By Deborah Wilker
When singer-songwriter Christine McVie phoned Stevie Nicks, saying she wanted to return to Fleetwood Mac after a 16-year retirement, Nicks was thrilled – but had an ultimatum: “You can never leave again.”
McVie, the platinum-selling writer of hits such as Don’t Stop, You Make Loving Fun, Everywhere and Say You Love Me, didn’t hesitate to commit to what Nicks explained was “a long, hard, difficult, physical show.”
With McVie back on board, Fleetwood Mac hit the road last September with its On With The Show tour, quickly becoming one of the highest-grossing concert acts of 2014. This year too the tour is a top-seller, earning critical raves and multi-millions each week – prompting added dates in the U.S. and overseas. With the American leg just-wrapped, UK shows start May 27.
“From my personal point of view, it’s sort of beyond my wildest dreams really. It’s such a thrill,” McVie said on stage earlier this year of her return to the band — now restored to its classic five-piece Rumours-era line-up.
This is a long way from the Christine McVie, who in 1998 at age 55, resolutely packed up her house in Los Angeles, sent her pianos into storage and retreated to her native England.
Her ethereal pop tunes had always been the warm counterpoint to the angry love songs penned by Nicks and her former boyfriend, the band’s guitarist and producer Lindsey Buckingham. For decades McVie had been one of the most lauded women in rock, a British blues player who wrote effortless pop hooks, while also forging a deep bond with the other dazzling blonde in the band – that friendship alone, one of music’s most compelling stories.
“We loved her, so we had to let her go,” Nicks has said of McVie’s split, which was not fueled by the romantic melodrama or the many excesses that had defined Fleetwood Mac for so long.
Rather, McVie had for years been paralyzed by panic attacks and a fear of flying. Exhausted and longing for a simpler life, she went about restoring a vintage home, while Buckingham re-tooled the band as a four-piece.
Relieved and happy for a while, she roamed the English countryside with her dogs and cooked gourmet meals for friends.
But about 10 years in, it all turned to “What was I thinking?”
“OK, now what?” she said recently in Elle magazine. “I just started getting bored.”
Band-mate Mick Fleetwood said her world had become “increasingly small.”
“She spent a lot of her time on her own, alone in her gorgeous house,” Fleetwood writes in his new autobiography Play On.
By her late 60s McVie was also missing the creative process.
But was starting over in Fleetwood Mac even a possibility?
She wasn’t just out of practice. As the oldest member of the band’s classic lineup, which also includes her ex-husband, bassist John McVie, could she meet the physical challenge?
Standing at her keyboard for hours at a time, slinging an accordion over her shoulders during demanding musical numbers such as Tusk, and – on her own songs – leading one of the great rock bands of all time, is tough work, even if you’re not in your 70s.
More importantly did she still have the chops to go head-to-head with Nicks and Buckingham, who had been firing on all cylinders for the past decade? (The two had earnestly fronted the band since 2003’s Say You Will tour, but minus the storied trio harmonies they used to create with McVie, the shows took on a different feel).
After seeking psychological treatment for her flying phobia and playing some casual shows in Hawaii with Fleetwood’s blues band, McVie, who turns 72 in July, hired a personal trainer and didn’t look back.
She doesn’t consider her “retirement” as lost years.
“I don’t think you can spend your time regretting what you did in the past,” she told Rolling Stone, “but you can look to the future and try and glean the very best, sweetest time one has left.”
Over the last year she’s also been working on demos in the studio, and just this week revealed to fans via her Facebook and Instagram accounts that she “loves the way” Buckingham “rebuilt them.”
At the end of many of the shows on this tour, Nicks has been taking center stage for a post-show wrap-up with fans in which she recounts the pivotal phone call from McVie, which now appears to be rewriting the band’s future.
“She hung out in her castle for 16 years! Never in our wildest dreams did we think Chris would come back,” Nicks said on stage recently. “Now you get to hear her beautiful songs again. I’m so proud of our girl. She danced back in and didn’t miss a beat. It’s been such a joy. Life-changing.”
Fleetwood Mac’s On With The Show world tour continues through 2015. The European leg kicks off May 27 at London’s 02 Arena. For information visit fleetwoodmac.com/events.
Photo by Danny Clinch