Resplendent in pinstripe trousers, pink collared shirt and a black waistcoat, Mick Fleetwood looks in remarkably good shape for someone who arrived in Australia only a few nights earlier; even more so when you consider he’s spent the past 50 years drumming in Fleetwood Mac. As tall in person as the photos suggest and immaculately tanned, tomorrow night he’ll present Gang of Youths with the Best Group gong at the ARIA Awards, but his real purpose for this Australian visit is sitting in front of him in his hotel room: Love That Burns: A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac, Volume One 1967-1974. A lavish, luxurious, largely photographic account of the first seven years in Fleetwood Mac’s career, it concludes just as Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham are poised to join. Despite the fact the band released nine albums prior to the mid-Seventies, Fleetwood is all too aware that this era has been eclipsed by what came next.
Love That Burns, then, is an opportunity to shine a light on the lesser known period of the band’s work. Founded when guitarist-vocalist Peter Green – who’d already established a formidable reputation thanks to his work with the likes of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – joined forces with Mac (the original line-up was completed by guitarist Jeremy Spencer and bassist Bob Brunning, who was soon replaced by John McVie), Fleetwood Mac established themselves initially as a blues band. Over the next few years members came and went, with the line-up at various times featuring guitarists Bob Welch, Danny Kirwan and Bob Weston, as well as keyboardist-vocalist Christine McVie. As the line-up evolved, so too did the band’s sound, moving from the deep blues of their origins to something approaching the more commercial aesthetic that would propel them to megastardom upon the arrival of Nicks and Buckingham.
Compiled by Mac with the help of Genesis Publications, Love That Burns features more than 400 photographs alongside Mac’s first-hand account of the period, and is limited to a run of 2,000 copies, each signed by the drummer. The book also features contributions from leading players such as John Mayall, Christine and John McVie, Jeremy Spencer and, most poignantly, Peter Green, whose deteriorating mental state resulted in him leaving the band in 1970, and to whom much of the book is ostensibly a tribute.
“This is a great, unbelievable, deluxe calling card,” says Fleetwood, leafing through pages. “It’s something that I’m connected to and tells that story and reminds people from whence we have come.”
How poignant a process was putting this book together?
I wrote a couple of autobiographies over the years, and this was actually more moving in many ways. The old adage that every picture tells a story is so very true. And when you’re not a brilliant writer, you go, “Well, that’s done a lot of the work for me.” And then I can just do my best to connect it. Which means you have to dig in to try and make some of the copy presentable at least.
The photos from the Chess recording sessions in 1969 are remarkable. What was it like to be playing with artists such as Willie Dixon and Buddy Guy?
Oh, we were like pigs in shit. Unbelievable. It dawned on me: This is actually the most important chunk of pictures. Because it says what we were. We were a blues band. And then we’re in the church of all these great players. As young lads from an English background, ending up in Chess – are you kidding me? Talk about going to church.
As much as the book is an ode to this stage of Fleetwood Mac’s career, it’s also a tribute to founding guitarist Peter Green. Has he given you any feedback on the book?
No. He hasn’t seen it yet. He’s getting a lovely super deluxe copy of it. He doesn’t really care, I don’t think – which is even more reason why I care to tell his story. [He’s] not connected in the way that he was in this book. But it’s not about that. The book is not about the aesthetics of personal semi-changes of life which could be construed as touching on the tragedy of, “Such a shame he’s not playing anymore.” I had to let go of that a long time ago. So the flag waving is all done by the drama queen and the super fan, which is me probably.
There are some photos from a European tour in 1970, and you write about the fact that you knew Peter was going to leave, but you were trying to just hold onto him for as long as possible. That must have been very difficult to deal with…
It was heartbreaking. You know when someone’s leaving you? And you’re heading towards it and you go, “Oh no, maybe not, maybe he’s going to rethink it.” But he left very responsibly. The first album was [released under the name] Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, and he was furious about that. I understand why [the label] did it, but he didn’t want that. And then you never saw Peter Green [in the name again]. But he was the guy, you know? He was. I found out years later, someone asked him, “Why was it called Fleetwood Mac?” He said, “Oh, I thought right at the beginning, one day I probably won’t be doing it, and I wanted Mick and John to have something.”
His reason for asking you to join Fleetwood Mac was very touching…
When I spoke to him [for the book], I asked him, “Why did you pick me?” Maybe I thought he was going to say, “Oh, you’re a fucking good drummer”, but that had nothing to do with it at all. He said, “You were unhappy.” And I’m like, “What?” He said, “Mick, you’d just broken up with Jenny, you were devastated, and I couldn’t stand seeing you like that, and I thought, ‘This will make him snap out of it’, and I gave you the gig.” Pretty amazing, it fucking blew me away. I just thought it was very telling about Peter.
Bob Welch was invited to join before you’d even played a note with him, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham’s audition was a dinner. Taking that in conjunction with what you just told me about Peter, it seems that friendship or personal connections determined a lot about how you operated in the early days.
[They did], really. But I always joke, imagine if it was Milli Vanilli or something, and they hadn’t actually played on their album, and they’d already been given the gig. [Laughs]
So was it as much about a personal connection as opposed to a musical connection?
Correct. It was all about a vibe, which is quite interesting, and certainly something in the crazy musical story of Fleetwood Mac. The actual musical style of Fleetwood Mac is pretty extreme. You put on the blues jam at Chess and then you put on [1970’s] Kiln House, you go, “Really?” It’s really quite extraordinary, but it’s also a testimony that [I] and John would not put upon [new members] to be something that they’re not. The fact that we did change [our sound between albums] – and we probably were idiots – but it was part of accepting someone for who they are and what they are. It’s sort of unbelievable that people went along with it, at least to some extent, to enable us to survive. Very interesting. And I think in truth, it was unique, seeing as we got away with it. I can’t think of any other band that’s musically changed that amount and still seemingly been given the good marks for integrity for what they do.
If you were starting today and tried to do that…
Oh, we’d be thrown out. I think we broke a lot of rules. And that in itself even then was unique. It said a lot for Warner Brothers that they stayed on mark and didn’t sling us out.
In the book you write about the band being a bit lost after Peter’s departure and your concern that you might break apart, so you decided to move everyone into Kiln House. “When you’re under threat,” you write, “close ranks.” Where did that resolve come from? Who instilled that in you?
My father. I had a great relationship with my father. And he was a military chap… but not. Total dreamer. He wrote a lot and had empathy. The fact that [my parents] sent me off to London at 16 years old, pretty much says it all. It’s like, that’s pretty spunky, if not a little stupid… but not. They knew that was the only thing that was going to save me. The fact that they were in that mode was really remarkable.
What was London like for a 16-year-old?
Oh, brilliant. Full of everything you can imagine, y’know. There was something in the water. I mean, can you imagine? I basically got off the train, did a couple of menial jobs that I hated. And then it all happened. Unbelievable. And this book is a full reminder of that. Of just lessons learnt, but not realising them at the time, but now looking back. So it’s been a tremendous thing.
I read a quote where you said it would be great to do some sort of show to celebrate this book. Is there anything in the works?
I am hoping in the New Year. I’m trying to gather some people that are worth a damn to come out for, ostensibly, of course for Peter, that have a relevance to what we’ve been talking about, and I truly, truly, am working really hard at it. And it’s tough, because it’s the cart before the horse and who can turn up and who wants to and all that stuff, but I’m making progress. It’ll all be only that material. Recreating it. In a very nice place in London.
Mick Fleetwood will be holding signing events in Melbourne from December 1st to 3rd, and in Sydney on December 5th; details here.