Christine McVie, who has died aged 79, was a singer and songwriter with Fleetwood Mac. She saw the band through their first incarnation as a British blues band and was then part of the successful line-up during the subsequent years in America, when her writing and singing formed the backbone to the highly personal album Rumours (1977), a musical autobiography cataloguing the emotional and drug-fuelled lives of the band’s five members.
A classically trained pianist with a warm and smoky alto singing voice, she originally joined Fleetwood Mac in 1970, a year after her marriage to the band’s bass player, John McVie. At this stage based in Britain and still very much part of the British blues scene, Fleetwood Mac had just lost their founding member, Peter Green. Christine McVie was to become a key member (and initially the only female) of the group.
She recorded three albums with them, before agreeing, reluctantly, to move to America with her husband and the band’s drummer, Mick Fleetwood, in an attempt to revive Fleetwood Mac’s waning popularity.
Within a year, they had recruited two American musicians, Lindsey Buckingham, an established guitarist and singer songwriter, and his girlfriend and musical partner, Stevie Nicks. Buckingham and Stevie Nicks became, alongside Christine McVie, the band’s principal singers and songwriters.
From the start, Christine McVie realised that they had found a distinct new sound. “I started playing Say You Love Me,” she recalled, “and when I reached the chorus they started singing with me and fell right into it. I heard this incredible sound – our three voices – and said to myself: ‘Is this me singing?’ I couldn’t believe how great this three-voice harmony was.”
The three singers also complemented each other in terms of their songwriting and performing styles. Christine McVie was the most understated, and when on stage she would always remain seated at her keyboards. Her songs were simple, direct and confessional, usually about the joy and heartache of love. Her fellow singer-songwriters were in turn mystical and ethereal (Stevie Nicks) and highly-strung but technically controlled (Buckingham).
The new line-up released the album Fleetwood Mac in 1975. In addition to hit songs written and performed by Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, the album included Over My Head and Say You Love Me, by Christine McVie, both of which reached the Top 20. But it was Rumours, which, two years later, was to become one of the biggest selling albums of all time.
Rumours crackled with harmonious tunes that chronicled, for the most part, the increasingly chaotic disharmony among the members of the band. During the course of the recording of the album, Buckingham and Stevie Nicks split up and Christine McVie had embarked on an affair with Fleetwood Mac’s lighting director Curry Grant, which inspired her to write You Make Loving Fun. She also wrote Songbird, about her love for her fellow band members, despite their collapsing drug- and alcohol-fuelled lives.
“The music was all we lived for,” she said later. “That was what tied us together while everything else was falling apart. We were all living in this dream world, doing too many drugs and drinking too much, all busy getting divorced and fighting amongst ourselves.”
Don’t Stop from the Rumours album was an optimistic message to her soon-to-be ex-husband, John McVie. It was subsequently used by Bill Clinton in 1992 as the theme song for his presidential election campaign.
By the end of the tour to publicise Rumours, the McVies had divorced. But despite the complicated nature of the relationships between all the band members, Fleetwood Mac went on to record several more albums together including Tusk (1979), Mirage (1982), and Tango in the Night (1987), on which two of the biggest hit singles Little Lies and Everywhere, were written by Christine McVie.
By the mid-1990s, Christine McVie was beginning to tire of touring, and following the death of her father while she was on tour and the break-up of her second marriage, in 1998 she announced that she was retiring permanently from Fleetwood Mac. The decision was, she said, definitive (partly due to the fact that she had developed a fear of flying), and she sold her house in Los Angeles and moved back to Britain.
“The moment I landed at Heathrow,” she recalled in 2004, “it was as though this massive weight had lifted off me. I never really wanted to leave England in the first place. When we left to try and hack out a career in the States they assured me it would only be for six months. We never came back.”
For the next 16 years she made only rare public appearances and spent much of her time at her 17th-century house near Canterbury, cooking for her extended family and concentrating on her garden and her dogs. “I live a very simple life,” she explained, “but it is the one I chose.”
But at the beginning of 2014 it was announced that the 70-year-old Christine McVie would be rejoining the band for a tour the following autumn. “Our songbird has returned!” shouted an ecstatic Mick Fleetwood at their opening concert.
She was seated, as always, behind her keyboards, her blonde hair more of a silvery platinum. Her voice was lower and smokier, but as calmly mellifluous as it had been four decades before. “I thought it was going to be a struggle, to be honest. I was a little anxious,” she said at the time. “The moment you find yourself playing with these fantastic musicians and friends, it just melted away. And now I feel completely comfortable, really, surprisingly so.”
Christine Anne Perfect was born on July 12 1943 in Bouth, Cumbria, and grew up in Smethwick, near Birmingham, where her father, Cyril was a concert violinist and music lecturer. Her mother was a psychic and faith healer.
Young Christine was introduced to the piano aged four (her grandfather had been an organist at Westminster Abbey) and was classically trained until she was 15. But after her brother introduced her to Fats Domino she switched allegiances and began to play rock’n’roll.
She spent five years studying sculpture at an art college near Birmingham with a view to becoming an art teacher, during which time she met several musicians who were part of the burgeoning British blues scene. After a spell in a local band, Sounds Of Blue, she moved to London, where she worked as a shop-window dresser before joining Chicken Shack as a keyboard player and backing singer.
She spent two years with the band and was eventually promoted to lead singer. Her “bluesy” singing style, typified in her version of I’d Rather Go Blind, won her Melody Maker awards in 1969 and 1970. She left Chicken Shack in 1969 to marry John McVie.
Before joining Fleetwood Mac, she recorded a solo album, Christine Perfect, and following her success with Fleetwood Mac the album was re-released with the title The Legendary Christine Perfect Album. After rejoining Fleetwood Mac she began writing new material, some of it with Lindsey Buckingham, and in 2017 they released the album Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie, touring the US to promote it.
In the early 1980s Christine McVie had an ill-fated affair with the Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson. She wrote the song Love in Store (1982) about their relationship. “I’ve been very unlucky in love,” she said in 2004. “It’s a real drag.”
Like Stevie Nicks (and unlike the male members of Fleetwood Mac), Christine McVie never had children, and despite periods of rancour and bitterness, the band members seemed always to be drawn back to each other. “We have a good laugh,” she explained, “it is one of the primary reasons for anybody staying together, marriage, band or whatever it is. The ability to laugh at things and oneself is really important.”
Her marriage to John McVie was dissolved in 1978. In 1986 she married the keyboard player Eddie Quintela. The marriage was dissolved in 2003.
Christine McVie, born July 12 1943, died November 30 2022