Sandy Robertson finds out what’s eating Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac
CREDIBILITY IS a weird thing, that’s for sure. Impossible to explain how it is attained, difficult to define once it has arrived. But one thing is assured: whatever it is, Fleetwood Mac have it.
From a blues band to a broken unit with deranged members exiting left and right to an unknown outfit in American exile to a megabuck mélange of wild divorcees, credibility has (surprisingly) never been far behind the Mac. Even at their hugest with Fleetwood Mac and Rumours, they were the West Coast kids you were still allowed to like. Cripes, they could still release a double LP (Tusk) at enormous recording expense and be lauded for it: when they played Wembley the Mac got good reviews. Charmed lives, or a mirage?
Mirage is the title of the brand new Fleetwood Mac LP and Christine McVie, as one of the English part of the band has been dispatched straight to London with a rough cassette of the work to play for sundry hacks. And I, being the first of the day, am (gasp!) told that I am the first scribbler in the world to hear the new Fleetwood Mac album!!!
If I’m not wowed by the mystery, I’m jazzed by the trax: Mirage could almost be an album by another band, were it not for the assured harmonies and confident playing, the mood is so optimistic and up. Titles, hitpicks? “Oh Diane,” “Love In Store,” “Book Of Love” (no not…), and “Hold Me,” to mention but a handful. Every cut I heard had that Mac magic.
Ms. McVie looks only slightly the worse for her Transatlantic wrestle with a failing Concord schedule, blonde hair offset by worldweary wrinkles as she sits in her plush suite. Extravagance? One had heard that the new Mac opus would represent a scaling down of the operations that led to Tusk costing as much as buying a whole studio. So was Mirage cheap?
“No, it took a year to make, but then in the meantime there was Lindsey, Mick and Stevie’s solo stuff, so in fact we had four albums in a year, which is pretty good if you look at it that way.
“But the money isn’t as fluid as it used to be, though Fleetwood Mac have never been known to do things in a cheap way, we definitely like to do things in style! We don’t have crates of Dom Perignon delivered to the studio every night, in the past it’s been outrageous. We don’t cut short on the music, just personal needs.”
Was it really all caviar and decadence?
“Caviar is an exaggeration, but our riders were ridiculous! One time Dennis Wilson came down and said ‘The food and booze you guys have here costs more per week than it’d cost me to hire a studio!’ It was kind of getting ludicrous,” she avows with a certain nostalgia in her voice.
I didn’t ask about the rumour of Coke bottle lids filled with their powdered namesake backstage at Wembley. Myth, myth…
She seems unperturbed by the vagaries of the Press and blissfully unsurprised by the good reviews.
“You get good Press, you get bad Press, if we get any Press it’s good! Just as long as they’re still writing about you. The thing is when you don’t get any at all you start worrying. We set the fashions, we don’t follow them”. I express surprise at how, er, raunchy they were live at Wembley.
“The albums are a lot cleaner in general, they’re well thought out. I figure there’s definitely two sides to Fleetwood Mac, the live side is a lot more rock ‘n’ roll than people think we are, we’re not so clean-cut.”
I bring up the view of Mac oft perpetrated that says a writer/performer as talented as Christine McVie must find it galling to be upstaged by a young Stevie Nicks running around and changing frocks all the time.
“Yeah, well she certainly does that! Believe me, I would hate to run around onstage changing clothes every five minutes and playing tambourines and things,” here her voice hints ever so slightly at claws extending in a feline manner. “I would hate to be in her shoes. I’m very happy, thank you, standing behind the keyboards. I’m a musician, y’know? I’m more a musician band member than a frontline…”, and her voice trails off for a second, the short silence making its own point.
“There’s no competition, In fact, she’s jealous of me because I can play keyboards better than her.”
Rock royalty of today suffer as much from intrusion into privacy as the Hollywood stars of old, but in the recent past Fleetwood Mac appeared to be revelling in the garish spotlight of who-is-doing-what-to-whom-with-what, an intergroup ménage-a-band scenario that wrecked relationships but sold records. In retrospect, do they resent all that?
“We joke about that now, it’s a source of amusement to us. Now the pain is no longer there we’re all really good friends. In fact, we create things just for fun. In fact, she deadpans before a guffaw, “I’m going out with Mick at the moment!”
Mirage reflects the upbeat current at work in Mac now, even on a ballad like McVie’s haunting “Only Over You.” Sadly, to these ears, there is nothing as willfully experimental as the title track of “Tusk” with its marching band pseudo-Charles Ives flavors.
“No, there’s nothing weird on it at all, there’s no little hidden goblins anywhere, it’s all straightforward simple rock ‘n’ roll songs. Tusk sold nine million copies so it can’t be too shabby can it? But a lot of people gave us flak about that album. It’s very different, very different, very Lindsey Buckingham. I’ll have to say that. He was going through some musical experiments at the time.
McVie swigs some wine, looking less like a rock star than an accountant’s wife from Maidenhead and compares Mirage to Rumours, noting the lyrical differences.
“These songs are an awful lot happier. Rumours was kind of the message of doom, the songs were up but the words were all about each other’s jaded love lives”.
Our photographer notes the resilience it must have taken to keep the band together while they all loathed each other.
“We just go from day to day,” she says, like an advice column, “We have done for seven years and I’m sure we will for another seven. Right now we’re fine. We’re better friends now than ever”.
It’s indeed a random alchemy that breeds success: “The band as it is now is by far the most popular series of people. Now and again someone’ll come up and say ‘What happened to Peter Green, Danny Kirwan, Jeremy Spencer?’ and we just go ‘Who?’“
Do they ever see any of those groaning oldies, I wonder?
“Not any more. Peter came over to the States and stayed with Mick for a while, Jeremy came over for a while, Danny Kirwan? I haven’t seen him since the day he left the band!”
The Fleetwood Mac LP was the one that started the ball rolling in earnest.
“Yeah, that Penguin album was our worst, even though there were a couple of my songs on it that I like and would like to re-do, but we knew that Fleetwood Mac record was good. And we knew we had a chemistry onstage even though we were playing to half-filled halls of people going ‘Oh no! They haven’t got another line-up have they?’ But the people who did come went crazy, without smoke bombs or weird make-up. I mean, we’re too old to be punky, we’re all knockin’ on now!
“I’m being educated at the moment, but I’m not too familiar with all these new up-and-coming bands here, I’m ashamed to say”.
I venture to tell her about the merits of the wonderful ABC, the pulsing talent of Martin Fry and his merrymen. “ABC, is that a band?”
That is California stardom!
© Sandy Robertson / Sounds / May 6, 1982