Danny Kirwan and Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac

If, you’re still following my theme for this month, a selection of driving songs (one for the trip somewhere and one for the trip home), you’d notice I’ve downshifted somewhat. After a while of just red-lining songs its better to engage some cruise control and maintain efficient momentum rather than just overheat. In today’s case two songs from early-Peter Green-ish era Fleetwood Mac present their attempt to do just that, “Dragonfly” is the more strident of the two, while “Albatross” is the meditative song of the day. These two songs although created in separate incarnations of Fleetwood Mac, present two guitarists who created or were pushed to create their best music begrudgingly together.

Both of these songs were driven by the guitar interplay of Peter Green, one of the original Fleetwood Mac members, and Danny Kirwan a young upstarts recruited by Green to lead them away from the Blues. The relationship between Peter and Danny was always tumultuous. Spurred on by Danny’s persistent insistence that Fleetwood Mac’s manager check out his early band Boilerhouse, Pete had to be convinced to go view this young 18-year old play live to truly be convinced that his band should be an early opening act. Once seeing him perform in person they agreed to tour together. Once Boilerhouse called it quits, Pete still wanted Danny to remain in his sphere of influence, so much so that he tried to round up musicians to create a new band for him to perform with. Seeing that none could really match Danny’s skills, he hesitantly introduced Danny as the third guitarist for Fleetwood Mac.

This introduction was filled with minor trepidation because Danny was a guitarist who loved folk music and had little interest in the blues. However, by this time, Peter had secretly grown tired and a bit antipathetic towards the blues rock he was used to playing (and people were bestowing God-like connotations on him for). While recording for 1968’s The Pious Bird of Good Omen in order to give Danny a bit of encouragement, during this time he was struggling to fit his folk-influenced playing with the band, he decided to ask Danny to help him finish a composition he was working on. This work which later became “Albatross” was being completely neglected and abandoned by the rest of his blues crew, specifically Jeremy Spencer (their slide guitarist) who considered it beneath him. Somehow, Danny and Pete’s musical prowess separately forced them to compromise sonically together by removing a lot of the excess rockin’ they were expected to make. Together, they came up with a moving almost ambient-like post-blues instrumental which tried to flip the meaning of the word Albatross from what was before the song’s creation, a burden hanging on Pete’s head, to the literal meaning of the winged sea bird.

“Albatross” presents this spacious guitar interplay, which was hugely influential on the previous day’s group Wishbone Ash, its a very singular work of two guitarists trying to find a way to get beyond the Blues they knew sonically. A throbbing heart rhythm played by Mick Fleetwood and John McVie provides the simpatico base from which Pete and Danny trade spare lead guitar melodies (highly influenced by Danny’s personal exploration of pastoral folk) played through a cavernous reverb effect. John Lennon loved this ambient sound so much that it influenced the Beatles to create “Sun King” as a reply back. Can you believe this beatific instrumental became Fleetwood Mac’s first and only number 1 hit? I can, it has some understated majesty that goes beyond any label and touches on the sonic soul directly.

This new success, which Peter never enjoyed playing the blues rock they were then known for, forced him to enjoy things he wasn’t quite ready to. Fame and drugs played a heavy 1-2 punch on his career. He drank, got high, and took way too much LSD and came back a changed person. He was beset with emotional problems and was acting way too eccentrically, donning robes and a crucifix while spouting gibberish…more than was acceptable for the age. Somewhere around, the Mac’s Then Play On album as Danny’s influence kept growing, in 1970 the final curtain was raised on Peter’s tenure in the band when he refused to come back from a German commune after partaking in a massive LSD binge and guitar jam there. Danny’s increased role also led to Peter feeling increase anger and tension with this upstart. Peter was far gone, for the good of the band.
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Listen to Albatross at Grooveshark.

Danny’s new responsibility also highlighted his shortcomings. He wasn’t much of a lyricist and his affinity towards lighter sides of music left him a bit of an odd duck in this new Peter Green-less Fleetwood Mac. Then Play On the album released during this era was such a failure. It was aimless and presented a band really lost of which direction to go. Increasingly maligned for this failure, for their next album Kiln House Danny tried to introduce a new song he was working on, one that musically recalled some of the great feeling he shared when he originally joined Fleetwood Mac.

That song was “Dragonfly”, serving as the more muscular and driving brother to “Albatross”, this new winged song was far more tumultuous and melodic in a different way that Fleetwood Mac wanted to go. Its almost Germanic psychedelic sound wasn’t easy to slide into any of this album, even though it was their best song at the time. They released it as a single to see if it could get any traction, and saw it sink like a stone.

With this failure, it was nixed for inclusion on the album and Danny retreated back from the limelight letting other voices take the lead on the next albums, voices like Bob Welch and Christine McVie which would find a way to finally lead Fleetwood Mac into the spotlight with the introduction of other musicians like Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks…however, for this brief point Danny showed a different path they weren’t quite ready to take.

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Listen to Dragonfly at Grooveshark.

Can you believe, that this track was Peter’s favorite of Danny’s? Stating: “The best thing he ever wrote… that should have been a hit.” It was afterall, his friend trying to rekindle that magic of their original time together. You can hear that brotherly spirit, in this driving song, one not to some destination together but to a shared feeling. Its still a damn shame it wasn’t a hit. Anyway, we’ll travel to the country of brotherly songs and shared destinations tomorrow, for now let these two songs drift you away for a bit.