A Fleetwood Mac Affair

The tribute act join forces with the Ulster Orchestra at the Odyssey Arena - Mick Fleetwood would be proud

The perception of tribute bands as crass, fly-by-night cash-in merchants is slowly changing. With acts like the Bootleg Beatles, the Australian Pink Floyd Show and ABBA tribute Björn Again having now been in existence longer than the groups they mimic – and with no sign of the original artists returning to the stage – the public and some critics have softened to the idea that musicians should be able to make a living by recreating classic sounds.

With British blues-rock legends Fleetwood Mac having largely retired (they released just one album and embarked on two tours during the noughties) their long-running tribute band is cleaning up. Rumours of Fleetwood Mac deliver a meticulously crafted, two-hour concert covering the Mac’s long and varied career, from the early, Peter Green-fronted blues era to the pop-rock staples from multi-million-selling albums like Rumours and Tango in the Night. Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood even sits in with them from time to time – the ultimate seal of approval.

Since forming in 1997, the Liverpool-based outfit have played more than 400 live dates to nearly half a million fans. They are regulars in Belfast, often selling out the Grand Opera House and the Waterfront. Their next Northern Ireland appearance takes things up a level, however, with the band preparing to team up with the Ulster Orchestra for a massive show at the Odyssey Arena this coming Saturday.

‘It’s the first time we’ll have been onstage with a 64-piece orchestra and a 40-piece choir,’ marvels Rumours of Fleetwood Mac founder Alan Hughes, taking a break from a week of rehearsals in Belfast. ‘There are going to be 110 people on the stage. This is the biggie.’

Titled A Fleetwood Mac Affair, the event is the brainchild of promoter David Hull, who previously masterminded the exceptionally successful collaboration between the Ulster Orchestra and Queen tribute Flash Harry.

Hughes – who handles Mac guitarist and vocalist, Lindsey Buckingham’s role in the Rumours group – comments: ‘David decided that with our demographic of people, from youngsters to pensioners, it was ideal to try again with the orchestra. We’re very, very excited.’

A Fleetwood Mac Affair will feature tracks from across Mac’s career, which helps to keep it interesting for the musicians. ‘They’ve got such a vast catalogue of songs,’ says Hughes. ‘We met with the orchestrators and the arrangers, and a lot of the songs lend themselves very well to orchestration. We’re trying to keep the earlier stuff a bit more bluesy and organic, but even some of the early Peter Green things were very heavily orchestrated in their day.’

Some numbers will be changed and embellished, though. ‘There’s no point having a great big orchestra if you can’t use it to the full extent, is there?’ smiles Hughes.

On the tribute act’s website, several fans have been calling for specific songs to be aired in Belfast. Rumours of Fleetwood Mac take notice of such requests, and as such have learned much of the Mac’s back catalogue, including obscure B-sides and album cuts.

‘I think you have to,’ says Hughes. ‘But Mac have been recording albums for 30 years, so there’s an awful lot of stuff to choose from. You’re always going to get somebody at the end of the show who says, “I can’t believe you didn’t play ‘Rhiannon’, or ‘Dreams’, or ‘Go Your Own Way’.” You’re never going to please everybody.’

When asked for his own favourite era of Mac music, Hughes gives a diplomatic answer: ‘I grew up with Peter Green as an iconic guitar player, but as your tastes grow over the years I became much more entranced by Lindsey Buckingham’s strange style of playing – his finger-picking techniques, which are particularly involved. I find they complement each other very well, really. It’s great, because we’ve got three lead guitarists in the band now, so it gives everybody their preferred style of the show.’

The Odyssey extravaganza will be the first time Rumours of Fleetwood Mac have worked with an orchestra. Indeed, it will be the first time Fleetwood Mac’s music has been presented in a classical setting, as not even the original Mac attempted an orchestral show. ‘They’ve done it with American marching bands, and they’ve done the odd thing with some orchestration,’ comments Hughes, ‘but they’ve never done a full-blown concert with an orchestra. It’s a bit of a coup for us.’

As for the friendship with Mick Fleetwood, Hughes reveals that it came about after the iconic muso attended a Rumours of Fleetwood Mac gig and demanded to jam with them onstage. Since then, he has become an occasional guest member when not at home in Hawaii.

Hughes is honoured that the millionaire rocker has taken them under his wing. ‘He always tries to help us as much as he can. To be fair to him, he doesn’t have to do that. I find it truly amazing that he’s got the time to spend for us.’

Fleetwood’s enthusiasm for performing with Hughes and Co might suggest that the drummer would like Mac to be touring more than they do. ‘Well, he’s the typical player,’ says Hughes. ‘If you saw Mick and John [McVie, Mac bassist] down at the local pub, they’d be the first up to play. They’re just musicians, and he just loves playing. I think the others [Buckingham and vocalist Stevie Nicks] are perhaps a little bit more profound than he is in that respect, although he does pull the strings. It’s his name behind the band, after all.’

Rumours of Fleetwood Mac perform with the Ulster Orchestra at the Odyssey Arena, Belfast, on January 22.