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FLEETWOOD MAC

THE SAGA CONTINUES...

 

Four decades of excess have taken a toll but rock's
first family are together again, Mick Fleetwood tells
Gavin Martin - and may even give Peter Green a call



When Mick Fleetwood takes his place behind the drums at Newcastle's Telewest Arena onNovember 22 for the start of Fleetwood Mac's UK tour, it will mark the homecoming of one of the most determined survivors of British rock 'n' roll.

Fleetwood and his bass playing partner John McVie gave their names 36 years ago to the group fronted by guitarist extraordinaire Peter Green. Since then Fleetwood Mac have spanned musical epochs -- the British blues boom, psychedelia, FM rock and the post punk experiments of Tusk -- with 100 million album sales.

But Fleetwood and McVie are the only members to have lived through 12 line-up changes and so, with McVie preferring a low profile, Fleetwood has been the spokesman, sometime manager and driving force throughout the band's turbulent
history. He has seen the group survive drugs, divorce, mental illness, infidelity, a religious cult, managerial strife, more drugs and financial ruin. "The history of this band has always been: We're the rhythm section and if someone leaves, just get someone else in. If something goes wrong, fix it," says Fleetwood, relaxing in a Boston hotel on a day off from the band's US tour. 'At least, that's the light-hearted way of looking at it -- in truth it wasn't always that easy."

It is 27 years since Fleetwood Mac's most successful album, Rumours, documented the collapsing relationships between McVie and his keyboard playing wife Christine, and estranged Californian couple Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. The spoils of success fuelled the band's appetite for drugs, drink and expensive lifestyles  and the love wars continued to rage. Fleetwood himself went through a painful divorce and cultivated a massive cocaine and alcohol habit. "I really was the raver of ravers -- a complete maniac. I was the next Keith Moon waiting to happen. You'd go round to my house and there was always a party and stuff available," he says. A few people who had made the move sooner than I had were concerned that I wasn't going to make it and, bless their hearts, took me to some meetings. I did that a few times but I could count the meetings I went to on one hand, it just wasn't for me."

In the midst of his "raving", Fleetwood embarked on a short, ill-fated romance with Nicks. "We fell in love gradually. It was a magical mystery between two souls that maybe shouldn't have gone into that area but did," he reflects. "There's no doubt I react to emotion and drama, and Stevie's life even to this day is controlled and influenced by that. I find that attractive. She does things because she feels them spontaneously. I'm like that as well."

His drug habit and disastrous real estate investments left Fleetwood bankrupt in 1984. One by one, the Rumours line up deserted the band and he and McVie were left to pick up the pieces. And then he suffered a very public humiliation co presenting the much ridiculed 1989 Brit Awards with Sam Fox. He sighs: "The whole production broke down and we were left floundering, hung out to dry." But Fleetwood has come out the other side and, at 56, appears every inch the slightly caddish rock aristocrat. It's an image enhanced by his dress sense -- trainers, dapper waistcoat and tailored striped shirt. "Turnbull & Asser as worn by the Duke of Edinburgh," he twinkles.

It is 12 years since he touched cocaine and he drinks in moderation now. And he is a devoted dad to his 18 month old twin daughters with wife Lynn. Mick has been married four times including twice to Jenny Boyd, the former model and author he first met when she was a 15 year old schoolgirl. She is the mother of his two grown up daughters and he remains on good terms with her. In fact, Fleetwood recently holidayed with her, Stevie Nicks and the twins in Hawaii. "I'm naturally that way inclined in terms of having everybody get on with each other it's how I was brought up," he says. "I don't think I've ever strayed too far from it."

The thought of being a father in his 60s to young children doesn't bother him. "This time round I'm more responsible. I'm not so self-centred," he says. "When I was young and working, the attitude was the kids have to fit in round that. Now I approach it in a more mature way. What parent worth a damn wouldn't? Kids are a fantastic reflection on anything from the passing of time to realising that there's a little mite that wants your guidance. I'm certainly better equipped to deal with it now than I was 25 years ago."

The extravagance of the post Rumours period has not completely disappeared. In an attempt to woo Christine McVie out of domestic retirement in Canterbury, the band offered to build her a kitchen to take on the road. McVie refused but Fleetwood's charm undoubtedly helped Buckingham and Nicks put aside their deep seated differences to work on Say You Will, the first Mac album for 16 years.

Fleetwood's ability to bridge the gap could be inherited from his father Mike, an RAF Wing Commander recalled with much tenderness in Fleetwood's 1990 autobiography My Life And Adventures In Fleetwood Mac. Am I the wing commander of the band?" asks Mick. "I've no idea. But my dad whether he'd been in the Air Force or not  was always a good 'people person'. I'm happy with that background -- it's been very useful being at the centre of a band where there are often major differences of opinion. There have certainly been times when it wouldn't have helped if I had been a highly volatile person, put it that way."

Born in Redruth, Cornwall, Fleetwood spent much of his early life living abroad with his family. An undiagnosed learning disability made him a target for boarding school bullies at Windlesham House, Sussex. With his parents' blessing, he left in early 1963 and went to his older sister's Notting Hill basement flat, determined to be a drummer. "From the age of 12 onwards, that's what I dreamt of. My sister was an art student at polytechnic and we'd go to cafes and I'd soak up the vibe. I'd just see album covers of blues and jazz artists and know this is what I wanted to do." And by the end of the Sixties, Fleetwood Mac had become chart regulars thanks to songwriter and guitarist Peter Green, who had come up with classics such as Man Of The World and Albatross. Mick was engaged to girl about-town Jenny Boyd, despite Donovan's attempt to woo her with the song Jennifer Juniper. And Jenny's sister Patti was dating George Harrison. Fleetwood remembers the late Beatles guitarist fondly. "The sweetest guy, totally consistent, always friendly, not just because I used to go out with Patti Boyd's sister," Mick says. 'he was always gracious about our family affiliations."

On an early American tour, San Francisco acid entrepreneur Owsley Stanley an associate of The Grateful Dead met Fleetwood Mac and they sampled his potent, mind altering wares. The experience left Peter Green badly damaged. The guitarist developed a Messianic complex, began to give away all his money and left the band to work as a gravedigger and hospital attendant. When accountant Clifford Adams tried to present him with a �30,000 royalty cheque, he chased him away with an air rifle. Soon afterwards, Green was committed to a mental institution. "I wish I had been more aware what Peter was going through," Mick says now. "I don't know what I would have been able to do but if it happened now I think I'd be better equipped to see it and help. "To us. it seemed simple -- he was writing great songs and we were off to the races because Peter was off to the races with us. We were all affected by the experiences we had back then, but for Peter it was obviously more profound. "He was fed up with band and didn't like the business. I thought the cries for help in this music were observations, not problems which were deeply felt by him."

With Green gone, the spotlight fell on the group's second guitarist, Jeremy Spencer, who delighted in hanging condoms filled with milk on his guitar. And a giant dildo called Harold, mounted on Fleetwood's bass drum, wobbled throughout their stage performances. Fleetwood shrugs. "We were young, wild and crazy and we had a lot of fun. It was punk, shock-rock stuff, playing blues and being immature." On an American tour, the increasingly religious Spencer disappeared, only to re-emerge a few days later as a member of the Children Of God cult.

The following year, tensions reached breaking point between Spencer's replacement American Bob Welch and British guitarist Danny Kirwan. When, before a show, Kirwan smashed his guitar to pieces and banged his head against a dressing room wall until the blood flowed, Fleetwood had no option but to sack him. Later, Kirwan too was committed to a psychiatric ward.

Christine McVie, who joined her new husband John in the group in 1970, described her early years in Mac as "like being beaten over the head with a giant club". Fleetwood sacked Kirwan's replacement, Bob Weston, after the newcomer embarked on an affair with Jenny Boyd. A legal dispute with the band's former manager over the ownership of their name left them financially crippled. And only the intervention of a US senator allowed the group to relocate to Los Angeles. It was there that Fleetwood's knack for talent spotting hit the jackpot, with the discovery of Buckingham and Nicks.

With the money rolling in, the band decided to live in a style to which they had not previously been accustomed. They paid for the finest hotel suites to be redecorated to suit Christine and Stevie's colour preferences. On a European tour, a train which once belonged to Adolf Hitler was hired, to the delight of Nazi memorabilia collector John McVie. And while Lindsey Buckingham's home was being renovated, he lived in Hollywood's plush Four Seasons hotel for two years. And then there were the untold amounts spent on cocaine. At first it was just social, no reason other than, 'Oh, it's available'," Fleetwood insists. "It became a problem many years before I realised, because I was in the thick of it. I was blessed because it got to a point where my emotional and personal life was waning and I knew it. "The window of enjoyment was so small that I had to look for it with a microscope. It was like, 'Oh, I feel good now. Why's that, Mick? Well I've had five brandies and one pep pill and a whole lot of lines.' It was a really sick way to be. "So I went to Hawaii and went on a proverbial binge and then just cured myself. I was very lucky in the world of rehab they call it divine intervention. You just get damn lucky. Your body and your emotions say you have to give up."

In the years since, he has tried acting and various business ventures, divorced model Sara Recor and married Lynn. The band's Don't Stop was adopted by Bill Clinton for the 1992 US election campaign and the group reunited for the President's inauguration ceremony. They were inducted into the Rock 'n" Roll Hall Of Fame, and honoured with an outstanding contribution award at the Brits in 1998, during The Dance reunion tour. Fleetwood admits that he now finds touring demanding but insists: "It's what I've been programmed to do."

This summer, the Say You Will tour was one of the biggest draws on the American circuit even though the album's sales have not exactly signalled a return to their glory days. ,I don't think any of us are expecting it to sell 12 million copies - by the time we finish on the road, I think it will have sold about two million. The business is so different now, you can be a really successful band and not sell millions of albums. Look at the Stones, look at Paul McCartney. "You have to realise that you've had an incredible run and people have bought millions and millions of your albums. Maybe they just don't want to buy any more. But whatever way you look at it, this band's history has been unique. I feel thrilled just to have been a part of the journey."

That journey may yet come full circle. Jeremy Spencer and Peter Green are both performing live again. And the prospect of the original line-up getting together has Fleetwood excited. "It is possible - we're all here and intact and Jeremy is playing great. It's definitely something I'd like to see happen before my rocking days are done. We don't have to write anything - just get the four of us in a room and play some old blues. It really would be quite a profound thing."

 

How Fleetwood Mac went their own way

 

June 1966: Eric Clapton quits John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and 19 year old Peter Greenbaum (known as Peter Green) takes his place on guitar next to bassist John McVie.
 

April 1967: Mick Fleetwood joins the Bluesbreekers but is sacked for hell raising three weeks later. But he, McVie and Green have recorded an instrumental titled Fleetwood Mac and form a band of the same name. Second guitarist Jeremy Spencer is added before the Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival.
 

1968: John McVie marries Christine Perfect. Danny Kirwan joins on guitar. Instrumental single Albatross hits No 1.
 
1970: Green suddenly leaves the group, already suffering from the mental illness that will dog his life. Christine McVie joins and other band members come and go. The band relocates to LA.
 
December 1974: Fleetwood recalls a talented guitarist he saw while recording at Sound City Studios in Los Angeles. Lindsey Buckingham agrees to join if his girlfriend Stevie Nicks can too.
 
July 1975: The Fleetwood Mac album is released and tops the US charts. It includes the classic single Rhiannon.
 
1976: A gruelling tour causes break-ups for Nicks and Buckingham, the McVies and Fleetwood and his wife Jenny Boyd. Sessions begin for the Rumours album. In September, the Fleetwood Mac album reaches No1 in the US charts.
 
1977: Rumours is released and goes on to sell 15 million copies. Nicks and Fleetwood have a brief affair.
 
November 1979: Tusk is released.
 
November 1980: Tusk tour ends with the band hardly able to look at each other.
 
August 1982: Mirage album released without enthusiasm. Fleetwood begins nine years of drug abuse and Nicks becomes addicted to cocaine.
 
1984: Fleetwood files for bankruptcy.
 
1986: Nicks checks into Betty Ford Clinic and kicks her habit.
 
April 1987: Fleetwood Mac album Tango In The Night is released. Buckingham storms out. The band take on guitarists Rick Vito and Billy Burnette.
 
1990: Behind The Mask album released. Nicks and Christine McVie leave the band. Fleetwood and McVie soldier on.
 
1992: Bill Clinton adopts Don't Stop as theme tune to his presidential campaign, Buckingham, Nicks and McVie rejoin.
 
1997: Rumours line-up celebrates its 20th anniversary.
 
2003: With Christine McVie officially retired, Fleetwood, John McVie, Buckingham and Nicks record Say You Will and set off on a world tour.
 


This article appeared originally in the The Sunday Express Magazine on the 19th Oct 2003


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