Tuesday 22 May 2018

Going their own way - Fleetwood Mac's 'revolving-door approach to membership

As Lindsey Buckingham is sacked from Fleetwood Mac, Tony Clayton-Lea looks at the band's 'revolving-door' approach to membership

Mac three: Christine McVie, Mick Fleetwood and Lindsey Buckingham perform at the MusiCares Person of the Year event. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images
Mac three: Christine McVie, Mick Fleetwood and Lindsey Buckingham perform at the MusiCares Person of the Year event. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Tony Clayton-Lea

And so the drama continues. The most dysfunctional pop/rock band of the past 50 years has yet again triggered a tripwire by sacking their long-time guitarist Lindsey Buckingham. In even more surprising news, the band has replaced Buckingham with not one, but two musicians: Crowded House's Neil Finn and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' Mike Campbell.

Even if he isn't the first or last name that would spring to mind as a replacement, Finn will certainly add to the innate pop sensibility that has made Fleetwood Mac such an enduring act. Campbell, meanwhile - a long-established friend of the band's Stevie Nicks - will deliver a tailored facsimile of Buckingham's exceptional guitar work, which acted as the fuel that powered the band's catchy pop songs.

In a surprisingly terse statement, Fleetwood Mac announced: "Lindsey Buckingham will not be performing with the band on this tour. The band wishes Lindsey all the best."

But how did it come to this? And why did the 'Mac' fire not only one of its recognised primary members but also a person that had a hand in writing many of their most famous tunes?

It's ironic that the last song Fleetwood Mac performed live (on January 26 last, when they were being honoured at the MusiCares Person of the Year event at New York's Radio City Music Hall) was 'Go Your Own Way', written by Buckingham about the complex personal relationship between him and Nicks.

To make it even more curious, Buckingham alluded to the personal issues that have simmered beneath the band and then erupted. Just like many a Mac song he has helped to shape, his words came back to snap at him: "Not very far below the level of dysfunction, what we are feeling more than ever in our career is love." You just can't make it up, can you?

Classic Mac line-up: (l-r)John and Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood, and Lindsey Buckingham. Photo: Getty Images
Classic Mac line-up: (l-r)John and Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood, and Lindsey Buckingham. Photo: Getty Images

Buckingham and Fleetwood Mac began their lengthy association as far back as 1974. Up until then, the Mac had been a band of two halves: in the 60s, they were a blues/rock band that had substantial chart success with hit singles such as 'Albatross', 'Oh Well' and 'Black Magic Woman'. Come the early 70s, however, the band relocated to Los Angeles, dropped a couple of members and began to search around for suitable alternatives.

Nominal band leader Mick Fleetwood was introduced to the songwriting (and real-life) partnership of Buckingham and Nicks, whose West Coast folk-rock leanings perfectly matched the band's shifting musical priorities. Thus began a chain of events that would not only alter the course of Mac's history but also make them one of the most commercially successful pop/rock bands of the past 50 years.

Albums such as Fleetwood Mac (1975), Rumours (1977) and Tusk (1979) became immensely successful, but each was created by levels of emotional tension and anxiety that contributed something very unusual in commercial music - a valid confessional backstory that fans could either relate to or empathise with.

With songs inspired by intra-band infidelities and extra-marital affairs - all of which were numbed by cocaine abuse - the Mac became rock music's version of Dallas. The angst that lay between the band members rarely surfaced on stage, but the songs were dynamically inspired by it. The success of Rumours, in particular, spun on the contradictions of having almost a dozen perfect radio-friendly pop songs underpinned by genuine unease, blame and bitterness.

Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. Photo: Neal Preston/CORBIS
Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. Photo: Neal Preston/CORBIS

If there was ever a definitive or classic line-up (arguably there has never been one, such was, and is, the revolving-door approach to membership) then it is one that has had Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks continuously in its ranks. Buckingham took a decade-long break in 1987 before returning to the fold - and in the wake of his latest departure, fans can take comfort in the fact that from 1998-2014 Christine McVie removed herself from the band.

Now once again a full-time member, McVie will be around for Fleetwood Mac's autumn tour, the dates of which will be announced over the next month or so. Considered by fans, as much as the band, as their 'farewell' tour, whether Buckingham will join his former band mates on stage again (or, more crucially, in the studio) is anyone's guess.

"This has always been a group of chemistry," Buckingham informed the Radio City Music Hall audience in January.

The thing about chemistry, though, is that it either settles down or explodes. Watch this space for further will-he/won't-he updates on the man who wrote - what else? - 'Never Going Back Again'.

Irish Independent

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