There was a terrific documentary about Peter Green at the end of last week, and, since BBC4 regularly re-plunders itself, it will doubtless be back on again at a TV near you. Green was the first guitarist to match the Page/Hendrix/Beck/Clapton standard, and, arguably, to surpass it, since his playing is in many ways more imaginative. It is hard to credit it now, but, at the fag end of the 1960s, there was a huge surge of interest in young white boys playing old blues standards, and it was this which propelled Green forward (at a time when his counterparts were experimenting with jazz, country, and, in Page’s case, a curious mixture of heavy metal and folk).
But Green was a mixture of certainty and modesty. He named his new band Fleetwood Mac after the drummer and bassist-to-be, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, and actually said at the time that it was to help these two when he and the other guitarist moved on. He could not have imagined that, when he packed it in, and fell out of sight, done in by drug use and winding up in mental instututions at the hands of shock therapists, that he had set his rhythm section on the road to mega-millions, even if Fleetwood Mac have had to reinvent themselves almost every decade.
The Green/ Fleetwood Mac story really is one that you couldn’t make up. After Green, their star, vanished – not unlike Syd Barrett from Pink Floyd – he left them a legacy of not one but two exceptional lead guitarists, since he’d expanded the line up to three leads while he was in charge (and the available recording sessions suggest that he was very much in charge). His co-guitarists, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan, were respectively a slide-guitar prankster and blues aficionado, and a young and nimble-fingered song-writer almost as talented as Green himself. And what happened? First Spencer, the clown of the band, walked into a Californian religious cult, and stayed there; and the Kirwan became so unreliable onstage that the rest had to fire him (the rest by this time including a melodic player called Bob Welch, who is really badlt over-looked). Green, Spencer, Kirwan, and then Welch (of his own volition) left. Armed only with the name and the vocal talents of Christine Perfect/ McVie, they recruited Lindsey Buckingham. Each one of these guitarists has played the lead on Green’s song ‘Oh Well’, which is still in the repertoire. I can’t think of any other band that has survived five guitarists, let alone forty-two years.
And another oddity is that every member of the band is still alive – a possible total cast of about fifteen, from Stevie Nicks to Dave Mason. The programme showed the first interview I’ve ever seen with Spencer, Fleetwood and McVie together, the original three acolytes Green attracted. Kirwan has vanished, almost without trace. But Green, shambolic, damaged, genial, has been rescued, and tours and records to this day. There was a moment when one of his best known songs was played to him, and he noted with a little pride that there were two bass-lines in the song. It was touching, because it is clear that, however long ago it was, and however bad a time he has had in the interval, he still wants to talk about his recordings.
And the strange thing is that, at the time, I wasn’t a fan. I started to take an interest because I liked Christine Perfect’s voice. Not until she joined on a full-time basis did I get interested. Now, listening to Green’s deft, almost always mournful solos, I realise what a mug I must have been.