Christine McVie obituary: Songbird and author of many Fleetwood Mac hits

Singer and keyboardist often shied away from spotlight

Born: July 12th 1943
Died: November 30th, 2022

Fleetwood Mac were Brit-rock stalwarts when, in 1974, they hit on the idea of pepping up their line-up. They invited a folky Californian, Lindsey Buckingham, to join but he refused to come without his girlfriend, Stevie Nicks. The band agreed on one condition: their sole woman member, Christine McVie, had to feel comfortable with Nicks.

They met over dinner in Los Angeles and McVie, finding Nicks “funny and nice, but also, there was no competition”, waved her through. That decision led to the enlarged band becoming the sultans of soft rock, underlining McVie’s status as the quiet pillar of the Mac apparatus.

McVie, who has died aged 79, was co-lead singer, keyboardist and author of many of the group’s canonical tunes, including Say You Love Me, Over My Head and You Make Loving Fun. Understatement shaped her identity, with Rolling Stone magazine rather insultingly calling her “the epitome of rock’n’roll sanity”. That kind of thing riled her: “I was probably the most restrained, but I was no angel,” she protested, claiming that one of her most acclaimed compositions, Songbird, owed its existence to “a couple of toots of cocaine and a half-bottle of champagne”. Nevertheless, she avoided the spotlight, often literally. At gigs her domain was a relatively modest keyboard set-up at the side, safely away from stage centre.

Deeply melodic love songs, burnished by her warm alto, were McVie’s stock in trade but she could address her unhappy ex-husband, John McVie, with equal tenderness. The 1977 hit Don’t Stop, later used as the theme tune for Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, did just that. Written during sessions for the landmark Rumours album, when relations between the pair were at their worst, it sunnily encouraged John, the band’s bassist, to look forward rather than brood about the past.


She didn’t deliberately write commercial songs, she insisted; they just came out that way; which was just as well – in 1975, as the group were grinding through an American tour, their US label chose Over My Head to soundtrack a radio campaign for their self-titled new album. The LP duly became their first real smash, selling more than 9 million copies. For that matter, the 1977 behemoth Rumours arguably owed a good chunk of its 45 million sales to the two McVie tracks released as singles, Don’t Stop and You Make Loving Fun, which remain soft-rock touchstones to this day.

The younger child of Cyril Perfect, a music teacher, and his wife, Beatrice (née Reece), Christine was born in Bouth and raised in Bearwood, West Midlands. Her name, Christine Perfect, was a burden. “Teachers would say: ‘I hope you live up to your name, Christine.’ So, yes, it was tough.” She so disliked it that after her divorce she kept her married name.

As a child she studied classical piano and cello, only becoming interested in rock at 15 when her brother left Fats Domino sheet music on the household piano. She was an instant convert to the blues, developing a driving, boogie-woogie left-hand piano style, but music became secondary to her other consuming interest, art. Five years at Birmingham Art College yielded a sculpture degree but she emerged with a revived passion for music, spending much of her university time busking with her friend Spencer Davis and playing bass in a band called Sounds of Blue, led by Stan Webb.

Listlessly working as a window dresser at Dickins & Jones department store in London after graduation, McVie was delighted to be asked to join Webb’s new outfit, Chicken Shack, as keyboardist and vocalist. One of the only women in the mid-1960s British blues scene to sing and play an instrument, she got noticed.

She fancied the guitarist Peter Green of the rival blues act Fleetwood Mac, but it was John McVie who asked her out. They married in 1968. A few months later, deciding she was not seeing enough of her husband, she left Chicken Shack with the intention of being a housewife. It lasted until her manager persuaded her to make the solo LP, an “immature” effort she later preferred to forget. The next step was joining Fleetwood Mac as a permanent member in 1970, having already played uncredited on several studio sessions.

She was dubious about the band’s decision to relocate to Los Angeles in 1974, but reconciled herself to Californian rock-star life, buying Anthony Newley’s old house and a pair of Mercedes-Benzes with her lhasa apso dogs’ names on the number plates. While making the follow-up to Rumours, Tusk, she dated the Beach Boy Dennis Wilson but her next significant relationship, with the Portuguese keyboardist Eddy Quintela, was happier and more productive. He played on her second solo album, Christine McVie (1984), and after their marriage in 1986 the pair wrote one of Mac’s biggest hits of the 1980s, Little Lies. The marriage foundered, however, when McVie found herself craving a quiet life in England; she quit the band in 1998 and bought a Tudor house in Wickhambreaux, Kent.

Fifteen years of “this country life with the welly boots and the dogs and the Range Rover” proved enough, and matters definitively came to a head when she fell down a flight of stairs and became dependent on prescription painkillers. It was, she said, a bleak time, not least because another attempt at a solo career had failed. She rejoined Mac permanently in 2014.

Reaction to her return was roaringly positive, from fans and the band; to Mick Fleetwood it made the group “complete” again. In the same year she received an Ivor Novello lifetime achievement award. McVie’s last recording was a self-titled joint album with Buckingham, a top 5 British hit in 2017. It caught her in a reflective mood but her gift for melody was undimmed. Her final public performance was at a tribute show for Green in London in February 2020.

In June this year a solo compilation, Songbird, was released but McVie was adamant that she wouldn’t tour again. “I don’t feel physically up for it. I’m in quite bad health. I’ve got a chronic back problem, which debilitates me. I stand up to play the piano, so I don’t know if I could actually physically do it.”

She and Quintela divorced in 2003. She is survived by her brother, John, and nephew.