Scotsman Obituaries: Christine McVie, singer songwriter with the legendary Fleetwood Mac

Christine McVie, singer-songwriter. Born: 12 July, 1943 in Bouth, Cumbria. Died: 30 November, 2022, aged 79

Christine McVie, the Grammy and Ivor Novello-winning singer, songwriter and keyboard player in Fleetwood Mac, has died after a short illness but will be remembered for penning many of the band’s best-loved and most far-reaching songs. Don’t Stop, Everywhere, Little Lies and Songbird are in with the bricks and mortar of MOR. McVie was schooled in the blues but, whichever way you cut it, her songs are classics of the pop canon.

She was born Christine Perfect and resented the adolescent pressure to live up to her surname, yet songwriting came naturally to her. She spun easy listening out of difficult situations. The off-stage soap opera of Fleetwood Mac never overshadowed her songs, and her music went on to soundtrack presidential campaigns and kickstart (posthumous) careers.

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She favoured simple declarations of love – they don’t get much simpler than Songbird’s “I love you, I love you, I love you as never before” but it was those three little words at the end, not to mention McVie’s immaculate vocal delivery, which invest the declaration with such feeling.

Christine McVie performs at Radio City Music Hall in New York in 2018 (Picture: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

McVie’s songs were generally upbeat, with a soupcon of yearning, though there was no doubting where she was coming from when she wrote You Make Loving Fun for Fleetwood Mac’s lighting engineer Curry Grant, with whom she had a brief affair.

Her subsequent divorce from bassist John McVie – the Mac of Fleetwood Mac – was hardly amicable but was a picnic compared to the (still) stormy relationship of her bandmates Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. McVie maintained good relations with both – she and Nicks were gal pals and allies in a male-dominated environment, while she collaborated with Buckingham as recently as 2017.

Her decision to cease touring in the early Nineties following the death of her father was a blow for the band. Later, she admitted that a fear of flying was also a factor in her decision to leave Fleetwood Mac entirely in 1998 but 15 years later she was back – therapy, boredom and an invitation to attend a Mac show at London’s O2 Arena in 2013 paved the way. She was asked onstage to sing and that was it – McVie was back in the band, her indelible songs reinstated to the set.

When news of her death broke, her bandmates were quick to salute her, saying “we were so lucky to have a life with her. Individually and together, we cherished Christine deeply and are thankful for the amazing memories we have. She will be so very missed.”

McVie was born Christine Anne Perfect in the Lake District village of Bouth and grew up in the West Midlands in a musical family. Her father Cyril was a concert violinist, music lecturer and tutor, while her grandfather had been an organist at Westminster Abbey. She played piano from a young age, studying classical repertoire through her early teens until discovering the blues and rock’n’roll – at which point, she declared, “it was goodbye Chopin”.

Music was not her first choice of career – she studied sculpture at Moseley School of Art in hopes of becoming an art teacher – but her skills were in demand on the booming Birmingham blues scene, where she played alongside the likes of Spencer Davis and Stan Webb, before moving to London and joining Webb’s blues outfit Chicken Shack in 1968.

McVie ploughed her own furrow in a man’s world, manning the keyboards, singing lead vocals on their hit version of I’d Rather Go Blind, and contributing her own songs – a three-pronged attack she also brought to her new husband’s band when she joined Fleetwood Mac, initially as a session player. Her debut solo album Christine Perfect was released in 1970, and not much fancied by its creator, but with her role in Fleetwood Mac becoming more formalised, she had a new outlet for her songs.

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This was an odd limbo period for the band. Founder Peter Green had left the group in a sad fug of drugs and mental illness, while guitarist Jeremy Spencer checked out abruptly to join the Children of God cult. Mick Fleetwood and John McVie proposed a move to the US – despite Christine’s reservations, they relocated in 1974 and “fell into this huge musical odyssey” when they recruited two new members, a charismatic young couple called Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham.

The new arrivals’ songwriting styles contrasted with McVie’s directness, but there was ample room for all of them to shine, contribute songs and harmonise to create the lush soft rock sound of their second life – which was to be anything but harmonious.

Their 1975 self-titled album revived their commercial fortunes and the McVies’ divorce the following year proved no detriment to the band’s trajectory. High on success and other substances, their next album, Rumours, propelled the band into the mega league, thanks in part to two McVie standards Don’t Stop and Songbird.

The former was written as an encouragement to her ex-husband, and later used as Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign song, striking the right note of optimism, while Eva Cassidy’s fragrant cover of the latter introduced the song to a new generation in the late Nineties, a couple of years after Cassidy’s death.

The more experimental follow-up album Tusk kept things creatively fresh if not commercially as buoyant, but there was further global reach with 1987 album Tango in the Night. By this point, following a turbulent relationship with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, McVie had married keyboard player and Little Lies co-writer Eddy Quintela. The couple divorced in 2003, and Quintela died in 2020.

Fleetwood Mac were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. Having fulfilled that obligation, McVie semi-retired to the Kent countryside, producing a third solo album in 2004, before her welcome return to touring in 2014. That same year she received a solo Ivor Novello Award for Lifetime Achievement – a righteous acknowledgement of this songbird’s immortality.

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