John Walsh: 'Fleetwood Mac survived 42 years of madness, sex, drugs, failure and success'

Tales of the City

Tuesday 03 November 2009 01:00
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I went to see Fleetwood Mac at Wembley Arena and, musically speaking, it was wonderful. The strains of "If You Go Your Own Way" (which Lindsay Buckingham wrote about Stevie Nicks after their stormy relationship came to an end), the passion that Stevie Nicks put into "Sara" (the song she wrote about her best friend, for whom Mick Fleetwood left his wife after he'd ended his affair with Stevie), the tenderness of "You Make Loving Fun" (which the keyboards player Christine McVie wrote in a tribute to the lighting-rigger for whom she conceived a passion when her husband, the bassist John McVie, hit the bottle), and the final singalong of "Don't Stop" (which Christine wrote after her eight-year marriage packed up,) were inspiring indeed, although my favourite moment was Buckingham's gorgeous solo rendition of "Never Goin' Back Again" (about Stevie's breakdown, after her well-documented cocaine addiction...)

You can try and keep the music separate from Fleetwood Mac's emotional serpentinings, but it wouldn't be so much fun. No beat combo in rock history has had such combustible permutations of personnel, or such terrible luck. They've survived 42 years of madness, drugs, marital bust-ups, sexual rivalry, drink, failure, bankruptcy, wild success, rehab clinics, and a whole gamut of peculiar hairstyle choices. Their heyday was of course 1975, when Fleetwood and the warring McVies signed up Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks and they made Rumours out of their tormented relationships. Many thought it commercial schlock at the time, but the tunes got inside your head and stuck like fishhooks.

So I went to see them at Wembley – and what a weird sight they make these days. Mick Fleetwood, now 62, shiny-pated and white-bearded, whacked the drums like a deranged pirate king, widening his scary eyes until the whites glowed. During an extended solo, he appeared to hold a conversation with the tom-toms. McVie, the inscrutable former tax inspector, wore a white Kangol beret and a black waistcoat. We looked at him and Fleetwood, their grizzled chins and stolid Britishness. "My God," breathed the person beside me, "it's Chas 'n' Dave."

Buckingham, in skinny leather jacket and collarless T-shirt, talked about the band's emotional rollercoaster, struck attitudes and scrubbed his guitar during long solos. It was very much the Lindsey Show. Ms Nicks sang gorgeously in her low contralto and did her twirling-with-a-shawl routine, but sounded emotionally conflicted, like a pissed-off Pollyanna.

They look absurdly different – how did they ever work together? Mick and John, like retired yeoman farmers, relaxing after a hard day's pig-scratching. Lindsey and Stevie, seeming half a generation younger, so Californian, neurotic, theatrical. Buckingham, though an astounding guitarist, seemed prattish and full of himself beside the cool beardies. At the end, he teased the crowd with hints of another album. Mick Fleetwood wasn't bothered about such things. "Look after each other in this crazy world," he told the crowd, with evident emotion, and was rewarded with a mighty cheer – not for being a rock star, for being such an indestructible old (English) buzzard.

***

Spare a thought for the lovelorn Vaibhav Bedi, 26, an unsuccessful young Indian lothario, who is suing the maker of Lynx deodorant spray. In India, the fragrant armpit-freshener is marketed as "Axe", but its TV advertisements lack the tongue-in-cheek quality with which British viewers are familiar. In Lynx ads, dozens of attractive girls routinely fling themselves at hopelessly geeky types, to comic effect. Axe ads, by contrast, tend to feature one foxy chick in a library, tapping her number into a fellow student's mobile and making a "call-me" gesture. Now the regrettably-named Mr Bedi is taking Unilever to court in New Delhi and claiming £26,000 for psychological damage. "The company's [...] advertisements say women will be attracted to you if you use Axe," wailed Mr Bedi. "I used it for seven years but no girl came to me." He should think himself lucky he didn't get attacked by mermaids, or turned into a grotesque Chocolate Man, like the chaps in other Lynx commercials.

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