She wrote some of the band’s best known hits but walked away for a quiet life in the country. But now Christine McVie is back with Fleetwood Mac on a tour which is heading to New Zealand. She talks about her return to the fold.
Speaking from London, Christine McVie sounds a bit like a more mellow, less posh Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous.
There’s a lovely, light, warm huskiness, and plenty of character in the voice that’s been missing from the Fleetwood Mac line-up for the past 17 years – the voice (and pen) behind many of their hits, like Don’t Stop, Little Lies, Songbird, and You Make Loving Fun.
But now that voice is back.
Rumours swirled after McVie appeared on stage with the band in Dublin and London during their 2013 tour, and in January 2014 it was announced that she was officially back in the band.
And now, more than halfway through their current world tour – entitled On With The Show – the 71-year-old sounds totally convinced she made the right decision, and is thrilled to be touring again.
“We’re having a ball. Every night, I look across the stage from where I’m playing piano, stage right, and I can see the rest of them, John, Mick, Stevie, and Lindsey, and it awes me every night. I just think, blimey, you guys are fantastic. I think the difference this time is that we’re all smiling.”
Not that she had any dissatisfaction with the band or the music, or even the performing when she left the group in 1998. McVie felt she had to leave for a far more simple reason: she couldn’t deal with aeroplanes anymore.
“It was never the playing or the people, it was just that I’d developed a hideous fear of flying! And I loathed living out of a suitcase forever and I really longed for some roots. I wanted to have a home, where I could go home, and unlock my door, and go in, and be settled. I was tired of being a gypsy. And that was fine really.”
She’d been doing it for nearly 30 years, after all, and as has been well documented, some of those years were pretty rocky – McVie was probably the least naughty of the five.
But the band had its fair share of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll excess. So the appeal of some time out at an old country farmhouse in England was understandable. She wanted a bit of isolation, a bit of quiet, and a different kind of life.
“I restored the house from the roof downwards, and I had fun with that for about five years, imagining I was living this country life with the welly boots and the dogs and the Range Rover. And then I just started to get bored.
“And I hadn’t really sat at a piano very much at all during that time, so I started to play again, and drifted around, writing and so on, and I did make a solo album with my nephew Dan Perfect, called In The Mean Time. But because of my fear of flying, I didn’t promote it. And so it was released and did nothing at all” she laughs.
She pottered about for another few years, but her boredom and isolation got worse, and so she decided to seek help for her fear of flying, and for the various other issues she was grappling with.
“I went to a psychiatrist, and I was looking for help with other problems as well, isolation problems – all sorts of stuff started happening being in the country on my own – so I sought help, and this chap, who has since become a really good friend, he said, ‘Well what are you going to do for the rest of your life? Are you going to sit around, and drive your Range Rover, and put your Hunter boots on, and that’s it?”
That got her thinking. He also asked where she’d most like to go if she could get on a plane, and she knew the answer immediately: Hawaii – where Mick Fleetwood is based on Maui.
“So my psychiatrist said ‘Why don’t you book yourself a ticket? You don’t have to get on the plane, just book the ticket. So I did.”
Serendipitously, Fleetwood happened to be coming to London for promotional duties around the same time, and decided to align his return ticket with McVie’s so she could (hopefully) fly to Maui with him. And she did it.
“It was funny, I stepped on the aeroplane, and I texted my psychiatrist and said, ‘Oooh, I don’t know about this, I’m smelling the jet fumes’, and he replied ‘No, that’s the perfume of freedom’. And I thought, ‘Yeah! That’s cool’.
“So we took off and I didn’t even think about it, and I haven’t since. I’m free! It’s an incredible feeling when you’re grounded and you feel like you can’t really go anywhere, I felt like I was stuck. No chance of coming to Australia and New Zealand. But now it’s fantastic.”
Of course overcoming her fear of flying was one step, but rejoining the band was another.
While she was in Maui, she got up on stage with Fleetwood at his local venue, and really enjoyed jamming along. So then when whole band went to Britain in 2013, she thought she’d try getting up on stage as part of Fleetwood Mac again, as a special guest.
“I was terrified. I had met them in Dublin, and rehearsed with them. But it was a very strange feeling walking on to the stage – I was terrified, because the technology has changed so much since I was in the band originally, now we use these really sophisticated in-ear contraptions, which I wasn’t used to at all, and all those little things took a bit of getting used to.”
But the overwhelmingly positive response to her appearance convinced McVie it was time to ask her bandmates if she could rejoin the band – and they welcomed her with open arms.
Now she’s convinced Fleetwood Mac are the best they’ve ever been.
“I feel more at home on stage than ever, much more confident, and happier.
” I love the way we sound. And, not trying to blow my own trumpet, but we sound better than we’ve ever sounded before I believe. I think we all now have an appreciation of what we were 18 years ago. Because for quite a few years in the middle there they couldn’t play things like Little Lies and Make Loving Fun. And then me rejoining and playing my part on the piano, and the little nuances I contribute, and the backing vocals, it’s making us all realise ‘Gosh, that really is a great song’.”
In fact things are going so well that they’ve already started recording a new album.
Lindsey Buckingham and McVie started writing new songs together in February last year, and the band has recently finished a nearly two-month run in Studio D at the Village Recorder in Los Angeles, where they also made 1979’s Tusk.
“We did about eight songs so far, which are all fantastic. One is about my flying fear, which is called Carnival Begin, which is a really beautiful song.
“Stevie was working on another project so she hasn’t come in yet, but she will. And we’re planning on trying to have an album finished by early next year, and releasing it in the spring.
“It’s exciting, because the songs feel fresh – they’re modern, they’re sexy, they’re great.”
Writing with Buckingham again felt completely natural too – like the proverbial pair of worn slippers.
“We just fell right back into the same slot,” she laughs. “It was as though time had not existed all those years, we just fell into this great songwriting partnership again immediately. It’s chemistry really.”
And the things that inspire her songwriting haven’t changed much either. “I’m still emotionally a 17-year-old, always looking for the right man, you know!”
But even though she professes to still be searching for Mr Right, the tumultuous relationships of her 20s and 30s are well laid to rest, including her 1976 divorce from bandmate, bassist John McVie, and now they feel more like a family than ever.
“When we’re flying between shows, I just often look around our little plane, and look at everybody, and everyone is chatting and laughing or sleeping or eating, and I just feel, this is really a family.
“For all our differences and history and unsettled times in the past, we’ve come out of it, on the other side, and we can celebrate that. Our diversity is still keeping us together somehow. Don’t ask me how, but it’s magic.”
Who: Christine McVie and Fleetwood Mac
What: On With The Show tour
Where and when: Performing at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on November 21 and 22.
Lydia Jenkin / New Zealand Herald / Saturday, 6th June 2015