The Loneliest Seat: A Brief Tribute to Christine McVie

PAUL ROSENBERG
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I’ve long considered the keyboard player to have a particularly paradoxical role in many bands. So often their musical contributions both as instrumentalists and writers is absolutely crucial to the bands they play in, yet so often that contribution is to some extent obscured, not just by all the gear they sit behind, but also by the inherently more visible front players – the guitarist, the lead singer, etc., even when the keyboardist also writes and/or sings.

My points of reference here are admittedly dated. For example, I think of Billy Payne (Little Feat) and Tony Banks (Genesis). They wrote some of their respective band’s most important songs, but performed in the shadow of charismatic front-men like Lowell George, Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, all of whom we know by name as individual artists. But if you mention Billy Payne to someone you’ll most likely have to clarify – he’s the keyboard player for Little Feat. Tony Banks, despite his many solo efforts, will always best be known as the keyboard player for Genesis. Even the name Rick Wakeman (arguably the greatest rock keyboardist ever) often gets a quizzical stare when I mention him, until I clarify; “you know, the keyboard player for Yes” (a position, what’s more, that he only occupied sporadically, compared to his virtually continuous output of solo material, now numbering in the hundreds of albums). There are surely many other examples, but I hope these illustrate the point.

So, it must be a hard position to occupy, and how much more so for Christine McVie, who is undeniably best known as the keyboard player for Fleetwood Mac. McVie had already been part of Fleetwood Mac for several years and had penned some of their earlier rock hits before the undeniably talented and extraordinarily attractive couple Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the band and became their main representatives and image, even as McVie continued to write some of the best songs the band ever recorded. Whether or not we realized they were her songs is another matter. But it’s worth pointing out that “Don’t Stop”, a song sung by Lindsay Buckingham and made famous as an anthem for a US Presidential campaign (remember?), was written by Christine McVie.

As a musician I was also inspired by Christine McVie, and I’d like to share that story as my tribute to her. 

Anyone who has sat in front of a microphone in a recording studio knows how intimidating and impersonal it can be. Trying to conjure the right emotion in that context can be daunting. All the more so if you’re accompanying yourself and performing alone. Consider, then, McVie’s beautiful solo piece, “Songbird”. The recording of that song is so full of feeling and openness; it has a genuine intimacy that can be so difficult to capture in a recording studio. And in fact, many years ago I read that this was indeed a problem in trying to get the right recording of that song. In order to overcome this the producer rented out a concert hall and set up a grand piano with flowers, and brought McVie there to record the song. Pure inspiration, and the results are forever audible. 

This story immediately inspired me to try something similar. At the time I read it, I was recording and producing albums myself (on a much smaller scale), and many times afterwards I used the idea of “location” recording to capture feeling and space not available in a studio environment. We recorded in my living room, in coffee houses, outdoors, on stages – wherever seemed appropriate to get the kind of performance we were hoping for. In my view it worked brilliantly, just as it did for Songbird, and added so much to the recordings we made. So, I would like to publicly thank Christine McVie for her lasting impact on my own music and recordings. And as I write this, I’m recalling that on my own album I wrote a song called “Don’t Stop”, which I only now realize is the same name as McVie’s hit. In another song I wrote for that album there is a line that goes “when it comes to you, it’s alright” – and sitting here in front of me are the lyrics to Songbird, which include the line “Cause I feel that when I’m with you, it’s alright…”. 

That’s the power of the greatest songwriting – it insinuates itself into your heart and comes back out in your own words, even if you don’t realize it. So, again, thank you for all the great music, Christine McVie: songwriter, keyboardist, and inspiration.

The Loneliest Seat: A Brief Tribute to Christine McVie ultima modifica: 2022-12-01T17:25:04+01:00 da PAUL ROSENBERG
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