Fleetwood Mac were stalwarts of British rock when, in 1974, they came up with the idea of sprucing up their line-up. They invited folksy Californian, Lindsey Buckingham, to join, but he refused to come without his girlfriend, Stevie Nicks. The band agreed, on one condition: their only female member, Christine McVie, had to feel comfortable with Nicks.
They met at a dinner party in Los Angeles, and McVie, finding Nicks “funny and nice, but also, there was no competition”, waved him through. The move led to the expanded band becoming the sultans of soft rock, underscoring McVie’s status as a quiet mainstay of the Mac device. (And she was right; Nicks complemented rather than competed. She was the ethereal conjurer, McVie the “very, very, very English” – in Nicks’ assessment – countermeasure, and neither ever eclipsed the other. .)
McVie, who died at the age of 79, was co-vocalist, keyboardist and author of many of the band’s canon tracks, including Say You Love Me, Over My Head and You Make Loving Fun. The understatement shaped his identity, with Rolling Stone magazine rather insultingly calling him “the epitome of rock ‘n’ roll sanity.” This sort of thing pissed her off: “I was probably the most restrained, but I was no angel,” she protests, claiming that one of her most acclaimed compositions, Songbird, owes its existence to “a few and a half toots of cocaine”. -Champagne bottle “.
Nevertheless, she avoided the spotlight, often quite literally. At gigs her domain was a relatively modest keyboard layout to the side, safely away from center stage, and despite her talent – ”the finest blueswoman and pianist in all of England”, the drummer said, Mick Fleetwood, she was self-deprecating about her abilities.
Deeply melodic love songs, polished by her warm alto, were McVie’s trade, but she could address her ill-fated ex-husband, John McVie, with equal tenderness. The 1977 Top 3 hit Don’t Stop, later used as the theme song to Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, did just that. Written during the sessions for the historic album Rumors, when relations between the two men were at their worst, it encouraged John, the band’s bassist, to look to the future rather than brood on the past. (She blamed their periodic breakups, culminating in a 1976 divorce, on the stress of being in the same band and her husband’s heavy drinking: “John isn’t the nicest of people when he’s drunk,” she said in 2003. “I saw Hyde more than Jekyll.”)
She deliberately did not write commercial songs, she insisted; they just came out like that. Which was just as well – in 1975, while the band were touring the US, their US label chose Over My Head for the soundtrack to a radio campaign for their new self-titled album. The LP duly became their first real hit, selling over 9 million copies. Moreover, the giant of 1977 Rumors undoubtedly owed a good part of its 45 million sales to the two titles of McVie released as singles, Don’t Stop and You Make Loving Fun, which remain to this day touchstones of the soft rock.
The youngest child of Cyril Perfect, a music teacher, and his wife, Beatrice (née Reece), Christine was born in Bouth, then part of Lancashire and now in Cumbria, and grew up in Bearwood, West Midlands. Her mother’s calling was spirituality, and Christine was uncomfortable with her circle of healing friends, but an even greater burden grappled with the name Christine Perfect. “Teachers were like, ‘I hope you live up to your name, Christine.’ So, yeah, it was tough. She hated him so much that after her divorce she kept her married name.
As a child, she studied classical piano and cello, only becoming interested in rock at age 15, when her brother left Fats Domino’s sheet music on the house piano. She immediately converted to the blues, developing a driving, boogie-woogie, left-hand piano style, but the music became secondary to her other all-consuming interest, art. Five years at Birmingham Art College earned her a degree in sculpture, but she emerged with a rekindled passion for music, thanks to spending her college time busking with her friend Spencer Davis and playing bass in a group called Sounds of Blue, led by Stan Webb.
Working tirelessly as a window dresser at Dickins & Jones department store in London after graduation, Christine was delighted to be invited to join Webb’s new team, Chicken Shack, as a keyboardist and vocalist. One of the only women on the British mid-1960s blues scene to sing and play an instrument, she rose to prominence. Although she later dismissed Chicken Shack as a “mediocre sort of white blues band”, she sang the lead on their only Top 20 song, a dreamy cover of Etta’s I’d Rather Go Blind. James, and was voted Melody Maker’s Best Female Vocalist in 1969 (she won the same award in 1970, after releasing a solo album called Christine Perfect).
She liked guitarist Peter Green of rival blues band Fleetwood Mac, but it was John McVie who asked her out. “It was Peter Green that I kinda had my eye on,” she said on a Desert Island Discs show in 2017. “I started talking to John and fell head over heels. in love with him.” They married in 1968, and a few months later, deciding she didn’t see her husband enough, she left Chicken Shack with the intention of being a housewife. It only lasted until her manager persuaded her to do the solo LP, an “immature” effort that she later preferred to forget. The next step was to join Fleetwood Mac as a permanent member in 1970, having already performed without credit on several studio sessions.
She doubted the band’s decision to move to Los Angeles in 1974, but came to terms with life as a California rock star, buying Anthony Newley’s former home and a pair of Mercedes-Benzes with her dogs’ names on it lhasa apso on license plates. While doing the Rumors sequel, Tusk, she dated Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, but her next significant relationship, with Portuguese keyboardist Eddy Quintela, was happier and more productive. He played on his second solo album, Christine McVie (1984), and after they married in 1986, the couple wrote one of Mac’s biggest hits of the 80s, Little Lies. The marriage fell apart, however, when McVie found herself wanting a quiet life in England; she left the band in 1998 and bought a Tudor house in Wickhambreaux, Kent.
Fifteen years of “that country life with the rubber boots and the dogs and the Range Rover” was enough, and things definitely came to a head when she fell down a flight of stairs and became addicted to prescription painkillers. It was, she says, a dark time, not least because another attempt at a solo career failed to take off. She had made the album In the Meantime with her nephew, Dan Perfect, in 2004, deliberately moving away from the big-ticket lushness of Fleetwood Mac. But without it, the laid-back mid-tempo songs had little zing; moreover, the fear of flying prevented her from traveling to promote it. Team spirit, after therapy to overcome her phobia, she joined Mac permanently in 2014.
The reaction to their return has been overwhelmingly positive, both from fans and from the band themselves; to Mick Fleetwood, it made the group “complete” again. That same year, she received an Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement Award. McVie’s last recording was a self-titled joint album with Buckingham, a UK Top 5 hit in 2017. He caught her in a reflective mood but her gift for melody was undiminished. Her final public performance was at a Green tribute show in London in February 2020.
In June of that year a solo compilation, Songbird, was released, but McVie was adamant that it would not tour again. “I don’t feel physically ready for it. I’m in pretty bad health. I have a chronic back problem, which weakens me. I get up to play the piano, so I don’t know if I could actually do it physically.
She and Quintela divorced in 2003. She is survived by her brother, John, and her nephew.