As many of you might know, singer/songwriter/musician Christine McVie passed away this week. McVie was best known for her role in one of the world’s most successful rock bands of all time, Fleetwood Mac. In that band, Christine McVie was the keyboardist and co-lead singer along with Stevie Nicks. She was also the songwriter behind many of the band’s biggest hits, such as “Don’t Stop”, “You Make Loving Fun” *(which was written about an affair she was having with the band’s lighting director at the time of the Rumours tour), “Little Lies”, “Songbird” and many others. As a member of Fleetwood Mac, McVie has won several Grammy Awards; she has been inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and was presented with the Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement Award for her songwriting.
From an early age, Christine McVie was drawn to The Arts. Her mother was a medium who told fortunes and conducted astrology sessions for money. Her grandfather was an organist at Westminster Abbey. McVie played piano and received training in its classical form. As a child, she attended the Moseley School of Art in Birmingham to study sculpture, with the thought that she would become an art teacher. While still a young teen, McVie was introduced to the music of Fats Domino by her older brother, John. This was McVie’s introduction to The Blues, which became a form of music that was integrated into everything she wrote and/or played throughout her career to come. While at the Moseley School, McVie joined several local bands, including one fronted by her friend, Spencer Davis. With Davis, she gained experience at singing in front of an audience, but more importantly, he encouraged her to write and perform her own songs. Once this seed was planted, Christine McVie grew into a young woman who possessed confidence in her own abilities and who believed that her material had every bit as much right to be heard as anything by the young men she surrounded herself with.
Upon graduating, she moved to London and worked for a while as a window dresser, alongside fellow Moseley School alumnus Colin Birch, who was designer Karl Lagerfeld’s official window dresser. While in London, she joined a new band called Chicken Shack. This band had a few minor hits in the UK. As part of a burgeoning Blues/Rock scene at the time, Chicken Shack toured with another up and coming band called Fleetwood Mac. At the time, Fleetwood Mac was fronted by Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, along with several others. Eventually, Christine McVie (known as Christine Perfect back then) met and fell in love with John McVie. When Fleetwood Mac’s keyboardist quit the band, she was asked to join as back up singer and keyboard player. She agreed, partly because she liked being a musician and playing live, but more because it gave her the best opportunity to spend time with John McVie. Eventually, the band moved from London to Los Angeles. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were recruited to join the band, and Fleetwood Mac became the band that we all came to know and love.
Unbeknownst to most fans at the time, there was a lot of internal friction present all throughout the making of the Rumours album and tour. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, who had been a couple, split up in a very acrimonious and public manner. In a more quiet and private way, Christine separated from her husband, John. Yet the band carried on and made some of Rock’s greatest music. Despite all of the bitter feelings that existed between members of the band, they always maintained their professionalism when it came to the music. Even though many of the songs they performed were written about each other, the band as a whole always came together and played the music for all it was worth and gave audiences everything they had. Through it all, Christine McVie was always viewed as a steadying influence. Her understated performing style contrasted well with Stevie Nicks’ flamboyance. Her calm centre contrasted with the volatility inherent within Lindsey Buckingham who, when angered, channeled his emotions through a violent style of guitar playing. Despite all of the ups and downs experienced by Fleetwood Mac, McVie stayed with the band until1998 when she announced her retirement. This life change coincided with the death of her father, whom she dearly loved and admired. In the time since she retired, Christine McVie had played with the band at a few reunion concerts. She also had released a couple of solo albums and had embarked on a tour with former bandmate Lindsey Buckingham as a musical duo. With her recent death, fans, peers and music critics alike have all been reassessing her career and have been kind in their evaluations. It takes a special type of person to possess the strength of character and the personal belief in oneself to willingly accept the role as the “glue” person in any group situation, but that’s who Christine McVie became during her time in Fleetwood Mac. Many have compared her to George Harrison, in that her talent was integral to the success of her band, but more often than not, recognition was given to other, more showy bandmates. Her calm demeanor and rock-solid countenance are being compared favourably to Harrison as well. Whatever the case, Christine McVie lived a long and productive life and has left a legacy of success that puts her in the same class with the best of those who have followed The Arts with their hearts. It is likely that it will take her death for many to realize what we have all lost.
I will close this post with a few words about today’s song, “Songbird”. This song was written by McVie during the recording sessions for the Rumours album in Los Angeles. The song was written near midnight one night when the rest of the band had finished recording and had left the studio. McVie has stated that she wrote the lyrics in less than an hour and wanted to lay down some tracks immediately so as to not lose any aspect of the song by waiting until morning. Unfortunately, the engineers had gone home, too. So Christine McVie stayed awake all night, playing the song over and over again until someone showed up in the morning to help with recording. When the rest of the band heard “Songbird” for the first time the next day, it was immediately decided that it was a song that Christine McVie was meant to sing alone and not with the rest of the band. So, going forward, “Songbird” became the song that often closed Fleetwood Mac concerts. When playing it, Christine McVie would sit at a piano at centre stage. Lindsey Buckingham would sit in the shadows and strum his guitar softly while McVie sat in the spotlight and sang. It was her song and her moment.
Rest in peace, Songbird.
The link to the official obituary for Christine McVie can be found here.
The link to the official website for Fleetwood Mac can be found here.
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