Fleetwood Mac

Five Go Mad
By Nigel Williamson

Uncut Magazine's
May 2003 issue

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Rock's greatest soap opera, FLEETWOOD MAC went to hell and back to bring the world some of the most popular and most perfect, hard-centered easy listening music pf all time. But it nearly cost them their sanity. And their lives....

AUGUST 7, 1987. Fleetwood Mac arc enjoying a third burst of success after the Peter Green/"Albatross" years and Rumours heyday. Their new album, Tango In The Night has just topped the charts in Britain and America on its way to global sales that will eventually approach l0 million. But all is not well in the camp. When the band meets at Christine McVie's Hollywood home to resolve their differences, the atmosphere is venomous A row breaks out over Lindsey Buckingham's refusal to tour, and when former lover Stevie Nicks tries to remonstrate with him, the highly strung guitarist explodes. "get this bitch out of my way. And fuck the lot of you" he screams, as he pushes her over the hood of his car and delivers a slap. Vowing never to speak to the band again, he drives off into the sunset with the parting shot, "You're a bunch of selfish bastards.

Flash back more than a decade. You could be forgiven for thinking that the pinnacle of Fleetwood Mac's convoluted, incestuous, drug-fuelled, trash novel insanity had been reached in 1976 when they were recording Rumours. In fact, it was only the start of what was to become rock'n'roll's longest running real life soap opera. The omens could not have been less propitious when the band went into the Record Plant studio in Sausalito, San Francisco. Their previous album, 1975's Fleetwood Mac, sat at the top of the US charts. But nobody knew if they could stay together long enough even to complete the follow up. The torrid six year romance between Nicks and Buckingham has recently ended in bitterness and rancour and the two are only speaking to each other to hurl insults and recriminations, John McVie and Christine McVie, married for eight years, are not speaking at all, except through the expensive lawyers negotiating their messy divorce. Mick Fleetwood, too, is going through a divorce of his own and is about to complicate matters further by embarking on an affair with Nicks.

Outside of being trapped in the same band and writing songs to each other, detailing every jealousy and betrayal in the emotional maelstrom they have created, the only common currency is the huge, velvet bag of cocaine which engineer Ken Calliat keeps under the mixing desk and which the band demand
at regular intervals to 'refresh' themselves. Yet out of this traumatically troubled and tangled web comes the bestselling album of all time (at least until Michael Jackson cleans up with Thriller). Ultimately, Rumours will shift more than 25 million copies and set Fleetwood Mac up on millionaire's row for life, an amazing achievement for a band one with an entire pre history born out of the British '60s blues boom.

The phenomenal success of Rumours keeps Fleetwood Mac together, but it's against all rational judgement, and at a price. In the intervening decade the dysfunction and trauma they turned to such positive and creative effect on Rumours has gone from bad to worse. Much worse. With lifestyles that would not have been out of place on the set of Dallas or Dynasty and the most outrageous touring circus this side of Led Zeppelin, the band descends into a collective drink and drugs hell. Excess of every kind is the order of the day. Nicks has an affair with Don Henley of The Eagles, falls offstage and checks into the Betty Ford Clinic for cocaine addiction. Then, on her release, she sinks into an even deeper and more debilitating dependency on the tranquilliser Klonopin and nearly dies all over again. John McVie has an alcohol induced seizure and is busted at his Hawaii home with four and a half grammes of pure cocaine and a collection of illegal firearms. Christine McVie has an affair with the band's lighting director and then falls for doomed Beach Boys wild man Dennis Wilson. By her own admission, it's taking a magnum of vintage Dora Perignon a day just for her to get by. Mick Fleetwood is busy blowing his millions on debauchery and is deep in his own brain frying self destruction, involving industrial quantities of cocaine washed down with bottles of brandy.

BY 1986,WHEN IT COMES to recording Tango In The Night after a four year lay off, the task of ensuring the record is not a complete disaster has fallen overwhelmingly on the intense and nervy figure of Buckingham. Nicks, little more than a sedated zombie, barely attends the year long sessions, and Buckingham is forced to doctor the tapes to kid the world into believing she is on songs that she has never even heard. A half-crazed Fleetwood spends much of the recording nodding out in a Winnebago parked outside Buckingham's home studio. Bass player John McVie only turns up when absolutely necessary to put down his basslines, while his ex-wife Christine, for whom he still carries a torch, views all the madness with increasing distaste. Left almost single-handedly to fashion the album and having successfully delivered his less industrious colleagues yet another bank filling, career saving, multi-platinum winner, a frustrated Buckingham decides he has finally had enough. His colleagues are appalled. However out of it they may be, they're not too far gone to realise that, without their main musical focus, they're in trouble. Throughout the summer of 1987, the rest of the band has attempted to twist his arm to join them on their forthcoming world tour. At one point, Buckingham's agreement appears to have been secured and a celebratory dinner is arranged. By that evening, he has changed his mind again and fails show up at the restaurant.

Tired of his vacillating, the rest of the band summon him to a final showdown at Christine McVie's house. When their pleading and cajoiling continues to fall on deaf ears, the exchanges grow angrier. Finally, when Nicks intervenes, Buckingham snaps. Although the couple had broken up back in 1976, a decade's worth of pent-up emotion spews forth and Buckingham walks out on the band.

MORE THAN 15 YEARS LATER, Buckingham is back, rehearsing for a new stadium tour at Culver City Studios, Los Angeles, and with a new Fleetwood Mac studio album. Christine McVie has gone, having moved back to England to retire with her husband to a big house in Kent. Otherwise, it is the classic Fleetwood Mac line-up. Older and wiser and a little less volatile. But back with the same melodic and beguiling sound they perfected on albums such as Fleetwood Mac, Rumours  and Tusk. And after years of being regarded as the enemy, it seems that Fleetwood Mac are cool again. "I think the intriguing thing to a lot of people is that there's never been a period in rock as debauched as the period after Rumours," said Courtney Love, who in the late 90's covered Stevie Nicks' cocaine-inspired "Gold Dust Woman". "Nobody's touched it. "Ex-Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan is another fan (in the mid-90's he recorded a cover version of "Landslide" from 1975's Fleetwood Mac). And when Uncut recently visited Tricky at his home in Venice Beach, California, even the dark one was playing Fleetwood Mac, proclaiming them to be "fucking brilliant".

For Buckingham, Say You Will is the first Fleetwood Mac studio album he has been involved with since the fateful Tango in the Night, and although he disputes some of the details of the confrontation that resulted in his 1987 departure, he concedes euphemistically it was "not a happy day". Yet he regards the new album as a "vindication" of his walk-out. "If I hadn't left then, I wouldn't be in this place now," he reasons. "So it all makes sense in some way. That's part of the beauty of us being back together". At 55, Buckingham seems far more relaxed and less intense than the character we met on Fleetwood Mac's 1997 reunion tour. Sitting cross-legged and relaxed on a couch at the Culver City Sound Stage rehearsal space in LA, he scratches his head and laughs a lot. When the band's US publicist sticks her head around the door to say," five more minutes," he replies, "Hey, 10, 15, whatever, it's cool." "I'm now married and I have a four-and-a half-year-old son and a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter," he explains. "I think all that calms you down in increments, without you even being aware of it. You get more balance and you feel like there's something greater than yourself in the scheme of things. I'm just happier. I spent quite a few years in emotional exile and that includes all my time in Fleetwood Mac, really." There was never a time in the band when his relationship with Nicks wasn't characterised as "dysfunctional" and "denial", he admits with total candour. "That sounds strange when we split up so many years earlier. But most couples in that position don't carry on seeing each other all the time. Being in a band is like still living with someone. We weren't able to resolve things because I don't think we were focused enough even to know what needed to be resolved." Even on the 1997 tour he feels there was still a "residue". Since then he gained a family of his own for the first time and has finally been able to move on. "And this time when we started again I found I really liked the chemistry of the band without the baggage we carried around for so long. We can acknowledge what happened. But we are different people."

Talking to Mick Fleetwood at the rehearsal studio where the band are preparing for their forthcoming tour, the drummer agrees. But he also says that the unique chemistry that created Rumours has not entirely dissipated. " There's an incredible amount of emotional investment outside of the music within this band. The vibration of what happened is still alive. It's not theatre, it's real," he adds, stretching his long frame across a couch, still the elegant English dandy. "Christine has gone, but Stevie is surrounded by three men, two of whom she's had relationships with. This makes for an interesting copy. My friendship and absolute love for Stevie is still able to exist. She's my wife's best friend and we've all just come back from a vacation in Hawaii together. It's not corporate. It's still a powerful thing emotionally. There are area's for Stevie and Lindsey that are still sticky for them. But we've found a road map where this can happen.

TALKING TO NICKS, who seems animated and incredibly open, the Fleetwood Mac story is not so much soap opera as gothic romance. Either way, it's a tale in which she believed the final chapter had been written with the band's 1997 reunion tour and the subsequent departure of Christine McVie. "Not all the King's horses and all the King's men could put it back together,"  she sang on "fall From Grace", from her 2001 solo album, Trouble in Shangri-La. "Yes, that was totally about the band," she admits now. Yet she had no hesitation in signing on again when approached. "it's like the restless spirit of Fleetwood Mac still needs to find peace," she says. "That sounds a bit Wuthering Heights. But in a way it is. I don't think any of us could be in any other band."

Say You Will feature 18 tracks, nine written by Nicks and nine by Buckingham, who also produced (with assistance on some tracks by Rob Cavallo). "It's really like a Buckingham-Nicks record with the power trio backing," says Nicks. She admits to missing Christine McVie, who she hasn't seen in five years. The day after the Grammy awards in 1998 (where Fleetwood Mac had three nominations but went away empty-handed), McVie packed up, sold her house and car and left for Britain. "I'm not ungrateful to Hollywood but I've lived there for 28 years and I'm homesick<" she told this writer shortly before the move. "I want to spend more time with my English family and open a restaurant." She hasn't been back to LA since. "Chris did not enjoy the experience of being back on the road at all," nicks says. "And I can understand why she left. She's now 59 and so I'm now the same age she was on that last 1997 tour. It's very hard on a woman to do this. But with her in the band we had a feminine power and I wish she'd stayed." At 54, and even without make-up, it is still possible to see what it was that once made Nicks one of the most desirable women on the planet when she twisted and twirled her mystical way through "Rhiannon" in her trademark black lace and chiffon. Today, however, she's damaged her hip, and mounts the studio steps gingerly. "You become more brittle as you get old. But it's all a state of mind-I'm trying to have a young attitude. There's still nobody can dance like me," she says defiantly. Several of her nine songs on Say you Will are equally venerable. In 2001, when she was about to go on tour with her last solo album, she handed over a collection of 17 demos to Buckingham, Fleetwood and John Mcvie. "I went back through my vaults of tunes and picked all the ones I really liked but which for one reason or another had never seen the light of day," she recounts. Her colleagues picked five of them for the new album including "Goodbye Baby" and "Smile At You", written in 1975-76 and which "could easily have ended up on Rumours", according to Nicks. While she was away on tour, the "power trio" of Fleetwood, john McVie and Buckingham rented a house in Bel Air, installed Buckingham's home studio and worked on the songs. "When I came back off tour I was happy with what they'd done. but I listened and I said, "This isn't going to be good unless we have some new material." In December 2001 she went back home for Christmas to the house she has kept in Phoenix for more than 20 years. A month later, she returned to LA with four new songs. "I was totally nervous," she recalls. " I knew they wouldn't like the songs. Your self-esteem plummets and you feel you're the worst songwriter in the world. But I played them and they flipped out." One of them, "Illume", was inspired by 9/11, after Nicks had flown into New York the night before and found herself stranded in the stricken city. "Lindsey had tears in his eyes," she recalls. "He put his hand on my knee and said 'How do you do this?' "In the absence of Christine McVie's sisterly support, Nicks recruited bosom friend Sheryl Crow to guest on two of the new songs, "Silver Girl" and the title track. "I penned "Silver Girl" about Sheryl," she says. "It's an ode to a lady rock star who's always on the road and has a very hard time having relationships and settling down. So it's also totally about me." Although she admits she couldn't give up the lifestyle the band has afforded her, Nicks can't conceal a certain bitterness based on her conviction that being in Fleetwood Mac has forced her to make huge sacrifices in other areas of her life. "Being a female rock star is great and it's fabulous and you make lots of money. But it makes it very hard to do anything else. As a woman you give up part of yourself in a band," she laments. It's not so much self-pity. Simply a statement of fact. "Every relationship I've ever had, great or small, and whether I was going out with a rock star or a lawyer, has been destroyed by the business."

Yet, in many way Say You Will is primarily Lindsey Buckingham's album. "The focus was led completely by Lindsey," Fleetwood confirms. "Even on Stevie's songs, because she was out on tour, she handed the reins to Lindsey, which was a very trusting thing. None of this would have happened without him." Most of Buckingham's nine compositions were originally destined for a solo album he began recording in the mid-90's. "Then we met at Christine's house six years ago and everybody intervened and said to me 'You've got to stop your solo album and help get the band together and do this tour' "Having been 'guilted', as he puts it, into the 1997 reunion, his intention was to return to his solo record. " But Mick was playing on my solo stuff, John was playing bass on it. Even Christine was on it on a limited basis. So to all intents and purposes it was Fleetwood Mac doing a Lindsey Buckingham album. Nobody said, 'We've got to make this a Fleetwood Mac LP'. It just grew into that. In the end, all we had to do with my material was for Stevie to add her vocals and it was a Fleetwood Mac record."

Fleetwood confirms that, when he began recording with Buckingham again, it was not in his agenda to get the band back together. " I thought I was going to spend three weeks doing overdubs on Lindsey's album. My whole thing is Fleetwood Mac forever. But I prefaced my renewed relationship with Lindsey by saying, 'You know I want Fleetwood Mac back together. But I don't want you thinking that's why I'm here.' But it went so well that it was Lindsey who said maybe we could turn this into a Fleetwood Mac record." Even without Christine McVie's songwriting, between them Buckingham and Nicks had so many songs that, at one point, Say You Will was going to be a double album. "I thought it would be an intriguing thing for a band to return with something that had such ambition. We even got into sequencing it as a double," Buckingham says. "Eventually we pulled back on that for issues of prising and so on. But we kept the core and from my point of view it's the best work we've ever done in terms of the execution and sophistication. Which I guess is appropriate for a bunch of people who are all in their fifties now." The 1997 tour and accompanying live album, The Dance, were " as good a job as we could do in going out and restating our body of work," he says. "But for me, this is the beginning of a whole other thing because it's new songs." With Nicks out on her solo tour, Buckingham particularly enjoyed working in an all-male environment. "There was a lot of bonding between the three of us and it was a good place to start building a reconfigured dynamic between us. It was very difficult for me for years to have to work with Stevie when I didn't want to be around her. And it was always hard for John to rise to his higher self around Christine. There was never a sense that we were in any way crippled without Chris because we've made a record that's at least as potent."

Nicks, meanwhile, seems genuinely pleased that Buckingham's restless spirit appears finally to have found musical and personal satisfaction. "Hopefully this record will give him back a sense of purpose and delight. He's in a way better space now and it's wonderful for me to see that. I care about him and his life and what he does and if he's happy. I so want him to be ok. This record is his baby and I really think he's gone and done that great thing he always wanted to do."


The Uncut review:

 Return of the Mac

Tasty box of All-Sorts from mainstream monsters of yesteryear


Fleetwood Mac
Say You Will
* * * *

More than most bands, FLEETWOOD MAC evince complex, unresolved feelings. On the one hand they're the ultimate mainstream soft rock dinosaur, past masters of glossy emotions and overcooked arrangements. On the other hand......On the other hand what, exactly? It's not like Fleetwood Mac are Abba - So Uncool They're Cool. But nor have Fleetwood Mac ever been So Cool They're Uncool...if you know what I mean. So what are they, and why does a goodly percentage of their music stand up after decades? I guess because a) witchy woman Stevie Nicks has the voice of a petulant siren: b) studio geek Lindsey Buckingham still wants to be Brian Wilson: and c) Fleetwood Mac were and are truly a band for boys and girls. Good things all. So here they come again, in a post-post-punk, hip hop-dominated universe, keen to make meaningful music. And there's a historical parallel here: just as 1979's 'brave, of-the-wall' double album Tusk followed 1977's stratosphere-busting Rumours, so the almost-double CD Say You Will follows the play-safe 'live greatest hits' thing that was 1997's The Dance.

The funny thing is that Tusk, when you revisit it, doesn't sound off the wall at all. Which makes Say You Will all the more out-there as mainstream rock product. Next to Tusk, indeed, this 18-track opus is a box of All-Sorts replete with countless different colours and moods.

As one would expect, there's a slew of those Stevie Nicks songs that are essentially narcissistic hymns to, well, Stevie Nicks. One of them is called "Silver Girl", no less. Another "Illume", is a bongo-driven meditation on life post 9/11 and boasts the priceless line, "I am a cliff dweller from the old school". Gotta love the woman: on the closing "Goodbye Baby" she sounds like Kate Bush spliced with Victoria Williams Then there are Lindsey's songs, some of which date back to the solo 'project' that should have come out after his 1992 opus Out Of The Cradle. What makes Say You Will really great are Lindsey tracks like "Red Rover",

"Come" and "Say Goodbye". The heady melodicism and hyper-syncopation of "Rover" are intoxicating. The shimmering "Say Goodbye" - all dappled guitars and whispered vocals - suggests Lindsey has been listening to modern-day troubadours like Elliot Smith. The album peaks somewhere in the middle, with "Rover" followed by the effortlessly shiny Steviepop of the title track and then by first single "Peacekeeper", a true Buck/Nicks joint effort. Both pack killer choruses, as insidiously sweet-sad as vintage Mac classics from "Silver Springs" to "Gypsy". Nicks "Running Through The Garden" is early-80's hippie power pop, with a layered keyboard hook and chugging noo wave guitar. For the obvious reasons the only flavour missing on Say You Will is the departed Christine's perfect Tango in The Night bop-pop, making the album more Buckingham- Nicks Redux than anything else. (You can hear Chrissie, though, on the moody, thumping "Murrow".) That's OK, because there's so much here to get one's teeth into. Tusk this isn't, but Tusk it doesn't need to be. In an age of off-the-shelf Linda Perry pop, the Mac keep the mainstream interesting. Say you'll give it a spin.

Thanks to Pip Fidler who transcribed most of this article.

Please note that the Uncut article also tells of the history of Fleetwood Mac, this large section of the article following this except has not been transcribed here in this article. The complete magazine carries 21 pages of Fleetwood Mac pictures and articles.