An article written
by Leeds crime fiction author and music journalist Chris
Nickson for the website Big Leeds Bookend, which focuses
on culture in the UK city.
you were a teenager in Leeds at the dawn of the 1970s, you
knew you were living in a cultural wasteland. We had plenty
of sport, thanks to Leeds United, there was some good theatre,
courtesy of Leeds Playhouse (then near the university) and
bands arrived on tour the Who recorded their very
famous Live at Leeds here, after all.
But nobody who was making waves came
There were a few exceptions, of course:
writer Keith Waterhouse, of Billy Liar fame, who by then
seemed happy to be a Soho denizen in London. And Ronnie
Hilton (actually born in Hull) whod had middle of
the road hit parade success in the 1950s. Nobody young,
lets say. Maybe Arthur Brown (Fire), who went to Roundhay
School for a couple of years. But he grew up in Whitby;
he wasnt from Leeds.
Then, in June 1970, a song called Yellow
River, performed by a group named Christie shot to
the top of the charts. The rumour began to go around: Jeff
Christie, the bass player and singer, came from Leeds. And
it was true.
These days it might seem silly to have
that sort of pride. It was just a pop song, after all. But
he was Leeds, he was ours (the word was that hed grown
up on Scott Hall Road), and even if your tastes ran to the
more progressive end of the spectrum, there was the local
factor. But there was also a story behind the song and the
singer, of course. Isnt there always?
Like so many of his generation, Jeff
Christie began as a very youthful skiffle player, moving
to rocknroll as fashions changed. His new band,
the Tremmers, renamed themselves the
Outer Limits and did manage to land a record deal, releasing
three singles, including one that gained airplay on the
pirate radio stations but never quite hit the charts, and
another on Instant, a brand-new label set up by former Rolling
Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham. That record vanished
They did open for Jimi
Hendrix on a package tour and managed to soldier on
until 1969, their break-up documented in Death of a Pop
Group, which aired on Yorkshire Television.
Christie had written the material,
and knew he had a knack for a commercial song. That was
proved when he came up with Yellow
River. A very successful pop band, the Tremeloes,
recorded it but never released the track. One of their members
had a brother who was trying to succeed in the music business
with his own band and suggested the song. With Christie
on bass and vocals, Mike Blakely on drums, and Vic Elmes
on guitar, Yellow River arrived
in the spring of 1970.
Except it wasnt exactly as it seemed. None of the
trio played on the record. It was actually the backing track
the Tremeloes had recorded with Christies vocal on
top hed been summoned down from Leeds for the
sessions and the result was a song with strong echoes
of Creedence Clearwater Revival. It was indeed commercial;
it became a number one hit in 26 different countries.
The band would go on to enjoy two more hit singles
in the UK and release three albums before ending in 1976,
although Christie himself has continued to perform and write
songs for others.
Before punk gave us the Mekons, Gang of Four, Delta
5 and all those who came after, Jeff Christie gave Leeds
its first little taste of musical glory.