Return of the Big Mac
From acclaimed guitarist with Fleetwood Mac to destitute schizophrenic, Peter Green has doorstepped heaven and hell. Now he is back and
headlining the Aberdeen Alternative Festival. David Harris witnessed the
rehabilitaion of a rock legend
hile our hearts are bleeding at Liam and Noel Gallagher’s wilful struggle with the twin tragedies of fortune and fame, this autumn sees the return of one of rock’s legendary casualties, a man whose psychological heltcr— skelter n'de knocks the squabbles of the star- crossed bruvvers into a cocked hat. in his early twenties Peter Green. blues guitar wunderkind and founder of Fleetwood Mac. was the toppermost of the poppermost; then, like so many of his contemporaries, he turned on, tuned in . . . and freaked out.
Born Peter Greenbaum in 1946, he rose to prominence as Eric Clapton’s nineteen-year-old replacement in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. The following year, already recognised as a prodigious talent, he and the band’s rhythm section — Mick Fleetwood and John McVie — formed Fleetwood Mac, adding guitarists Jeremy Spencer and later Danny Kirwan, quickly establishing themselves as the country’s premier blues rock outﬁt.
With Green compositions like ‘Black Magic Woman’ they diversiﬁed from their blues roots and extended their fan base into the pop market, and by the annus mirabilis of 1969, they were out on their own. The ethereal instrumental ‘Albatross’ reached No I, followed by a brace of No 2 singles; they were voted Best British Band by NME readers and, to top it all, they outsold The Beatles and The Stones. But already there were tensions within the group, and all three guitarists would soon leave at the rate of one a year.
Before then, at the zenith of his fame, Peter Green had begun to drift apart from the others, becoming introspective, spouting mescaline- fuelled mystical shit and renouncing Judaism for a quintessentially 60s hotch-potch of Buddhism and Christianity. His cast of mind was only retrospectively apparent from the
12 The List 4-l7 Oct 1996
Peter Green: no nalle but Interestan mutton:
lyrics of Fleetwood Mac’s hits. The poignant ‘Man Of The World’ scorns the sex, drugs, money and travel that are the wellsprings of most rock stars’ ambitions; then, in the light- heartedly self-analytic rocker ‘Oh Well’, God tells him, ‘Don’t ask me what I think of you --I might not give the answer that you want me to’, a baleful premonition of the mental tortures that were to plague Green over the next twenty years.
During a European tour he fell in with some bourgeois crypto-hippies, dropped more acid — and travelled further out of reality’s reach. As he puts it now, ‘I took too many LSD trips and I fell into a pit of some kind.’ In a recent interview he acknowledged the cocktail ofdrugs and religion as instrumental in his descent into the abyss. ‘lt took me somewhere where I wasn’t Peter Green and I had no cares at all. I wasn’t Jewish but I wasn’t not Jewish either. I can’t play around with being Jewish, which is what I was doing,’ is his cryptic take on events.
After recording ‘The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Prong Crown)’ — a stomping Black Sabbath-like condemnation of the evils of Mammon — he quit the band, telling the press that ‘the most admirable thing a man can do on this earth is make an effort to be like God’. Ironically, the single’s B-side was a pleasant instrumental called ‘World In Harmony’, but after the more appropriately titled solo album The End OfThe Game and a brief spell ﬁlling in for the absentee Spencer, Green continued his journey into the wilderness.
The 70s saw a tragic decline in Green’s well- being. A stint on a kibbutz was followed by a succession of menial jobs from hospital porter to cemetery gardener. Eventually he was diagnosed as having schizophrenia and subjected to ECT.
Things could only get better? In 1977, after allegedly threatening his ex-manager and demanding money, he was arrested and
imprisoned, spending some time in a clinic before recording four albums which rarely hinted at his former prowess. By the 805 he was sleeping rough in London.
Recently voted third in MOJO’s ‘all-time greatest guitarists’ survey behind Hendrix and Steve Cropper, admiration for Peter Green the musician has never waned. His playing is never less than precise, a blend of deep passion and understatement. But all the rock world loves a crazy, and more voyeuristic interest has been generated by his mental condition. An 80s documentary showed him at his nadir: asked whether he still played guitar, he responded with a plaintive ‘I can’t’, holding up his hands to reveal three-inch ﬁngernails. The manicurist has since been called in, but he admits that it ain’t like it used to be. ‘1 had to start from the very beginning,’ he told MOJO. ‘l couldn’t practise for a long time ’cos the strings were rusty or I didn’t have a guitar. The guitar used to speak for me in the olden days, but I can’t let it do that for me any more because I can’t let it break my heart again.’
Whether fans’ hearts will be broken by Green’s
reappearance remains to be seen. An acquaintance who saw him recently walked out after ten minutes, unable to watch his idol struggling to recapture former glories. But even if the ‘comeback’ is motivated less by a genuine desire to perform than by his friends’ attempt at care in the rock community. the rehabilitation of a rock legend — even a tarnished one — is no bad thing in an era when artists who combine eclecticism with accessibilty are as rare as the Jewish Cockney Blues. The Splinter Group, featuring Peter Green, play Stakis City Hall, Fri 18-5102 20 as part of the Aberdeen Alternative Festival; Garage, Glasgow, Wed [IS/Thurs [7; Venue, Edinburgh, Fri 25/Sat 26.
/ Aberdeen Alternative\ Festival highlights
Here’s the creme de la crane at the Aberdeen Alternative Festival. Further lntorrnatlon tron: 01224 635822. Box ofﬁce: 01224 “1122/6200”.
I The Mike Flowers Pops Sun 13. Beach Ballroom, 8pm. Cheesey listening alert! From the man who brought you/revamped/wrecked Wonderwall and Venus As A Boy, comes a night of fake hair, fake grins and, well, just lots of fakery. He's Bacharach-tastic! I Phil Kay Mon 14, His Majesty’s Theatre, 8pm. Just about anything that can be said about Phil Kay’s act probably has been. On one night he can be inspired, the next night insipid. What you can't fault is his energy and imagination. Tonight he has support from the nonsensical chit-chat of John Paul Leach and Ford Kieman.
I Mutation Stork Nightmares Tue lS-Thurs 17, His Majesty’s Theatre, 8pm. The Irvine Welsh industry shows no signs of flagging as Harry Gibson follows up his adaptation of Trainspotting with this no-holds barred tale of nihilism, savagery and memory.
I Gabrielle Wed 16, Arts Centre, 8pm. Gabrielle kicked off her career by performing Luther Vandross numbers in London nightclubs. Thereafter followed hits and a Brit and, if sultry ballads and stomping soul numbers are your thing, then look no further.
I 'l’error a Magnitlcence Sat 19, His Majesty’s Theatre, 8pm. Based around words by medieval poet Guillaume de Mauchaut, this is the world premiere of a unique collaboration between the classical, jazz and pop worlds. John Harle (long-time mate of Michael Nyman), Andy Sheppard (thrusting British sax god), Sarah Leonard (classical vocalist) and Elvis Costello (simply Britain's most versatile singer/songwriter) team up for a fantastical journey through ritual and magic. (Brian Donaldson) J