I can still hear you saying/You would never break the chain.
The Chain, Fleetwood Mac (1977)
Just two years ago, Stevie Nicks told Rolling Stone that the chance of Christine McVie returning to Fleetwood Mac — a band she was a member of for 28 years — was as likely as “an asteroid hitting the earth.”
Nicks’ image as the group’s resident mystic poet behind gauzy, hypnotizing tunes like Rhiannon, Sisters of the Moon and Gypsy, took a hit with that prediction.
Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood can only laugh when you suggest he would be well suited to a diplomatic position within the U.S. government. If anyone could bring the combatant political parties together it would this 6-foot-six-inch drummer from Cornwall, England.
After all, he is largely responsible for McVie’s unexpected return to Fleetwood Mac after her 16-year retirement. She left after the close of a reunion tour in 1998 and the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Fleetwood held McVie’s hand on a flight from England to his home in Maui to soothe her nerves and get her on the plane. One of the reasons McVie left the group was her intense dislike of travel, which she’d revealed as far back as 1972 on her pleading track, Homeward Bound, from the group’s Bare Trees album. She’d sold her house in Los Angeles and returned to England and lived a mostly reclusive, rural life near Canterbury.
The Maui trip led to McVie’s participation on a couple songs with Fleetwood’s side project blues group. In September 2013, McVie performed her Rumours single and President Clinton inauguration tune, Don’t Stop, with Fleetwood Mac at a London concert. After a hiatus for her ex-husband John McVie to seek treatment for cancer, the band announced its official reunion earlier this year.
McVie’s return reunites the classic Rumours-era lineup as she once again folds her bluesy, warm English alto with Nicks’ and Lindsey Buckingham’s Southern California harmonies. Her comeback also allows the band to reintroduce her buoyant, hit songs like Little Lies, You Make Loving Fun and Over My Head into the set list.
Between McVie’s welcome return, and Nicks’ acting debut on FX’s popular American Horror Story: Coven earlier this year in which she played a version of her witchy woman persona, the resulting On With the Show Tour is a smash. The band plays Sunrise’s BB&T Center Friday and a new leg of dates have been added for 2015. The group will also play Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena on March 21.
“It is beyond amazing,” Fleetwood said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles earlier this month. “Looking at this stage that used to be empty, and now all of her keyboards and stuff are there, it’s magnified. The whole story of this band is that we carried on and we did fine without Chris and, sadly, it was without Chris, but we got a separation and you get used to it when you lose somebody. So having it come back …full circle is huge musically for me and John. It’s major, major, major having the rhythm section truly complete.”
To have this musical chain gang intact is major for fans, too.
“The most astounding thing is what it does with the relationship within this band and with the audience — it literally is performance art at this point,” Fleetwood said as fans relive the soundtrack of their lives through featured songs like Dreams, I’m So Afraid and The Chain.
“It’s astoundingly powerful that for the vast majority of that audience their lives are unfolding in their own world and we’re triggering that. The fact a Neil Young or any of us who have managed to last and have been blessed and retained an audience for this amount of time, you get this performance art happening and emotionally it’s at a peak. The celebration of Chris being thrown in there, as well, it pretty much can’t get any better than this.”
During Fleetwood’s near 48-year career with the band, he has been the musical timekeeper, the constant, the cheerleader, the father figure. (Christine McVie’s affectionate Oh Daddy is for him; and he’s the protective “great dark wing” in Nicks’ Sara.)
Fleetwood even served as band manager when its previous one created a fake version of Fleetwood Mac in 1973, sent it on the road, and claimed ownership of the name. He weathered the defections of band mates to mental illness, religious cults, affairs, solo careers, and fear of flying and exhaustion in McVie’s case. All along, he has kept a version of Fleetwood Mac intact, for better or worse, since its formation in 1967.
In the late ’70s, amid the record-setting sales, excesses — chemical and otherwise — and romantic uncoupling that saw the McVies divorce and the Buckingham-Nicks relationship split there were songs documenting the turmoil.
You can go your own way, Buckingham brayed at Nicks.
You’ll never get away from the sound of the woman who loved you, responded Nicks.
There were couplings within the band, too. Nicks had an affair with Fleetwood, he writes in his new memoir, Play On: Now, Then, and Fleetwood Mac (Little Brown; $30). “What unfolded was a therapeutic session,” he said of reliving the memories of a lifetime with co-author Anthony Bozza.
There were dreams to be sold/(Chain of chains)/You’re like my 24 karat gold, Nicks wrote of the ill-fated romance with Fleetwood on her illuminating new album, 24 Karat Gold: Songs From the Vault, which features recordings cut earlier this year in Nashville of songs she wrote from 1969 to 1995.
They’ll sing about it all over again Friday night, while the more optimistic McVie closes the 150-minute concert with Songbird’s tender, And I love you … like never before.
More than 45 million copies of the aural soap opera document Rumours that contained these songs in 1977 have been sold worldwide. A 2011 Glee episode that paid tribute to the album led to Rumours’ return to the Billboard and iTunes sales charts that extends to the current day, along with greatest hits compilations. A whole new generation of pop, rock and country acts like Little Big Town, One Direction and Haim revere and emulate the Mac’s sound.
Fleetwood credits his father, late Royal Air Force wing commander John Joseph Kells Fleetwood, with giving him the fortitude to keep the band an ongoing concern even after key members like founding guitarist Peter Green, Danny Kirwan, the late Bob Welch, Buckingham, Nicks and McVie had all departed.
“I truly believe, and I’m trying not to sound all humble and stuff, but I have a sense of humor and it’s about my dad,” Fleetwood said. “By the nature of his position in the Royal Air Force he was a people organizer and a successful one. Dad, from time to time, would say, ‘Mick, remember this, as long as whatever it is gets done, you don’t need to take the credit. If, for the good of the whole thing, if it involves you and you put in a good stead, if it gets done, hey, it’s done, you got it done, move on.’ And that’s what I try to remember.”
But as the echoes of an old song, one that has opened Fleetwood Mac concerts for decades, come to mind —Chain, keep us together/Running in the shadows — Fleetwood reveals one last link in the chain.
“I’m allowing mys
elf to say I am not responsible for writing all these fantastic songs but I’ve been a major part of the process. I don’t mind owning that in good humor.”
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