Christine McVie sent love across the airwaves, across the divide

The Independent
The Independent

When the news of Christine McVie’s death broke yesterday, radio stations around the world queued up her 1987 hit, “Everywhere”. The song’s sparkling synths will have shimmered from a thousand car radios and supermarket speakers, sending tiny, shiny bubbles of love and anticipation fizzing into the midweek mood. Paces will have picked up to the bouncing trot of the melody and fingers will have begun tapping on steering wheels. Multipacks of loo roll will have been tossed into trolleys with a little more flourish. Then McVie’s clear, questing voice will have cut straight through the mix.

“Can you hear me calling/ Out your name?/ You know that I’ve fallen/ And I don’t know what to say…” It’s a sound that will have transported many older fans back to its release, over a quarter of a century ago, a month after the “Great Storm” had swept through the south of England and northern France, killing 22 people. I was 12 years old and overwhelmed by the giant trees so savagely felled, their helplessly exposed roots flailing into the open. We drove past them in my dad’s BMW (this was the Eighties, the boomers were making money), with the bass lines of Fleetwood Mac’s Tango in the Night thrilling from his state-of-the-art speakers. And when we got to the part where McVie sang “Everywhere”, I would imagine her voice was coming from one of those fallen oaks. Strong, brave, tumbled into the revelation of hidden parts: “I’ll speak a little louder/ I’ll even shout/ You know that I’m proud/ And I can’t get the words out.”

Reading the obituaries this morning, you’ll see McVie frequently described as the serene eye in Fleetwood Mac’s storm. The level-headed Brummie. The earthy foil to Stevie Nicks’s gothic ghost-child. But seeming calm by the soap-opera standards of Fleetwood Mac means the woman could still whip up an emotional gale better than most.

Born Christine Perfect in 1943, she was the daughter of a concert violinist father and a psychic mother. Imagine having a mum who held seances and summoned the dead! When I interviewed Stevie Nicks years ago, I remember thinking she’d set up her hotel room like a Victorian medium welcoming clients. There were black candles everywhere and she was reclining on a chaise longue with sun and moon pendants swinging like charms from her neck. No wonder McVie felt so at home with her. And why do people go to seances? Well, some of them might want to know the whereabouts of missing keys or bank accounts. But most of a medium’s clients are there to send and receive love. Hope against hope. Which is what McVie ended up doing with her songs. She sent love across the airwaves, across the divide.

“I try to say I love you in a million different ways,” she once said. “That’s what I aspire to do. That’s what I do best.”

Try listening to “Everywhere” again as though you were sitting in McVie’s mum’s parlour. Closed eyes, holding hands. The tingle of a warm wind lifting the curtains. “Can you hear me calling?/ Come on, baby/ We better make a start,” because you want that love to be with you everywhere. It’s a song that offers hope and comfort while still dialling up the “BIG love” that was always Fleetwood Mac’s signature.

When I spoke to Nicks in the flickering gloom of her London hotel, she spoke to me of the solidarity she shared with McVie as women in rock, demanding equal songwriting credits as the boys in the band. For her part, McVie told the BBC that although she was initially wary when Nicks was invited to join the band, she got goosebumps the first time she heard Nicks’ voice harmonising on “Say You Love Me” (co-written by McVie). The pair of them made money without shame. At the height of their success, McVie famously decided to buy a Rolls Royce and demanded to drive it out of the showroom herself. “The first half hour was terrifying,” she said on Desert Island Discs . “I was afraid I was going to crash the thing. It was totally over the top, I didn’t need a Rolls Royce – I ended up getting rid of it and getting something smaller – but it was just the fact that I could.”

The pair also drank and took drugs with the boys. It caused both of them problems. But McVie has admitted that she may not have written so many great songs without the chemical intervention. She wrote her best-loved ballad, “Songbird” (1977), after midnight in the apartment she shared with Nicks after “a couple of toots of cocaine and half a bottle of champagne”. It’s a song that also reaches out into the ether. She didn’t have anyone around to record it so she sat at the piano, playing it until dawn. She described it as a prayer. To record it, producer Ken Caillat set up the room in ceremonial style. Flowers were placed on McVie’s grand piano, illuminated from above by three spotlights. The houselights were dimmed and the sound was captured by 15 microphones placed in a circle around the room.

“For you, there’ll be no more crying,” sang McVie. “For you, the sun will be shining.” Like so many anxious singers, she could channel a strange stillness in her voice. The “Songbird” melody takes a steady flight. It catches emotional thermals and lifts its listeners beyond the humdrum cares of the day. Like her mum, McVie assures us that what survives of us is love. “And I love you, I love you, I love you/ Like never before.” It’s not showy. It’s simply immortal. It’s the calm after the storm. A hand resting on the mossy bark of a horizontal oak. Rest in love, Christie.

Comments / 1

Comments / 0