By all accounts, Fleetwood Mac is one of the great rock 'n' roll bands. But there weren't many people who would've predicted its classic lineup would be together and touring sports arenas in 2015.
Over the course of the 38 years since the release of the group's masterpiece, 1977's Rumours, Fleetwood Mac's members have come and gone for reasons of madness, romantic turmoil, and creative tension. All the while, the rhythm section — drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie — has stuck it out.
Speaking by phone from a Dallas hotel room, Fleetwood says: "I will take some credit that I've always been, almost to the point of being obsessive, saying, 'We've got to keep going. We've got to keep going, dude.'"
The band is currently in the middle of its hit U.S. tour, appropriately titled On With the Show. To catalog and dissect the members' comings and goings is a book-length endeavor, so let's start with the latest news. Last year, singer/keyboardist Christine McVie, former wife of the group's bassist, returned to the fold, finally recreating the Fleetwood Mac from the height of its popularity between 1975 and 1987. There were reunions in the '90s, and even an official break-up from 1995 to 1997, but the band could never stay together long enough for a new album featuring the treasured cast that produced the self-titled "White Album," Rumours, Tusk, Mirage, and Tango in the Night.
"Not in a million years would we have ever thought, including Christine herself, that she would have ever been standing up there to my right, on stage, playing in this band again," Fleetwood admits. "It's a mythological situation that we have right now, that is unfolding as we speak. The fact that we're even talking about making inroads to making new music with the absolute lineup of all five of us, alive and well — with a few battle scars here and there — is outrageously unique."
That's right, new music. Fleetwood claims he and his longtime partner in the rhythm section, as well as guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham have been writing and recording fresh material for the past four years now. "Lindsey has a really great stash of stuff," the drummer says of Buckingham, who entered the band in 1974 with then-girlfriend Stevie Nicks and had his own absence for quite some time, from '87 through much of the '90s.
Some of these unreleased songs have made the occasional setlist during recent tours, but there has not been a full-length Fleetwood Mac studio effort since 2003's Say You Will. That was the first album since 1970's Kiln House that did not feature any writing by Christine McVie, who declared her retirement from the band in 1998. Yet Fleetwood remarks that not only has McVie returned to perform as a member of the group again, but she has also contributed her own new music and has been co-writing with Buckingham. "Lindsey purposely didn't finish off several ideas and very much half-formed pieces of music, and they worked on them together, with great results," he offers.
So yes, Fleetwood Mac not only has fresh material by the guys in the band, but McVie too. He does not mention Stevie Nicks, but she has been a steady member since the group reformed following its brief dissolution in the mid '90s. (Nicks also wrote music and lyrics for the last album and took over the live performance of McVie's vocal parts during her absence.) Speaking with Fleetwood, it sounds as if a new collection of songs is not far off. "I very much hope that at some point in our busy schedule that this cauldron, if you like, of unfinished material will come to its conclusion and become part of what I hope is something that will be put out certainly within the next year or thereabouts," he says.
A new full-length album from the classic lineup — like another tour starring Fleetwood, both McVies, Buckingham, and Nicks — seemed impossible, even a couple of years ago. For the past decade, Fleetwood Mac had become a band touring greatest hits while offering occasional obscure treats for the hardcore fans. And it seemed reissues were probably the only upcoming projects for Mick and company.
Indeed, the group's most recent major release is a "super deluxe" version of Rumours, which came out in early 2013. The repackaging included a 30-minute promo film produced in 1977, a concert recording from the album's original tour, two discs worth of outtakes and demos, and a vinyl version of the record. "It is really gratifying as an artist, quite frankly, to have a boxset on vinyl, beautifully mastered, with extra bits and pieces and pictures and stuff that they find," Fleetwood beams.
Asked whether 1982's Mirage, with its hits "Hold Me" and "Gypsy," and 1987's Tango in the Night, which spawned "Everywhere" and "Seven Wonders," will get equivalent reissues, Fleetwood says he thinks so, but he ultimately defers to the record label. "We don't have a hell of a lot to do with it, apart from we always love it when our old record company, Warner Brothers, decides to do something like that." However, should these boxsets happen, the drummer adds, he will be ready to dig through the archives once again. "Hopefully, we'll find outtakes and bits and pieces for all of those albums."
The cynic will look at these "super deluxe" versions as a cash grab, but reflecting on the band's history, Fleetwood more than once says he is amazed how quickly time has passed, and these sort of releases remind him of much that would have otherwise been forgotten. He especially adores seeing photographs of the period in such collections. And he enjoys talking about the past.
But even amid the archive diving and retrospective reissues, Fleetwood Mac was always preparing new music. And it's quite easy to forget that the band did put out fresh material, a four-song Buckingham- and Nicks-penned EP, appropriately titled Extended Play, in 2013. But now, with McVie returning to the fold and Fleetwood teasing the possibility of a full-length studio effort from the group's classic lineup, this infamously tumultuous and famously brilliant rock ensemble just might have entered an unexpected, late-career period of peace, calm, and productivity.
"I would have never have thought that we would have come full circle like this. I'm in heaven, for sure," admits Fleetwood. "In my humble opinion, anyone and everyone in this band is singing and playing better than we've ever done, and the consistency is something that is showing very loud and clear. I'm a pretty good old judge because I'm sitting back there on the drums watching all of this unfold, and it's pretty amazing."
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Fleetwood Mac's On With The Show Tour. Saturday, March 21. American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets cost $46.50 to $176.50 plus fees via ticketmaster.com. All ages. Call 786-777-1000 or visit aaarena.com.
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