Revisit Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac delivering a searing ‘Rhiannon’ on The Midnight Special
There are few people in the history of music who are as good as able to connect with their audience through a TV screen as Stevie Nicks and her band. The Fleetwood Mac singer has often pierced through the glass wall into your living rooms with a fiery intensity that is only matched by the words she’s singing. Below is one such performance and could well be our favourite.
The clip sees Fleetwood Mac take to the iconic TV show, The Midnight Special, for one of their most devastating performances as backed by the band. Stevie Nicks takes us through the story of an “old Welsh witch.” There’s no doubt that Nicks has often regarded herself as somewhat spiritual or mystical but with this song, she gets to live out the witch fantasy all while delivering some searing rock ‘n’ roll for those watching at home as Fleetwood Mac perform ‘Rhiannon’.
The Midnight Special is a show dear to many people’s hearts. Running as a 90-minute programme following the Friday night episode of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, it allowed some of the brightest musical stars to have a national audience during the seventies. It was the place to catch alternative musical acts and although Fleetwood Mac were long since established among musos everywhere by this point, there’s no doubt that they still wanted and needed to make the most of the extra exposure with a good performance.
A host of names would walk through the studio, everyone from ABBA through to XTC made an appearance at one point or another during its nine-year tenure on America’s television sets. Yet, for most, the best performance came in 1976 when a then-28-year-old stunning Stevie Nicks delivered one of the most engrossing renditions of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rhiannon’ she has or likely will ever produce.
The track ‘Rhiannon’ remains a clear Fleetwood Mac fan favourite and still features in much of the tumultuous group’s ‘best of’ sets. Written for the band’s seminal self-titled album in 1975, shortly after Nicks and her then-boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham joined the band and revolutionised their sound, it has to be one of the greatest pop songs ever written… about a witch.
Known to preface the song’s performance at their live dates with the words: “This song’s about an old Welsh witch,” she’s true to her word. Nicks discovered Rhiannon in the seventies through a novel called Triad by Mary Bartlet Leader. The novel revolves around a woman named Branwen who is possessed by another woman named, Rhiannon. While there is mention of the Welsh legend of Rhiannon in the novel, the characters in the story bear little resemblance to their original Welsh namesakes as both Rhiannon and Branwen are major female characters in the medieval valley prose tales of the Mabinogion.
This was a fact that Nicks found most intriguing, as she had written the song without the knowledge of the Welsh folklore but found so much of it applicable to her own musings that she eventually permanently aligned the two pieces.
Later, Nicks began work on a larger Rhiannon project based on the Welsh goddess, writing some songs in anticipation of its completion. There are several so-called “Rhiannon Songs” from this unfinished project including ‘Stay Away’ and ‘Maker of Birds.’ In fact, Nicks wrote the Fleetwood Mac song ‘Angel’ based on the Rhiannon story. With such an intrinsic connection to both the song and now the subject matter, it seems fitting that we should take a look back at Nicks’ performance of her song.
During this performance on The Midnight Special, that fact becomes all too apparent as Nicks leads the band with her sheer intensity and captivating vocal. While the song was certainly her own, it felt as if, more and more, the band was becoming hers too as she began to emerge as the group’s leader, usurping founder Mick Fleetwood. Her relationship with Lindsey Buckingham hadn’t quite reached “spit-it-out-sour” but it was brewing, and although this performance is five years away from Nicks going solo, we’d suggest the seeds are being sown in the video below.
If there was ever one performance, to sum up just why the mercurial Stevie Nicks, covered in lace and intrigue, became an icon to so many, then this is it.