The Magic Highway


Leeds United Unplugged is BBC Radio Leeds' program devoted to football club Leeds United and its fans. Leeds are also the team Jeff Christie supported as a boy, so it was a double pleasure for Jeff when he met the program's hosts - Adam Pope and former Leeds player Andy Ritchie -as he was interviewed about the Yellow River-inspired Hat-Trick of Lions.

LU unpluggedAdam Pope (AP): Christie and Yellow River .. 40 years ago! And how good does Jeff look ... fantastic. Jeff there is some confusion as to whether Yellow River knocked the England World Cup team's Back Home from No 1 or was it the other way round?

Jeff Christie (JC): Mungo Jerry's In The Summertime was the only record getting anywhere near us. It's documented that we knocked off Back Home. But sometimes you make one mistake in an interview or someone makes a mistake somewhere and as things get out into the internet for some reason it gets into the folklore, and if the corrrection isn't made, it's really quite difficult to change. All my sources, historical, show there were three records (at the time), Question, Back Home and Yellow River, and Yellow River went straight to No 1. These things are etched in my mind, I can even tell you the date it was released, you remember it because you're watching a dream unfold.

AP: First of all let me paint a picture of you, Jeff. When I looked at your age I couldn't believe it when I saw you today. Full head of hair, nice and trim, tall, sleek, well-groomed .. he's 63! I would have said 52.
   You had this great success with this song going back to 1970. The man with a No 1 hit all over the world, Yellow River. Why do you want this to be a World Cup song?

JC: It wasn't my idea. It was the idea of a producer named Dave Robertson, who just really felt Yellow River would be great as a World Cup song. I didn't see it at first, becuse I thought, first of all, I don't need it. The song has got an integrity and character all of its own. It has become some sort of a classic.
   And World Cup songs can be a bit iffy, a bit like the Eurovision songs. I wasn't really comfortable with it, but over a period of time, Dave brought me around, because his idea was quite novel, and he was going to bring ska into it and he used a few fine ska musicians, and rap as well, which is quite different to where I come from, which was rock and roll, country rock .. they used to say we were the English Creedence, which I thought was quite a compliment .. a long way from rap and ska.
   You can say there are lots of multi-cultural aspects in the song, a mixture of styles and in that way it's quite inventive. Take a classic song from 70s and dress it up with ska and rap, which makes it right up to date. I hope we carried it off.

AP: Yellow River was first played on BBC Leeds?

JC: I did the demo here. I can remember putting the track down n acoustic guitar, vocal and snare drum. Its first hearing was played on Radio Leeds, an up and coming song.

AR: Somebody told me the song was offered to the Trems

JC: Oh yeh, and they turnded it down. The band I had before Christie was quite a successful band, had a small hit and the second single was produced by Andrew Loog Oldham, and we toured with Hendrix. But we broke up, and I had a period where I was writing a lot, and I had played with all the main bands, supported them with the Outer Limits.
   Back then you could get to people and access them. As I hopefully became more competent as a writer, I went to see artists with my songs. I went to see the Trems with a song called Tomorrow Night, along with my little Grundy tape recorder. They said that's exactly what they were trying to get away from. But they picked up on Yellow River and started harmonising and were happy with that. They had it for months, but decided against releasing it. I was gutted. So I did it myself.

AP: And now Yellow River has been reinvented as a World Cup song. Yellow River was a No 1 song in 26 different countries. <plays song>

JC: Yellow River was selling at 80,000 copies a day. Just incredible. Probably in April it first was played by (radio dj) Tony Blackburn around 8 in the morning, and it exploded out of the radio, it sounded so great out of the speakers. And he gave us such a great plug. All the jocks and names of the time picked it up, it just had something different to what else was around.
   Ray Dorset is a pal of mine and we often joke that if his group Mungo Jerry hadn't come up with InThe Summertime shortly after or had he come out with it three or four weeks later, Yellow River would have stayed far longer at the top of the charts than its three weeks.

back homeAP: You knew the Leeds Utd players of old because their stars were very much in the ascendancy like yours. Did you feel that as Leeds did well, that you rode off each other's back in a way?

JC: I knew people, I used to mee them at clubs, and Jimmy Saville used to bring them around .. people like David Harvey, Peter Lorimer, Johnny Giles, Billy Bremner .. we used to mix and share a beer, and there was just such a buzz, it was a nice feeling and I was a fan because Leeds were such a great team.

AP: Were they wild times?

JC: It was. It was wonderful, bit exhausting. Coming straight ot of the 60s. It was an innovative time.

AP: We are going to hear what we hope will be the England World Cup song, Hat-Trick of Lions.

JC: At the moment it's on youtube. Add your comments, it all helps. The more plays it gets, the better. There is a bit of record company inetrest but you really have to get a buzz going. These days it's a different ball game. It will be out in digital form, itunes probably, but at what particular point it will be a physical product I'm not sure.
   The producer is considerably younger than me, and he loved the song, and he wasn't aware of the history behind Yellow River and Back Home. He just thought it would make a great World Cup song. He's a great producer and I took him seriously. <song is played>

AP: <after song> How good is that? I have heard several so-called World Cup songs recently and they were garbage! But THAT is an England Word Cup song!

JC: The ska feel is great. There's also a few different mixes coming out. In the old days you just got in the studio and got it out on the radio. But these days the techniques are just amazing.
   You hope everyone is goingto like it and that people will accept it in the spirit that it is in, a bit of fun.

AP: Listeners are calling in, loving it. Someone says let's get it out in the record stores, I want to buy it, another says I am dancing around the room listening to it. Come On England, fantastic! What do we call it?

JC: You don't call it Yellow River, you call it Hat-Trick of Lions.

bbc team

The BBC Unplugged team: Gareth Jones (left), Andy Ritchie and Adam Pope.

AP: Listeners are calling in, wanting to hear it again. We'll play the song again before the end of the show. Jeff, do you still perform?

JC: I do. I resurrected Christie in 1990. Very rarely we perform here, but more so in Scandinavia, Germany .. particularly there .. Belgium, TV in Barcelona, and we were very close to touring the US but nowadays the security is ridiculous and there were a few permit hassles, and there is interest from Estonia .. we also played at Antwerp in front of 15,000 people.

AP: How many of the original members are left in Christie?

JC: There's only me. Christie was really only a vehicle for me. It was built around my songwriting. The current band members have been with me longer than the original setup. I only keep in touch with one of the older members, Paul Fenton.

AP: Jeff, I wish you all the best. Let's get behind this song and I'm not saying this because Jeff is here. We know a hit when we hear one. This is the England World Cup song!
   In 1970, Leeds were top of the table, Yellow River and the England team both topped the charts; today, Leeds have got promoted, England are in the World Cup, Yellow River has been remixed into a World Cup song .. Jeff Christie has timed it absolutely perfectly! Here's the song again ...