Revised January 2023
Music fans were shocked and saddened when news broke of Christine McVie's passing on November 30, 2022 at age 79. Christine was known world-wide as singer, songwriter, and keyboard player in Fleetwood Mac - one of the most successful and popular bands of the 1970s. It may be a surprise to many that Christine began her amazing career as an active participant in the 1960s Birmingham music scene under the name "Christine Perfect".
Christine McVie's contributions to Fleetwood Mac provided much of the band's musical backbone. Never one to crave the spotlight on-stage, she preferred to let her talent shine through with great songwriting, keyboard skills and soulful voice. It was partly her influence that transitioned the bluesy, guitar-dominated line-up to a more radio-friendly vocal harmony format. Christine was already a rising star in the male-dominated world of rock music before she joined the band - a fact that's often overlooked.
Christine Anne Perfect was born born July 12, 1943 in Bouth, Lancashire and grew up around Saltley and Bearwood in Birmingham. Her father Cyril Percy Absell Perfect, was a classical violinist and lectured at St. Peters College of Education in Saltley, Birmingham while her mother Beatrice was said to be a folk singer, professional psychic and faith healer!
Having a bohemian upbringing and musical family, Christine had piano lessons starting at age four. When she was 15, her older brother John who played jazz saxophone (and with whom she remained close throughout her life) brought home a Fats Domino songbook that Christine picked up and in her own words; "It was Goodbye Schubert, Hello rock 'n' roll".
With an eye towards becoming a teacher, Christine Perfect gained a scholarship to Birmingham's Moseley College of Art where she played piano with fellow students in a skiffle group called "The Bobcats". The other members were vocalist Bob Bates, drummer Barry Taylor, bass player Tim Munns and guitarist Chuck Botfield who went on to form The Rockin' Berries.
Chuck Botfield remembered their first gig around 1959 at the Cofton Community Centre on Groveley Lane, Longbridge then known to many as the "Gulley Club". The venue had no piano so Bob Broomhall who sold hot dogs from his van in Northfield loaned them one that he transported from his house in the van to the gig. The Bobcats played a good show that night but Christine later complained the piano was sticky and smelled of onions!
After graduating from college, Christine Perfect played in a vocal duo with Birmingham University graduate Spencer Davis and they became regulars on the Birmingham blues and folk circuit, often appearing at the Golden Eagle pub on Hill Street (see The Spencer Davis Group). At this time Christine was also playing guitar and harmonica in addition to piano. Christine said; "We were friends, although not boyfriend and girlfriend. We'd go round together. He'd have his 12-string and we'd sing in folk clubs, and on buses."
Christine Perfect then joined a Stourbridge area line-up called "Sounds of Blue" at the invitation of guitarist Andy Silvester who was a friend from art school. The group also included blues guitarist virtuoso Stan Webb and jazz saxophonist Chris Wood. Christine said; "I didn't have a clue as to what to do on piano. Stan bought me a Freddie King album and that was the beginning of my absolute love for the blues".
Stan Webb recalled; "The main thing we did was this one gig at Dudley Liberal Club, every Sunday for a year and it was absolutely packed. On bass and harmonica sometimes was Christine Perfect, and Andy Silvester played rhythm guitar. Then Phil Lawless took over on bass and Christine switched to piano, Chris Wood played sax."
Another regular gig was "The Seven Stars" pub in Stourbridge that hosted blues nights and where Sounds of Blue soon became a top draw. One of their fans was a young wanna-be blues singer and harmonica player named Robert Plant. He would sometimes persuade the group to let him go on stage and sing a few blues songs with them. Robert of course years later went on to world-wide fame as vocalist in the acclaimed rock group Led Zeppelin.
Like many young groups who experience a level of success, personality clashes resulted in Sounds of Blue breaking up with Chris Wood joining the Brum group Locomotive. He would later become a founding member of Traffic with Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, and Dave Mason. As for Christine Perfect, she took a break from music and headed down to London in hope of starting a career in graphic design.
Several months later, Stan Webb decided to re-form the group under a new name "Chicken Shack" (from an old blues expression meaning "road house"). Andy Silvester had remained in touch with Christine who was working in London's West End as a window dresser at Dickins and Jones. He pleaded with her to join the new Chicken Shack line-up. Eventually, she agreed and took a train back to Birmingham.
In April 1967, Chicken Shack went to Germany for a lengthy engagement at Hamburg's famous "Star Club" where they became immediately popular and built up a large following. Stan Webb said; "We did about a six week stint at the Star Club in Hamburg. We were the only band doing the sort of stuff we were doing. The club at that time wasn't getting many people in. Inside a week we started packing them in and they were so pleased with what was happening they put the money up and cut the hours. We couldn't do any wrong."
The photo shows The Chicken Shack in 1968 from left to right; Andy Silvester (bass guitar), Christine Perfect (vocals, keyboards), Stan Webb (vocals, lead guitar), and Dave Bidwell (drums).
On their return to the UK, Chicken Shack were noticed by producer Mike Vernon who signed them to his Blue Horizon records label. The band played the "Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival" in August 1967 along with label-mates Fleetwood Mac on the same bill and there Christine Perfect met up with their bass guitarist John McVie with whom she later formed a romantic relationship. John had previously played in John Mayall's acclaimed "Bluesbreakers" along with former Yardbirds guitarist Eric Clapton.
The first Chicken Shack single issued at the end of 1967 in the UK was an original song titled 'It's Ok With Me Baby' featuring Christine Perfect - possibly her first recorded composition. This record - far bluesier than most heard on the radio that year - featured jazzy horns along with Christine's vocal and piano. The first Chicken Shack album entitled "Forty Blue Fingers Freshly Packed And Ready To Serve" was released to critical acclaim during the summer of 1968.
Fleetwood Mac were also getting a lot of recognition, particularly their lead guitarist Peter Green who like John McVie had also played in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. When asked years later what she thought of Fleetwood Mac at the time, Christine said; "Chemistry. Kick-ass chemistry. It was phenomenal. Andy and I when we had a night off, we'd make a beeline to Fleetwood Mac. These small, sweaty clubs. Mick and John were a force to be reckoned with, and you had little Jeremy Spencer playing slide, doing lots of Elmore James stuff, Peter Green who was like Jesus, playing out-of-this-world guitar, and then Danny Kirwan who played brilliantly technical blues. It was just killer to watch them. Killer."
Christine Perfect was invited to play guest piano on Fleetwood Mac's second album titled "Mr. Wonderful" and having developed a long-distance relationship with John McVie, they decided to get married in August 1968 after Fleetwood Mac returned from an overseas tour. With no time for a honeymoon, the couple celebrated at a hotel in Birmingham along with their bands and Joe Cocker who happened to be staying there that night.
In September 1968, Chicken Shack performed for the first of several appearances at the influential "Mothers" club in Erdington, Birmingham (formerly the Carlton Ballroom where the Moody Blues had formed). For the few years it operated, Mothers hosted the best up-and-coming progressive rock groups in the UK including local performers like Traffic, Led Zeppelin, Locomotive, and Black Sabbath.
In May 1969, the fourth Chicken Shack single release titled 'I'd Rather Go Blind' featuring Christine Perfect on lead vocal got to Number 14 in the UK record charts. Despite the success, Christine Perfect (now Christine McVie) decided to leave the group to have more time with her husband John as their two band's increasingly busy schedules had made a "normal" relationship all but impossible.
Ironically, Christine Perfect had just been voted best female vocalist for 1969 ahead of Julie Driscoll and Sandy Denny by the influential New Musical Express (NME) reader's poll. Christine was replaced in the Chicken Shack line-up by keyboard player Paul Raymond and their next single 'Tears In The Wind' got to Number 29 in the UK charts.
Christine McVie recorded a self-titled solo album that was issued in 1970 and contained a mix of original songs and blues standards. The record featured her husband John McVie on bass and Fleetwood Mac guitarist Danny Kirwan on guitar along with other musical guests. Despite the good reviews, she later admitted having no interest performing as a solo artist although she obviously had the talent to do so.
While formed as a blues band in 1967, Fleetwood Mac were taken by surprise when their dreamy instrumental recording 'Albatross' zoomed to the top of the UK pop charts in December 1968 and became a massive hit in Europe too. Their next single 'Man Of The World' was also a big hit the following year. Sadly, the pressure brought on by their new-found fame didn't sit well with their brilliant guitarist and songwriter Peter Green who turned to drugs and had all but left the band by the end of the decade.
The idea of "getting it together in the country" was popular for groups at the time. During the summer of 1970, Christine along with husband John McVie went to live with the band, their road manager, and their assorted wives, girlfriends and children at a converted hop farm and brewery in Surrey in order to write and rehearse new songs. "It was a hippie commune if ever there was one" remarked one observer.
Christine McVie participated in the recording of Fleetwood Mac's fourth album and their first without Peter Green. The LP was released in September 1970 and titled "Kiln House" named after their country retreat. Christine also did the artwork for the album cover.
Meanwhile, an American tour to promote the album was arranged and Christine recalled; "I was there, just drawing, doodling, cooking, and smoking a lot of pot. Just before the start of the tour they felt they needed another instrument to fill out the sound... and there I was, sitting around doing next to nothing, and knowing all the songs back to front because I'd been watching them rehearse for the last three months." It was at that point when Mick Fleetwood and John McVie asked her to join the line-up.
So began Christine McVie's journey as a permanent and pivotal member of Fleetwood Mac with her first performance in New Orleans with the band in August 1970 at the "Warehouse Cafe". While the group continued to change members a number of times (Jeremy Spencer, Bob Welch, Danny Kirwan, Bob Weston), their records supported by regular tours gained them an increasing number of fans. Vocalist Dave Walker from Walsall's Redcaps, Idle Race, and Savoy Brown was also in the band for a while.
American duo Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined Fleetwood Mac in 1975 to form their most famous and commercially successful line-up. Despite some stories to the contrary, Christine welcomed Stevie into the band and they became close friends during which time the next few albums "Fleetwood Mac" (1975) and "Rumours" (1977) became massive world-wide sellers and propelled the group to superstardom.
Christine McVie composed some of Fleetwood Mac's most popular songs that included; 'Over My Head', 'Say You Love Me', 'Don't Stop', 'You Make Loving Fun', and 'Hold Me', along with their many other hits that became staples of the "Adult Oriented Rock" (AOR) radio format of the 1970s. The group's massive popularity, particularly in the USA, remained so for decades to come.
Fleetwood Mac took a break from recording and touring after 1980 with some members making their own albums including Stevie Nicks who went on to big success as a solo performer. The band later re-formed to record more massive selling albums including "Tango In The Night" issued in 1987 that included the hit singles 'Everywhere' and 'Little Lies', both composed by Christine McVie.
After many years performing, recording and touring with Fleetwood Mac, as well as making records of her own, Christine McVie retired in 1998 to have well-deserved time with her family, her beloved dogs, and enjoy long walks in the country. However, she re-joined the band in 2014 and the "classic" line-up toured for a final time until painful back problems forced her to rest. Christine McVie passed away on November 30, 2022 at age 79.
The full story of Fleetwood Mac is beyond the scope of the BrumBeat web site, but Christine McVie's incredible songwriting and vocal contributions to the group along with her roots as part of the Birmingham and West Midlands music scene should not be forgotten.
Copyright © John R Woodhouse
Sources: 'Brum Rocked!' book by Laurie Hornsby 1999; 'The Guinness Book of British Hit Singles' 5th edition 1985; 'The Virgin Encyclopedia of Sixties Music' by Colin Larkin 1997; 'The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll' third edition 2001; 'Fleetwood Mac The Definitive History' by Mike Evans 2011; Some selected quotes are from 'Stan Webb: What Can A Poor Boy Do?' by Harry Shapiro, Blue Print 2001; Rolling Stone, and MOJO magazines various issues.