music publication Billboard launched a Russian edition in
May/June 2007. One of the first people they interviewed
was Jeff Christie, because the For
All Mankind album
is regarded as a masterpiece in Russia. Here's a translation
of the text.
By Alexandra Buts
Billboard (RB): After the great success of the first release,
why did you change the sound, stylistics and creative approach
in such a cardinal way? In general, you trespassed upon
another music territory.
Jeff Christie (JC): As a songwriter
I wanted the freedom to write and sing whatever I felt challenged
me musically, in order to grow and mature artistically.
It was just a natural progression for me to experiment with
different styles. This had always been how I functioned
as a songwriter and singer before Yellow
River became a massive worldwide success in 1970.
My previous group The Outer Limits had
some small record success and released two records showing
two distinct styles of writing. The first, Just
One More Chance, released in 1967, was a smaller
hit and was later classed as a blue-eyed soul classic in
later years and to this day, still to be found on record
compilations of 'fringe' bands' from the 60s. It spawned
covers by two American bands - The Hondells who had previously
featured Glen Campbell on their studio sessions with a 'Beach
Boys' style version; and The Patrick Bradley, a New York
band whose version apparently has a mighty price tag on
it today and is held in high regard and is, I understand,
something of a collector's item. Also an Italian version
titled Era Qui by I Dalton
added something continental! My own original version was
recently re-released as a speciality limited edition on
the Acme label fairly recently 40 years later!
The second release, The
Great Train Robbery, might be loosely likened to
an early Gibb Brothers ballad with some dark overtones that
appealed to the producer Andrew Loog Oldham (Rolling Stones
I started writing songs in 1965, experimenting,
listening and being influenced by the great singers and
song writers of the '60s who I looked up to, so when Yellow
River hit big, five years later, people assumed this
was my 'bag' but it wasn't; it was just a country rock style
phase and seam that I was to mine for a period of time.
I was into a wide range of musical styles from blues through
to rock, pop, and country.
My mother was a ballet dancer and I grew
up with a strong love of classical music and flamenco, so
given the chance I was bound to try to express my song writing
in the widest possible way.
RB: Was this your own decision or
a joint one? Did someone advise this to you?
JC: My decision, I was looking for a heavier production
than the first album with songs that were a little darker
and not so bright and bouncy.
RB: Were the second album songs created
beforehand so that they got new arrangement or did you create
them directly before the recording?
JC: Beforehand, some on tour, some at home. A deliberate
policy to beef things up all round and to reflect the live
stage show which, as well as being very visual, was heavier
than the records. Without making comparisons obviously,
I toured with my then band, The Outer Limits, with Hendrix
in '67 and never bought his records because they always
seemed to me to lack the sheer power and dynamics of his
live performance which was unbelievable, especially when
he stayed in tune! I think recording technology has progressed
so much that nowadays you can capture the authenticity and
power of a live act much better than then.
RB: While creating the songs initially,
did you have an understanding of how will they sound like?
JC: Yes, to a certain extent I was able to visualise the
feel, tempo, instrumentation and sound of the production
that I wanted to achieve in the studio, but sometimes something
or other doesn't quite work for one reason or another and
you take a different direction, sometimes a mistake can
lead to a brilliant reworking of your original idea. On
the other hand nothing may work so the song just doesn't
make it on to the track list.
RB: Were there any band members changes
during that period?
JC: Yes, I replaced the first drummer, who left after a
few months, with Paul Fenton, a powerful drummer who was
a friend that I had worked with in Leeds in the late '60's,
and a larger than life character! His style was more appropriate
and solid and more suited to my song writing than the previous
RB: Did you have a busy concert timetable
at that time and did it anyhow interfere with the preparations
for the recording?
JC: Yes, to some extent. It's always a trade-off. The first
year, 1970, was so hectic with the success of Yellow
River and San Bernadino,
plus the rushed recording of the first album and touring
the world incessantly, it was hard to catch your breath
let alone write songs, but somehow all the excitement and
adrenalin keeps you 'flying' through it all, and what with
CBS, producers, managers, publishers, and agents all screaming
for new product, it forces a certain disciplined focus,
otherwise you don't deliver, the strain gets to you and
you go into meltdown. For all Mankind
allowed us a little more slack, and I was able to
multi track more instruments after the band went home after
initially laying down bass, drums, and guitar.
RB: Did you have a ready concept of
a new album when approaching the studio or did it appear
during the recording process?
JC: I already had some songs that were loosely conceptual
in their anti-war vibe and I think it just flowed from there.
RB: What was the
reaction of CBS to such a change? Were there any disagreements,
arguments or attempts to prevent you from this change?
JC: CBS wanted Yellow River,
parts 1,2,3,4 ad infinitum. They were on to a good thing
and not wanting any deviation from course, which from a
business point of view I can understand, but I was artistically
motivated, not money-motivated, and I found a way through,
although they never gave it the same promotional support
as the previous stuff and as a result sales suffered. They
would no doubt dispute this.
RB: Describe the recording session
process itself - how was it held, who was participating,
which studio was it held at, how long did it take, were
there any special events or moments that you still remember
during the recording process?
JC: The band was still a three-piece at the time; it became
a four-piece later. The procedure as a rule was, after writing
the songs, I'd bring them in and rehearse them with the
others somewhere; sometimes in dressing rooms, on the road,
or in a country cottage just outside London where we'd come
off the road for a week maybe and learn the songs. I'd slip
a few of them into the shows to try and gauge audience response
and to discover how they worked in a live context. This
helped shape the arrangements with dynamics, light and shade,
attention to weak points that would need strengthening or
re-thinking until hopefully the infant grows into a strong
adult, so to speak!
Mostly, by the time we hit CBS studios
in Old Bond Street we had the rhythm section rehearsed and
learnt usually. In the studio we'd start by putting the
bass, drums and guitar down first and then either double
track the guitar, and add a pilot (guide) vocal, then adding
acoustic guitars and some keyboards (piano, organ, harmonium,
etc). Once a good feel had been achieved and track was about
70pc finished, I'd try and get the best vocal I could and
then add finishing touches like percussion, real handclaps,
harmonies and back-up vocals and guitar solos.
Once the song was finished the mixing
process would begin, overseen by the producer Martin Clark
and Mike Ross, the sound engineer. I co-produced all tracks
and was always there for the mix. The other two went home
usually after putting down their respective tracks and after
hanging around for a while to see what else might be added,
but the whole process, being somewhat experimental, meant
lots of listening and going over stuff endlessly, as well
as looking for faults or mistakes, so it can be very boring
unless an individual is actually totally committed and absorbed
by the whole process which can be very exhausting.
The record would have my name on it, I
felt responsible, and therefore gave it all my energy, heart
and soul through the entire process. The studios were CBS
studios in Old Bond Street and my partners in crime were
Paul Fenton, drums and percussion, Vic Elmes, guitar and
vocals, myself on bass, acoustic guitar, keyboards, and
lead vocals (except Magic Highway
and Country Sam) and any other
instrument I could get a tune out of that was lying around
in the studio!
As far as special moments, there were
two that stand out: For All Mankind,
the title track was special, originally conceived with a
brass band in mind. CBS wouldn't pay for the sessions which
I thought was a big mistake. It would have been wonderful,
but they couldn't see it, so I had to keep it intimate and
as plaintive as I could, hopefully I achieved that to some
After we'd put down the basic track the
boys left and I sat down at the harmonium, which had a beautiful,
sorrowful and haunting accordion-like sound. It seemed to
drip with emotion and drama, inspiring some aching vocals
and a great guitar solo from Vic, added later. I think that
vocal was done in one or two takes and the atmosphere in
the studio was electric, perhaps it had something to do
with the giant spliff Martin rolled and handed to me before
The studio lights were down, I stood at
the mike in the big room with no one else around except
Martin and Mike in the control room, and sang my heart out,
cheesy but true!
If Only was
built up entirely on my own. I started with double tracked
Gibson Jumbo acoustic, and added tambourine, harmonium,
some guitar picking and a vocal. Even though the vocal was
less than perfect technically it had that plaintive, vulnerable
quality that summed up this yearning love song. The chord
progression, I felt was adventurous and distant from any
previous country influence or style. Also the single note
ascending, and descending harmonium figure helped build
tension and added a subtle dynamic to the track.
I'm proud of these two songs, for their
simplicity and emotional structure, even though they both
have somewhat complex chord progressions. The whole album
took a few months, due to tour schedules and other artists
already booked in to the studio, but in terms of actual
recording time, I'd say about six weeks.
We would like to learn more about the sound engineering
of the record and moreover about the technical side of the
recording: what equipment was used, what instruments?
JC: I think I answered this in the last question, except
for the desk, which I think had just been changed from a
4-track to an 8-track SSL probably. I don't think it was
a Nieve, but it was a long time ago! One change was very
little vocal double tracking on my voice, which I'd always
quite liked; Martin wanted it as dry as possible and a close
microphone technique. I think the effect worked for the
most part. The exception was Man Of
Many Faces, the third single and more hooky than
most of the other songs, warranting a tight double tracked
vocal in the chorus.
RB: Who is the artist who made the
record-cover artwork? Were there any other versions of it?
Could you please describe the artwork concept? Whose tombstone
is depicted on the front cover? What was the idea of placing
a photo of Hiroshima inside?
JC: Well, the art direction was by John Hayes and the front
cover tombstone photography was by Campbell MacCallum. I
think there were some other ideas for the cover but I remember
asking Brian Longley (manager) if we could get some kind
of pictorial link to the anti-war sentiment of several of
the songs and the consequences of war, but at the same time
the hope that peace, and understanding could prevail. A
tall order I suppose, the artwork team just came back with
the tombstone and Hiroshima pictures, a bit in your face
you might say!
It took me all my time to struggle for
some degree of artistic control musically, CBS weren't going
to let me call the shots on much else, the same went for
all the promo films we did for all the single releases.
I had my own ideas of what kind of promo film should go
with whatever the current release was, but all the thinking
was locked in to that idiotic 'Hard Days Night/Help' cloned
antics; great for the Beatles, but they were out on their
own anyway. Why copy that, it could never be as good!
The tombstone depicted was for Richard
Bamfield and it was discovered somewhere in Cornwall. The
writing on the stone was definitely not cheerful, almost
apocalyptic with its universal message, in the sense that
no one gets out of here alive! "Reader who ere thou
art that view this stone, Bamfield's fate will one day be
RB: Who was the cut-engineer of the
record and which factory did the production?
JC: I don't remember who actually cut it, CBS would use
a cutting team, and unless you had a specific favourite
or recommendation they just got on with it. There were often
several cuts before a final decision as to which was the
best cut. I think CBS had their own set up for factory production
at that time, again I can't be certain.
RB: Were you satisfied with what you
did at the moment of the album's release or did you have
an impression that you didn't manage to realise all of your
ideas in the way you wanted to?
JC: In truth I don't think I've ever been totally satisfied
at the end of any recording process for various reasons.
Sometimes it's down to money for special equipment or effects,
or extra musicians that were not made available, or maybe
simply because an artist nearly always strives for perfection,
which is impossible, but if you aim high, you might just
get a better result than if you aim low, and easily satisfied,
or artistic integrity is not your ultimate goal. As I already
said I was disappointed to not get a brass band on the title
track, and in hindsight other ideas come to light that didn't
at the time, but you do the best job at the time with the
tools available to you and hope you get it right. In some
areas it was under produced but that also gave it a very
pared down, tight, direct, and punchy feel to the album,
and I still enjoy listening to much of the album from time
RB: What was the circulation number
of the record and where was it distributed? Were there any
reissues of the record? Did you follow the sales reports?
In which other countries was the album released?
JC: The circulation number was CBS 64397, and it was distributed
in the UK and Europe mainly. I don't think, or I don't remember
it being released outside those main areas in its entirety,
although some of the tracks would find themselves on Christie
albums sprinkled with various A sides and B sides that didn't
necessarily get a place on the original FAM album. These
would appear in South and Central America as well as the
Far East and other territories.
I think in many of those places the record
company, be it CBS or their subsidiaries, couldn't handle
putting out an album that was so radically different to
the first album so they just balanced out the heavier stuff
with other stuff that was a little lighter and sunnier!
It was re-issued in 1997 by Sony, following the re-issue
of the first album in 1996, and also just recently by Repertoire
Records in 2005 alongside the first album. In both these
re-issues, bonus tracks were added and particularly the
Repertoire releases included all Christie recordings from
the 1970's, allowing many fans to buy the complete Christie
record catalogue on CD for the first time. These re-issues
were again mainly for UK and European markets, but orderable
all over the world.
Companies don't give you very good information
about sales reports and even then it's hard to understand,
it's like they have their own code, which you have to crack
before you can understand the figures. Some of the sales
figures look good and some not so good, and over the years
particularly with Yellow River and
San Bernadino, 20 or 30 million
units plus would be spoken of by industry figures without
batting an eyelid! When you consider YR alone topped charts
in over 26 countries and was and still is covered by hundreds
of artists worldwide, it's plausible.
RB: How did the release of the second
album influence the touring? Did you perform this album's
songs live and what was the reaction of the audience?
JC: It didn't influence the touring much because people
came to hear the hits and we toured incessantly for five
years before burnout, but several of the album's songs would
be featured and usually were well received.
RB: Please make the third album story
clear for us. Did you record it? Was it officially released?
JC: The pressure of non-stop touring eventually began taking
its toll and that meant my song writing output began to
suffer. A few other songs from different writers were offered
and sometimes used, but I still managed to come up with
songs, just not as often as before. Some songs were recorded
in between touring, but also by now there started to be
more personnel changes in the band and apart from being
distracting, it takes time to break in the new members which
all slowed the process down.
We had had a disastrous three-week tour
of Zambia where due to bad security, riots broke out and
concerts had to be cancelled for reasons of personal safety
and we started getting death threats so had to flee Zambia
to take refuge in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and then again to
South Africa, all the time losing a lot of money and facing
a musician's union ban back home for being in Rhodesia!
What should have been three weeks away turned in to nearly
three months before getting back home. This was a difficult
time and not very productive, so it took time to crank up
the machine and get motivated again after losing precious
Lastly we were primarily known as a 'singles'
band and CBS were more interested in keeping up the flow
of singles to tie in with the global demand of touring and
TV shows than spending time in the studio experimenting
on a third album, which would have been costly and not guaranteed
to make their money back. This was not official but everyone
knew it to be the case. As time went by with half an album
just about ready, in 1974 CBS decided to not take up the
option and so we were out of contract, so everything was
shelved and as a result no effective third album was ever
However we continued global touring till
the end of 1974 and at a press conference in Mexico City
announced the break-up of the band.
RB: How do you evaluate For
All Mankind now? Looking back do you regret that
you decided to release an album of that kind?
JC: I hope it was a good album, and for me it was, in spite
of flaws, but it's for others to judge. I just gave it my
best shot and leave judgement to others. No regrets, but
we're all geniuses with hindsight and I could have tried
to bring 'my audience' with me on a somewhat slower journey
by putting out a less radical album and graduating to the
eventuality of FAM afterwards, but I was young and headstrong.
on each track:
Magic Highway: written
by Vic Elmes, is about self-delusion, denial, and
the dogged pursuit of fantasy. A tight and punchy
opener, the band really cooks on this. I like the
intricacy of the guitar and harpsichord arpeggios,
which were a challenge to play fast - demi semi-quavers!
Also the mesh of the guitars and harpsichord with
a little distortion give it a manic kind of tension.
Featured in stage act sometimes.
Man of Many Faces: written
by me. The third Christie single, and a heavier, darker
departure from San Bernadino. Theme - does anybody
really know anybody! Tight Christie trademark jangly
guitars and good vocals. I tracked up my own harmonies,
which make the vocal track very tight and synchronised.
Plenty of air in the track. Featured in stage act.
Picture Painter: written
by me. Theme - how does self-image compare with the
way other people see you. Band playing to its peak!
Tight, funky little rocker punctuated with rolling
drum breaks and power chords. Featured in stage act
Martian King: written
by me. Theme - based on the assumption that life,
if it exists on other planets, would be peaceful,
and to take a warning there of how we screwed up this
planet with war, famine, etc and not to make the same
mistakes. Pompous, naïve, but well meaning -
and today more than ever! Me tracking up my harmonies
again. A nice 6/4 time signature twist prefaces the
guitar solo that whines and wails its warning. Featured
in stage act sometimes.
For All Mankind: written
by me. Theme - the eternal struggle of the human spirit
to overcome all obstacles and that good will hopefully
overcome evil eventually. Inspired optimism - "out
of darkness, we'll bring light". Lone piano entry
sets the scene for a somewhat autobiographical emotionally
raw vocal. The song keeps building with poignant harmonium
and eventual drums, bass and tracked guitar figures.
Great guitar solo tails the song out on a high!
Peace Lovin' Man: written
by me. Theme - anti-war, pro-life. Band rocks out
beautifully, some of these were done in three or four
takes only, hardly any overdubbing. Raw, high-energy
performance again, really caught the band at its peak.
Featured in stage act sometimes.
My Baby's Gone: written
by me. Theme - boy meets girl, boy goes round the
world, girl meets new boy! Nothing deep, just stuck
in a hotel room, raining outside, somewhere far from
home, reflecting how hard it is to keep any kind of
relationship together when you're living out of suitcases
and never home. Me tracking up all harmonies. Nice
economical instrumental break that builds tension,
sometimes less is more. The track goes downhill after
that production-wise, as the last verse should have
added more instrumentation or maybe a key change,
but kind of picks up again just before the end. Featured
in stage act sometimes
Country Sam: written
by Vic Elmes. Theme - I don't know, except Country
Sam's a Superman! Good, tight performance with trademark
jangly guitars, nice harmonies, and - the joys of
I Believe In You: written
by me. Theme - trust, hope, promises and lies. It
sounds so cheesy now but in truth this song was an
imagined conversation I fantasised having with world
leaders, trying to hold them to account for their
actions of an escalating arms race. The song didn't
name names or try to use the blame game; it was just
trying to start a dialogue of mutual trust instead
of Mutually Assured Destruction! I was so young! Me
tracking up all harmonies. Menacing opening, leads
into rolling guitars, big drums and lots of tape echo!
If Only: written by me.
Theme - a love song lamenting the limitations of time,
space, and displacement, and being stuck in one time
zone when your heart's in another. Slavonic influence.