Andy Potter (AP):
Yellow River was written
by band leader Jeff Christie, who was awarded the
prestigious Ivor Novello and Carl Alan awards. Jeff
has also had songs
recorded by the likes of Leapy Lee, REM, Quicksilver,
the list goes on. He's got a new double album out
called No Turn Unstoned,
it goes by the name of Christie but basically it looks
back at four decades of songs and compositions and
Jeff putting them down onto tape. I asked Jeff what's
it like in 2012 with a new album coming out?
Jeff Christie (JC):
Well, it's a brand new old album, but it's a throwback
to the 70s, they're all old demos done when I was
with Christie, and I'd record them in these little
studios around Leeds when I'd come off tours. I'd
knock them out pretty fast and not worry about perfect
vocals, the main thing was to get the idea down. I
had to pay for these, these weren't record company-funded,
and there were time constraints. Very often I'd play
the tracks all myself and would sometimes pull in
whoever was there, for example my drummer at the time,
Paul Fenton. Some of the tracks were done at home
and some have tape dropout. I was a bit reticent at
first when Peter Purnell of Angel Air (the record
label for the album) asked me if I had any stuff.
I sent some songs down to him and he got back to me
and said "They're gems". I said "They're
not finished and weren't meant to be listened to as
finished products". He said that's what's great
about them, they're rough and ready, warts-and-all
ragged glory songs, and that's what the album's all
about. You're listening to songs, not perfect finished
things. It's sort of a raggedy unplugged kinda thing.
AP: Could you put
yourself back into the time when you recorded them?
Can you put the order together?
JC: I can. The first
four tracks on the album were done in Burnham, when
I was living there, so that would be 1973, just outside
London. Two of them were when the band was together
and we were using a Grundig tape recorder, and done
in one take. From there on, the rest of side one were
tracks I used to do when I would come back to Leeds
during the breaks. These songs are ones which had
been written and for whatever reason were displaced,
or some were kept for future Christie albums or b-sides,
or even a-sides, but the fact was that Christie folded
in 1975 and these tracks were just sitting there for
AP: Listening to
this, you can see a stream of consciousness as well
because you can hear how your songwriting technique
is changing and what's going through your mind ..
do you listen to this as somebody learning their craft?
JC: Definitely, as
a songwriter I was experimenting with different styles.
You're always trying to write the perfect song. Of
course there's no such thing but you gotta aim high,
and I think that's what keeps you going. And I think
there's a level of maturity in a lot of these songs.
The songs I wrote in the 60s were my first efforts
at writing. I feel that songs from the 80s and 90s
reflect more life experience and you've got so many
years under your belt, so your palette is much wider.
Everything you see and everything you hear, even on
an unconscious level, just what you absorbed in your
life, and when you've been around the block a few
times, which I have, you've seen a lot of stuff. So
there's a lot to write about, even if you're just
writing a simple love song.
An extract from
the double album's booklet.
AP: When do you know
you've made it as a songwriter? When you get your
first PRS (performance rights) cheque?
JC: I think that
goes some way to validate it. The fact that here you
are making a little bit of money on something that
you've done. It does feel good but on another altruistic
level, when I started to write songs, it was because
no-one else in the band was prepared to write them.
For me it was a natural thing that I wanted to do
because as a kid when I was playing the piano, I'd
always experiment making up little tunes and stuff.
I took to it like a duck to water. It's a great feeling
writing songs, especially when you get good chords
and a really good top line, good structure. And you'd
find a title and there's the challenge, what can you
with the title?
AP: Is it a natural
talent then, do you hear things and sounds, can you
be taught to be a songwriter?
JC: I think you need
to have sense of affinity, some sense of lyric writing.
Some people just write great words and team up with
great tunesmiths. I would write both words and music.
But the first thing is you really have to want to
do it. And then you have to learn as much as you can
about the craft. The more time you invest in it, the
greater the dividends.
gave Yellow River to the Tremeloes. Had the Trems
gone with the song and you had not formed Christie,
would your career had taken a different track?
JC: Quite possibly.
Assuming Yellow River
for the Trems would have the same sort of global success,
it would have catapulted me to a different level as
a songwriter. So I would have been in much more demand
as a writer. Because at the time all sorts of people
were already asking me to write for them. Had the
Trems done it, who's to say, I might have had a lot
more covers out by other artists. But really what's
important to me is being a good and successful songwriter.
All the fame stuff is .. and I'm not saying I didn't
enjoy it .. but it's a bit of an impost, it's a job.
AP: What was it like
when you were walking down the street and you heard
you song coming out of a radio?
JC: It was a great
thrill obviously. It's like asking somebody what do
you feel like when you realise your dream has come
true? In a way it was quite scary. First of all it
was never what you imagined it to be. I remember in
London one sunny day getting into a car and hearing
it and it sounded great on the radio. I knew the first
play was going to be by Tony Blackburn and I was still
living at home in Leeds when it came out in April
1970 and I had the transistor radio by my bed and
I knew it was going to come on at about 8 o'clock.
It sounded so great when it came blasting out and
Tony gave it just a great plug. At that particular
point it hadn't broken through, it had just been released.
Watching the song climb and breaking all records ...
at its peak Yellow River
was selling 80,000-90,000 records a day! It's
mind-boggling and really hard to take in. To this
day it feels like somebody else's life!
AP: And here we are
now. This has been a lifetime career, hasn't it?
JC: I just love music
so much. I live and breathe it. It's not just pop
music or rock'n'roll or the blues. I love classical
music, and flamenco and guitars. I just wish I could
play or write better and that's what I aspire to.
And that's the thrill of it all. I really feel sorry
for people who have no desire to excel at anything.
I don't know what I would have done otherwise. I didn't
want to work in a bank or in a factory. I've been
very fortunate to have music as a career.
AP: Here's a cliched
question. What song would you like to play from the
40 songs on this album and why?
JC: I'm gonna plump
for a song called Troubled Times.
It's pretty pared down and I did this by myself. But
it's got something to it, it's got an atmosphere to