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The Magic Highway

 

Here's Pt 4 of the marathon interview Jeff did with Beatleg Magazine, Japan's leading magazine devoted to music from the 50s-70s.


Q: Was Yellow River a real place or what did you have in mind when you wrote it?

JC: As a kid, I used to go to the market in Leeds and look at the pulp western novels. There was a writer called Hank Janson and I can remember very clearly one cover which was yellow and had a cowboy on a horse wearing a Stetson. At the time I was - and still am -very much into Americana, and knowing many of the names of native American tribes by heart and the whole cowboy and Indian thing. I actually went to America when I was 16 because my mum had a sister there she hadn't seen since before the war and to be in San Francisco and see this new world for a 16 year old was incredible.
 Beatleg magazine   In fact we were going to emigrate there but we didn't because me and my brother would have been called up for the Vietnam War. Anyway I loved the old western films, James Stewart in Shenandoah, Red River and Stagecoach with John Wayne, etc, and as I was also tired of writing love songs and wanted to write about the things that fascinated me so it was a combination of all these things along with the music I was listening to at the time. This would be '68/'69 and there was Thunderclap Newman, The Who, Small Faces, Fifth Dimension etc, and then I heard Galveston by Glenn Campbell and that triggered it. The text of the song is about a guy cleaning his gun dreaming of Galveston with his girl somewhere and that's what inspired Yellow River.

Q: With regards to the recording, I have four versions of it, how many did you do?

JC: As well as the original, I recorded it for K-Tel in Nashville. I also did it for a Channel 4 TV show called 'Unforgettable' in the eighties. There are some other versions out there that you can hear my vocal but of all of them, it's hard to beat the original - the vocal just has … something.
    I'm going to re-do it soon because it's good for film-syncing and I also did a version that nobody has heard that Brian took to MIDEM in 1990 just before he died. I produced it with my band with the bass player taking lead vocal and it had a sort of Euro-disco beat. I changed the whole song and it was quite an interesting experiment but as good as it was, it wasn't as good as that first version.

Q: Whose idea was it to float you down the river Thames for the PV?

JC: Not mine for sure! A ridiculous idea and I hated all that stuff because to me it was so crummy and corny. The funny thing is the guy that did these films was from Leeds that I knew called Ian Lee. He was a big Lonnie Donegan fan, lovely guy and I still see him from time to time, but everybody seemed to be doing these stupid things in films.
    I can't look at them now because I remember I had ideas about doing something for Yellow River with confederate uniforms and a story but nobody was interested - you were delegated to go and do this film and that was it. Unless you were in The Beatles league in those days, you didn't really get much of a say in things. None of the ideas appealed to me but you go along with it and be as professional as you can, but inside I was grimacing.

Q: 1970-72 are what I call the golden years of British pop. There was so much variety in the artists and the songs that were written were both well arranged and melodic. You were of course one of those artists and writers, what is your opinion of pop music now compared to back then?

JC: It's a good question but I don't know as if I really feel fit to answer. The X Factor seems to be the rule of law and to be honest I don't listen to a lot of it now. I was listening to James Morrison the other day and I thought he was good. Good songwriter and great voice which reminded me a bit of Rod Stewart - there is some good stuff out there.
    I always eat broken biscuits and the other day a friend of mine sent me a link to an amazing song by Sia called Broken Biscuit and she was incredible. As soon as I heard Gotye's Somebody That I Used To Know I knew it was going to be a monster because it was a great record. There is still great stuff out there but I try to listen to a lot of different kinds of stuff; I was listening to Mahler's 5th Symphony before, and I like an English band called The Fixx.
    I get the music business Music Week paper every week and look at the charts and the behind the scenes activity but I'm not an authority on it any more. I recognize that some are great singers but there's just something about the songs and I don't know what it is, but my heart turns to a different beat I guess.

Q: Do you think it's the songs themselves or that they are buried in production?

JC: Yes it could be. I always think that if you can't sit down and play a song on an acoustic guitar or a piano - take for example Your Song by Elton John - whether it is played just on the piano or with an orchestra, it's a beautiful song and that's what I want to hear, or if it is something up-tempo, I want to hear something that grabs me melodically and a lot of these songs don't have a strong melody. One of my favourite albums is Everyone Is Here by the Finn Brothers which is stunning; every track is a killer - beautiful songs. I'm always looking towards songwriters and if they can sing that's even better.

Q: You followed Yellow River with San Bernadino and Iron Horse, both of which were also hits.

JC: I wrote San Bernadino very shortly after Yellow River. It became a No.1 in Germany, #5 in the UK and a hit in many other European countries; it got to #92 in the States. I was sitting in my parents' kitchen and I opened the Daily Express which used to have a column called 'This is America' and on this day it said 'Prison Riots in San Bernardino' and I just looked at that and thought the words San Bernadino roll off the tongue great.

Q: San Bernadino and Iron Horse were both hits but after that Christie seemed to disappear. What happened?

JC: Just because we didn't have any more hits. I don't know what it was but the record company support changed. Different people came in and we didn't have the same connection. We had had the best part of five years but for the last couple of those we were playing all over the world on the back of the first two. When Man Of Many Faces came out it got great reviews in Melody Maker and Sounds but it bombed because it wasn't formulaic enough. Iron Horse came after that but if it had come after San Bernadino it would have been bigger. Fool's Gold was a good record and got good reviews and then we did The Dealer which was the first one that wasn't one of my songs.

Beatleg magazineQ: You had the guys from Capability Brown in your band at one time, how did that come about?

JC: That was the last incarnation of Christie and it was very short lived. Just before they came on board we had an American named Danny Krieger, and Terry Fogg, the drummer with Sounds Incorporated, and they left around the end of '73 or beginning of '74 but there were a couple of tours - South America and Mexico - still to do so I had to fill the gaps and my bass player, Roger Flavell, knew them or knew of them. Originally it was going to be a five-piece with Roger, myself, Roger Willis, Graham White and Tony Ferguson, and we had all the photographs taken but when it came to doing the tour, Graham couldn't do it.
    I did one recording with them of Guantanamera which used to go down a storm in South America. It was done at the request of the promoter in Argentina and Steve Elson produced it. He also did Carl Douglas' Kung Fu Fighting and Nice One, Cyril by Tottenham Hotspurs Football Club. The band were good and sounded great live with four voices but I don't think they had any real intention of hanging around and after the South American tour, they left in late 1974. It was just one of those things that was convenient for them at the time.

Q: What happened next?

JC: The band broke up in Mexico City and everyone went their separate ways. I was burned out and constant touring with Christie and all the personnel changes left me exhausted and I need to come off the road and have a break which is what I did. There was no ill feeling but I know Roger Flavell was probably disappointed. He had been in the band since '73 and was a lovely man to work with. Never any problems, loyal, great attitude and an asset to the band.

Q: Let's come up-to-date and talk about your new album, No Turn Unstoned. It's a two-CD set of demos, outtakes and all sorts of stuff. You are obviously a very prolific writer and there must be many more you've not included here so what was your criteria for selecting the songs on this set?

JC: I still have quite a lot of stuff in the vaults including two or three Outer Limits tracks that are half decent. A lot of those demos were never intended for public listening, they were for me as a notepad to go into a studio at a later date and make them more professional but that can be self defeating. I was reading Music Week this week and someone was saying that everything is so over-produced and perfect now, that it's nice to listen to something that isn't perfect because it brings back the humanity to the recording and that's what I'm really pleased about when it comes to the response from this album.
    I thought people would judge it on the fact that people would find a bum note here or there or that you could hear the drop-outs but I underestimated the critics because all the reviews I've seen have been really good. They've all commented that it's like a song writing master class and that it's not about pristine recordings. There are a few things on there that are over-produced but that's because I had so many ideas I wanted to get down on tape and because they were demos I could remove something at a later date.
    There is one song on there called Programmed To Receive which is just me and a guitar in my living room and I have a lot of stuff like that but I didn't want to put many tracks on with just me and a guitar, I tried to round it out as much as possible. The first few are with me and the band in my house, others are demos which I did in a studio building up tracks and maybe using a drummer or someone else.

Q: Are you now tempted to go into a studio to record these songs the way you originally envisioned or in a way you would now envision?

JC: If I listen to them, I'm listening to them for their faults and thinking how I can make them better and really, I've got so many other songs on scraps of paper lying around the house that need attention that in the grand scheme of things, that was then, so I should probably leave them alone.

Q: I'm going to disagree with you on that Jeff. Part of the charm of this album is that the songs stand up for themselves and if I were an A&R guy back in the seventies, I'd be jumping up and down with these songs. Personally, I think there are a good 12 songs on there that would have been top 10 hits.

JC: Sure. If they had the right production and the record company got behind them, absolutely I agree with you. I always try to write memorable songs that have got catchy hooks but somebody would have to pay for me to do this and studios are not cheap. If someone offered me the opportunity, I would be very happy to do it but because I don't have record company backing, I have to be very selective what I choose to spend my money on. I'm very glad that these are out but I can't just go into a studio whenever I want and indulge my fantasy which would be to do the lot of them again. It's all down to finance and time and in the meantime of course I have newer stuff which I am much more excited about because that's what happens with a songwriter.

Q: Heaven Knows. A nice Spanish feel to the song.

JC: My drummer, Paul, left Christe to join Carmen who were a flamenco-rock band and they were fantastic. I became a massive fan of theirs and I wrote a couple of songs with that feel but the guitar on it is played by Teddy Platt. The time signature is flamenco 6/4 which we got a bit obsessed with at the time.

Q: Fool. Autobiographical?

JC: I wrote Fool when I was staying at my uncle's place in Canada who was my father's brother. It was just after the band broke up and it's autobiographical in a way. It's about being successful and being Number 1 and thinking that you've made it and that was it but it's not, it's just the start of another set of problems.
    There is a popular view that when you're successful that you have everything you want and no problems, but rich people still have pain, heartache, they get sick and die like everyone else. They just have more money to deal with it. I had just lost my father and at that time I was recording in Boston and couldn't get back to see him - fame couldn't get me back to see my father in time to say goodbye.

Q: One Way Ticket. That sounds like a band having fun.

JC: Yes! That was in about 1972 and we were in CBS in Bond Street, London. I don't know what we were doing there but we were just mucking around and that was a song we were doing live and it was also considered for an album and it really is a kick arse track. It's got a great feel although the vocal balance is wrong because the engineer just kept the tape rolling as we rehearsed it. A pity we didn't go for a proper recording. It was very representative of what the band were like onstage when locked into a groove.

Q: Fairytale. I can't imagine why that wasn't a hit.

JC: It wasn't given a chance. There was a lot of pressure from the record company to deliver Yellow River parts 2, 3, 4 etc, and unfortunately they (CBS) didn't have any real visionaries with regard to my long-term writing potential. With the management also, the hit factory was paramount in their thinking and as much as I loved Brian, who believed in my songwriting, he felt I should continue in the same vein for another couple of hits and then try and gradually introduce something different before taking a chance too quickly on new stuff, and he as well as the shirts didn't want to upset the apple cart and take a chance on songs that weren't instantly identifiable with that jangly Christie trademark sound. Man of Many Faces
    The record company shirts were happy with Yellow River and San Bernadino because they were highly successful on a global level and they wanted to repeat the formula, but the songs I was coming up with didn't always fit that template. Interestingly the third Christie release was Man of Many Faces, which got great reviews in the heavier music press but failed to chart ... the next release was Iron Horse, which did chart, so I guess they had a point!

Q: Abilene. A great rock and roll song. Do you do that live?

JC: No, but I would love to do it live actually. It's only in the last couple of years that I've started to put a couple of songs from the first album into the set and my band really does them well because we've been playing together for so long. The band doesn't work anywhere near enough; I do the odd TV show or a show on my own but there is no aggressive push with the band because I haven't had a manager since the 70s.
    If we worked more, we'd do other songs but as we don't and the songs are all tried and tested, we don't have much opportunity to try out new ones. There would be a few tracks on the album that would be good live.

Q: Jeff, I want to thank you very much for all the time you've given us and we would love to see you here one day.

JC: I'd love to play in Japan. We should have come to Japan in the 70's but we had hassles with work permits, I've played in all of Europe, Russia, Africa, you name it, but the two places I've never played in are the States and Japan.