Not many of us can claim to have been born perfect, but Christine McVie – or Anne Christine Perfect on her birth certificate – definitely can. The 70-year old British singer-songwriter, famed for her work with the rock group Fleetwood Mac, was born “oop north” in Bouth, England, in July 1943, to Cyril and Beatrice Perfect, and has, of late, been rather quiet. But this past Tuesday morning, word started circulating that she would be rejoining her former bandmates and embarking on a world tour, completing a line-up that millions of fans the world over thought that they’d never again see sharing a stage.
No doubt this news will have gone straight over the heads of today’s youth, but those of a certain generation will know exactly why this is such a big deal. Because while today’s immaculate, manicured and coiffured young pop stars are groomed to perfection by armies of agents and publicists, the story of Fleetwood Mac reads like an epic, tragic blockbuster akin to Pride and Prejudice. They just don’t make them like that anymore, and Christine Perfect, once she became Mrs McVie, played a starring role in one of the great rock soap operas of our time.
Her early years were spent growing up in the Midlands and, with a mother who was a practising medium and faith healer and a father who was a concert violinist and music lecturer at a college in Birmingham, it was perhaps inevitable that her interests would lean towards the bohemian. And, like most bohemians with a thirst for knowledge, Perfect went to art college, where she studied sculpture with the intention of becoming a teacher herself.
Years before that, however, she had been introduced to playing the piano, and between the ages of 11 and 15, McVie received training as a classical pianist. When her older brother, John, introduced her to Fats Domino, that interest swayed towards rock and, when she was in college, she began to dabble in the emerging UK blues scene, occasionally performing with the likes of Spencer Davis as well as being in a band called Sounds of Blue.
After five years in further education, she left college with a degree and, by then, Sounds of Blue had disbanded. But despite her goal of becoming an art teacher, she found that a dire shortage of cash was too much to bear and she relocated to London and found work as a window dresser for a department store.
While in London, in 1967, McVie learnt that two of her former bandmates had formed a blues group called Chicken Shack, and she made contact with them, asking if she could join. They said yes, she packed up her things and rolled up her sleeves, penning the group’s first release, It’s Okay with Me Baby, on which she also performed. In 1968, she married the former wannabe tax inspector and musician John McVie and, after two albums, one hit single (I’d Rather Go Blind) and picking up two Melody Maker awards for female vocalist, she left Chicken Shack in 1969. The following year, she joined another group still very much in its infancy; a group that had shared some of the same venues as Chicken Shack; the group her husband was bassist for.
Named after the drummer Mick Fleetwood and Christine’s husband, Fleetwood Mac wasn’t actually joined by the second of its namesakes until shortly after its inception. Initially a blues-orientated group formed out of the ashes of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (with which Eric Clapton had played, before being replaced by Peter Green), the group hit the ground running, with a self-titled first album that became a major British hit after its release in February 1968. Green left the band in 1970 and McVie persuaded his wife, who had been playing the role of domestic housekeeper for a couple of years, to join. She had been getting a reputation on the circuit as an excellent bluesy singer before she left Chicken Shack and her talents would undoubtedly help Fleetwood Mac reach an even wider audience. She also knew all the lyrics to Green’s songs, which meant that the group’s planned tour could still go ahead, despite his departure.
The ensuing three years saw a procession of artists joining and leaving Fleetwood Mac and the resultant unrest did nothing to help record sales. In 1974, Christine McVie agreed to relocate, with the rest of Fleetwood Mac, to the US. Los Angeles, they reasoned, would provide them with a fresh start and plenty of new opportunities.
By this stage, the constant touring, coupled with the fact that John McVie was drinking heavily, had started to strain the marriage. And, as has been proved time and again in rock music, angst, fear and trouble proved to be a formidable creative catalyst when it came to writing music. In 1975, Lindsey Buckingham and his then-girlfriend, Stevie Nicks, joined Fleetwood Mac and a supergroup was complete. And the hits started flooding in after a second eponymous album was released.
Tensions in the group were at an all-time high during the recording of the following album, 1977’s Rumours. The McVie marriage was disintegrating and the Buckingham-Nicks romance imploded, too. The resultant creativity is the stuff of music folklore, but somehow the group kept it together and the album went on to become one of the all-time bestsellers, with many of the hit singles from it being written about the breakdown of those two pivotal relationships.
Even those unfamiliar with Rumours will recognise some of its material. The Chain, for instance, is known to millions of Formula One fans the world over thanks to John McVie’s timeless basslines used as the theme music to the BBC’s coverage of the sport. By the end of the Rumours tour, the McVies had divorced. Could Fleetwood Mac ever carry on, with four-fifths of the group falling out in such spectacular – and very public – fashion? Yes, they could, and they did so until the release of 1987’s beautiful Tango in the Night, after which Buckingham called it a day and Fleetwood Mac were without one of their major creative powerhouses.
Christine McVie stayed on, loyal to her ex-husband and Fleetwood even after Nicks’ departure, until 1995. After the death of her father (while the group was on tour), she decided to quit live performances altogether. She’d never been comfortable with the long periods away from home, family and friends, and Cyril Perfect’s demise finally put the kibosh on it for her.
She slipped out of the public gaze for five years and it looked as if Fleetwood Mac was all but a distant memory. She remarried in 1986, to the keyboard player Eddy Quintela (who was 12 years her junior), but they too divorced after Fleetwood Mac dissolved and McVie retired back to England, living a quiet life surrounded by the things that made her feel properly at home.
Now and again she would resurface, usually when she was being given a music industry award for her sterling work in the 1970s and 80s, but she went on record as saying she didn’t have time anymore for pop or rock music and had reverted back to her classical interests. But it wasn’t over for Fleetwood Mac and the others re-formed, touring and recording without Christine.
“I would say there’s no more a chance than an asteroid hitting the Earth. She is done,” Stevie Nicks told Rolling Stone magazine in December 2012. “She doesn’t want to do it anymore. She doesn’t want to fly. She doesn’t want to come back to America. When she left, she left. She sold her house, her piano, her car. She went to England and she has never been back since 1998, so it’s not really feasible, as much as we would all like to think that she’ll just change her mind one day. I don’t think it’ll happen. We love her, so we had to let her go.”
Last year, however, at a concert performed in London’s O2 arena, McVie did join her former bandmates on stage and the magic was recaptured, albeit for a fleeting moment. And in the following months, McVie started to thaw in her attitude towards being part of Fleetwood Mac once again. In November, she told The Guardian newspaper: “I like being with the band, the whole idea of playing music with them. I miss them all.
“It was amazing, like I’d never left. I climbed back on there again, and there they were, the same old faces on stage.”
When Billboard magazine broke the news that her publicist had confirmed McVie was indeed back in the fold, millions of fans breathed a sigh of relief. Older, wiser, yet no less talented than before, she will be doing what she swore she’d never do again and will be touring this year as part of one of the greatest rock groups in history. “Don’t stop,” she famously once wrote, “thinking about tomorrow.”