Fleetwood Mac, complete with returning member Christine McVie, are on tour and head to Leeds this week. Andy Threlfall reports
It’s been 15 years since Cumbrian-born Christine McVie retired from Fleetwood Mac, but now she is back, completing the classic Rumours-era line-up of the band on the current tour.
“I didn’t really know exactly what Christine McVie was up to in those missing years,” says a sprightly 65-year-old Lindsey Buckingham. “She pretty much took permanent leave of the performing world and moved back to England and lived somewhere out in the country.”
But now she’s back and that has meant the band’s live show is receiving unparalleled critical plaudits reinvigorated as it is by classics like You Make Loving Fun, Everywhere and Songbird (which closed the London 02 show I witnessed) penned and sung by Christine who turns 72 next month.
For a band famed for its musical chemistry and fabled failed relationships, to close it’s homecoming show with just one (the returning) member at the piano was startling. Art at its most naked. Stripped bare. The song. The voice.
Whichever way you want to decipher this moment after two and a half hours, the sheer brilliance remains intact of this band who can select a 25-song setlist matched only in gargantuan sales figures and magnificence by fellow Brits who still dominate American radio the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin & The Beatles.
If the return of McVie had been one cause for celebration, that of ex-husband John to the current tour is even more poignant. He very nearly didn’t make it.
As Stevie Nicks told me during our meeting near her Malibu home last year: “John was very ill so we had to come off the road. But he did what he had to do. He went back to his home in Hawaii and he dealt with it. He is an incredible man.”
So the circle is complete again. The battles are never completely resolved in Fleetwood Mac, the scars are deep and often on the surface, but the result is a catalogue of songs so magnificent there is an insatiable appetite to hear them live by this incarnation, the five who made the 40 million seller Rumours.
The world tour has sold out in record time. When Adele met Nicks an hour before they took to the stage at the 02, she proclaimed it, without any sense of hyperbole “THE best night of my life. I love you Stevie Nicks!! The queen of melodies! Thanks for everything.”
Beyonce and Taylor Swift namecheck her as the greatest influence on their singing and songwriting. Leeds is getting a double helping with the band playing two dates at Leeds Arena. Pinch yourself Yorkshire.
Stevie is sanguine when we discuss life, love, Lindsey, near-death and music. “My Dad became the chairman of Canadian Labatts beer, so it was always like there was was alcohol around!”
She laughs at the thought. And what of Lindsey? Who was her then boyfriend in 1975 when he insisted to Mick Fleetwood “If I join your band, my girlfriend must join as well,” the masterstroke that resulted in this seminal rock band.
“I live just 10 minutes from Lindsey now. It is what it is between Lindsey and I – a love affair, not reciprocated as it once was of course – but yes it still happens for us whenever we meet. It still feels a little like the undying love affair, although he’s now a family man of course. He has three teenage kids.
“We talk on the phone, but we don’t hang out like I do especially with Mick and his family who are exactly like ‘Meet The Fockers’ except it’s ‘Meet The Fleetwoods’. I always go to his and we watch the Grammys together or The Oscars. I was sure we would always get back together every few years to play these amazing songs again.”
But is she sometimes amazed that she survived the drugs? “I can’t believe that I’m actually alive it’s true. A plastic surgeon told me that if I took one more line of cocaine I would soon have a brain haemorrhage. Actually he told me that I could really drop dead someday.
“So I stopped. I feel healthier than I’ve felt in 30 years because I’m sober, I don’t really drink any more and I don’t do drugs. I was not in good shape for many, many years. I am very, very blessed to still be here.
“Prescription drug abuse nearly killed me as much as the cocaine. I’m pretty sure that after eight years on that stuff that if I’d not checked myself in to hospital for 47 days I would be dead. Absolutely. I would not be here today. I knew that I was on my way out.”
Do you feel like the poster girl for surviving the 70s and 80s rock and roll excesses I ask her. “Yes, a little. Do I feel like the godmother to Britney, Lindsay Lohan, etc? Yes. But when I look at Britney Spears or a Lindsay Lohan I do think they should have learnt from my generation of rock stars... but nobody ever does. I should have learnt myself from people like Hendrix and Joplin but I didn’t. I don’t think anyone can tell a drug addict to stop.”
“It’s ironic,” I say, “You sing “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow…”
“I know.” She stops. A tear? Maybe.
Buckingham has stated this tour could well be it. The last one with such a line-up in its current incarnation. But new songs are now written, and an album might follow.
However, as the penultimate English date on the world tour, followed by Scotland, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, the Leeds Arena show in July might well be the last time one of the five or six biggest bands of the last 40 years plays in the North of England. Keep your ticket stub and frame it.
• Fleetwood Mac are currently on a world tour. They will be playing at Leeds Arena on June 30 and July 5. www.ticketmaster.co.uk