Deterred by the price of tickets to see Fleetwood Mac at Wembley Stadium this summer (£300+), but encouraged by the price (£18), and proximity, of Fleetwood Bac at St John’s Church in Farncombe, near Godalming, Mrs C and I set off in atrocious weather last night to spend about three hours in their company.
The church, and the gig really was in a church, not an adjoining parish hall, was packed, which might have caused its incumbent priest, had he been there, to cast a rueful glance at the crowd and offer a prayer to the almighty that ‘standing room only’ might also apply for matins on Sunday mornings. The behaviour of the congregation was decidedly unchurchlike, however, especially towards the end of a fairly generous two-and-a-half-hour set that included 24 songs from the F Mac canon, drawn largely from seventies Mac era but with a nod towards Peter Green’s Mac and Stevie Nicks’ solo catalogue.
Fleetwood Bac boast on their website that they are the UK’s first and most authentic FM tribute show, endorsed by Mick Fleetwood himself and also Bob Brunning*, who played bass in a very early line-up and wrote a book about them, one edition of which, called Rumours And Lies, I published when overseeing Omnibus Press. To this end the Bac perform in character throughout their show, and their real identities remain concealed even on their website. So as well as looking and dressing the part, in monochrome outfits as per the covers of Fleetwood Mac (1975) and Rumours (1977), ‘Stevie’ becomes a slightly scatter-brained Californian airhead, ‘Christine’ a nicely-spoken, sensible English rose, ‘Lindsey’ a moody-looking study in concentration, ‘Mick’ a rather lugubrious ghoul, and ‘John’ a silent, anonymous workhorse. The girls’ appearance is accurate too, their hair-dos a perfect match, with ‘Stevie’ a tad on a curvy side and ‘Christine’ slim and poised, constantly flicking her blonde bangs aside in the manner of the real Ms McVie. ‘Lindsey’s’ hair, on the other hand, resembled a carelessly-barbered dreadlock wig and perhaps needs reconsidering, especially in view of Buckingham’s more mature latter-day look.
There was no stage, only a drum riser a few inches off the ground, so the view from anywhere beyond the first few rows of seats – no pews – was poor and ‘Mick’ remained pretty much obscured throughout. ‘Lindsey’ played electric and acoustic guitars on the right, ‘Christine’ stood at a portable keyboard on the left with ‘John’ behind her and ‘Stevie’ sang and danced in the middle in front of ‘Mick’, her floor-length black outfit and shawls suggesting the mysteries of Ms Nicks’ enigmatic mindset.
They opened up with ‘You Make Loving Fun’ and it was immediately apparent that the Bac’s mimicking skills were of a high order. The girls’ vocals were spot-on, the backing let down only by the drums which lacked the snap of the real Mac and sounded at times a bit like someone hitting a biscuit tin, a flaw I put down to the building’s acoustics or inadequate miking. The bass was sturdy and very deep, the guitar on point, if a little shrill at times, and the keyboard wash as good as the real thing. ‘Dreams’ followed, then ‘Say You Love Me’, both executed with due diligence, and then it was time to dig deeper for ‘Albatross’ and ‘Oh Well Part 1’. The former was blemished by the guitar tone, with far too much piercing treble tarnishing Peter Green’s stately, subtle masterpiece, but the latter was executed well and better suited to the occasion. A few older punters even joined in, not giving the answer you wanted me to.
These excursions into the depths of Fleetwood Mac gave individual members opportunities to scurry off stage but unlike other tribute acts I’ve seen there were no changes of costumes, apart from ‘Stevie’s’ shawls, and she was up next to float pleasantly through ‘Sarah’ before ‘Christine’ took over for ‘Little Lies’ and a solo turn on ‘Songbird’, definitely a highlight of the evening. “This is the time when everybody leaves the band,” she announced to a few wry chuckles, and her rendition was just as lovely as Ms McVie, prompting some tuneful singing along and far and away the biggest ovation of the evening thus far. Not to be outdone ‘Stevie’ returned with ‘Lyndsey’ picking acoustic for ‘Landslide’, perfectly capturing the rasp that Ms Nicks has developed over the years.
The girls left the boys to themselves for a blues trio-style ‘Need Your Love So Bad’, but although the crowd appreciated ‘Lindsay’s’ blues rock workout, his soloing lacked the delicacy of Peter Green’s understated approach. Then again, to duplicate the mastery of Green’s unique talent – instinctively knowing that what you leave out is an important as what you play – has eluded many guitarists whose CV far exceeds playing in a tribute act. The first half closed with ‘Rooms On Fire’, a hit for Stevie alone in 1989 and the first of two solo Nicks songs played – the other was ‘Edge Of 17’ – followed by a spot-on ‘Gold Dust Woman’.
After an overlong interval Fleetwood Bac returned with ‘Big Love’, the ending of which, on record at least, seems suspiciously inappropriate for a place of worship, but the Bac tempered it somewhat, perhaps wary of wrath from above. It seemed to me as if ‘Lindsey’s’ vocal mike needed upping a bit, a fault that persisted throughout the second half. At times his vocals were barely audible, especially compared to the girls. ‘7 Wonders’ was followed by another excursion into the past, ‘The Green Manalishi’, those portentous chords and a rave-up solo drawing appreciative applause from the blokes in the audience.
The contrast between the two Fleetwood Macs – and I date the shift to the arrival of Buckingham and Nicks – enable Fleetwood Bac to switch moods abruptly, so the lilting ‘Gypsy’, like ‘Sarah’ earlier in the set, seemed like another band entirely. Again ‘Stevie’ sang perfectly, as did ‘Christine’ on the cheerful ‘Everywhere’ and the rather melancholy ‘Oh Daddy’, a sequence I would have swopped around in the light of what followed.
What did follow was the ebullient home stretch. ‘Don’t Stop’ was a crowd-pleasing singalong, everyone standing now; ‘Tusk’ a rhythmic incitement to dance with a drum solo that was, thankfully, brief; and ‘The Chain’ a moody slow-starter with the Formula One bass riff rumbling from somewhere in the crypt and damnation descending as the congregation sang about keeping us together.
The encores, inevitably, were ‘Rhiannon’, with ‘Stevie’ suitably witchy in her black top hat, and ‘Go Your Own Way’, again a bit spoiled by ‘Lindsey’s’ vocals being largely unheard but once the girls joined in all was well. If the band’s enthusiasm and the crowd’s devil-may-care community singing reduced this finale to a bit of a mish-mash at this point it didn’t really matter – by the end no one gave a monkey’s whether it was the Bac or the Mac, which is how it should be.
A picture from their website, not last night's gig
As I wrote in a post in 2014 about a David Bowie tribute show, there are some in my line of work who take a rather condescending view of tribute acts but I am not among them. Most of those who gathered at St John’s Church in Farncombe last night are unlikely ever to see the real Fleetwood Mac, or even afford to, but the pleasure they all took from this show nullifies any derision that purists might feel towards what is, after all, a shameless but nevertheless skilful facsimile. I take the view that Fleetwood Bac and their ilk are not only giving people a good time but keeping the genuine article’s music before the public and serving to remind them of the depth of their catalogue, in this case Peter Green’s FM included, and that can only be a good thing.