Saturday, 28 September 2013

The dream gig I never thought I'd see: Fleetwood Mac at the O2 Arena, Greenwich

I did not much enjoy being 18 years old. I was pale, freckled and not exactly supermodel-thin. I was rubbish at talking to boys. A holiday spent in the South of France, laying by and frolicking in pools and generally being cool was somewhat akin to torture for me at this age. But it was a far more beautiful place to feel awkward than the drizzly Midlands and so, when invited out to stay at a friend's chateau with friends and a group of only vaguely known boys, I went. I spent the week hidden behind a book, emerging for meals and taking pains to avoid any wearing of bikinis. Whatever we were doing there was usually music blaring from a mini-disc player (yes, we're talking the pre-iPod era here); trashy pop, pretentious indie, cringy, vaguely misogynistic rap. I can recall practically every over-played track that soundtracked that holiday. Including one song that seemed to me peculiarly short. In fact it was little more than an extended guitar solo. But what a riff it was; a strong throbbing bass, and the at first delicate, flickering drums over the top. It was played endlessly over the week and I never tired of those bass notes. Finally inquiring, and looking like a deeply uncultured idiot in the process no doubt, what it was I was told, somewhat condescendingly, that this was 'The Chain'. I didn't dare ask who the artist was.
Back home, I tracked down both the song and the artist and listened to the whole thing. I was shocked to discover an entire front end to this guitar riff. And how I loved it. Borrowing a copy of 'The Best of Fleetwood Mac' from the public library in Stafford (my life was just one long glamorous ride when I was 18, I can tell you), I listened first to 'The Chain' several times, and then I began to work my way through the rest of the album. This process resulted in a never-ending stream of "Ah-ha!" moments, as I finally associated the name of Fleetwood Mac with the many songs I knew but had listened to without ever realising who had been singing in my ears for all this time.

'The Best of Fleetwood Mac' was one of the few albums that accompanied me into the forest in Madagascar in which I lived for several months during the gap year that followed the summer of the poolside holiday. Lying in a mosquito net I faithfully committed the beautiful, heart-breaking lyrics to memory. I listened to the album over and over, only skipping one song every time - 'Albatross'. I cannot listen to that song, and I don't know why. It has the same effect that nails down a blackboard purportedly has on many other people. When Marks & Spencer's used the song as the soundtrack to one of their television adverts I would have to dive for the remote and hit the Mute button the minute I heard the first strains, or spending the rest of the day with my teeth on edge. Shudder.

Once home, and off to university,I branched out beyond Fleetwood Mac's greatest hits to their albums, becoming obsessed with the extraordinarily brilliant 'Rumours', and learning finally of the tortured angst behind these songs and this fabled band; known as much for their tangled love-lives and musical swipes at one another via their coded lyrics as their prolific back catalogue and performances. The powerful energy of rock classics like 'Don't Stop' and 'Second Hand News' made me grin and powered many a run. The vulnerability and ineffable truths behind 'Dreams' made me want to rage and cry. I added Fleetwood Mac to my mental list of gigs that would be amazing to see but were obviously never going to happen. The group disbanded and changed its line-up so frequently it made the Sugababes look resistant to change. I retired into my headphones and imagined what it might have been like to see Fleetwood Mac play in their heyday.

And then something rather incredible happened. After a week of emotional torture to rival Nicks' most angsty lyrics, the Accidental Boyfriend pulled off an amazing surprise, which he had managed to keep hidden beneath layers of cryptic clues, bluffs and red herrings. He had two tickets to see the (again) reunited and once more touring Fleetwood Mac play the O2 Arena in Greenwich. I shrieked, I very nearly cried. I was beyond excited. This for me was a chance to see musical heroes play a gig I had assumed would never happen. He might as well have produced tickets to see The Beatles or the original line-up of Queen.

On Tuesday night, as the lights dimmed over the former Millenium Dome, I still couldn't quite believe what I was about to see. There was no hyping up of the crowd necessary, no support acts here. The audience went quiet, then screamed like a bunch of teenage Beliebers. And then they appeared - the current line-up of Fleetwood Mac. A red trainer-shod, bearded Mick Fleetwood at his drums next to John McVie quiet in the corner with his bass And poured into a ludicrously tight pair of jeans, Lindsey Buckingham with the first of many guitars in hand, across the stage from the woman who is as distinctive a part of the sound of Fleetwood Mac as his frantic guitar solos; Stevie Nicks. 

As the energetic opening bars of 'Second Hand News' crashed around me I forgot to breathe. I remembered again as that familiar riff from all those years ago finally died at the end of 'The Chain'. This was really happening. Taking a couple of songs to warm up, Stevie Nicks, still sounded distinctively brilliant, her smokey, throaty voice filling the stadium. The band reminded us that they had started touring 37 years ago. And yet, they still sounded so strong, so full of energy, never missing a note or a beat. These guys were true professionals. Today's modern popstars, the pampered, childish divas of the charts, sure could learn a thing or two about what it means to be a real performer from these practiced old-hands.
As the images on the immense screen behind the band cycled psychedelically through swirling shapes, animal skulls and twirling ladies, Fleetwood Mac hammered through the classics; 'Tusk', 'World Turning', a staggeringly frantic acoustic version of 'Big Love', 'Sara', 'Gypsy', and a rendition of 'Rhiannon' that gave me goose-bumps...and still the band played on. "Our set runs to 3 hours. You didn't know that did you?" joked Nicks at the microphone, taking a break from floating her way around the stage like a sort of twinkly witch, in black leather gloves and a series of sparkly shawls. And for those three hours Fleetwood Mac held the audience at the O2 spellbound. Attention was only lost during a couple of new songs which many people saw as an invitation to visit the bar, safe in the knowledge they wouldn't be missing the chance to roar along to a favourite classic. 

After two encores, the 11pm sound curfew arrived and the magic was over. High-wizard Mick Fleetwood collapsed his bright red top-hat, and strolled off stage for the last time. Nicks and Buckingham played a game of last-man-speaking, each determined to be the final person to thank the fans for coming. The lights came back on and along with several thousand others, we shuffled out of the arena. Nothing brings you back to reality after a noisy, all-consuming gig quite like queuing to get onto the Jubilee line, but as the tube jogged us back into the city, I couldn't keep from grinning. Yes, Fleetwood Mac just happened. It really did. And 18 year old me, with her book by that pool in France, could never have known just how much it would blow my 28 year old mind.

8 comments:

  1. As jealous as I am at this moment, I'm really happy you got to see a band that means so much to you!

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    1. Thank you! Funny how I never quite realised how much they meant to me until I saw them in the flesh.

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  2. Sounds like great fun. I managed to see Fleetwood Mac a few years ago when we had a 'team meeting' in New York and the evening visit was to the gig.

    I also have a strange Fleetwood Mac/South of France story. We'd been on a beach and I'd been listening to them on a yellow, waterproof Sport Walkman - cassette tape(!) - Fast forward several years and I find the walkman in a cupboard. Put in the bright yellow headphones, hit play and whoosh, the Fleetwood Mac song continues - I'm immediately transported to that beach near Sainte Maxime.

    Slightly corny, but true.

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    1. Wow, spooky how we have such random Fleetwood Mac/South of France stories, Rashbre! That's kind of amazing. (and all the very best random stories are slightly corny I reckon...) Glad you got to see them play live too!

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  3. I am glad that you had such a lovely time. Right now, I feel very old. I haven't been to a concert for ages. I had similar experiences with another group called the Calling. I can't wait to see them. One day, maybe...

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    1. I think you need a gig to look forward to, Muriel - get one in the diary! After all, we're spoilt for choice on venues here in London...massive arenas or tiny pub back rooms. And hasn't The Calling just reformed? I think it's a sign...

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  4. Oh, I LOVED this entry. I'm so glad you got to see them live, and that it was such a great experience.

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    1. Thanks, Georgina! All the better for it having been such a surprise I reckon; doubled the excitement.

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