Penguin (1973)

Fleetwood Mac: The Fleetwood Mac of today

FLEETWOOD MAC have been through a lot of changes since the club days. What began as a straight blues band has progressed into new musical areas; a lot of metamorphoses have gone down and Mick Fleetwood has seen them all. You see a lot in seven years.

It’s not that Fleetwood Mac don’t like Britain – they just seem to spend more time playing in America where the records sell more and where the band is better appreciated. Yet the new album and British tour might once again make Fleetwood a household word over here.

“We’re not a huge band in the States,” says Mick Fleetwood, “but we’re well known, respected. America was where we started working a lot, it’s a place that has always meant growth for the band, and it’s rewarding knowing that your albums are being heard and selling. People in the States are into our past albums as well. We have such a weird cacophony of old albums yet it’s a nice flow.

“In England though, our albums stopped selling for a variety of reasons – one of which was countless personnel changes. We got so big in England that we literally couldn’t get any bigger.

“It might appear like we’ve ignored Britain but the main thing is just that the albums don’t sell here. We’ll definitely work more in England, I’d love to. It’s just a question of demand. Though I’m always a little bit paranoid about playing in England, because you know it’s England. There’s always that fear that the people might not like the music.”

If you think Fleetwood Mac have had more personnel changes than albums released, you’re probably right. Yet the new album, Penguin, featuring the new line-up, should set things straight. The record is a slight departure from past efforts, for Fleetwood now feature a lead singer, ex-Savoy Brown Dave Walker. American Bob Welch is on guitar, Christine McVie on keyboards. Bob Weston on guitar and John McVie on bass, with Mick Fleetwood bringing up the rear on drums, completes yet another edition of the Fleetwoods.

“This is the first album with the new line-up. Like our past albums lots of different things are on it. The record features a good deal of variety. It’s not just an acoustic, heavy, or blues album, it’s a collection of different styles, so no one track is typical.

“It was a new experience for the band to have a lead singer. In all the years we’ve been together, we’ve never had one. The band always had a vocalist who played an instrument as well. It’s something we’ll have to get accustomed to.”

One thing Mick would like to improve is the band’s vocals. They have three people who can sing and he’d like to make better use of their ranges. “On future albums we’re going to try and come off more as a band rather than three separate entities vocally. Instead of Dave singing a song alone – and then Christine – we’d like to feature them together.”

Yet it’s taken the band time to adjust to having a lead singer. “Dave is a vocalist, he can’t stand around all night doing nothing so we’ve got to use him. To a certain extent, though, we’ve found that a little bit difficult. We haven’t quite furthered ourselves as much as we’d like to. In that way the material on the album is not as well integrated as we’d like.”

Seven years playing takes a bit of the flash and glamour away from it all and puts the emphasis back into the music. Musical and personnel changes have been a positive force in Fleetwood Mac. “Variety is healthy,” says Mick. “Lots of bands become known for one thing in a very short time and make money from it. Yet they often later regret it when they want to change the music and have no audience.

Typical for Fleetwood, the new album features a variety of musical idioms. The days of being known for the-blues-and-only-the-blues are over. There’s even a few tracks with a steel band. This freedom to change, the opportunity for variety is something the band thrive on.

“The only time we’ve been known for one thing and one thing only was when we first started, seven years ago, as a blues band. About a year after reworking old blues tunes and writing new lyrics for them, people in the band began writing themselves. Eventually the writers got away from straight blues influences. From then on the band has always been able to do what they want.

“It’s hard for a band like Led Zeppelin to change. Without a doubt they are known as the super-heavy band. Jimmy Page loves acoustic guitar but the fans are always waiting for ‘Whole Lotta Love’. If they’d never been known for any particular thing, then the audience would accept anything, whatever the mood. We never want to be known as ‘this’ or ‘that’ particular thing.”

“When Jeremy left and Pete played the American tour with us, it did us a lot of good. Pete didn’t want to play any set numbers so we’d just jam. Pete would force us into whatever style he wanted to play and it jolted us out of our music. A whole set of jamming is quite difficult; with an audience there you’ve got to be entertaining and not simply self-indulgent.

“We’ve always been able to do what we want. We’ve been fortunate that the band has always had more than one songwriter. If a band has only one the writer tends to reflect just himself. With more than one writer, there’s automatic variety. We’re lucky.

“The last two personnel changes have been the most noticeable as far as writing material. We’re more of a band now – which pleases me. Danny Kirwan was a very strict writer. As his songs were so set, there was only one way to play them, which isn’t as rewarding for the other members in the band. Now it’s more rewarding for those that don’t write because there’s room to do things with arrangements.

“Sometimes all the changes get a bit much. You reach a saturation point where you just want to say, please, no more changes. But the band is happy now. It we can just project ourselves as a unit it will help the band more.”

Seven years is a long time. What with personnel changes it seems easy to simply want to give up. Yet there’s always been a Fleetwood Mac and Mick reckons there will be one for a long time to come.

While the band enjoy a new-found stability, there have been times of despair. There was Peter Green’s much felt departure and the strange disappearance of Jeremy Spencer on an American tour.

Enough to make a band pack it all in?

“I’ve never thought of giving up but there have been a few times when we’ve been floundering. When Peter first left the band, Jeremy had to front on stage and it was a shaky period. All these changes have always been felt more in England where everyone knew the people – and knew who had left.”

Barbara Charone / New Musical Express / June 16, 1973


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