An Interview with
(Extracts from a series of chats conducted by Ray Chan)
Christie song Man of Many Faces
could just as well have been written about Paul Fenton, the
drummer most closely-associated with the group.
Paul's other guises include stints with cult
band Carmen, and of late Mickey Finn's
T Rex, the group which includes members who used
to back Marc Bolan. And if fate had dealt a better hand of
cards, Paul could also have been the drummer in Paul McCartney's
Wings .. but more on that later.
As fans know full well, the original Christie
line-up comprised lead singer, composer and bassist Jeff Christie,
lead guitarist Vic Elmes, and drummer Mike Blakley. And indeed
it is Mike to whom the band owes its existence, for without
his connections to the Tremeloes (courtesy of Trem member
and brother Alan), the song which launched Christie to fame
may well never have been recorded. (See the History section for more.)
Unfortunately, while Mike was more than adept
in the studio, his percussion skills did not transfer well
to the stage. With a rigorous tour schedule in place after
Christie shot to fame, the band knew it had no alternative
but to seek out a replacement drummer. Enter Paul Fenton,
a mate of Jeff's with whom he used to share a house in London.
Paul had alrady been in a series of aspiring
bands, including Tony Jay and the Jesters, the Voltairs and
Paul explained at the time: "Once you get
over 25 and don't seem to have made it yet, you have to turn
to cabaret shows.
"I thought it would never come for me. So
I got a job in a nightclub and gave up hope. Then one day
Jeff Christie, an old friend of mine, told me about the vacancy
in the group.
Paul's first group, The
"That was IT. It was such
a beautiful thing to happen to me."
Indeed it was. For the next two years, Paul enjoyed
the trappings that came with being part of a chart-breaking
pop group, accompanying the band on several tours as they
rode the success of their two big singles, Yellow
River and San
Christie were popular in just about every part
of the globe, reflected in the diversity of localities visited:
Europe, Russia, Asia, Africa, Australia .. but it was South
America which held a soft spot in Paul's heart.
"We must have visited South America three
or four times, and each time we went there, there were thousands
of fans waiting to see us," Paul told me. "We were
given police escorts, grand treatment, the works."
So popular was Christie in South America that
its record company commissioned two special releases for the
market over a number of years: a Vic Elmes composition, Jo
Jo's Band, which Paul played on, and later
(after Paul left) cover versions of two Spanish songs, Navajo
Jo Jo's Band
became a big hit in the continent; and one South American
lady fan, in particular, became a big hit with Paul.
"Her name was Patricia Negro, and she was
from Buenos Aires," he said."She was beautiful and
I still carry her photo around with me!"
(So Patricia, if you're reading this, Paul would
like to hear from you ..)
Paul is still single, but never regrets giving
up a social life for the sake of his musical career.
"Being part of a successful group, you get
to meet many, many beautiful women all over the world in a
short space of time," he said. "But I have never
wanted to be tied down and I will never compromise on my music."
Compromise Paul certainly does not. Those who
have had the good fortune of seeing Paul on stage cannot help
but be impressed by the tremendous amount of physical energy
Paul puts into his work, often exerting himself so much it's
a wonder he doesn't collapse.
"When Christie performed, they used to put
me and my set of drums out in front .. possibly because my
powerful drumming was visually exciting, but probably also
so I wouldn't hit Jeff and Vic!" Paul said.
Indeed, Paul believes it was his forceful style
and talent with the sticks that subliminally helped songwriter
Jeff Christie to create some harder-edged songs for the band's
second album, For All Mankind.
Already keen to divert slightly from the poppish
fare which characterised the first LP, Jeff would have been
encouraged by the knowledge that the band had a drummer who
could cope with heavier, more complex material.
"I think Jeff would agree that my style
of drumming had an influence on the heavier songs," Paul
But still this was not enough to satisfy Paul's
desire for innovation. Despite delving into harder rock styles,
the band knew it had to return to its simplistic, commercial
roots if it was to retain the support of its fans - a move
which, while paying the rent, left Paul as creatively-stifled
"I wanted to learn more, to progress as
a drummer," Paul said. "While I enjoyed playing
with Christie, the band's commercial style was pretty much
A visit to London's Kensington Markets in 1973
was to prove the catalyst for a career change for Paul ..
and unbeknownst to him, ultimately proved to be the thin edge
of the wedge towards Christie's eventual demise.
At the time, Paul was a frequent visitor to the
markets, hub of the fashion scene in the UK.
"We were really image conscious in those
days .. it was the era of the androgynous look, and I'd go
down three to four times a week to check out the latest styles,"
A favourite shop was one specialising in snakeskin
clothing, run by a couple of Yugoslavian
They introduced Paul to David Allen, an American
musician who was looking for a drummer for his group called
Carmen: a band which mixed rock with flamenco music, including
tap-dancing and handclaps.
It was a combination no other band had at the time attempted
to recreate. (On reflection, Carmen were ahead of their time:
a decade later Santa Esmeralda had a hit with his flamenco
version of Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood.
And today, Latin sounds are dominating many pop charts.)
Other members of the band included David's wife
Angela, who contributed to the sound with her castanet-taps
and heel-clicks; lead singer Roberto Amaral, doing flamenco
dancing; and bassist John Glascock, formerly of Chicken Shack,
who was later to join Jethro Tull. (More
"When I heard their harmonies and their
music, I was sold," Paul said.
The rock-flamenco style required a drummer who
could quickly learn and adapt to the unique flamenco rhythym.
"The band provided the challenge I was looking
for," Paul said.
"I told Jeff that I wanted to leave. I think
the fact that Jeff and I had a very strong friendship made
the parting amicable.
"Everyone said I was mad. I was earning
good money, I was driving around in an Aston Martin."
Jeff was such a close friend of Paul's that the
latter's departure created a void within the group that was
hard to fill. Even though Paul was replaced in Christie, it
was at this time that Jeff seriously began thinking of restructuring
the band and re-starting its direction. Ultimately, the group
folded as Jeff chose to pursue a solo career.
Christie's manager, Brian Longley, was as dumbfounded
as anyone at Paul's decision. He told Paul, "I can't
believe you're going to leave a well-paid job in a successful
band for these people who have nothing. I want to meet them."
Meet them he did and Brian subsequently also
became Carmen's manager.
Jeff Christie himself came to see Carmen a few
times, and was suitably impressed with the band, even feeling
envious because flamenco had been a passion of Jeff's from
Prospects looked sound when Carmen recorded two
albums with Tony Visconti, David Bowie's producer, and appeared
with Bowie on the TV show Midnight
However, Carmen's very uniqueness was to prove
"When it was all said and done," Paul
is quoted as saying, "nobody knew what do with us at
the end of the day."
In January 1975, Carmen joined Jethro Tull's
13-week US War Child tour as the opening act, gathering applause
and terrific reviews.
Paul remembers that "in parts of the country
with large Hispanic populations, we got better reviews than
The tour ended in Boston, and while wondering
what to do next, the band went to Long View Farm,
in Baltimore, where things, as it turned out, would never
be the same again for any of them.
Long View Farm had a recording studio and was
owned by Gil Markle, a Clark University professor with a passion
for the music business.
There the band recorded its third album, The
Gypsies. At the
same time, Jeff Christie had flown in, intending to record
an album at Long View as well. Jeff was also keen to learn
more about flamenco music from Carmen.
At the invitation of Paul, Jeff ended up playing
on some tracks on The Gypsies.
However, disaster upon disaster soon befell Carmen,
leaving them no option but to split up.
band was informed that a scheduled tour with the Rolling Stones
had been cancelled, Brian Longley decided to quit as manager,
they lost their recording contract, and Paul suffered a severe
injury while riding a horse at Long View Farm, an accident
from which he took a long time to recover.
After recuperating, Paul recalled:" I'm
also a cabinetmaker. I was at Tony Visconti's house one night
when we were working with him, making him some new cabinets
when Paul McCartney came by.
"They were working on the orchestrations
for 'Band On The Run'.
McCartney asked me if I'd like to join Wings.
"I thought to myself that I couldn't do
that, I thought of these people I loved, who had worked so
hard, and I just couldn't be disloyal.
"I had left a very successful pop band,
and I drove an Aston Martin. I loved that car, but I sold
it so I could stay on with these people. I guess I did the
right thing, although I sometimes kick
myself for it."
However, for Paul, the story has a happy ending.
While with Carmen, Paul had also joined Marc
Bolan's T Rex band as a drummer, staying with them until Marc's
death in 1977. T Rex's first album with Paul as drummer was
Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow.
In the autumn of 1997, original T Rex band member
(recently deceased) Mickey Finn (who had been with the band
since the days of Tyrannosaurus Rex) and Paul were invited
to appear at a specially organised show at Cambridge to commemorate
the 20th Anniversary of Marc Bolan's death.
When Mickey, Paul and Marc's son Rolan appeared
on stage, the audience went wild. A decision to reform T Rex
was inevitable, and today, the band regularly tours Europe,
performing to sell-out audiences.
It's almost come full circle for Paul, who's
back to giving his all on stage, drumming up a storm on great
rock and roll songs. He even has the opportunity to show off
on a drum solo, during the show-stopping 20th
Paul is still regarded by Christie fans as part
of the classic Christie line-up, and in 2009, thrilled audiences
when, after almost 40 years, teamed
up with Jeff's Christie band to play on Yellow
River at a gig in Germany.
Enjoying life, it certainly couldn't be better
for this humble and affable Yorkshireman.
And the Aston Martin? It's now a Mercedes.