Back to the blues

He's one of the founders of the biggest selling rock 'n' roll bands of all time - and now Mick Fleetwood is hitting the road to retrace some of his musical roots.

Andrew Clarke

He's one of the founders of the biggest selling rock'n'roll bands of all time now Mick Fleetwood is hitting the road to retrace some of his musical roots. He spoke to Arts Editor Andrew Clarke about his musical legacy.

Mick Fleetwood, the powerhouse co-founder of Fleetwood Mac, one of the world's most successful bands, is on the phone from his home in Hawaii, reminiscing fondly about life on the road. This isn't a road that leads to Wembley Stadium or Madison Square Garden but rather one that takes in the county towns of Britain and some of its smaller cities.

Mick Fleetwood, a man famed for his crowd-pleasing, wild-eyed drumming style, is in a nostalgic mood; which is not surprising considering that he has just finished recording a new album and is preparing for a new European tour which will see him not only return to his blues roots but find him performing some of the Peter Green-penned material that shot Fleetwood Mac to fame in the late sixties.

This was Fleetwood Mac blues band rather than Fleetwood Mac pop-rock chart band. This was the group that gave us Albatross, Black Magic Woman and The Green Mannalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown).

Mick maintains that one of the joys of Fleetwood Mac was that it was able to morph itself into at least three distinct musical variations of itself and despite some emotional ups and downs, which would put your average soap opera to shame, the band is still together, is still recording and is planning a major world tour next year.

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It is clear, even after just a few minutes of conversation, that Mick Fleetwood is still incredibly proud of the band that bares his name. Their 1977 album Rumours remains one of the best-selling records of all time - only out-sold by Michael Jackson's Thriller and Meatloaf's Bat Out Of Hell.

But, in the lull before the storm, before Fleetwood Mac head off on their next circumnavigation of the globe, Mick has decided that

it is time that he revisits his past. He has just finished recording a new album Blue Again which features such original Fleetwood Mac staples as Rattlesnake Shake, Looking For Somebody and Love That Burns as well as Rick Vito blues originals.

Whether this new CD and tour has anything to do with a recent jam-session with former band member Jeremy Spencer is hard to say but the timing was propitious and certainly Mick is thrilled that Jeremy has resurfaced once again having left the band in such a dramatic fashion.

Jeremy's departure followed less than 12 months after former front-man Peter Green's self-imposed retirement in 1970 at the height of the band's first flush of fame.

According to Mick, one night in Los Angeles, in the middle of a US tour, Spencer stepped out to visit a nearby bookshop he knew and he never returned. Appeals to police, searches of the surrounding streets revealed nothing. It later transpired that the very religious Jeremy Spencer was recruited by The Children of God cult and whisked away to their isolated compound where he was to be “born again”

Nothing much was heard from him for two decades before he resurfaced in the mid 1990s and then made contact with Mick Fleetwood earlier this year. “John McVie lives close by in Hawaii and Jeremy Spencer was coming over to do a documentary and I said why don't we just get together and jam, just get to know one another again.

“Rick Vito my band mate (and later Fleetwood Mac member) joined us and in truth there was me, John, Rick and Jeremy playing for a couple of afternoons while we filmed a documentary for Peter Green. It was great.”

He said that he is pleased that Peter is slowly conquering his demons and would love to take to the stage again with his former band mate but realises that it would be wrong to place any pressure on him.

Peter suffered a mental collapse during the 1970s when he confronted a record company employee with a shotgun after the man tried to give him a royalties cheque. In recent years Peter has been on recovery programme and as part of Splinter Group with Nigel Watson been making a limited return to recording and live performances.

Splinter Group has since split up and Peter is currently living the quiet life in Sweden but Mick is hoping that like Jeremy Spencer, Peter Green, Fleetwood Mac's first prodigal son will return to the fold.

“I do everything I can to help Peter, to help his recovery and to make people aware what a fabulous musician he is. He was and is my mentor. He and I started this crazy band together. I would love to play with Peter again but I won't put any pressure on him. That's not what he needs right now. But when he feels like he wants to do it, then I'll be there.

“His days with Splinter Group are over now. I know that from time to time he still enjoys playing. He has so much love and respect from his fans - people who know that it has been hard for him to get back before an audience with his illness. I would love to see Peter, I would love to play with Peter but I am not planning on it. If it happens, it happens. Peter doesn't want to know about tours and itineraries, it puts too much pressure on him. My selfish needs to see him and play with him again don't really come into it.”

He said that he was delighted to see that Jeremy Spencer has been remarkably unscarred by the passing of the years. “He made an album for an American blues label last year and he is playing as sweetly as he ever did. He's totally intact. He's tiny as he ever was, bald as a coot like me - those famous Spencer curls have gone - but he's playing his ass off. He's still got those Elmore licks and he still loves his rockabilly and it was just great to see him again and play with him.”

Mick said that his new album and the accompanying tour allows him to revisit the music that launched his career. “It's great to play the music that I love - that first got me into this crazy business. It's great having someone like Rick Vito in the band - someone who truly understands where this music all came from. Not only is he a blues man himself but he really has a tremendous amount of love and respect for that early band.”

Rick Vito first came to Mick Fleetwood's attention when he was looking for a replacement for Lindsey Buckingham on 1987's Tango In The Night tour and even after Lindsey Buckingham returned to the band in the late 1990s Rick Vito kept in touch with Mick Fleetwood and the pair continued to jam and play the blues together. “Three years ago sent me a new blues album that he recorded and that sparked a real connection with me. It was a great album and I played it all the time - in the house and in the car. Rick was living in Nashville at the time and he flew over to Hawaii and we got back together again.”

He said that as gaps between Fleetwood Mac tours now stretched to five years, he liked to keep busy. “I'm a musician I like playing music and this is a great way to keep busy and play the music I love. I don't feel comfortable sitting round and doing nothing.”

Considering that even before Fleetwood Mac was created Mick Fleetwood played alongside bass player John McVie in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, was it a temptation to invite John McVie to join The Mick Fleetwood Blues Band?

“John lives close to me in Hawaii and the truth is he is a really keen sailor and next year we are planning a really big world tour with Fleetwood Mac and he is gearing up for that. For now he wants to spend time with his family and his boat. But, he has played with us before and you will see him on a stage with us before long I am quite sure.”

He added that on this tour they will be playing in Canterbury and are being put up for the night by former band member Christine McVie. “I know Chris will love the band. She played for years with Chicken Shack, playing material just like this, and she played piano with Peter and the guys in the early days on Fleetwood Mac, before she officially joined the band. Chris is a real blueswoman, who had a number one hit with the Etta James song I'd Rather Go Blind, and this is all connected with what Rick and I are trying to do. This is pay tribute to those early days on the road, playing the music of our heroes.”

Mick said that playing smaller venues allows him and the band to really make contact with an audience. He said that playing smaller gigs was different, not necessarily better, than the big stadium gigs he was used to.

But, he said that he is looking forward to getting up close and personal with audiences again rather than having them cheering at a distance. Indeed he remembers playing Ipswich during those early days with Peter, being put up in the town by Ron and Nanda Lesley and they were real advocates for the blues and they used to take care of all us crazy bands who were touring the country. They took a chance on us and booked us in the very early days.

“They were very organised, we always knew we would get paid. They even put us up. We didn't stay in hotels, we slept in the van and if we came down from an all-nighter they would grab us before we went on and feed us. Nanda would look after us like an old mother hen. If we looked a bit rough she would go, 'all right cheese sandwich all round.' And in the morning we'd come down to bacon and egg. She'd feed us like ducklings.

“I remember them absolutely. Ipswich was one of our strongholds. They always had an amazing line-up.”

During the late sixties blues boom Bluesville, Ron and Nada's agency booked The New Yardbirds and their offspring Led Zeppelin, Cream (in their early days) and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers complete with guest vocalist John Lee Hooker.

“I knew John Lee quite well in his later years, and I know that until the end he remembered that tour of England. He was such a cool guy and he was way older than anyone knew. But, he kept going on about the funny English breakfasts he had when he was over here. He also stayed and slept with John McVie at his parents' house in Ealing. He slept on the family couch in the front room. But these guys were really pleased that we got the music because at the time they were being largely ignored at home.

“BB King is the same. He to this day rates Peter Green's guitar playing. He says he's the dude - the guy that really got it absolutely right. He remembers the tour we did together and the fact that we played The Royal Albert Hall and we insisted that he was the headline act. And like Hooker he remembers the food - in BB's case the tiny little salmon and cucumber sandwiches they fed him.”

But Mick said that whoever they played with they were always sure to show these great musicians the proper respect. These were their heroes and the real deal when it came to playing blues.

“Today I am blessed that I don't have to reinvent the wheel. It's about honouring the past, honouring the roots of our music and hopefully some people will want to hear the music that Fleetwood Mac used to play. If you look back at the history of Fleetwood Mac, all the way back to 1967, it has been an extraordinary journey and it's an opportunity for me to revisit material that we rarely get to play these days.”

The Mick Fleetwood Blues band is playing Ipswich Regent on November 1. Tickets can be booked on https://online.ipswich.gov.uk/PEO/

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