Mick Fleetwood talks about his
long and tumultuous career

 

By Martin Newel
Published in Record Collector Magazine 
Jan 2003

Readers under a certain age could be forgiven for thinking of Fleetwood Mac as a band which really began in the mid 70s. The drummer, bassist and keyboard player from the Rumours period, however, have roots which reach way back into the 60s blues boom a good decade earlier - and these roots are explored on a new video, The Mick Fleetwood Story (NBD), which coincides with the release of a best of compilations.

It's an extraordinary story. After a existence as the son of an air force officer Fleetwood moved to London at an age when he was barely old enough to work and began playing drums in beat combos. In 1963 (before Swinging London had even started twitching) Mick was already playing drums in the Senders with the young Peter Bardens,  later of Camel. A succession of R&B groups followed, including a year or so accompanying Rod Stewart in Shotgun Express. This took Mick up to April 1967, at which point he joined that venerable British institution John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. Like so many before him, Fleetwood was eventually dismissed for intemperance, along with his bandmates Peter Green (guitar) and John McVie (bass) - the last possibly Mayall's most sacked and rehired player ever. The three young men then formed Fleetwood Mac Mk. 1. It's 1968  and the story's only just getting into gear.

Now in his mid 50s, cheery, candid and keen to get back to work, Fleetwood is clearing his desk and working on a new album for release in 2003, which he hopes will do as well as the 30 million selling Rumours of 1977. A self confessed 'road dog', he can't wait to take the Mac back out on tour again. The line up? The classic one: only minus Christine McVie this time. RC caught up with him and taxed his memory. Severely...

Was there much agonising about the track listing for the Very Best Of . . . album?
Yes, there was. But it was a good problem to have. It took a long time, but all in all it really wasn't much different from any album that the Mac makes.

The track conspicuous by its absence is 'Green Manalishi'.
That may be true, but this package - in the States at least  is only supposed to be the Rumours incarnation of the band. But in England, Warners asked us if we could put three of Peter Green's songs on. And of course, we happily did that, because it's relevant, but in most parts of the world, it doesn't have Peter's stuff on there.

Prior to that final choice, was there a point where you sat down to listen to the album in its entirety and suddenly had the whole of your life roll over you, like a cavalcade of ghosts from the past?
(laughs) Always! But it turned out to be a really good time to do it. We're busy making a new album and we were asked by the record company if we wanted to do it. So we thought it would be a really good time to clear the decks of some of the old stuff, because in the new year we have something coming out with Fleetwood Mac.

Christine's not on board any more. Is that irrevocable?
I believe so. We miss her in her absence. She just had enough of the showbiz part of it. She's actually doing something on her own now, which we're all really pleased to hear - playing music and writing great songs again. She just wanted out of the business. We talk a lot: it's just - if she was a road dog and fancied all the stuff that we're gonna do for the next two years . . .Christine's thing is "I'd love to make an album, but I don't wanna be in a band". There's a point where everyone makes a decision. None of us are spring chickens. And you think, "What's the quality of life that I want?" It was time for her to do what she wanted to do. About a year ago there was a 'maybe' thing, but it just never happened - and we've made a fantastic album and it's a new dawn. The four of us are very happy doing what we're doing.

What's the story regarding Sheryl Crow?
I know there were all sorts of rumours going round that she was joining. She's a very close friend of Stevie's and we've got to know her. I think Sheryl will probably do some touring with her band on some of the shows we do next year, but we've been together too long as we are, and we didn't need to do that.

Christine joined you unofficially much earlier than most people realise, when she played uncredited keyboards on "Need Your Love So Bad'.
Christine has her roots well and truly entrenched in the blues, as well as being a great pop songwriter.

How did your peripatetic air force upbringing affect you?
I went to three different boarding schools and - not that they knew it - I had dyslexia, which I still have to this day, a learning disability. I'd be hard pushed to tell you the alphabet in straight order. Yes, I was shoved all over the place, and the family never stayed anywhere more than about two and a half years.

Do you think that shaped you in any way?
Well, I love meeting people and I'm very comfortable in new surroundings. I consider that a blessing because I can't think of anything more boring than just staying put in one place  the world's so big. It never occurred to me that I needed to curb my travelling. It's changed from all that craziness of 25 years ago, but I'm really looking forward to getting back out on tour again.

You went straight from school to London at the beginning of the 60s, and suddenly you were playing in bands and going out with Jenny Boyd, Patti's sister. Did you cross paths with the Beatles much during that time?
A lot. Though I was a struggling, aspiring blues musician and they were at the top of their trade in what was known as Swinging London - which it really was! It was brilliant. The clubs were great. It's the sort of thing you hear about from the Roaring Twenties where you go: "Did that really happen?" All that stuff in Paris, with poets and artists and people just being wild London was truly an incredible  place. I have to say that London is majorly back on it's feet, after it went through an awful time when everyone was being taxed up to the eyeballs and no one could do anything. So it's gone full circle, but back then, it truly was fantastic.

You and Rod Stewart played together in Shotgun Express back in the mid 60s. Do you ever see him nowadays?
I saw him about three months ago in a restaurant in Hollywood, we had a little chat about the old days, He's doing great as always.

What do you remember about Shotgun Express?
We played together for about 15 months, something like that. We trod the boards all the way up and down the M1 motorway. They were the very early days, playing venues like the Twisted Wheel in Manchester, and Rod was singing with a fine singer from Liverpool, Beryl Marsden - a Brenda Lee type singer. A tiny girl with an incredibly huge voice. She's still singing up in Liverpool and is a great girl. Peter Bardens, of course, passed away about ten months ago.

What happened to Danny Kirwin? He must have about 18 when he joined Fleetwood Mac, which is awfully young to have pop thrust on you. Did not withstand it very well?
I don't think he was very suited. Danny came in about a year after Fleetwood Mac was formed: we were a four piece - Peter Green, John Jeremy Spencer and myself - and Danny came in was put under Peter's wing. Very talented, an incredibly talented young man, and he did some fantastic recordings with this band. His heroes were people like Django Relnhardt and Nilsson and lots of strange, good stuff. No, he wasn't suited as it turned but who's to know when you're just a bunch of lads? He did two or three solo albums after he left and then drifted off into obscurity, really.

No one knows what happened to him?
No, he lives in London. I think he's had some problems here and there - some personal problems - so I don't know how he's doing.

Let's talk about something close to your heart: drums. Who was your favourite drummer? Who made you want the job?
I have to pick a drummer who played with BB King for many years: Sonny Freeman. If you ever get to hear BB King Live At The Regal - which is a theatre in New York  - that's Sonny Freeman, the King of the Shuffles.

Which drummer did you most admire among your contemporaries back then?
Wow. I probably don't even know most of their names. But I loved Bo Diddley's drummer and Buddy Holly's drummer. At the real start of it was Tony Meehan, who I used to listen to when I was very young. And I'd listen to a lot of American drummers. I liked John Bonham too, because he had this ability to play in strange time signatures. Actually, I couldn't go near some of them, but he always made it sound so incredibly easy. Most of all, if you listen to some of those old Zeppelin tracks, he understood the whole meaning of laying a big fat off beat down, and his bass drum work was incredible.

A great drummer should do three things: keep the beat, work with the bass player as the engine room of the band and, as Ginger Baker once said, "Hit the things". Do you agree?
I do. I consider that the rhythm section is all about complementing what is going on around you and in front of you. I feel very strongly about that, and so does my partner John. We're very lucky. Can I play with other people Absolutely. But it's never the same as with John, who anticipates everything, and vice versa. And that's really a big part of the sound of the Mac. It's also allowed us to make some of these musical transitions and not completely upset the listener.

What was it like playing a Bill Clinton's farewell part. in 2001?
We all liked Bill Clinton In terms of being a bright politician, he was far more informed than a lot of other people who've been in his position. We loved it. It was a privilege of sorts to do it. Some people say that was what made the band come back together. It actual wasn't. We did it and Lindsey played with us for the first time in many years, but nothing happened for another load of years until Lindsey decided he'd had enough of being out on his own and wanted to start working with me again. It just made a lot of sense for us.

You've gone from being the skinny naked madcap on the sleeve of the Mr Wonderful album (1968) to being patriarch of this great, if occasionally troubled family. How much of that boy is left in you?
A lot. I'm still a dreamer. I've had my ups and downs, that's no secret to anyone.

We had heard that Jeremy Spencer disappeared. Is this true?
No. He's in the States. He actually lives in New Mexico. I don't think (the group he joined) is called the Children Of God now, but he's a Christian and he has very strong beliefs. He's totally intact with great humour. He's remarried. Altogether, I think he's got eight children. In fact, about three months ago Jeremy came down and we actually sat in the studio and recorded a couple of songs, just for fun, you know, to see if the old blues formula was still intact - and he's playing great.

You took a calculated risk inviting Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks to join the band in 1974. That  could have gone pear shaped, but it didn't. When was the moment that you realised that it really worked?
Well, they never auditioned for Fleetwood Mac. I listened to their album which was called Buckingham Nicks, which was the one album they'd made before they joined Fleetwood Mac. They were actually in the process of doing demos for what would have been their next album, I assume. We needed a guitar player after Bob Welch left, and I asked Lindsey. I remember hearing about two or three songs in the studio where I was just hanging out. The engineer played one as an example of something that was recorded in that room, It's an old story but it was literally that. My lights went on! And about two months later, Bob left the band, so I immediately phoned the engineer up and said "You know that stuff you played me? Who are they? Who's that guitar player?" And that's how Stevie and Lindsey came, because they were joined they were joined at the hip. We knew it was definitely working when were rehearsing to make the album. Stevie was always a star. She was a star when she was working tables in restaurants, I should think. Peter Green was the same way. Peter was a star. And I mean that not in a flashy way. There are people in all walks of life who just have a presence about them. But when Lindsey and Stevie sang together...

Like so many of your contemporaries, you and Peter Green were in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers together.  Is it true you got sacked? And what for?
Well John McVie actually made five or six exits and re-entries, but he was such a damn great bass player, John Mayall always asked him back. It was the bottle. We drank a lot! You know, we drank like fish in those days.

But isn't that what blues musicians are supposed to do?
Of course! But anyway, I was only with John Mayall for about five or six weeks and Peter Green and John McVie were both playing in the band. I took over from Aynsley Dunbar, who was a great drummer but who was getting a little too flashy, I guess, for Mayall's and Peter's sensibilities. I was going "Why the hell do you want me in the band?" I can't do the big drum solos that Aynsley does. I prefer to say I was 'let go'. Because I remember I passed John a little note in the back of the van. John used to give us a calendar with the gig dates written in it, and as I looked through the calendar I put "1 think I'll be gone by now". And I handed it to John in humour. But it was only like two weeks later, and I was gone. Me and John McVie were getting too drunk and Mayall couldn't control both of us. And hey, we weren't doing our jobs properly.

Is it true that the story of the making of the Rumours album might be made into a West End musical?
We didn't know anything about it at first, but now it may be about to come true. There's a young chap who works in Guy Ritchie's office, and his partner was talking in a restaurant, saying "Wouldn't it be great?", just pitching an idea around, you know, and that was overheard, I think. But he has now actually brought the proposition: the beginning of an idea of doing that. But truly, it was one of those ideas that just happened in a restaurant and someone from the press brigade overheard him. Or that's what he told us...

Do you ever feel that you and John could just go out and do a straight blues project again, just to get back to where you started - or even just for fun?

I do. And we will. But not just yet. Probably about a year from now, when we have some spare time. I've actually approached John and said "Wouldn't it be cool just to sit and do what we used to do? Maybe do some stuff with Jeremy. Maybe do some stuff with BB King. Just playing the blues. Make a real simple straight ahead album". And it does appeal to me. So maybe when all the huff and puff of touring with the new album quietens down, I'd love to do it.


Article Credits printed in magazine

Thanks to www.fleetwoodmac-uk.com,
where you can find full details on the Fleetwood Mac Fan Convention on 28th June,
and Chrome Oxide at www.chromeoxide.com


 

FIVE OLD MAC TRACKS FIVE NEW MAC TRACKS
THE GREEN MANALISHI (With The Two Prong Crown)
A 666 of a single and the last of the Mac's chart biggies, although how this slab of voodoo ever got airplay it did in the early days of Radio 1 is anybody's guess. A genuinely spooky single and very possibly an early indicator of poor Peter's approaching breakdown,
THE CHAIN
A Rumours offcut. The second half of this, used as a theme for a certain motor-sport TV show, has to be included. It's Fleetwood and McVie showing why they're one of the best engine rooms in rock. From that first riff ton the climax, an example to rhythm sections everywhere.
BLACK MAGIC WOMAN
Partially eclipsed by Santana's own version, this mid-song switch from bastardised beguine to Brit boogie is an acquired taste but once you've got it, it never leaves you. Not least in this cut'n'shut blues is some of Peter Green's tastiest playing ever.
SECOND HAND NEWS
They couldn't have picked every Rumours track for the Best Of compilation, but this song, with it's equestrian rhythm and maddeningly catchy chorus, must have been the cause of some series soul-searching when the selection board votes for it's omission.
SOMEONE'S GONNA GET THEIR HEAD KICKED IN TONIGHT
A rock'n'roll pastiche as good as anyhing the Bonzos came up with in that area. Credited to Earl Vince and the Valiants, this 'Man Of The World" B-side became a pre-rumble, party favourite with certain irony-starved biker gangs of the time. Righteous.
SAY YOU LOVE ME
When a small-time brummie bassist, Christine Perfect, was persuaded to take up blues piano in 1967, who would have guessed that within 10 years she would become - by a short head at least - the Mac's best songwriter? Here is a great example of her talent.
OH WELL (PART 2]
A quieter affair than its A side, this number showed off the young Danny Kirwan's talents on the acoustic guitar, counterpointed by pleasantly unsqueaky recorder playing, A leftfield teen jukebox choice for the more pensive pop picker of the period.
LITTLE LIES
One of the three singles in 1987's Tango In The Night album which went Top 10. Despite a slightly embossed-sounding production - very 80s, in fact - this song, with it's solid composition and airy vocals, still makes for impressive pop radio.
NEED YOUR LOVE SO BAD
Along with Clapton's 'Bell Bottom Blues', one of the great homespun Brut blues tracks ever. Mac fanatics will also tell you that Christine McVie added her elegant keyboards to it, Still played by rheumy eyed old rockers in run down provincial tap rooms everywhere.
BIG LOVE (LIVE 1997)
A last-minute entry. Played with astonishing verve, this version of 1987's 'Big Love' is mostly Lindsey Buckingham solo. It demonstrates precisely that a great song - no matter how grandiose its final cut - will stand up live with just one instrument and one voice.
   

MAC DADDIES
Five Mick Fleetwood-featuring rarities

I Could Feel The Whole World Turn Round / Curtains
(7", by Shotgun Express, Columbia DB 80255, 1966)   '55.00

I Believe My Time Ain't Long / Rambling Pony
(7", Blue Horizon 57-3051, intially with p/s, 1967)   '75.00 / '15.00
Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac
(LP, Blue Horizon 57-63200 1968, mono / stereo)   '45.00 / '35.00
Black Magic Woman / The Sun Is Shining
(7", Blue Horizon 57-3138, 1968)   '15.00
The Green Manalishl (With The Two-Prong Crown)/ World In Harmony
(7" Reprise RS 27007, some with p/s, 1970)   '25.00 / '7.00

Newly released Album Reviews

The Best Of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac Columbia 510155 2 (77:58)

The Very Best Of Fleetwood Mac
Warners 8122 73635 2 (77:11)

A tale of two Macs, indeed A mere eight years is all that separates the two most readily-identifiable-incarnations of Fleetwood Mac,  complied here in their respective best of formats They were siblings nurtured by different sub cultures either side of the Atlantic -  and yet it's the earlier and more wayward of these two that can seem more strikingly American, al least in its root influences. Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac was a product of the mid 60s British blues boom - a huge uniting factor in the underground music scene of the time. Even so there was conflict within the genre. Jeremy Spencer's seeming obsession with Elmore James was constantly battling it out with Greens rather more catholic taste in the blues not to mention Green's own creditable blues concoctions. This is not to write off Spencer, however.  He may have been a one trick pony, but he's an engaging one. as numbers like 'Shake Your Moneymaker" and My Heart Beat Like A Hammer demonstrate.

For those youngsters who think that a blues band is five geography teachers making a racket in a pub on a Sunday lunchtime, have a listen to Fleetwood Mac Mk 1 and see what true blues scholars could do. Mike Vernon legendary producer and Blue Horizon supremo, has done a more than faithful job pulling this album together.  Blues band they may have been. but Mac 1 singles tended to be stranger, prog-cum-psychedelic affairs. All told. this is an extremely surprising album. For a start, two Danny Kirwan penned numbers are included One of these. Dragonfly" with chinoise feel is one of the loveliest psychedelic obscurities you've never heard, There are many other gems on this odd. eclectic arid utterly cherishable compilation

The Very Best Of Fleetwood Mac is a horse of a different colour and yet no less impressive for it. The songwriting is sleek, crafted and considered and as history attests effortlessly took the world by storm With the 70s underway, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie relocated to the US and constructed a rather more stylish vehicle around the reliable engine that they'd built With the unassailable dual songwriting talents of Buckingham and Nicks on one side, and the faultless pop sensibility of Christine McVie on the other. Fleetwood and McVie were ready to roll  and that's precisely what they did. When you're only up to your second album and it's Rumours, you're doing something right.  The Very Best Of is basically Rumours plus salient tracks and mega-selling singles falling either side of it. The biggest surprise comes from Lindsey Buckingham, with an acoustic guitar driven version of Big Love', which is spell-binding The UK pressing also includes a handful of tracks from Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac  and whats really weird is that the older Mac stuff seems to sit quite comfortably the newer songs.

Both albums, with 21 tracks apiece are good value and fair assessments of what Macs I and II were capable of. Proof, if nothing else. that an old Mac will never let you down.

 

<< Back to Site Index

<< Back to Article Index


Last Updated - 14 July 2004

© copyright - Go Your Own Way / fmfanuk 1999 - 2016