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Surviving the Fleetwoods  
 
Christine McVie  


 
The Guardian Newspaper
Will Hodgkinson
Friday June 18, 2004
 
According to one of its most long-standing members, the career of Fleetwood Mac has been something of a prolonged accident.
 
Christine McVie had retired from music when she joined them in 1970 after founder member Peter Green left because the rest of the band refused to give all their money to charity. McVie, who was married to the band's bassist John McVie, did not intend to stay for long. Twenty-seven years later, she finally called it a day.
 
Then there was the recording of Rumours, Fleetwood Mac's 1977 album that, until Michael Jackson's Thriller, was the best-selling record of all time. Rumours is loaded with significance for large amounts of people, either as a soundtrack to love and youth or as the symbol of all that had gone wrong with music by the late 70s, but Fleetwood Mac made the album that documented their fragmenting relationships in chaotic circumstances.
 
McVie wrote Songbird and Don't Stop on her way to studio, while most of the songs were created over extended jams with the help of a crate of champagne and a bottle of Chivas Regal. Through this disorderly process, one of the most significant records in the history of pop music was created.
 
 "A duck walked into my kitchen this morning," says McVie, who now spends most of her days cooking and gardening at her house in Kent. She recently recorded In the Meantime, her third solo album in 30 years, at a converted barn at the end of the garden. "It reminded me that I was pleased to put the lid on the life I was leading in Los Angeles and return to England. I have a lot to be grateful to LA for, but I overstayed my welcome by 28 years. I was only meant to be there for six months."
 
McVie seems far too normal to be the pianist, singer and songwriter of a multi-platinum selling band, and it's probably this deep-rooted normality that helped her survive some extremely turbulent times.
 
Peter Green was Fleetwood Mac's first victim. He took large amounts of LSD in the late 60s, and by 1970 he was appearing on stage in robes and crucifixes. "All that was missing was the crown of thorns," says McVie. "It was such a shame because he was a musical genius. The rose was starting to open with [1969's] Then Play On, when he created a style of blues music that was uniquely British, but what he began with that album never got completed."
 
The next to go was fellow guitarist Jeremy Spencer, another founder member. Soon after the band arrived in Los Angeles in 1970, Spencer went for a walk along Sunset Strip to buy a newspaper and never came back. He had been co-opted by a religious cult called The Children of God, with which he has remained ever since.
 
"Who could have predicted that?" says McVie. "I do remember that when we touched down on the plane, Jeremy said, 'I shouldn't be here.' He was always a bit loopy, though. I don't think he was sure of his own identity. Jeremy was fine when he was pretending to be Elvis Presley or Cliff Richard, but the moment he tried to be Jeremy he was lost."
 
The good and bad times continued in Los Angeles for the rest of the 70s and much of the 80s, when most of the band took to using large amounts of cocaine. One of their drug buddies was Dennis Wilson, the drummer of the Beach Boys who drowned in 1983. In 1977, when Wilson and McVie were an item, he made a beautiful album called Pacific Ocean Blue that has become something of a lost classic. It remains one of McVie's favourite records, and not just because she sang on it.
 
"He was brilliant, but the problem was that he was just so helpless. He would get a big, litre bottle of orange juice, tip half of it out, and fill it up with rum. Then he would put in a few ice cubes and carry it around with him all day, and by the evening it would be acrid and he would still be drinking it. The smell was vile. He vanished for days on end, he wouldn't go to bed, and yet when he was straight he was the most charming guy. He was very funny as well, although that was unintentional."
 
Another favourite album of McVie's is Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys' orchestral pop masterpiece that was made by Brian Wilson while the rest of the band was on tour. Dennis was the only Beach Boy to applaud Brian's great work. "Dennis loved Pet Sounds because he had an undercurrent of genius himself, but he couldn't control it."
 
An early sign of Wilson's lack of control came when, as a token of his love for McVie, he hired a team of people to dig up her back garden into a giant heart shape. He was intending to fill the heart-shaped hole with roses, but he never got round to it. "My lawn was now just a big pile of dirt. He had all these people holding a candle around the edge of it, slowly sinking into the mud. Then he got up on the balcony and proposed to me. Then he sent me the bill for the work. I suppose his heart was in the right place."
 
McVie runs through a few more of her favourite albums - Revolver by the Beatles, anything by the American blues singer Freddie King, with whom she once played, Raspberry Beret by Prince - before confessing that she hardly ever listens to pop music these days. Classic FM is on the radio when she's cooking.
 
One album that has stayed with her, though, is Gaucho by Steely Dan. "It sounds like very sexy music to me, much more so than their earlier albums, and every time I listen to it I hear something else in there. Since then they have been plagiarising themselves. But that's OK; I think they've earned the right. If you can't plagiarise yourself, who can you plagiarise?"

 

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Last Updated - 19 June 2004

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