Fleetwood Mac - Uncut Magazine (May 2003)

AUGUST 7, 1987. Fleetwood Mac are enjoying a third burst of success after the Peter Green/“Albatross” years and Rumours heyday. Their new album, Tango In The Night has just topped the charts in Britain and America on its way to global sales that will eventually approach l0 million. But all is not well in the camp. When the band meets at Christine McVie's Hollywood home to resolve their differences, the atmosphere is venomous. 

A row breaks out over Lindsey Buckingham's refusal to tour, and when former lover Stevie Nicks tries to remonstrate with him, the highly-strung guitarist explodes. "Get this bitch out of my way. And **** the lot of you" he screams, as he pushes her over the hood of his car and delivers a slap. Vowing never to speak to the band again, he drives off into the sunset with the parting shot, "You're a bunch of selfish bastards.”

For Buckingham, Say You Will is the first Fleetwood Mac studio album he has been involved with since the fateful Tango in the Night, and although he disputes some of the details of the confrontation that resulted in his 1987 departure, he concedes euphemistically it was "not a happy day". Yet he regards the new album as a "vindication" of his walk-out. "If I hadn't left then, I wouldn't be in this place now," he reasons. "So it all makes sense in some way. That's part of the beauty of us being back together". 

"I'm now married and I have a four-and-a half-year-old son and a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter," he explains. "I think all that calms you down in increments, without you even being aware of it. You get more balance and you feel like there's something greater than yourself in the scheme of things. I'm just happier. I spent quite a few years in emotional exile and that includes all my time in Fleetwood Mac, really." 

There was never a time in the band when his relationship with Nicks wasn't characterised as "dysfunctional" and "denial", he admits with total candour. "That sounds strange when we split up so many years earlier. But most couples in that position don't carry on seeing each other all the time. Being in a band is like still living with someone. We weren't able to resolve things because I don't think we were focused enough even to know what needed to be resolved." 

Even on the 1997 tour he feels there was still a "residue". Since then he gained a family of his own for the first time and has finally been able to move on. "And this time when we started again I found I really liked the chemistry of the band without the baggage we carried around for so long. We can acknowledge what happened. But we are different people."

Talking to Mick Fleetwood at the rehearsal studio where the band are preparing for their forthcoming tour, the drummer agrees. But he also says that the unique chemistry that created Rumours has not entirely dissipated. " There's an incredible amount of emotional investment outside of the music within this band. The vibration of what happened is still alive. It's not theatre, it's real," he adds, stretching his long frame across a couch, still the elegant English dandy. 

"Christine has gone, but Stevie is surrounded by three men, two of whom she's had relationships with. This makes for an interesting copy. My friendship and absolute love for Stevie is still able to exist. She's my wife's best friend and we've all just come back from a vacation in Hawaii together. It's not corporate. It's still a powerful thing emotionally. There are areas for Stevie and Lindsey that are still sticky for them. But we've found a road map where this can happen.”

TALKING TO NICKS, who seems animated and incredibly open, the Fleetwood Mac story is not so much soap opera as gothic romance. Either way, it's a tale in which she believed the final chapter had been written with the band's 1997 reunion tour and the subsequent departure of Christine McVie. "Not all the King's horses and all the King's men could put it back together," she sang on "Fall From Grace", from her 2001 solo album, Trouble in Shangri-La. 

"Yes, that was totally about the band," she admits now. Yet she had no hesitation in signing on again when approached. "It's like the restless spirit of Fleetwood Mac still needs to find peace," she says. "That sounds a bit Wuthering Heights. But in a way it is. I don't think any of us could be in any other band."

Say You Will feature 18 tracks, nine written by Nicks and nine by Buckingham, who also produced (with assistance on some tracks by Rob Cavallo). "It's really like a Buckingham-Nicks record with the power trio backing," says Nicks. 

In December 2001 she went back home for Christmas to the house she has kept in Phoenix for more than 20 years. A month later, she returned to LA with four new songs. "I was totally nervous," she recalls. " I knew they wouldn't like the songs. Your self-esteem plummets and you feel you're the worst songwriter in the world. But I played them and they flipped out." 

One of them, "Illume", was inspired by 9/11, after Nicks had flown into New York the night before and found herself stranded in the stricken city. "Lindsey had tears in his eyes," she recalls. "He put his hand on my knee and said 'How do you do this?'" 

With Nicks out on her solo tour, Buckingham particularly enjoyed working in an all-male environment. "There was a lot of bonding between the three of us and it was a good place to start building a reconfigured dynamic between us. It was very difficult for me for years to have to work with Stevie when I didn't want to be around her. And it was always hard for John to rise to his higher self around Christine. There was never a sense that we were in any way crippled without Chris because we've made a record that's at least as potent."

Nicks, meanwhile, seems genuinely pleased that Buckingham's restless spirit appears finally to have found musical and personal satisfaction. "Hopefully this record will give him back a sense of purpose and delight. He's in a way better space now and it's wonderful for me to see that. I care about him and his life and what he does and if he's happy. I so want him to be ok. This record is his baby and I really think he's gone and done that great thing he always wanted to do."

Although they opened for Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, a record deal failed to materialise, and it eventually became obvious they were going nowhere fast. By 1971, Fritz had split, and Buckingham and Nicks - by now lovers as well as musical soul-mates - moved to LA. A record deal with Polydor resulted in the 1973 album Buckingham Nicks. But with no real marketing or promotion, it died a death. Nicks was reduced to waitressing at Clementine’s, a Beverly Hills singles bar, for $1.50 an hour, while Buckingham did a few sessions and lived on her money.

“I believe that Lindsey shouldn’t have to work, that he should just lay on the floor and practise his guitar and become more brilliant every day,” Nicks explains. “And as I watched him become more brilliant every day, I felt very gratified. I was totally devoted to making it happen for him. And when you really feel that way about somebody, it’s very easy to take your own personality and quiet it way down.”

But by late 1974, Nicks was “within weeks” of returning to her parents’ home in Phoenix, and contemplating a return to college.

“If we hadn’t joined Fleetwood Mac would Lindsey and I have carried on and made it?” she asks today. “I was really tired of having no money and being a waitress. It’s very possible that I would have gone back to school and Lindsey would have gone back to San Francisco.”

Mick Fleetwood, meanwhile, was searching for a new guitarist to replace the departed Welch, when he ran across Buckingham Nicks at Sound City Studios. He was impressed by the song “Frozen Love” from their Polydor album. But Fleetwood Mac already had a female singer in Christine McVie, so his initial invitation was merely to the guitarist.

“He was standing there grooving to this searing guitar solo and he needed a guitar player. That was as far as his thinking went. I had to explain we came as a duo. Stupid me, eh?” Buckingham jokes today.

Fleetwood was so convinced that Buckingham was his man that he swiftly agreed to take them both - although he promised Christine McVie that she had a veto if she disliked Nicks.

Initially, the guitarist had reservations about submerging hi musical personality in an already established band--particularly as he had not been a fan of the Bob Welch-era Fleetwood Mac. Nicks swiftly reassured him.

“I said, ‘We can always quit. They’re going to pay us $200 each a week, so we can save some money and leave in six months with a little nest egg if it doesn’t work’” she recalls today.

WHAT BUCKINGHAM AND NICKS had failed to reveal to their new colleagues was that, although they came as a team, their relationship was already falling apart at the seams. “Lindsey and I were in total chaos a year before we met Fleetwood Mac,” Nicks tells Uncut almost 30 years on. “I had already moved out of our apartment a couple of times and then had to move back in because I couldn’t afford it. Our relationship was already in dire straits. But if we’d broken up within the first six months of Fleetwood Mac there would have been no record and we would have been in big trouble, so when we joined the band we took the decision to hang in there.”

Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were at least talking -- or, rather, ranting and raving at each other. At one point, the highly-strung Buckingham thought of quitting.

“In the middle of it all, one day Lindsey said, ‘I don’t know whether I can handle this.’ He was not a happy camper,” recalls Mick Fleetwood. “I have him a pep talk, saying, ‘This whole thing is a compromise. That’s what a band is about. But if it’s an unhealthy one for you, then you don’t have to be here.’ From then on he was really focused on making the record.”

For Nicks, there were no second thoughts. “Really, each one of us was too proud and way too stubborn to walk away from it,” she recalls. “I wasn’t going to leave. Lindsey wasn’t going to leave. What would we have done -- sat around in LA and tried to start new bands? It was just ‘grit your teeth and bear it.’”

With Fleetwood’s drug abuse also rendering him largely hors de combat, it was left to Lindsey Buckingham to pull the album together. “We had to rise to the occasion,” he recalls today. “It was a very difficult record to make. Half the time Mick was falling asleep. We spent a year on the record but we only saw Stevie for a few weeks. I had to pull performances out of words and lines and make parts that sounded like her that weren’t her.”

Buckingham concedes that Nicks was “the most challenging to deal with”. But he excludes nobody from his strictures. “Everyone was at their worst, including myself. We’d made the progression from what could be seen as an acceptable or excusable amount of drug use to a situation where we had all hit the wall. I think of it as our darkest period.”