Fleetwood Mac – ‘Before the Beginning’

❉ A new archival release from Peter Green’s original incarnation of Fleetwood Mac.

“It’s little short of a miracle that Fleetwood Mac’s slick, branded organisation is letting this release happen at all. Despite the yawning disconnect between the original slide guitar and sweat and the latterday supergroup of the current line-up, those blues roots have died hard, and the spectre of original leading light Green has always hung over the band.”

In the UK in the late ’60s, it’s fair to say that you could barely move for young white men that looked like Jon Snow afflicted with a severe case of THE BLUES. Some, like the Rolling Stones took the attitude of Delta blues and imported it successfully into their own cosmopolitan melting pot. Others, like Cream or Zeppelin would spin it into epic, furious improvisation. Nobody quite got that particular strain of authentic Chicago blues like Peter Green’s original incarnation of Fleetwood Mac, who arrived fully-formed in 1967.

Given unprecedented longevity by half a century of line-up changes and neck-breaking stylistic U-turns (even in ’68, the sorrowful lament of Man of the World came backed with the proto-punk rockabilly shakedown of Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonite), something about the Mac has kept them going all this time despite enough drama to see off an entire record label’s roster. It’s unlikely that contemporaries like Savoy Brown were ever going to get a dazzlingly successful LA soft rock second wind.

Before The Beginning, a new archival live release from Sony features two recently unearthed live sets from the Mac. Undated and unlabelled, and recorded who knows where – the exact provenance of the tapes is a mystery. The presence of multiple versions of the same tunes would hint at radio broadcasts, but best-guess digging from experts dates the tapes at 1968 and 1970. Although the recordings are officially-sanctioned, have been nicely smartened up and have reportedly been given the band’s blessing for release – the lack of info and generic group shot on the cover gives this set a faint whiff of those Green-era Mac live releases that used to creep out on all sorts of labels in the 80s and 90s.

Fleetwood Mac © Barry Plummer.

Perhaps as a result of these releases, the famously incendiary original Mac have always been a little undersold as a live act, lacking their definitive live album to sit next to Live At Leeds, Wheels of Fire, and Get Yer Ya Yas Out! In 2019, despite the evolution of this type of release, this isn’t it either, and still feels a slight chill of separation from the mothership, who haven’t been a pure blues band since Green bailed in May 1970.

After all, Fleetwood Mac have spent decades pushing a narrative that has the band all but winking out of existence for four years and six albums between Green’s exit and the late ‘74 arrival of Buckingham and Nicks. To be fair, the current incarnation of the Mac are presently trying to distance themselves from Lindsey Buckingham, so that particular twain was never really going to meet.

It’s little short of a miracle that their slick, branded organisation is letting this release happen at all. Despite the yawning disconnect between the original slide guitar and sweat and the latterday supergroup of the current line-up, those blues roots have died hard, and the spectre of original leading light Green has always hung over the band.

It’s worth noting that Stevie Nicks is now singing Black Magic Woman on tour (despite recently admitting she didn’t know it was written by Green until recently). Bassist John McVie has noted on numerous occasions in interviews that he could quite happily plough through Shake Your Money Maker until the cows come home. This flame-keeping devotion to roots aside, it’s fair to say (whisper it) that Fleetwood Mac don’t really become terribly interesting until Green starts broadening his horizons and the arrival of gifted foil Danny Kirwan.

Fleetwood Mac © Barry Plummer.

As a result, the 1968 set that opens BTB, good as it is spends rather a long time doggedly trudging around the same 12 bars and is thus for hardcore fans only. By 1970, the Mac are still a blues band but things have changed considerably, with the troubled Green’s uniquely moody take on the blues (as much in hock to heavy rock as to flamenco and The Shadows) now fully-developed and the band on commanding, often super-loud form. With Kirwan lending support, Albatross and World In Harmony are beautifully integrated twin-guitar mood rock at its finest (third guitarist Jeremy Spencer tended to down tools if required to do anything but play slide guitar or do his raucous Elvis impression) – while title track Before The Beginning is a classic example of glacial, moody restraint from Green, just weeks from flying the coop.

Fleetwood Mac © Barry Plummer.

The 1970 show is nothing less than a fine performance, but knowing Green’s state of mind it’s hard not to hear the demons at work here. A principled man unhappy with his band’s huge commercial success, he howls his pain on a bloodcurdling Green Manalishi, and frustrations, both sexual (onanism anthem Rattlesnake Shake) and with the state of the world (Oh Well). Rare lighter moments include Spencer’s spirited mangling of Only You and the cute cover of Otis Rush’s cheeky Homework which is nicely rollicking, and features Green on uncharacteristically chirpy form.

So despite some thrilling performances, Before The Beginning is still not quite that definitive Green-era live album then, but unless some incredible lost Fillmore show emerges and Mick Fleetwood gets behind the release, it’s perhaps as close as we’ll get.

Fleetwood Mac – “Before the Beginning – 1968-1970 Rare Live & Demo Sessions (Remastered)” to be released 7 June 2019 in 3CD Boxset, Two Volume Triple Heavyweight Vinyl & digitally by Sony CMG Music.

 Martin Ruddock has written for ‘Doctor Who Magazine’, ‘Shindig!’, the ‘You And Who’ series, and is a regular contributor to We Are Cult Martin was a guest on Tim Worthington‘s podcast Looks Unfamiliar: You can find the episode here.

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  1. Live at the Boston Tea Party, volume one, is Peter green’s Live at Leeds or Wheels of Fire.

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