Picture this. It’s the summer of 1976. Somewhere in the middle of America—wait, let’s be more precise—somewhere in the middle of Virginia, a station wagon full of Bermudians is labouring along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Taking the scenic route.
If you look closely, you will see that the back seat is chock full of kids, all praying that they will not have to stop in another lay-by and peer down into another holler (so big you could drop the island into it and never see it again) to spot the ruins of another hovel where once upon a time, a poor man and his poor wife lived very unhappily with their 17 children.
In the front seat, Mom and Dad are having his and hers nervous breakdowns, as he attempts to negotiate hairpin turns and ignore the squawkings from behind, and she tries to navigate and answer increasingly tetchy questions, all variations on the “Are We Almost There?” theme.
Yes, it’s the Hughes Family Vacation—and “there” is my Aunt Anne and Uncle Skip’s house in the Shenandoah Valley.
The only thing keeping us from turning on each other, like six rats in an overheated sack, is the radio. Mercifully, it is a vintage summer for sing-along pop. Paul McCartney and Wings’s “Silly Love Songs” vying for air space with their new single, “Let ‘Em In” (“Someone’s knocking on the do-or!”). And Dad’s darling, Neil Diamond, trying to topple both of them off their perch with “If You Know What I Mean.”
And then there’s my favourite: “Say You Love Me” by Fleetwood Mac. I’d heard of the band already. Their single “Rhiannon,” sung by Stevie Nicks and spookily sophisticated (particularly to the ears of a spookily unsophisticated teenager, weaned on music dished up by David Lopes on the Breakfast Show), had been the soundtrack of the spring.
“Say You Love Me,” though, was something—and someone—else. A chiming, sunny song from the other girl in the band, Christine McVie, made for back-seat backing singers. “Have mercy, baby, on a poor girl like me.” Sing it, sister!
Now, fast forward 40 years…I am queueing with thousands of other aging groovers, all flexing our arthritic knees in anticipation of a long night on our feet at London’s O2 arena. It has taken me almost half a century to get here, but I am finally going to see The Mac (as we hipsters like to call them) in the flesh.
And not just any old incarnation of the band. Oh no! Tonight, they are all here: including the elusive McVie who, thanks to stage fright, has been absent from the lineup for more than a decade. Christine may have conquered her nerves, but I have to confess I am apprehensive.
I have been a fan for most of my life despite, or possibly because of, their awe-inspiring excesses—romantic and chemical—as well as their poptastic hits. I listened to them not only in the car with my parents, but in dorm rooms with my friends and in the kitchen with my children. But I had never seen them live. And now? They’re old! I’m old, too. But then I’m not a rock ‘n’ roll legend, so expectations are lower. What if they’re—whisper it—rubbish?
The early buzz is not encouraging. “Pop Bitch says Mick Fleetwood had to have a second drummer playing behind him last night on a little drum kit,” my husband reports glumly. (Pop Bitch, in case you’re worried, is not some louche friend but a show biz gossip site.) A concealed midget drummer. Only a band as big as The Mac could get away with something like that—although clearly it is not good news.
The lights dim. And there they are. Stevie still looking witchy, with what appears to be a tasselled tablecloth draped over her golden head. Still channelling crazy with a capital “c”—although now of the eccentric-great-aunt variety, rather than the lock-up-your-frontmen kind. But still with that unbelievable voice: like a Black & Decker planer on crack cocaine.
Lindsey Buckingham is thin as a whip and fizzing with energy.
His face is slightly scary, like a man frozen in a wind tunnel, but he plays the guitar like a god, fingers flying over the frets till they’re just a blur.
John McVie, well let’s be honest, John looks a bit glum. But I suppose that’s natural, given that (a) he’s in the shadow of Mick’s drum kit, which is the size of Mount Doom, and (b) everyone is making a tremendous fuss of his ex, Christine.
And finally, Fleetwood—at the heart of everything and sans (I’m pleased to report) Mini-Me backup. Snowy haired but still with that vestigial ponytail, and beaming like a bad Santa who’s decided on a late career change and is pleased with the move. After 10 minutes, I’m afraid he might have a heart attack, so ferociously is he attacking those skins. After 20 minutes, I think I’m having one too, although it’s probably less arrhythmia and more the giant speakers.
And then they play it. My song. Christine strikes the opening chords. Lindsey gets cracking on the banjo. And it’s…perfect. The years melt away. And I am 16 again. And you know what? It was worth the wait.