A band is more than the sum of its mem­bers

The Sunday Telegraph - - Arts - NEIL Mc­CORMICK

Fleet­wood Mac have changed their line-up. Again. The vin­tage rock band have had 18 mem­bers over 51 years, so per­haps we shouldn’t be sur­prised at their will­ing­ness to swap things about even at this late stage. In­deed, the lat­est twist in their con­vo­luted saga has some­thing of a su­per­star trans­fer about it. Last week, it was an­nounced that vo­cal­ist and gui­tarist Lind­sey Buck­ing­ham had left, with a source close to the band al­leg­ing the split was a re­sult of “mu­si­cal dif­fer­ences re­gard­ing the tour”. Two new mem­bers, singer­song­writer Neil Finn, of Crowded House, and lead gui­tarist Mike Camp­bell, of the late Tom Petty’s Heart­break­ers, have been brought in to re­place his co­pi­ous tal­ents.

The ques­tion fans will be ask­ing is what im­pact this lat­est re­jig will have on the in­tegrity of the band. The rest of Fleet­wood Mac re­mains fa­mil­iar, although the rhythm sec­tion of drum­mer Mick Fleet­wood and bassist John McVie are the only mem­bers who have been there since the be­gin­ning (lend­ing the band their name). Vo­cal­ist Ste­vie Nicks joined in 1974, left in 1991 and re­joined in 1996, while singing key­board player Chris­tine McVie joined in 1970, left in 1998 and re­joined 2014. And who now re­mem­bers Dave Walker, vo­cal­ist for the Mac in 1972-73, who sub­se­quently re­placed Ozzy Os­bourne in Black Sab­bath for a year in 1977-78? It’s hard to imag­ine Sab­bath and the Mac ex­ist­ing in the same mu­si­cal uni­verse, let alone shar­ing mem­bers. Per­haps given their re­volv­ing door pol­icy, they should form a su­per­group: Black Mac. Did you know that Sab­bath have had eight singers and 25 mem­bers over their own 50-year ca­reer?

There is an ideal con­cept of a pop group as a close-knit, quasi-fam­ily unit, a per­fect bal­ance of mu­si­cal per­son­al­i­ties. It is im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine the Bea­tles with any other con­fig­u­ra­tion than John, Paul, Ge­orge and Ringo. But they were among a mi­nor­ity of suc­cess­ful bands that kept the same line-up af­ter their first hit, who broke up when they fell out, and never re­formed. The re­al­ity for most bands has turned out to be far more fluid. From The Rolling Stones to Arc­tic Mon­keys, al­most ev­ery ma­jor group still per­form­ing live af­ter 10 years has gone through line-up changes. In­deed, it is eas­ier to iden­tify ex­cep­tions: ZZ Top (same line-up for 49 years), U2 (42 years), Ra­dio­head (33 years), Cold­play (20 years) and, er, I think that’s about it.

Some groups man­age these tran­si­tions more seam­lessly than oth­ers. Pink Floyd be­came a su­per­group af­ter leader Syd Bar­rett was re­placed by school friend David Gil­mour. Ge­n­e­sis pro­moted drum­mer Phil Collins to front­man upon the de­par­ture of Peter Gabriel, but who now re­mem­bers when Stilt­skin front­man Ray Wil­son took over the mi­cro­phone in 1997 for a fi­nal Ge­n­e­sis al­bum that was such a crit­i­cal and com­mer­cial flop they had to can­cel a world tour? Some groups, in­clud­ing Iron Maiden, Me­tal­lica and Nir­vana only reached their full artis­tic and com­mer­cial po­ten­tial af­ter line-up changes, so the clas­sic ver­sion of the band is not ac­tu­ally the orig­i­nal.

There are groups who have changed their line-ups so of­ten, there are no orig­i­nal mem­bers left – in­clud­ing The Hol­lies and Dr Feel­good – or have gone through so many changes they end up with com­pet­ing ver­sions ar­gu­ing about who has the right to the name, in­clud­ing Yes, The Sweet and The Beat. Back­line mu­si­cians come and go, but a dis­tinc­tive singing voice and phys­i­cal pres­ence are harder to repli­cate, and many bands be­come lit­tle more than in­ter­change­able ve­hi­cles for a front­man, in­clud­ing Robert Smith’s The Cure, Billy Cor­gan’s Smash­ing Pump­kins and Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails.

Does that mean a band is re­ally just a brand – a cor­po­rate ve­hi­cle on which to hang a set of songs? As a fan and reg­u­lar con­cert­goer, I have to be­lieve there is some­thing more to it than that. Oth­er­wise we might as well give up on the orig­i­nals, and just go see trib­ute bands. In fact, there’s no rea­son why a reshuffle can’t of­fer a band a whole new lease of artis­tic life. That’s what makes Fleet­wood Mac’s lat­est in­car­na­tion so in­trigu­ing. They have al­ways sought out creative so­lu­tions to the prob­lem of mu­si­cians de­part­ing, and Finn and Camp­bell are in­cred­i­bly tal­ented and suc­cess­ful mu­si­cians in their own rights. They don’t need to join any band to pay the mort­gage; they have pre­sum­ably been lured in by an op­por­tu­nity to play fan­tas­tic songs and be­come part of an in­cred­i­ble saga.

I can’t wait to see the re­sults, es­pe­cially if the Mac are ad­ven­tur­ous enough to add Finn’s gor­geous songs to the set. Ste­vie Nicks duet­ting on Don’t Dream It’s Over while Camp­bell rips out a tasty lead: who could re­sist that? In­deed, given the num­ber of mem­bers they have had over their ca­reer, Crowded House might ac­tu­ally be a bet­ter name for the band.

‘It is im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine the Bea­tles with any other con­fig­u­ra­tion than John, Paul, Ge­orge and Ringo’

Go your own way: Lind­sey Buck­ing­ham, right, is no longer with Fleet­wood Mac

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