An Interview with
Jeff Christie to promote the 2015 remake of For
(conducted by Jason Barnard).
Hi Jeff, since we met over four years ago you've been very
active. You've released more tracks from the Christie archives
on the No Turn Unstoned set plus
you have recorded a new version of For
All Mankind with the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band.
I'd like to focus on some of the things we didn't get chance
to cover then but first could you tell me about your new single.
JC: When I first wrote For All Mankind,
the original concept for it was with a really big brass band
but I wasn't able to record it that way. It was a peace song
and I wrote it after seeing a documentary about the First
World War. I wanted that evocative TV Hovis advert quality
to be a sonic feature in the song. It's a very Northern thing,
the cobblestone streets, the fog, the flat caps, the pubs.
I grew up in that kind of environment and I'm a product of
the north. When I was a kid brass bands fascinated me. When
I was five or six I used to stand at the bandstand at Roundhay
Park in Leeds. My mum used to have to pull me away as I was
just mesmerized by the sound. So to finally record the track
with a brass band is something I've always wanted to do.
Q: Which takes us back to your early
years; your first success was with Just
One More Chance released by your band the Outer Limits.
However I didn't know that the song got taken over to the
States. There's a
West Coast version by The Hondells where there's a little
link with Yellow River.
JC: The Hondells were a Beach Boys type five-piece harmony
group and Glenn Campbell was in them, I think in the early
60s. When Glenn Campbell broke through in around 1969 it was
with Galveston, which influenced
me. Galveston, like Wichita Lineman,
By the Time I Get to Phoenix were all Jimmy Webb songs.
I was a massive Jimmy Webb fan. In this period I was writing
a lot. I'd had a few records out, Just
One More Chance and Great Train
Robbery. The band that I was in, The Outer Limits,
had broken up so for a couple of years I really concentrated
on writing. Galveston just had that magic.
From being inspired by that song I
wrote Yellow River, which again
was to do with the American Civil War, a similar sort of theme.
I met Jimmy Webb backstage in York when he was doing an unplugged
tour. I told him 'I've been a massive fan for years and you
probably don't know this but Galveston
was the song that inspired me to write Yellow
River'. He raised his eyebrows in surprise, we shook
hands and had our photo taken. It was a lovely moment.
Q: The Hondells version of Just
One More Chance is really nice.
JC: Yes, it's lovely in the sense that I've always loved close
harmony and barbershop. The Hondells were on the West Coast
and over on the East Coast there
was a band called The Patrick Bradley. I hadn't heard
of them at the time but apparently The Patrick Bradley were
quite well known in their side of the US. The A-side was a
vocal version of Just One More Chance
and the B-side was just an instrumental. Their version
was a bit more edgy, as you'd expect from New York.
Q: I think their instrumental version
works better as I'm not sure about the vocals on the A-side.
The instrumental was played on the Northern Soul circuit.
JC: That's right. I was with RK records in the late 70s and
they were kind of affiliated with Wigan Casino. One of the
people at Wigan Casino was Mike Walker and he used to play
with the St Louis Union in the 60s. He told me Just
One More Chance was a big song at Wigan Casino. It
would get the tag 'blue eyed soul' but that's very different
to me than the Northern Soul classics. I love Northern Soul
which was a lot of Motown gems that weren't mainstream. How
that song fitted in there I'll never know. It's always puzzled
me but the guy was on site, so to speak, and that's what he
Q: You mentioned The Outer Limits.
When we last spoke you said playing Sweet
Freedom live was pivotal in encouraging your songwriting.
JC: When we were on
the Hendrix tour we had about a 10 minute spot as the
spots were ridiculously short in those days. The Move would
get 15 to 20 minutes topside. Pink Floyd would get half an
hour and Jimi would get 40 minutes. It was a very fast turnaround.
Despite writing our records, up until that time we were doing
a lot of covers live, Motown stuff, making a decent fist of
it. But I'd got the writing bug and I wanted to pursue playing
my own songs live.
On the tour we were playing things
like Reach Out I'll Be There
and one day I decided to stick Sweet
Freedom in as that was a punchy track. It got quite
a good reception. Lee Jackson from The Nice came up to me
afterwards and said 'What was that song you played, the fourth
number down? I don't recognise that song, it wasn't the usual
Motown song.' I said 'That's one of mine. It's called Sweet
Freedom. He said 'That's a good song. That's what you
should play, not other peoples' stuff.' The Nice broke through
shortly after that tour and became huge. That endorsement
is sometimes what you need. A little nudge on your shoulder
to say 'That's great. You should do that.'
We came off that tour with a lot of
confidence as it was a real learning curve even though the
band had been playing a lot in clubs around the country. The
discipline of the tour and working with Hendrix was something
else. The Move were a great band. I didn't really like Pink
Floyd at the time as they admitted that it was the lights
that they were about. The music was secondary. They had a
couple of commercial songs, Arnold Layne
and See Emily Play, but Syd was
completely out of it. They say that was the tour he went mad
on. But we learned a lot and it gave me the confidence to
go forward and do what I wanted. In many ways that was a starting
The A-side of The Outer Limits' Sweet
Freedom was Great Train Robbery.
Over the past few years a demo version of Great
Train Robbery by The Searchers has been discovered.
Has that ever been released or is it just acetate only?
JC: Somebody had sent it to my website. It's a bit of a mystery
and I wasn't aware of this at all. My website manager Ray
Chan said 'Have you heard this?' I said 'No, I haven't.' I
was absolutely dumbfounded because it
was pretty much exactly the same as our version minus the
strings. It must have been 68 or 69 and I think they were
starting to tail. This is before Yellow
River and I hadn't really happened. They must have
been trawling for songs and came across that and thought 'This
is a possible contender so we'll demo it.' That was the only
stage it really got to. But the fact that The Searchers, who
are a seminal name from the 60s, did the song is an accreditation
from your peer group.
Q: Many of your demos with The Outer
Limits were released on the 'Outer Limits / Floored Masters
- Past Imperfect' collection. One of the highlights is Mr
Magee's Incredible Banjo Band.
JC: Yes, there's something about the song. We did that in
this little studio in Huddersfield where we used to go and
record. The guy there, Matt, was a German refugee and became
the founder of Orange Amps. Marshall ruled the waves but there
were other amps that came through and Orange Amps was one
of them and was very respected. Matt was always into electronics
and recording and we used to record a lot over there. It was
still primitive, I think it was a two track and you'd bounce
and bounce and lose lots of quality. In those days we'd have
to whack them down very quickly. But as a songwriter I was
finding my feet, like a kid in a toy shop I wanted to try
Q: So Mr Magee
was one of the many forays into different styles of writing.
JC: Yes, I imagined that with a banjo band. There were these
little movies in my head and I wanted to create these soundscapes.
I'd let my imagination wander into these areas. With Mr
Magee I imagined this great banjo band from another
time and a kid hero worships Mr Magee
who came from a long line of banjo players. It was a little
have even more tracks that haven't been released at all,
like Thru The Looking Glass.
JC: There are a lot of songs like that around in very raw
demos that I did on just a Grundig tape recorder. I value
them a lot because they were quite intricate little songs
where I was trying to get something fresh across. But all
these things were just notepads, that's all they really were.
These were songs that I wanted to take into a higher grade
studio at a later date, fine tune, experiment with and polish.
The whole point was when I broke through with the hits in
1970, I hoped that would free me up to really indulge and
take these songs forward. That was probably a bit naive of
me because it's very difficult to take the record buying public
and the record company with you; unless you are someone like
Bowie or The Beatles who have such an amazing charisma.
Q: You've got the freedom if you're
one of those artists.
JC: Yes. In the period I wrote Yellow
River, I was hooked on to that swamp rock, country
rock stuff. I'd been listening to people like Tony Joe White,
Joe South, Jerry Reed and then Creedence Clearwater Revival
broke through. But that was one phase of my writing in a vein
that hit the jackpot for me. So everybody thought that that
was what I was about. But it was just a part of what I was
about musically and lyrically.
River being so massive. the pressure to do Mk 2, Mk
3, Mk 4 was too intense and too much for me and I just had
to go with that flow for some time.
Q: Elton John recorded Yellow
River around that period for one of those covers albums.
However more recently REM
released a version. That's some tribute coming from one
the world's biggest bands at the time.
JC: I was astonished when I found out. I remember reading
about Mike Mills saying 'This was one of our favourite songs
when we were growing up and we always love to play it.' That
was fantastic to get acknowledgment from a band like that.
Then you get someone like Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, who
are just the most unbelievable bluegrass band. It's extraordinary,
fiddles, banjos and unbelievably fast guitar picking. An absolute
joy. It just really shows you what I unwittingly unleashed
there. Here was a song that somehow tapped into so many musicians
repertoire across the world as well as people that took it
to their hearts and bought it. I knew I had a strong song
there at the time but I had no idea that it would have that
far reaching consequence, 45 years later. It's kind of become
a classic hasn't it?
Q: Absolutely. Talking about the
range of artists who've done your material there's a Swedish
punk band called the
Satanic Surfers who covered San
JC: When I heard about that one I was blown away because they
were kids. They did two songs, Gotta
Be Free was the other one which was from the first
album as well. When I heard it, it was a real punk thrasher.
I was speechless that someone could do that to one of my songs.
They made it in such a way that it had credibility. I would
never in a million years do it like that as I saw it in a
more traditional mode. But it just shows you that these kids
look at these songs and what a different approach they've
got to it. It's really a blast, it's a real complement.
You mentioned that Christie got pigeonholed in that country
rock sound but the second Christie album is my favourite.
I particularly like Picture Painter
which has a harder sound. When we last spoke you said it was
your homage to The Creation and Painter
JC: Absolutely. I played with The Creation at Leeds University
in the mid 60s sometime. I played with so many great bands
like The London Birds that Ronnie Wood was in. In those days
there were small clubs, you didn't have any arenas. I guess
the biggest gig you had in the country was the Albert Hall.
You had the Town Hall and Queens Hall in Leeds and all the
big bands would come. Leeds Uni was great and we were playing
there a lot as support. I remember watching Cream at the side
of the Refectory. It was just a magic time.
I was getting this amazing stimulus
and was writing two or three songs a week. The Creation, like
The Who, had this very powerful dynamic. I listened to them
again recently and they were so raw. When I wrote Picture
Painter, it must have been more than subliminal. That's
what I do. If I really love something I'll try and deliver
my take on it. Hopefully I will try and make it not too obvious
or blatant and not copy it.
Q: Also from For All Mankind is
If Only which is more reflective.
JC: At the time I had this girlfriend in Copenhagen and I
was in Kensington in London. This was around 1971. So she
was over there and I was in London. The next day I was going
over to South America on tour and I was just taking stock
of my life and was writing. I was going here, there and everywhere
and I couldn't really put down roots. I'd had this relationship
with this girl and we'd got together a few times. I just thought
'If only you were not so far away.' Of course Denmark isn't
that far but it felt like it because of the schedules that
we had. Trying to get downtime was difficult. We were one
of the most heavily toured bands, all around the world. Yellow
River got to number one in 26 countries apart from
the UK and where it wasn't number one, it was top 10. There
was phenomenal demand to go to these places. I was just living
out of a suitcase. If Only wasn't
just about not being with somebody you wanted to be with,
it was also about the distance between fame and ordinary life.
I'd forgotten what it was like to have free time and go places.
Just being normal again.
We were a world touring band. We did
play the UK a lot but we were playing to 20,000 people in
South America in football stadiums. We didn't have those gigs
over here. So we'd get these incredible offers to go to these
exotic places like Mexico. Poland even although that was really
grim as it was still a Communist country. Africa ended up
being a bit of a downer as we got into riots over there. There's
a whole other story about that.
Q: You got stuck.
JC: We got stuck and that was the start of the end of the
band as we lost such a lot of money over there. But we really
did see the world.
Q: You mentioned Christie losing
momentum and getting stuck in Africa but you carried on writing
songs and recording demos. When I got a copy of your second
collection of unreleased material No
Turn Unstoned, the song Heaven
Knows stood out for me. It's a really fantastic song
and I'm staggered it wasn't released at the time.
It's really odd that you picked that one out because that
was very much a quirky thing of my own. It was a little bit
of a homage to Carmen. Carmen took my drummer Paul Fenton,
my road manager Skippy and my manager as well. Paul's from
Dewsbury and we'd played in clubs together in the 60s in Leeds.
I brought him into my band in late 70, he stayed a couple
of years, he met Carmen and that was it. He had to go with
Carmen were unique. They were doing
this flamenco rock thing and had genuine flamenco roots. I
had always been crazy about flamenco as a kid, in fact I wanted
to learn flamenco when I first picked up the guitar when I
was about 11, 12. But I couldn't find a flamenco teacher and
the nearest that came through then was rock and roll. It was
Elvis, Buddy Holly and the guitar. That was it.
So I was friendly with the guys in
Carmen and they used to come to my house and I played on two
or three of their tracks on their last album. I spent a lot
of time with them in this studio in Boston, a farm in North
Brookfield. I did about four tracks there and they were all
magical. On them were John Glascock, a very dear friend who
was in Carmen and then went to Jethro Tull. So Paul, John
and me put down the rhythm track. I was on piano, Paul on
drums and John was on bass. Then I just built the tracks up
with other instruments and vocals. John tragically died young
a few years later.
was recorded in 1976/77. It's a strange song because the time
signature is quite complex. It's not rock and roll, there
were flamenco rhythms in it which I'd learned from Carmen.
Again it had this very melancholy feel to it with the euphonium.
I was trying to get that same sort of feeling of melancholy.
It's a little bit darker but I like that kind of stuff. The
funny thing about Yellow River and some of these songs is
that they are optimistic but I don't really do jolly happy
stuff. I don't think a lot of people get Heaven
Knows. It's quite an unusual song.
Q: Another great track from No Turn
Unstoned is Tonight.
JC: Again, that was done at the farm at North Brookfield .
Again, Paul and John were on it. I built that track up and
did a lot of the guitar work on it. I remember the accordion
on it. We had these two guys that were chefs there from New
York and we brought them into the studio. They were on the
floor on the side of the accordion on the squeezebox and I
was playing the notes of the accordion as I don't really play
it properly. We tracked it up and we got a lovely French boulevard
accordion sound. For me it was a bit of a Bee Gees type song.
Q: You also mentioned Turning
To Stone that's also from this period. That's a fantastic
track. It feels autobiographical.
JC: It was a magic track from the farm. John and Angela from
Carmen and Bobby, who was their dancer and singer, did amazing
backup vocals. A lot of my songs are autobiographical apart
from the obvious ones which are fantasy or me projecting.
It was a time my father was very, very ill and it was making
me very introspective. I was trying to deal with loss. Without
getting too deep life is about getting to terms with loss
because it's one loss after another. Loss of youth, your spouse
and so on. Of course if you are a
songwriter it's going to channel its way into a song. That's
how I would express myself. There's a lot of melancholy in
my songs and I'm quite comfortable with that.
Q: That's from your Outer Limits,
Past Masters CD. Also on it were your releases from the late
70s and early 80s. Turn On Your Lovelight
has a catchy commercial edge.
JC: It's the B-side of Both Ends of
the Rainbow and is a funky, rocky track. Again Paul's
on it on drums. Paul and I had a good friend called Teddy
Platt who's also sadly passed. But Teddy was featured a lot
on that album as Paul was. Ted was a very gifted musician
and guitar player who brought a lot to the table and I used
him whenever I could. A lot of those sessions it was Paul
on drums, Ted on guitar, me on piano and bass. I'd build the
track up from there having started with a really great foundation.
The three of us together were really tight and it was a great
experience working together.
I did the album over a two year period
and it cost me a fortune going down to London and staying
in hotels. But it was a labour of love and they gave me freedom
in the studio there. I was very lucky that the producer, Barry
Kingston, loved what I was doing and threw himself into the
production of it. It was a big disappointment to me that the
record company went down in the recession. They were kind
of stuck and punk was still kind of controlling things. It
was the period 1980/81. I tried to get a major interested
but the majors by this time didn't know where I would fit.
The stuff that I was doing was so diverse. There was a disco
track on there, Midnight
Express, and then you get a song like Troubadour,
which I wrote for Elton John. Of course it's pointless writing
for Elton John as he writes his own songs. You wouldn't start
off writing for the artist but maybe it's subliminal, you
think 10 or 15 bars in 'That sounds like so and so could do
this.' And you'd develop it. But it was a great experience
for me and I did some of my best work. I'm very proud of those
To finish I must go back to your new single. So it is finally,
after all those many years, the version of For
All Mankind that you always wanted to make. It is one
of your best songs so it's great to hear you are releasing
it the way you always wanted to hear it.
JC: Yes, that's it in a nutshell. It's taken 43 years to do
this the way I wanted to do it. For
All Mankind is a real heartfelt song. As I mentioned
at the start when I first wrote that in 1971 I wanted to do
it with a brass band. I loved all those brass bands, Black
Dyke Mills, Brighouse and Rastrick and wanted to do it with
a band but I couldn't. It the time I was recording that album
and the track there was no way that CBS were going to pay
for a brass band. We put that album down very quickly. We
did a good job, kept it tight, very live. There was hardly
any tracking on that album.
But that was a song, the same with
If Only, that needed a bigger
panoramic musical vista to it. I wanted to use a Hammond organ
on both tracks and I always thought that I'd like to do something
like Whiter Shade of Pale. That kind of feel. Now we couldn't
get a Hammond organ for the session in Bond Street, CBS, but
what they did have at the studio was an ancient harmonium.
It's a beautiful instrument and you have to pump it with you
feet and can hear the pedals squeaking. If you listen on the
original For All Mankind and
If Only there's a gap between
the notes. As your feet are punching the pedals up and down
the density of the notes shift and gets a bit faint. So you're
really pumping away like mad. I was exhausted at the end of
the take. But it's an amazing sound and it leant a lot of
atmosphere. That was as far as I could get in creating some
sort of atmosphere.
But I was always frustrated that For
All Mankind didn't get its justice in terms of production.
I've often thought that some of my songs have suffered from
that. I haven't often had the benefit of a great producer
who can say 'Let's have an orchestra here or a brass section
for example'. Andrew Oldham put an orchestra on Great
Train Robbery so it's happened just once or twice.
There were a lot of people in the business at the time who
felt that For All Mankind was a powerful song. But nobody
at the end of the day would cough up for those extras, and
I don't mean drugs, booze and hookers!!
About 18 months ago my brother Lester
mentioned he had a contact in Bradford with Brighouse and
Rastrick, and I'd been talking for a few years about wanting
to do redo the song. I then got in touch with B & R's
David King, a guy from Australia, who is a young, charismatic,
dynamic conductor with them. He came back almost immediately
and was really enthusiastic about it; he got it straight away.
He said 'I see what you mean, this will be great for the band.
I'll do everything I can to help you get this done with the
I've got it about as close as I originally
conceived it by bringing in the brass to give it that rich
chording; the blend of the brass with the Hammond organ, the
guitar work. I still have visions of sending it to people
like Rod Stewart, as for me the song is king. It doesn't matter
who sings it, I've just always wanted to get my songs out
So this song has a new lease of life.
I don't know whether people will sit up and take notice. It's
a different business now to what it was. It will go out digitally
on iTunes, Amazon and all those digital platforms. Whatever
happens I've got the satisfaction of realising it the way
I envisaged it originally way back in the last century! I'm
proud of that.