Mick Fleetwood on His All-Star Tribute to Peter Green and Early Fleetwood Mac
On February 25th, 2020, just days before Covid-19 shut down the global concert industry, Mick Fleetwood teamed up with Pete Townshend, David Gilmour, Noel Gallagher, Steven Tyler, Kirk Hammett, Billy Gibbons, Christine McVie, and many others to honor the legacy of Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green with a special concert at the London Palladium.
Backed by an amazing house band that included Dave Bronze, Jonny Lang, Andy Fairweather Low, Ricky Peterson, Zak Starkey, and Rick Vito, the guests took turns tearing through early Mac classics like “Rattlesnake Shake,” “The Sky Is Crying,” “Albatross,” and “Sandy Mary,” many of which hadn’t been played since Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined the group and they turned away from their blues roots.
The event was dubbed Mick Fleetwood and Friends Celebrate the Music of Peter Green and the Early Years of Fleetwood Mac. It will be available to watch on-demand on March 27th and then will come out as a live album on April 30th.
We phoned up Mick Fleetwood at his home in Hawaii to hear about how he put the concert together, the heavy emotions of the evening, learning that Green died just five months after the show, and how he learned to let go of his dream of an onstage reunion with Green years before his death made that impossible.
How many years ago did you start thinking about a possible Peter Green tribute show?
Probably even more than I’d dare draw out in this conversation. Personally, Peter was good friend. And musically, he’s beyond reproach in terms of what he meant to me and John [McVie] and the original band. No doubt, as much as he tried to waylay and not be responsible for leading the band, the truth was, as much as he turned away from things, he could have been a Jeff Beck. He could have been a Jimmy Page. He could have been Eric Clapton.
But right from the beginning, he wanted to be part of the band. The irony was, and still is, that that wasn’t to be. He was such a powerful entity that no matter what he did, including leaving the band and going into relative obscurity, it’s very evident how the world feels about him from all the lovely people that showed out to the show in London. And this is an event I’ve always wanted to do.
You spoke in the past about your dream of reuniting the original lineup of Fleetwood Mac.
At certain points in time, I thought that Peter, in my dream world, would come back and we’d be able to play again. That was not able to happen. I let go of all of those possibilities because of the way that Peter’s life had unfolded. It became evident that was something he didn’t want to do. It would have been pressure [on Peter] and a highly self-centered desire on my part with hardly any support from him at all to do it. I had to let go of that whole pipe dream. But this [concert] is that pipe dream coming true.
Tell me how it finally came to be.
It started a couple of years ago. A couple of times, I felt there was a window where a particular project was on hold and I thought about doing it. And Hartwig [Masuch] from BMG was hugely supportive of the whole concept and happened to be a major, major musical appreciator of what Peter and the original band did all those years ago. He provided a huge support system for the idea.
And then the Mac went out on the road and I had to scuttle that momentum. But when we came back and we knew we were ending a prolonged Fleetwood Mac touring schedule, I rebooted the idea knowing I had certain elements. One was Hartwig’s support. He never waned on it. I thought he’d say, “Well, it was a good idea, but we’re not going to do it. Good luck. It’s over.” But that wasn’t the case.
I knew I had players and an overview of what this was to be, which was an accolade to the original band, and more specifically, to the work of Peter Green. The enormity of our success after Peter left is known and is real. But the more time that passed, I felt, understandably, that the original part of the chemistry that started all this — and Peter Green started and formed Fleetwood Mac — needed to be known and understood. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t John. It was Peter.
Yeah. A lot of people don’t even know that there was a history before Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham.
That slice of information, understandably, was becoming more and more diminished. It stood the chance of fading into a form of obscurity where nobody would really know about we did. Before this all grinds to a halt, I wanted to do what we did in London last year.
All of the performers at the show were personally vested with incredibly connected stories that they shared while they were on that stage. It wasn’t a prerequisite for that to be the case, but it was the case, which really aggrandized my original wish list, which was to say, “Hey, this is what we did. This is how this wild, Shakesperean story known as Fleetwood Mac started.”
Tell me about booking the performers. Did you personally call people to see if they’d play?
Yeah. Everyone mostly came through me and Glyn Johns, who was a lovely, lovely team player right from the beginning. He was a huge help. He called people and brought in [guitarist] Andy Fairweather Low, who has been in Eric [Clapton]’s band for so long. He’s a huge Fleetwood Mac fan. I knew him a little bit, but that was the beginning of that. And I still have a great musical relationship with [guitarist] Rick Vito, who is a massive advocate of Peter’s work and I’d worked with him in Fleetwood Mac. He was part of the thing, and we had Dave Bronze on bass. And Johnny Lang is an old friend of mine. We started from there.
Two years before this event happened, I knew that, in theory, I had Steven Tyler and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top. They always wanted to do this. I was able to re-approach [them] and it all fell into place. By happenstance, all these people were able to be there in London before the world closed down. It was really magical and almost unbelievable that all these things fell into place.
Tell me about booking Pete Townshend.
He came in after the fact. I met him through Zak Starkey, who plays with him in the Who. He’s a friend and he’s a huge Peter Green fan.
I loved seeing him play a bit of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and admit that he took that from “Station Man.”
It was totally, beautifully irreverent and really super honest. I knew the story and I had met Peter on Top of the Pops at one point. This is when Danny Kirwan was still in the band. By the way, he needs to be super remembered as being such an integral part of what we and Peter did back then with all the harmony playing. He is not to be overshadowed at all, so I was super happy that Townshend picked one of Danny’s songs, and had that story to tell, which is hilarious. It happened to inspire one of the most famous Who songs ever.
How about David Gilmour?
I didn’t know him very well. But I knew he was connected to Peter Green’s music. He used to hang out around Notting Hill Gate and we passed in the night. He was not a personal friend, but two years before this even happened, it suddenly dawned on me that I was going to cold-call him and say, “Would you do it?’
If you’ve never had the pleasure of meeting him, he’s the most gracious chap. He’s just so open and honest. In many ways, Pink Floyd has a very similar backdrop as Fleetwood Mac with all the drama. It’s almost uncanny, actually, but no ladies were involved [in Pink Floyd].
But he had so much reverence for Peter Green’s playing and who Peter was and the songs. He initially got cold feet. He was like, “I don’t know if I can interpret Peter’s work. It’s so amazing. Maybe I can’t do that.”
I said, “What are you talking about? Of course you can.” He said, “At the moment I’m sort of passing on the idea because of what I’m discussing with you here. But later on, if this happens, I may gather enough courage.” And at least a year and a half later, I called him back and he said, “I’m ready and I really want to do this.” Which was huge.
He did beautiful work on the re-work of “Albatross” with Rick Vito and also he did “Oh Well, Part Two” which was on the Then Play On record. For lack of a better description, it’s a classical-esque escapade that Peter put together. Peter never played it. Fleetwood Mac never played it. That was really special that David picked that to do. I was overjoyed.
What about Noel Gallagher?
He was a surprise. What possible connection can there be on the face of it? My niece, Lily Donaldson, is an incredibly successful model. She retired at the ripe old age of 30. Anyhow, she knew Noel and Noel’s wife really well. I was on the phone with Lily and she said, “I’m at a restaurant with Noel and I told him all about the show. He wants to talk.”
He then gets on the phone and said, “I want to do this.” I said, I’m flattered …” And then he went into a whole thing. “You don’t know how much Fleetwood Mac meant to me.” He then went into a whole recitation. “We didn’t play Fleetwood Mac onstage in Oasis, but almost every soundcheck we ever did, Mick, I would pull out an old Peter Green Fleetwood Mac song.” I said, “You’re kidding me.”
He turned up and killed it in that acoustic section. There are endless stories like that. We had Neil Finn, who is in Fleetwood Mac. We’d been doing “Man of the World” during the last tour. I said, “You have to be the person to sing this song.”
The Jeremy Spencer moment was incredible.
Jeremy Spencer was a massive surprise for everyone. He lives in Ireland and came out of retirement. We kept that a secret. I hadn’t been onstage with Jeremy for the better part of 50 years. It was hugely emotional. He crushed and killed it.
Some people were surprised to see Kirk Hammett’s name on the bill.
That’s another one where it’s like, “Where is the connection?” Well, the connection is that he owns Peter Green’s Les Paul, and I knew that. I also met him. He lives in Hawaii here, in Oahu. I met him. He came to a charity show I did on the island. He completely related how much Fleetwood Mac Peter Green had meant to Metallica.
It was another one of those things where I was like, “I love hearing that, but how on earth? What is the connection?” And of course, it was Peter Green and “The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown).” If you listen to that song, it’s extremely heavy. The whole beginning [imitates it], that’s Metallica.
I could see your face at the beginning of “Man of the World.” Your eyes are closed and you look very emotional, like Peter’s lyrics are really touching you.
I always feel that way. I don’t know if “irony” is the right word, but I’m talking to you now from a little house near the beach in a town called Paia. In this little house is where I got the phone call that Peter had just died in his sleep. He was beautifully disconnected, but he knew what we were doing. He was maybe going to turn up. But it wasn’t about that. Peter, his whole demeanor and his whole history over the past great many years, was all about having no ego. He had no ego invested in this whatsoever, none.
In a way, he couldn’t give a shit. He didn’t know what he meant to so many people, especially players. That was part of what I was saying earlier. I’d long since let go of playing with him, but I at least thought he was going to maybe sit down and see what we’ve done. For me, there was a sadness that wasn’t going to happen either. But it wasn’t about that. It was about drawing a line in the sand, on behalf of whatever that was, about whatever we did back in the day.
We’re working on what I hope will be a really substantive documentary that will have so much input from all the lovely people that played this concert. I don’t mean in the live form of the concert, but there’s a whole documentary of weeks and weeks of rehearsals and stuff we started here in Hawaii. I’m really looking forward to that. It will eventually be put in a capsule that tells a story that I hope will be meaningful in telling the history of my band, Fleetwood Mac.
The timing of the show was really fortuitous. If you booked it 10 days later, it would have been canceled. It was also the last few months of Peter’s life, so he was aware it was happening. You couldn’t have predicted either of those things.
I totally agree. Not to overdramatize what you just said, but it is poignant and beautiful. In a way, because of all the strange stuff that’s happened to everyone this year where thing just stopped, the gratitude … I almost feel sick to my stomach when I think that a week later and this wouldn’t have happened. In a way, that makes it even more poignant.