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.
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
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
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
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.
Bernadino and Iron Horse
were both hits but after that Christie seemed to disappear.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.