The Magic Highway


The adaptation of Yellow River into a World Cup song was covered in articles run in several Jewish publications.


FOUR decades ago, Jeff Christie toppled England's World Cup anthem Back Home from the top of the charts with Yellow River.
    And he has updated the classic song as Hat Trick of Lions (Come on England), which is set to become the unofficial anthem for Wayne Rooney and co's bid for World Cup glory in South Africa.
    Released as a digital download, the song has had positive reviews - to the delight of the Leeds-born singer/songwriter.
    "There is a tremendous feel-good factor about it," Jeff told the Jewish Telegraph.
    "Yellow River has an ability to make people nostalgic, but this is so totally different and has a multicultural tag."
    In British popular music history Yellow River has achieved a cult status, but it's a long way from Jeff's musical experiences growing up in Chapeltown and Chapel Allerton districts of Leeds with parents Toni and Mickey Christie.
    Influenced by their mother, Jeff and elder brother Lester enjoyed operatic and classical music while also taking piano lessons.
    Struggling to master Mozart and Beethoven, Jeff switched musical instruments after hearing Spanish flamenco guitarists first hand.
    But there was only one route to follow after Elvis Presley exploded onto the music scene.
    "All the rock 'n' roll guys were my heroes," Jeff recalled. "Little Richard blew me away and then there were Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochrane and Gene Vincent.
    "I was a reasonable piano player, but when rock 'n' roll came along I took to it like a duck to water.
    "Dad had bought me a Spanish guitar and after school I would hack away. I got a chord book but knew chord structures and scales from the piano so would play a chord and work it out on the guitar."
    Following a few guitar lessons, Jeff teamed up with pals at the Judean Club in Leeds.
    "I'd made up my mind to make a living as a musician," he recalled. "I thought, how cool would it be to earn a living as a guitar player?
    "The 1960s was such a revolutionary period. Anything was possible. It produced The Beatles, James Bond, British fashion and Carnaby Street.
    "We'd practice at the Judean Club and then set up at Roundhay Park and perform."
 Jeff   Jeff - who has two younger brothers, Mark and Robin - formed a skiffle band 3Gs + 1 and then The Tremmers, which developed into The Outer Limits who built a national following.
    Predictions of a bright future ensued from those in the know, but struggling to make an impact, Jeff began to pen his own material influenced by a host of sounds on the radio.
    "I listened to everything and knew about obscure blues and rock 'n' roll artists people on the street had never heard of," he said
    "Backed by classical and flamenco influences, my own style evolved."
    Hungry for success, Jeff added: "The first thing you want to be is a musician, then turn professional and then be in a group, do gigs, raise your profile, sign a record deal, have a hit and then hopefully a number one."
    The Outer Limits recorded Just One More Chance, which proved to be a minor hit that spawned three covers, and the group toured with Jimi Hendrix in 1967 alongside Pink Floyd, The Move, Amen Corner, The Nice and Eire Apparent.
    Not long after the tour, The Outer Limits broke up and, for a couple of years, Jeff played in a trio at the Lido Revue Bar in Leeds while writing prolifically in search of a hit.
    The big breakthrough arrived when Jeff sent a tape of Yellow River, among other tracks, to The Tremeloes. The group liked Yellow River, but declined it as they were enjoying success with their own material.
    Other groups registered an interest in the track, but Jeff recorded it with his own group Christie with CBS Records.
    And the decision paid off as the single topped the charts in 26 countries, including the UK for three weeks in June 1970.
    Selling more than 20 million records, Yellow River netted 10 gold discs and accolades including the prestigious Ivor Novello Award.
    Looking back to those halcyon days, Jeff said: "I hit on a chord sequence that was quite unusual.
    "From a technical point of view Yellow River was a merger of major and minor chords. The song is upbeat, but the minor chords had a melancholy sound about them.
    "The buzz Yellow River created was incredible.
    "There was a massive rush to get the band rehearsed, there was TV, radio. It got crazy. After months of waiting things took off in a big way.
    "Yellow River changed my life forever. There is a website with all the covers from Elton John to REM. Every conceivable version has been done, but there is something about the original.
    "Yellow River at the time captured a moment and clicked around the world. You cannot put your finger on it, but it had a magical quality and I was lucky enough to have created it."
    Follow-up single San Bernadino reached Number 5 in the UK, Number 1 in Germany and made top 10 in many European countries.
    Various musicians went on to work with Jeff as he forged a career in the music industry touring the world.
    The current line up of Christie - Jeff on lead vocals and guitar, Adrian Foster (lead guitar), Simon Kay (drums) and Kevin Moore (bass) - has been together since 1990 and performs at gigs with bands from its heyday.
    Christie enjoyed a successful 2009 European tour and has a big gig in Berlin next month.
    "The buzz when you come off stage is incredible," Jeff said.
    "With Yellow River, when you play it, especially abroad, you don't have to sing it, the audience sings it for you.
    "Germany is a fantastic market for British groups from the 60s and 70s.
    "I think it has something to do with The Beatles and Hamburg. The Germans have a sense of ownership and there is a special relationship."
    Yellow River stunned the music world in 1970 and Jeff has his place assured in pop music folklore.
    "Yellow River has become a classic and sometimes I look back on those days and think it's not me," he said.
    "When you tell people you toured with Hendrix, their chins drop, because he was a god, as were Jim Morrison and Elvis.
    "All were iconic figures and their songs became classics. Yellow River is up there and that is a very satisfying feeling."


'Yellow River' singer's World Cup bid

By Simon Rocker

A TOP songwriter hopes to spur on England's footballers by adapting a version of his classic 70s hit as a World Cup anthem.
    Jeff Christie's Yellow River topped the charts in 26 countries, including three weeks in the UK.
   Now it is being re-released under the title Hat Trick of Lions on Monday, refreshed with a ska beat, a rap and a new chorus: "Come on England".
   There may be no official English theme song, but Christie hopes the team will remain in the tournament long enough for the song to catch on.
   He was first approached with the idea of redoing Yellow River by producer David Robertson a few years ago.
   "He thought it would make a great World Cup song for England and asked me to give my blessing, but I kept putting him off," Jeff said..
   "I was concerned about the possibility that the song would lose its integrity. It's still played all over the world and I was reluctant to mess with it.
   "Football songs can also be a bit naff - you'd get demos of World Cup songs which were less than impressive with lines such as 'let's make sauerkraut out of the Germans'."
   But Mr Robertson's persistence paid off. As the song took shape, Christie began to warm to it, even the rap - a modern form with which he generally struggles. But rapper Aggi Dukes's contribution to the new version "put a smile on my face".
   The original Yellow River actually knocked the official English World Cup anthem Back Home off the No 1 slot back in 1970 before being displaced by Mungo Jerry's In the Summertime. Christie went on to have hits with San Bernadino and Iron Horse.
   He first began playing in a group with friends from the Judean Youth Club in Leeds - "one of the best clubs in the north of England", he recalls. "They would have dances on Sunday night. You had to be 13 but I would sneak in when I was 12 and dance with all the girls."
   Two fellow Judeans, drummer Stan Drogie and rhythm guitarist Gerry Layton, later joined him for a time in another band, the Outer Limits, which supported Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd among others.
   Yellow River was subsequently covered by artists as disparate as Elton John and REM, and, spurred by the band's success, Christie moved first to London and then West Hollywood until returning to Leeds a few years later after the death of his father.
   Although his band broke up in the mid-70s, he reformed it in 1990 and even did a residency at the Tel Aviv Hilton some years ago, a venue that proved "fun but a bit chaotic".
   Regarding his Jewishness as cultural rather than religious, he sums it up by quoting the line from a Shlockrock song Ani Yehudi, "Not better, not worse, a little bit different".


Rock star Jeff Christie speaks to JLife about his Leeds roots, the fame game and how his classic song, Yellow River, has been re-worked as England’s unofficial World Cup anthem.

JEFF Christie, singer songwriter and front man of one of the most successful music groups of the 1970s, Christie, is a former Leeds Grammar School pupil and grew up in a Jewish household in Chapel Allerton. His group hit the number one spot in the UK and 26 other countries in 1970 with Yellow River, which sold over 20 million copies worldwide. The song is being re-released under the title of Hat Trick of Lions (Come on England) as an unofficial World Cup anthem for the England football team.

Who or what inspired you to become a rock star?
   I always knew I didn’t want to go the traditional route and work in a factory or become a businessman. I wanted to make a living as a professional musician. My mother introduced me to classical music; she was a trained ballet dancer and had to flee Germany during the Second World War. My father loved the crooners and jazz music. So, between the two of them, I was exposed to lots of different types of music. When I was a very small child my mother also used to take me to the Grand Theatre, Leeds Town Hall and Roundhay Park to see live music shows, which would leave me mesmerised.
   I started playing locally in bands aged 13. I got my first record deal at 18 and had a minor hit with Just One More Chance with my group The Outer Limits, and went on to tour with Jimi Hendrix in 1967. Christie formed in 1970 after recording Yellow River. I never expected it to be such a massive hit. San Bernadino and Iron Horse followed and were also big hits. Forty years on the band still performs concerts across Europe.

How did your family react to your sudden fame?
   My family were thrilled, and had a lot to do with keeping me grounded. My mother was able to relive her dream of being on stage through me. She backed me 100 per cent. My dad was a great support also but said I should get a proper job if things didn’t work out in the early days - fortunately they did.

Christie was the first Western pop group to play behind the ‘Iron Curtain’. What was that like?
   It was an amazing experience. We played at the Sopot Song Festival in Poland in 1970, which was televised to over 200 million viewers in the then USSR. In Moscow, on a concert tour in Russia in 2001, we had people coming up to us saying they had waited 30 years to see Christie live after seeing us on TV at Sopot. We toured from 1970 to 1975 and one of the most unforgettable moments was when we had to cancel a concert in Zambia due to torrential rains. This caused riots and we received death threats. We had to travel from Zambia to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) then South Africa for three months to get home. It was a nightmare but also an adventure. We couldn’t believe it was happening to us.

How did the re-release of Yellow River as an unofficial anthem for England’s World Cup team come about?
   Coincidentally, the song Yellow River knocked off the number one spot in 1970 was Back Home, the official World Cup song for the England football team who were then the reigning world champions. The idea to re-work and re-release it came about after I met producer David Robertson a few years ago. He suggested doing a ska version with a rap – I thought the idea was hysterical! But it actually works. We’ve tweaked the lyrics so the song fits in with the football theme and we’ve had positive feedback. If England does well, it could get a lot of airplay and, who knows, it might be sung on the terraces!