Though reunited, Fleetwood Mac are still one dysfunctional family.
Forty years after the line-up that conquered the world with Rumours first came together, Fleetwood Mac are still having problems agreeing on anything much. The return to the fold 16 months ago of Christine McVie, after an absence of 16 years, is one development they all speak positively about, with none of the usual caveats and festering agendas.
“There’s Stevie on one side of the spectrum,” says Lindsey Buckingham, the band’s coiled, restless, 65-year-old musical director and, what seems like a lifetime ago, Stevie Nicks’s boyfriend, “and me kind of on the other, in terms of sensibilities. Christine sort of bridges that gap.”
Where Buckingham talks in the clinical manner of a scientist, Nicks dives right in. “Christine’s coming back was like the return of my best friend after years away. It’s much more fun now. We were always a force to be reckoned with, and that’s happened again.”
For McVie, 71, having emerged from what she describes as years of isolation in a remote Kent farmhouse, years of “mud, and grey days, where your life is dark, your heart is dark, your brain is dark”, rejoining the band “feels like a resurrection. I feel confident again, self-assured, I know I can put my fingers on a piano and play, I can write again, I can sing.”
And Mick Fleetwood, aged 67, gentle giant, drummer, court jester and the band’s unofficial manager and cajoler-in-chief, is characteristically gung-ho.
“It’s been an enormous benefit. I turn round every night during the shows, when Stevie’s doing her Gypsy intro, which sometimes goes on a little long, and there’s John and Christine chatting away, sitting on an amp. And I sit there and think, ‘How cool is that?’ I’ve asked them, ‘What are you talking about?’ and they say, ‘Oh, you know, we’re just catching up on stuff.’ It’s the sweetest thing.”
The band, whose European tour begins in London on Wednesday, have just completed an 81-date run around North America, and there are signs of wear and tear. Holding court at various locations in Santa Monica, the Mac — save for Christine’s ex-husband, the bass player John McVie, 69, who is currently in remission from cancer and rarely grants an interview at the best of times — accentuate the positives, but cannot quite eliminate the negatives. This is the latest stage in a journey, or saga, that has always been as riveting for its off-stage shenanigans as it has been for the music that has soundtracked the lives of successive generations.
Nicks, sitting in her vast apartment, its wraparound, floor-to-ceiling windows making you feel as if you are suspended above the ocean, seems the most conflicted and ambivalent. Buckingham, by telephone, exudes a serenity you sense is hard won and, by all accounts, paper-thin. McVie talks like a lovable, slightly dotty aunt, words tumbling over themselves, candour suddenly rearing up and slapping you in the face.
Then there’s Fleetwood, resplendent in various shades of aquamarine, charms, chains and bangles rattling from wrist and neck, who goes back down memory lane to early-1960s Notting Hill, hanging out as a teen in coffee bars and flirting with the girl who would become his first wife; and, later, fights tears while talking about the recent death of his mother, and his plans to walk Hadrian’s Wall in her memory.
“I was telling Lindsey about that the other day,” he says, “and he went, ‘Oh, you and your rose-tinted spectacles.’ I said, ‘Well, look where they’ve got all of us. You should trying wearing them yourself some time.’”
If the two McVies are now friends again, and Fleetwood still adept at playing the role of peacemaker, the relationship between Buckingham and Nicks seems as dysfunctional as ever. Most bands, with a tour raking it in and a new album in the planning stages, would, you feel, have a fairly clear idea of how the near future was going to pan out. Yet that mooted album — their first in the classic line-up since Tango in the Night in 1987; Buckingham and Christine McVie have collaborated on seven songs — already sounds fraught with some of the same old problems.
“Chris’s return has been a huge help for some of the things that Stevie and Lindsey continue to go through,” says Fleetwood, with a hint of exasperation, “in terms of … well, it’s a form of button-pushing, about which Christine would say, ‘This should long since have been over.’”
Buckingham sounds wary when the album comes up. “We had planned on reconvening at the start of next year, but, again, there is the politics. Stevie has not involved herself in it, and has not committed to involving herself in it either, so that’s something we’re working on.”
Nicks, 67 on Tuesday, doesn’t even try to hide her fatigue. “Tomorrow will be show 79, and then we come to you, and then we go to Australia. Three solid years of Fleetwood Mac. When that’s done, I’m done. I’m done. I’m taking a long vacation. I’ve bought a little house on the other side of Malibu, I’ve owned it since March last year and I have three chairs in the living room, and that’s it. I’ve spent five days there in a year. People keep saying, ‘How’s the new house?’ I don’t know, I haven’t been there. I need a break.
“Maybe I shouldn’t be saying this in an interview, but I don’t really care. I have done my best, every single night, to go out there and be my best, and not be upset about the fact that we are doing 80 shows instead of 60, and then going straight to Europe and doing 27 shows instead of 17.”
Isn’t she keen, though, to have her own material represented on the new album? “I don’t know how I really feel about that. I’m not in a good place right now to make decisions. We are on the road, and in my opinion we should not be thinking past that. We’re a strange band of bandits and gypsies, travelling as part of this huge machine. This tour would never have happened if Chris hadn’t come back.”
Christine McVie admits to some bemusement about the continuing discord between the band’s Californian contingent. She describes the appeal of returning to the band as one of “chemistry, simple chemistry. I’m drawn to these four people. How can you not love Mick? He’s bold, eccentric, arrogant, pompous, vulnerable, warm and sweet. Lindsey is another type of character altogether. He has the darkest, most caustic sense of humour ever. He really makes me laugh, but he can also be so twitchy and edgy; you know, ‘Keep away.’ He’s always crossing his arms, his legs. And you just think, ‘Relax.’ He and Stevie don’t get on. On stage, they act. Privately, no.
“John and I genuinely have a friendship, I love Mick, and I love both of them. But it’s like putting a wet hand in a plug socket, it’s an electric shock every time. Who knows how long it will last? The idea is to try to finish the album, and then tour it. But Stevie says: ‘You’ve just had 16 years off. Now it’s my turn.’”
For McVie, her return was worth it, no matter the bickering that continues to coexist with some sublime live performances (for all that, the one I watched in Los Angeles was pretty lacklustre and flat). Anything’s better than that Kent fastness, she says.
“I was living in this sprawling wasteland, in the middle of 50 acres of farmland. It’s a lovely place, but it’s too isolated, and I think that’s what drove me into this slow decline; the dogs and the wellington boots and the Land Rover, the idea that you’re going to bake cookies in the Aga. And you don’t. You just get depressed. I tried writing songs again, and nothing came, nothing. I was there, in the middle of acres of greenery and sheep, and totally alone.”
Nicks, clearly ready for that (long) vacation, says she still finds herself having to talk about the band’s 1970s heyday, the busted relationships, the drink and the drugs, the wounds that, in some cases, never quite seem to heal. “And I don’t enjoy going back to that time, because it’s not who I wish that I had been. I wish that I’d been less fucked-up and less drugged-out. Done a little bit less coke, drunk a little less, smoked a little less pot. I don’t feel romantic about it at all. People like hearing about it, but it wasn’t their journey, it was mine. I was young and beautiful and just so super-unattractive.”
Of the Buckingham-Nicks relationship, Fleetwood speculates: “On some level they must be addicted to it, to something — to love, probably. It’s strange when you’re a friend to both parties, and I do sometimes get drawn in, but you don’t want to be like the messenger in El Cid, bringing in the head. I want them to be sitting on an amp, like John and Chris. I don’t think it will ever happen, but I don’t know that for sure.” He pauses, to relocate a more positive thread.
“Look, this is one hell of a thing, not all of it is ever going to be 100% happy, but it’s one hell of a weird, wonderful thing. And if it were a book, you’d want it to end like this.”
Key songs on Rumours
- You Make Loving Fun
- Go Your Own Way
- Don’t Stop
Fleetwood Mac’s tour begins on Wednesday at the O2, London SE10
Dan Cairns / The Sunday Times (UK) / Sunday, May 24, 2015