Fleetwood Pitches In for Pal Bardens

Along with a bride of 8 months, Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac has been sharing his Malibu digs with Pete Bardens, one-time leader of a band called Camel, and that's just for openers:

Fleetwood also is sharing his manager with Bardens, lent his drumming to tracks on the keyboard player's "Speed of Light" album, and now is sandwiching 11 far-flung Bardens concert appearances (including one at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano tonight) between new Fleetwood Mac recording sessions.

It's only fair, perhaps, since Fleetwood credits Bardens with giving him his start in the music business some eons ago, in pre-Beatle Britain.

"We do go back rather a long way," Fleetwood recalled. "When I was 16 I lived next door to him in Nottinghill Gate in London, and he had heard me playing drums. I'd never played in a band at all, only sat at home and played with the radio. He came over and asked if I'd like to play with this band. He wasn't in it then; he was playing manager because he was the only one with a suit."

Before long, Bardens was more aptly seated behind the keyboards and the pair performed together in a number of early '60s British bands, the last of which, Shotgun Express, also sported a young Rod Stewart. Fleetwood sojourned briefly with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and then, with bassist John McVie, founded the unkillable Fleetwood Mac in 1967.

Bardens, meanwhile, had played with Van Morrison's Them before becoming the principal member of Camel, a '70s progressive rock band that never enjoyed an American following to match its success in Europe. Bardens didn't find a footing in the popular market until 1986 when his "Seen One Earth" album connected with new age radio markets.

Fleetwood and Bardens had remained friends through the years, Fleetwood said, "and because I really liked ('Seen One Earth') and started hearing it on the radio, I became really anxious to see something happen with him. I'm committed to doing all I can to help him out."

The tour dates--which also include a show at the Roxy in West Hollywood Monday night--mark not only the first time in about 20 years that the two have performed on stage together, but also Bardens' first live outing since he toured with Van Morrison a decade ago.

Reached before the opening show of the tour in San Francisco Wednesday, Bardens said, "I've felt there was a big chunk of something missing from my life; playing in front of an audience (had been) very much a part of my existence, and then to be starved of it for a long period of time, I really felt a loss. I'm glad to be having a second crack of the whip, and very glad to have Mick helping me."

Bardens, 40, describes his largely instrumental music as "breaking the boundaries between new age and new progressive"; he notes that "Speed of Light's" instrumental tracks have garnered WAVE play while its rockier vocal tracks were picked up by the album-oriented KLOS and KMPC. While Fleetwood knows his presence on the tour will draw greater attention to the shows, he's also being careful to not let his celebrity draw away from Bardens and his four-piece band. Rather than install himself on the drum throne, Fleetwood is augmenting the group as percussionist.

"It's Pete's band, and his drummer, Jethro (Foxx), a good friend of mine, is a very, very good drummer. So I thought it would be more correct for me to add to that, to be one more part of the band, than to come in and kick someone off the drum kit."

Fleetwood's hands won't be wanting for work, as he's bringing an array, including timbales, tom-toms, bell trees, African talking drums, shakers, rattlers, rain sticks and his legendary waistcoat, loaded with synthesizer drum pads he triggers by slapping himself moderately silly.

Fleetwood admits that it isn't only altruism that is motivating his participation: "I like any chance to play. When I go to a club, if someone asks me to sit in--it doesn't matter who they are or what type of band--I'll invariably get up there and do it."

Despite Fleetwood Mac's stadium-level success, Fleetwood is no stranger to the small club stage. During the band's long hauls in dry-dock, he hits the road with his own group, Mick Fleetwood's Zoo (which also features current Mac member Billy Burnette).

"It's a lot more relaxed doing the clubs. You don't have the military aspect which is necessary when you have 40 odd people traveling with you on the scale Fleetwood Mac does. When the Zoo goes out, we decide we want to do some gigs, just get in a bus, help set the equipment up, and do it."

While he plans to still slip some Zoo dates in, he anticipates that Fleetwood Mac will occupy most of his year. The group will enter the studio in a few days with producer Greg Ladanyi; Fleetwood hopes to emerge in 7 months with a new album and plans for a tour late in the year. It's a crucial album for the group--the first since its breakthrough 1975 "Fleetwood Mac" to be made without Lindsey Buckingham. Fleetwood doesn't seem worried, though.

"Everyone's feeling good about it. We've got a good starting block section of songs. . . . I think the band as it is now (with Burnette and Rick Vito replacing Buckingham) is going to be more reminiscent of the kind of flavor of our early days. That's already started, I think, just from digesting how the band was working on the road. I suspect there's going to be a sense of more freedom and more involvement.

"I think Lindsey's influence was a very important part and I'm not diminishing it in the slightest, but the way Lindsey worked, and increasingly so near the end, was a little bit insular, where sometimes you felt like you couldn't partake in some of what was going on. I think the band is going to feel very much more of a unit than it has felt for a long time."

Throughout the band's 11 lineups, Fleetwood said, a constant has held the group together. "I think it's fair comment that throughout all the incarnations of Fleetwood Mac, basically John McVie and I have had a built-in desire and need for a band to play with, so it sort of takes care of itself.

"The drummer and the bass player don't want to be sitting there without a band, so consequently we've been very intent on never even for one moment allowing the thought of giving up. There would always be us two sitting there saying, 'Well, we ain't going anywhere, so who's next?' That's certainly not negating the importance and uniqueness of the people that are in the band, but that is the thread that goes through all the years and years."

Fleetwood is still at work on an autobiography ("I like the unhurtful tone of David Niven's books; I won't be opening the private Pandora's box of Fleetwood Mac") and is anxious to do more acting work, having appeared in "The Running Man." But his prime professional commitment, after Fleetwood Mac, is aiding Bardens' career, he said.

"I like everything he does, the space in his music and the way he plays . . . as a friend, I want him to be as successful and accessible as possible. By the time we make the next album I think that will be the case."

Both performers claim that the disparity between their fortunes has never strained their friendship, and Bardens says he isn't dissatisfied with the modest success and the opportunity to play music that he's had. He is, however, looking at properties in Malibu, and wouldn't mind if Fleetwood's prediction for his next album came true.

"I haven't had the kind of success Fleetwood Mac had," Bardens said, "but Camel was a pretty successful band for the time in Europe, and that was satisfying, as is what's happening for me now. It's not 'Rumours' or anything, but it is growing, and I'm really hoping the tour is going to spark a bit of a fire. Maybe the next album will be my 'Rumours.' Why not?"

Mick Fleetwood and Pete Bardens play tonight at 8 at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. Tickets: $18.50. Information: (714) 496-8930.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World