The Magic Highway


Here's Pt 1 of an interview Jeff did with Beatleg Magazine, Japan's leading magazine devoted to music from the 50s-70s.

BeatlegQ: You were born Jeffrey Christie, 12 July, 1946, St Martin's Road, Leeds, Yorkshire, England. What are your memories of growing up in post-WWII England and when did music first grab you?

JC: Well, it was a very austere time right after the war, we still had rationing and like a lot of the boomers from that generation, it wasn't easy growing up. Of course, that's all we knew but we had a great time; we didn't know the hardships that our parents had gone through.
      I was fascinated by the trams in Leeds and I loved my dog and was heartbroken when she had to be given away because she was always running away, general stuff but the major thing for me - I think I must have been aged three or four - my mother was a trained ballet dancer and had a very strong background in opera, ballet and the arts and she handed down to me and my elder brother, a real appreciation of the arts and music. She didn't have to work hard at that because it became like lifeblood to me at a very early age. My dad was into the crooners like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby so it was a really good mix for a kid to discover music. On the one hand there was the high art form and the other was the laid-back popular stuff which gave me the best of both worlds and I couldn't ask for more.
      There's a beautiful park in Leeds called Roundhay Park which is possibly one of the biggest in Europe with a beautiful lake and lots of Victorian follies and back then, on these follies, you would have brass bands playing and I used to stand in front of the bandstand and I was mesmerized by the trombones and the trumpets and the sound and the uniforms and everything. I don't remember this very clearly but this is what my mum told me and that was the start of my life-long love affair with music. Today, for me, a day without music is not worth living. In my house I have iPods and CDs and radios in different rooms and in one room will be a Shostakovich symphony and in the next room is Deep Purple or some such other music.

Q: That's a great idea to have different music in different rooms.

JC: Well it's difficult to do unless you live on your own but anyway, by the time I was about seven or eight, it was obvious to my mum and dad that I had a passion and an affinity with music so mum wanted to get me piano lessons. She was very friendly with this old-world, Victorian piano teacher named Sadie who was a bit scary because she used to rap my knuckles if I didn't keep my wrists up when practicing but she was a sweetheart and I'd get her to play Donkey Serenade or Marche Militaire or something like that, that was popular at the time and she would play with such brio that I wanted to play like that. I was playing Mozart and Beethoven and stuff like that but I was very mediocre and an average sight-reader. I got bored with all the theory and all the practicing and playing the same things over and over again and then one day it struck me that I was never going to play this as good as Beethoven or Mozart so what was the point? All I was doing was copying geniuses, so about the age of nine or ten, I started making up my own little tunes on the piano and that was the roots of my song writing.
Bert Weedon      A couple of years later, a flamenco troop came to town and my mother loved flamenco as well as opera and ballet and you have to remember this was all pre-rock and roll, probably 1955 or '56. I went to see them with my mum and I was totally blown away with the dancing, singing, costumes and everything but most of all, the guitarists; and I said to my mum that I was bored with the piano and wanted to learn to play like these guys. Anyway, she couldn't find, and had no chance of finding a flamenco guitar teacher in Leeds in 1955, but my dad did get me a cheap Spanish guitar and I fiddled around on it but I found it very difficult but I did start transposing what I knew on the piano onto the guitar. I remember buying Bert Weedon's 'Play In A Day' book which everybody else bought (nobody said it at the time because it was uncool but now everybody says they bought it!) and then suddenly I hear 'Heartbreak Hotel' and 'Hound Dog' exploding out of our radio and then rock and roll became my flamenco surrogate. From then on I was listening to Radio Luxemburg under the bed covers at night and by 13 years old I was quaffing my hair with Brylcreem, wearing drainpipe trousers and Winklepicker shoes trying to emulate my heroes.
      A lot of the other parents wouldn't let their kids hang out with me because they thought I was a bad influence but I wasn't a bad kid - they were just snobbish parents. In those days, there was still a very big class distinction in England. You were very much judged by the clothes you wore, the way you talked and the music you liked as well. It hurt me that the other parents didn't like me because of the clothes I wore but it stiffened me as well and made me decide to make my own way and even at that young age I thought 'I want to be a musician'.

Q: Did you see any of the early rock and roll shows that came to the UK?

JC: Oh yes! Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis…I saw them all. The only one I didn't see was Elvis because he never came to the UK. I never saw Bill Haley either. For some reason, Bill Haley didn't hack it for me but others I did see would be Johnny Burnette, Brian Hyland, Bobby Vee, Clyde McPhatter and Clarence Frogman Henry, Roy Orbison … Roy Orbison was with The Beatles in 1963 (Leeds Odeon, June 5); Gerry & The Pacemakers were on it as well. You couldn't hear The Beatles and they were showered with jelly babies because George ( I think) had said they liked jelly babies.

Q: Tell us about your first band.

BeatlegJC: I was either 12 or 13 and I used to go to a youth club and I met these guys who had a band called 3G's + 1 because they were all called Geoff or Gerry. They were all university students and cool guys and at that age I wanted anybody to play with. I wanted to get up on stage and play 'Rebel Rouser' ( Duane Eddy) but these guys were doing things a bit more folky or sophisticated like Nina and Frederik and The Kingston Trio and they were snobbishly opposed to a scruffy kid with a quiff getting up on stage with them and playing some rock and roll, but they eventually relented under pressure from the youth club leader. I got up at a concert party and I was so nervous I couldn't look at the audience. There must have been a couple of hundred people in there and all I could do was look down at the stage but we played 'The Lonely One' by Duane Eddy and it went well, and from then on my confidence jumped. Just as we got going though, the guys as I said were going to university and the band splintered but one of the guys that was there was a great rhythm guitarist and we bounced off each other so we stayed together. Another guy came in and the group morphed into The Tremmers and we started to make a name as an instrumental group, particularly at a place called the Tahiti Club in North Street, Leeds. That was a forerunner of the discotheques that came later, but in those days they were just called clubs, and the Tahiti was where all the au pair girls used to come to and it had three levels; the top one was for gambling and the other two were for dancing. We also played at ice rinks and those were the kind of places where you learned your stage craft, talking to the audience and how to pull them in by being visually exciting and to stop them skating round the rink and watch the band instead.
      Back to the Tahiti club: I was just 16 and hadn't left school yet and I had to ask permission from my Dad to play there as we wouldn't be finishing until about 2am on Friday and Saturday nights and before that, we were playing Working Men's Clubs which meant we were doing doubles (two shows per night). My dad reluctantly let me do it and we did that for 18 months or so and that really knocked the band into shape. I got a Vox AC30 and Fender guitar around the same time; I finally left school at 16 and we started to move further afield, playing in cities like Newcastle and Manchester in some fabulous old dance halls, ballrooms and decadent old theatres that sadly no longer exist.

Q: This was before The Beatles became famous?

JC: Yes. We used to practice in Gerry's house and there was a program called 'Scene At 6:30' on Granada TV which is where we first saw The Beatles. The hosts were Gay Byrne and Bill Grundy (who in December 1976 would be hosting the 'Today' show when the Sex Pistols first appeared live on TV and outraged the UK by using expletives), and we watched The Beatles and thought 'Not bad'. We didn't really get how revolutionary they were at the time as we were playing a lot of instrumentals - The Shadows and The Ventures - and a lot of the English instrumental beat groups, stuff like Shane Fenton and The Fentones, The Krew Kats, Tornados, Barons, Hunters, Packabeats, Johnny and the Hurricanes.

Q: Did you play at The Cavern in Liverpool?

JC: Yes. I think I was about 18 when I played there. There were three groups on and there were two dressing rooms - one on either side of the stage. One group would be playing and when they finished, they would move their gear to the offstage dressing room and the next group who had been getting ready in the other dressing room would quickly move their gear on and set up; it was like a conveyer belt. It was a local hub for the bands. We knew a lot of the bands back then: Freddie Starr when he had his band Freddie Starr and the Midnighters, we knew The Swinging Blue Jeans and The Jaybirds who morphed into Ten Years After. I do remember it being a bit of an honour to play there and telling the lads that it was a really good gig and that we had to be on top form because it had an amazing reputation. By this time, we had morphed into The Outer Limits…

Part 2