How Fleetwood Mac Overcame A Stormy Week Of Illness And Speculation To Triumph At Isle Of Wight Festival

As fresh-faced festivalgoers headed to the Isle Of Wight earlier this week, on the ferries and the buses conversations between strangers kept starting with, “So, who are you looking forward to this weekend?” Nine times out of ten, the answer was Fleetwood Mac. And then a hesitant voice sitting nearby would pipe up. “Er, did you hear they cancelled a show in Birmingham last night?” and all manner of gasps, wailing and mutterings of refunds would follow.

Let’s face it, it’s been a bad week for the Mac. The band cancelled the second of two dates at Birmingham’s Genting Arena on Tuesday (June 9) just hours before showtime, due to unspecified illness. Assurances were given that Friday’s Manchester Arena show and this weekend’s Isle Of Wight slot, the band’s first UK festival appearance since singer and keyboardist Christine McVie rejoined after 16 years’ absence, would go ahead. And then, on the day of the Manchester show, that too was pulled. Not postponed but definitively cancelled. Backstage at a rain-lashed Isle Of Wight, there were some very long faces indeed.

As festival boss John Giddings had admitted, a lot of money was put on the table to convince the group to play Isle of Wight Festival rather than, as had been rumoured earlier in the year, Glastonbury. The band were this year’s prize catch and – no disrespect, Blur and Prodigy – the main draw at this year’s event. Out on the festival site, Fleetwood Mac t-shirts with ‘On With The Show’ written across them hung from the merchandise tents and fluttered in the wind. Fans prayed that’d be the outcome, but hopes were fading.

Two days later, the sun is brighter and so is the festival mood. At 2pm on the Sunday, the festival Tweets a picture of the just-arrived Fleetwood Mac truck. At least their gear is on site. Those still sober enough to be checking Twitter breathe a sigh of relief. Still, as their scheduled stage time comes and goes, even the sight of the band’s arsenal of instruments and an army of roadies doesn’t entirely convince us somethings hasn’t gone awry at the last minute.

Finally, nearly quarter of an hour late and just as the crowd are getting restless, booing the umpteenth film trailer on the big stage screens, out step founding rhythm section Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, followed moments later by Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham, smiling and waving. The full famous five, seemingly fit and well and getting into gear with ‘Rumours’ classic ‘The Chain’.

Throughout the 20-song triumph of a show that follows, there’s no mention of their troubled week. Stevie Nicks points out that this is the 90th date (and first festival appearance) of their tour but isn’t apologising for fatigue. Instead, the whole band appear energised. She dedicates ‘Landslide’ to Dave Grohl (“Get better Dave!”) following his recent serious onstage fall but makes no slips herself as the group power through joyous renditions of ‘Second Hand News’, ‘Dreams’, ‘Rhiannon’ and more. There’s powerful outings of ‘Everywhere’, ‘Little Lies’ and ‘Go Your Own Way’, and by the time they leave the stage two hours later, a final encore of ‘Don’t Stop’ followed by a loving farewell speech from Mick Fleetwood himself, all the week’s troubles are forgotten.

After those cancellations, and the speculation that followed, for a time it looked like Fleetwood Mac’s UK festival return might never happen, or worse yet – happen, but be a limp affair, sluggish with illness. Instead, it was a unarguable success that showed the band as the hit-after-hit crowd-pleasers they are. With a string of more UK dates ahead, hopefully the band’s recent troubles are behind them. On with the show.

Stuart Huggett