Words: Will Stroude
With a 50-year legacy of friendship, fallouts and iconic folk-rock hits, the Fleetwood Mac story is as epic as they come in music.
Over the years band members Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks have married, divorced, made up, fallen out, and continued to release some of the most defining pop hits of the last century - and the drama hasn't waned now most of them are in their seventies.
Disagreements over current world tour 'An Evening with Fleetwood Mac' led to Buckingham's sacking from the group in April last year, with the guitarist and vocalist settling a lawsuit against his former bandmates in December.
Talk of that lawsuit is strictly off-limits as Attitude meets Christine McVie ahead of Fleetwood Mac's two planned dates at Wembley Stadium this June, but the British-born singer is a characteristically open book when it comes to discussing the legacy of a band that has defined her life since 1970.
Despite standing as the (relative) calm at the centre of the Fleetwood Mac storm, McVie has had plenty her own ups and downs during the course of her career, most notably retiring from the group in 1998 for 16 long years after developing a debilitating phobia of flying.
Since rejoining the group onstage at London's O2 Arena in 2014 McVie hasn't looked back, however, and as the 75-year-old songstress discusses eveything from Fleetwood Mac's unlikely inclusion in American Horror Story to why the popularity of her signature track 'Songbird' has been both a blessing and a curse, it's clear she's having the time of her life...
You've had a bit of a break from touring over the last few weeks - do you feel fully rested and recuperated?
Ha! Well, I was over in England - I live in London - and I've just moved into a new house, so I can't say that it was a particularly restful time, because you know when you move house, that's pretty stressful.
That does seem like a bit of an undertaking during a year-long world tour!
[laughs] I mean at least it's my forever home so I'm very happy there. But glad to be back on the road again.
How are you finding being on tour this time around?
We've had an unbelievable time. I mean, you probably know that Lindsey's no longer in the band, and Mick… I don't know how he does it, [he] manages to find the right people at the right time, and we now have Neil Finn from Crowded House and Mike Campbell who was in Tom Petty [and the Heartbreakers] - great guitar player - and these guys are so talented and they fit in so well with what we're doing. It's created a real buzz over here [in the US], it's unbelievable. It's a bloody great show, it really is. We're all loving it, loving it!
It must be quite intimidating for Neil and Mike to suddenly join band with such a massive legacy.
Well they come with their own pedigree, you know? They're great artists with huge hits in other bands, so they were fairly confident. They were nervous I think, to begin with, but now it's phenomenal. They're having a ball up there. We all are.
Just how different is day-to-day life on the road now compared to the '70s and '80s?
Life on the road now is a lot more sober than it was back then. There were an awful lot of drugs flying around back then in the '80s. We live quite comfortably and we can't do a show every night because we're all a bit too old, so we have to be a bit selective about how many gigs we do a week. As we get a couple of days off here and there to rest the weary bones, we're just having so much fun. It's probably the most rewarding time of my touring life ever, I think.
You've talked about how one of the main reasons for your hiatus from the band was your fear of flying - is that something you're still having to contend with?
No, no – well, I went in for treatment to cure my fear of flying. I was stuck in England and the only way I could go anywhere was by boat or train, so that was a bit limiting to say the least! [chuckles] And of course I wanted to travel. I ended up booking a ticket to see Mick, who lives in Maui, Hawaii, and ironically he phoned me up and said 'Chris, I'm coming to London, are you going to be around?!' And I said 'I bought a ticket to come and see you!' So he said 'Well wait for me to come over and we'll fly back there together.' And I swear to God, I've never thought about [my fear of] flying again. I fly to Africa, I've been on tiny planes, landing on airstrips with wildebeest [on them]... I embrace flying. And we travel in two small planes, the band, we don't all go in one big plane, and it's a painless thing, thank God.
You're performing two nights at Wembley in June - how much does it mean to you as a Brit performing in front of a home crowd?
It's phenomenal, just phenomenal. Especially as [London's] my home town. Even though I did spend 30 years in the US I've always been an Englo-phile, or whatever they call them. I always miss my roots and that's why I'm happy to be living back in London again. As much as I love travelling and I love Malibu, it's such a joy for me, Heathrow Airport. [chuckles] That runway, I go 'Ah, I'm home'. Whatever kind of mess [Britain’s] in, I love it.
Well that does come in useful on a tour like this.
It does come in handy, yeah!
Of course fans at a show like 'An Evening with Fleetwood Mac' are going to want to hear the classics, but for you as a performer are there any particular songs you still relish playing live, or perhaps dread?
Well you've got to remember you're performing to new people every night, so you have to pretend to yourself that you're playing it for the first time. You play it with as much vigour, and it's always slightly different each night. You aim to make it the best gig [yet]. We set our goals quite high in this band, we really want to be the best we can be. I think 'Songbird' was one song I got a bit tired of doing, and in the show at the moment we don't do that at the end - Stevie and I do a little duet, which is really sweet. But 'Songbird' isn't off the plans, we might do it in England, I don't know. But all the other songs I adore.
'Songbird' is probably the song you've had most critical acclaim for over the years - are there others you look at and say 'I want that to be my legacy as a songwriter?'
I suppose there are a few really, but I think 'Songbird' has to be the one, because that's the one I wrote in half an hour.
I'm always floored when I hear that.
Me too! I wish they could all be that easy. [laughs] I had the words, the melody, everything. And guess what I didn't have? A tape recorder! I had to stay up all night and keep playing it so I could call an engineer first thing in the morning to let me go in and put it on tape so I wouldn't forget it.
Thank God you did, there'd be a lot of very disappointed people if you hadn't.
Well I would've been the most disappointed, because nobody else would have heard it! But there are quite a few songs obviously that I love; 'You Make Loving Fun', 'Oh Daddy'… We have a such a big catalogue of songs that for different reasons are just wonderful songs.
People say that a lot of the magic of Fleetwood Mac's song writing came down to the emotional turmoil you were going through, be it relationships, drugs... Is it harder to find that inspiration now you’re in a better place in your life emotionally?
I'm too happy to write songs now! [But] I can get [still] there, I work well under pressure. If someone said to me 'We're doing an EP, we're putting it out in March', I could probably do it. But if I'm not under any particular pressure or heartache, I don't do so good. I have to be involved in love to write love songs.
There's been a lot of talk of new Fleetwood Mac material over the last few years, and obviously you had your joint album with Lindsay a couple of years ago - are you guys working on fresh material?
With the new band? No not yet. There are a couple of songs we've had in mind with Neil, and he seems like he'll be easy to work with, but we're not thinking about a new record… yet. This world tour is going to take most of the year. Maybe next year. Nobody's made any decisions about that yet.
This definitely isn't a farewell tour then?
Oh I don't think so. We never say never, this band. I think as long as we're all vertical and we've got our health I don't see any reason why we can't do another tour and make another record. I can see no reason why not.
In the last few years we've seen shows from Glee to American Horror Story bring Fleetwood Mac’s music to a fresh audience - did you catch any of those episodes, and do keep abreast of the ways your music continues to influence popular culture?
Only to a degree. I just hear all the time from generations where their parents play Fleetwood Mac albums at home and the kids pick it up. They're 12, 13, 14 years of age and they come to see us, and they're right there by the stage, these kids that know all the songs. Stevie is an icon and gets involved in a lot more things than I do, so she's probably helping to keep the Fleetwood Mac legacy alive with all these things that she loves to do. I tend to be a bit more private. You know, I go to Waitrose and do my shopping on my own!
So we won't be seeing you as a singing witch with Stevie on American Horror Story any time soon?
Hey, if I was offered I may not say no - I've never been asked! I don't know if it's really my strength, or my cup of tea. We'd have to see...
I think a lot of people would love to see that duo on screen...
Well, suggest it to the producers!
The campaign starts here!
[Sceptically] The campaign starts here, right... [laughs]
Finally, if you could hop in a time machine right now and re-live one era of Fleetwood Mac, when would it be?
Oh, it would have to be the '70s... It would have to be when Rumours came out. The excitement, the buzz of realising you've written one of the best albums ever written; we were just flying high off that knowledge. And every week it was number one in the charts, for about a year. We flip-flopped with The Eagles and Hotel California. But it was just a phenomenal time. Too many drugs, too much alcohol, but that was a crazy, crazy year. That era was unbelievable. But having said that, I'm really enjoying what we're doing now, most of all...
Fleetwood Mac perform at Wembley Stadium connected by EE on 16 and 18 June 2019. Tickets available at livenation.co.uk.