The Magic Highway
Jeff Christie spoke to Jake Yapp from BBC Radio Leeds in August 2012 to reflect on his songwriting career and publicise the album No Turn Unstoned. Here are some excerpts from the excellent interview.

Jake YappJake Yapp (JY): Everybody listening would have I guarantee perhaps unwittingly sang, hummed or whistled to one of this man's songs. He is an Ivor Novello award winner and his song Yellow River was No 1 in 26 countries .. 26 countries !!!! ... pretty good going for a Loiner .. his new album No Turn Unstoned is out now and I'm delighted to say that Jeff Christie joins me now. Good morning Jeff, do you ever get tired of hearing Yellow River or playing it?

Jeff Christie (JC): Nope. Each time I hear it, I'm still trying to work out what chords I wrote!

JY: (laughing) I watched a pop video of Yellow River and I'm sad because you haven't got the luxuriant flowing hair that you had back in the 70s.

JC: I'm lucky to still have hair, never mind luxuriant flowy hair.

JY: Five decades your career has spanned now. You started in '67.

JC: '67 was the first record, the first national release. I started playing around groups probably around '62. I left school at 16, got a job for a couple of years, and at 18 I turned pro with the Outer Limits. Then a couple of years later toured with Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd. Halfway in '68, the Outer Limits ended, ran out of steam. I went a couple of years just writing.

JY: Did you think maybe that was it? You had your peak?
Disc 2
JC: Well yeah. I was heartbroken when the Outer Limits broke up because they really were a good band. You don't get on the Hendrix tour if you don't have some sort of credibility. I put everything into this band, which had been going for several years. I was determined to make it but other band members were fed up of having no money, no clothes. But determination won through because one way or another I was determined to make a name for myself as a songwriter and a musician.
In 1970 Yellow River came out and it just took off like wildfire. Christie were formed pretty quickly. One minute we were in Belgium, next minute in Argentina, we just went all over the world. Africa, behind the Iron curtain, we went to countries which don't even exist anymore. It was an amazing time, there was good stuff and there was bad stuff. When you reach the stage that you dreamed of for years and years, where do you go from there?

JY: How did it affect you?

JC: Well, I like to think that I kept my feet to the ground to a certain extent. I came from a pretty tight family unit which was a big help. I was never in a position of making money for money's sake. I just love to make music and that's what motivated me, and I still do. I just felt as a kid that if I could make a living out of being a musician, that would be the coolest thing.

JY: We could get creative people into a job but the impulse will still be there to force you out, you won't have a choice but to leave and make music.

JC: I can go months without writing, and then suddenly it's as if a song starts to write me. I don't know how the process happens, it's just a mystery to me. It's like a muse, I'll be walking along and somebody will say something, and that'll just click. And next thing I know I will have a top line, and I'll find an instrument to establish that top line, and then suddenly I'm back into the swing of it again. I've got scraps of paper all over the house. With scribbling and chords and things like that. The ideas sometimes come faster than you can finish them, so not all are finished.

JY: There's a story that Paul Simon tells. He was in a taxi and he had that moment like you were saying, that little idea came and he said to the cab driver, "take me to a piano", because he wanted to figure out the chords and stuff, and they drove around to hotels looking for a piano. And he said they couldn't get to one in time, it had gone. "So somebody else got my song now," he said. That's a nice way of looking at it, these songs are flying around in the ether and you have to pull them down.

JC: I can remember when I used to watch Leeds Utd in the 60s, and I remember being on the terraces and getting an idea for a song, but I was trapped because I couldn't get out. So I'd try to watch the match and get this song in my head, but there's only so far you can go without getting to an instrument. It's a thing that songwriters have .. get me to a piano, get me to a guitar.

JY: Do you ever worry that it's going to dry up? Like, is that it, you've gone a few months and you haven't written anything?

JC: When I was younger I used to think that. I don't now. Really whatever I do now is bonus because I'm happy I can still write, and I write to please myself. I always did that anyway. I was lucky enough to be pretty successful for a period of time and my records are still being played all over the world.

JY: You've been covered by Elton John and Michael Stipe (REM). How did that come about?

JC: I've no idea. You just find out one day. They don't need permission from me. They go to the publisher. When I found out that REM had done it, I said "what, this can't be true". You know, they were one of the top five bands in the world at that time. For them to do one of my songs was just mind blowing.

JY: Tell me more about the new album, No Turn Unstoned.

JC: They're rough edged demos from the 70s . I'd get off tour and I'd have a brace of songs with me, and I'd have maybe 10 days or two weeks before the group was off somewhere else. I'd come home to Leeds and I'd find a little studio somewhere and find anyone who was available, sometimes Paul Fenton would join in. They're all demos that were meant to be finished at a later point.