 'My God, all these kids have come to see us!’ "
Thank you to ejb1969, for this article