The Magic Highway


An Interview with Mike Blakley
(Extracts from a series of chats conducted by Ray Chan)

Michael1) On the Epics days

   The original line-up of the Epics was me, Vic, Stuart Tann (bass guitar and vocals) and Ian Jansen (guitar and vocals). I see Ian quite a lot, and usually go ski-ing once a year with him and his wife. We actually had a re-union of the band recently. It was the first time I had seen Stuart in more than 30 years.
   The group lasted six years.

2) How Christie started

   My brother Alan must take the credit for this, as he signed Yellow River to his publishing company after Jeff played his demo version to him in a Leeds nightclub. After recording the title three or four different ways with his group the Tremeloes, Alan became unsure of its capabilities. I felt this was a hit song, and asked Alan if I could record it.
   Unfortunately The Epics had just disbanded, due to Ian Jansen having enough of the music business. I called Vic Elmes, and he jumped at the chance. Alan then suggested we get in touch with Jeff Christie.
   Anyway, to save money, we used part of the Tremeloes' recording, and recorded Down the Mississippi Line (B side) in a 4-track demo studio in Denmark Street. Mike Smith (whom I still see) became our recording manager. Alan then approached his publicist Brian Longley to do our PR work for free, with an incentive to manage the band if the record became a hit. Yellow River was number 1 in the UK charts when we played our first gig together.

3) On writing songs

   I was never a songwriter. I remember Jeff wasn't impressed when he asked whether I did any writing. I said "Only on the back of toilet doors" — Jeff didn't laugh. But I did write the words to New York City. I gave the lyrics to Vic and asked him to provide the melody, and that's how that came about.

4) On quitting Christie

   I wasn't the best drummer in the world, but had managed to hold it together in a band for the previous six years. However, I hadn't been drumming for about six months before joining Christie, and so I was very rusty. When Yellow River topped the charts, there was a need to rush out with an album of songs. Instead of using me, I think Jeff just said "let's get a session drummer" to speed up the process.
   Christie also had a hectic tour schedule, and there were probably concerns about my drumming ability. I was approached by Brian who asked me if I was happy or did I want to leave the band. He made me such a good financial offer to leave, I decided to quit.
   Jeff was best mates with Paul Fenton, and he probably preferred him in the band than me anyway.

5) The escape clause

   Part of the deal to leave the group involved me getting royalties from the original recordings of Yellow River and San Bernadino, minus studio costs. To this day, I still get royalties from those songs, as they continue to sell throughout the world. The other members did not get the same arrangement — studio costs had to be taken away from any royalties due to them, and because the band spent so much time in the studio, I believe even today they are not getting any royalties because the studios (CBS/Sony) are still recouping costs.

6) Life after Christie

   I set up my own production and publishing management agency, and handled bands like The Equals, Gonzalez, Rubettes and many more. I even took over The Tremeloes, hot property at the time. We actually turned Queen down!
   In 1980, I got Vic into the Tremeloes. That lasted a year, and after that Vic and I and a couple of other players teamed up and did a Christie revival tour of Germany, along with The Tremeloes, Dave Dee and the Swinging Blue Jeans. We played a mix of Christie hits and cover versions, including an Everly Brothers medley. The other two members were Mick Wilson (bass guitar and vocals) - he used to be with a band I managed called Flame - and Peter Morrison (guitar and vocals). [Coincidentally, Peter was a Leeds musician who, in 1967, played with his own band on the same stage as Jeff's Outer Limits.] We even recorded a number Vic had written called Deep in the Night, but were unable to get it released.

Christie Revival

   Soon after I left the music business, and set up a company with my brother Alan, buying, renovating and selling properties.
   Alan re-joined the Tremeloes in 1984, and after that I started mini-cabbing on a part time basis — something I still do today.