The Magic Highway


JEFF was interviewed by BBC Kent’s The Saturday Carry-On morning program hosts Paul James and Paul Harris in October 2008.

The PaulsPJH: We’ll be talking to Jeff Christie, who had that wonderful record Yellow River. He was just called Christie at the time; 20 million records, that sold, which is amazing. When you think today what they have to sell to get a gold record, nowhere near as many as they used to sell …

PJH: It’s a really summery song, brilliant.That sold over 20 million copies. And Jeff Christie is down the line to speak to us. Good morning Jeff, you must be sick to death of it ..

JC: No, I still get a kick out of listening to it, believe it or not.

PJH: It’s a great summery feel. When did it come out, Jeff?

JC: It came out, actually, April 3 was the release date, 1970, it was no 1 by July, and it was a really hot summer in 1970, if I recall rightly. It just goes well with a good summer.

PJH: How did you come to record that?

JC: At the time I’d just finished with the group I was with, The Outer Limits, and I had written Yellow River alongside other songs and I was just trying to get the songs to various artists … and came across the Tremeloes and offered them a song called Tomorrow Night, which I had written specifically for them, and they said that was the sort of stuff they were trying to get away from .. and it just went onto Yellow River, and they liked that, and it went on the boil and off the boil, and eventually they decided not to record it, and I recorded it.

PJH: It was No 1 in 26 countries. Amazing!

JC: It’s had an extraordinary life. REM recorded it a few years ago, Elton John did it in 1970, it’s spawned hundreds and hundreds of covers. But I still get a kick out of listening to my version.

PJH: Have you seen the Tremeloes since?

JC: I have worked with them over the years many times. I received an e-mail from Rick West, the Trems guitarist, a few days ago about a possible gig, so we do keep in contact.

PJH: It must be a bit galling for them to have turned it down.

JC: It’s a benchmark. I actually had four hits, three with Christie, one with the Outer Limits, but Yellow River was such a massive hit worldwide … in the countries where it didn’t get to No 1, it was top 10 .. it’s very difficult to follow that so that 20 to 30 years later, people tend to remember that as one hit. But the follow-up was a big hit too, San Bernadino, and Iron Horse was top 50, but it’s hard to follow a song like Yellow River because it’s a classic.

PJH: You could have become a film star. In 1970 Lionel Jeffries offered you a role in The Railway Children if you’d cut your hair.

JC: True story. I went for an audition and had done a bit of TV extra work. My hair was really long and I had this record coming out in a couple of months and Lionel asked me if I could cut my hair because they were considering me for a part in the film. I was excited at that but there was no way I was going to cut my hair, because I’ve got this record coming out, it’s rock and roll, and that’s my priority.

PJH: You toured with Jimi Hendrix.

JC: It was phenomenal. I had reasons to be at Newcastle City Hall a few weeks back, and the last time I was there was in this tour, I remember standing in the wings watching Hendrix play. I stood next to Carl Wayne from The Move. It was one of those nights when Jimi had a Gibson Flying V and he had a few problems with the tuning and he threw the guitar like an arrow, like a spear into the stack of Marshall amplifiers and smoke came out, just exploded, crashes and bangs, the audience went bananas and it looked as if it was rehearsed but it wasn’t. The whole thing was unbelievable.
Just to be there and see that, that’s up there with the greats. At the end of the tour, there was an after-show party, all the bands went but we had a gig so we couldn’t go. I’ve always regretted that because he showed films of every single band on that tour with him. The films are probably part of his estate.

PJH: You’ve got a new double CD including The Outer Limits ..

JC: Right across the world, it’s been getting fabulous reviews. A lot of the OL stuff is demo’ed. Stuff that was hopefully going to come out on an album, it’s a piece of its time. It’s not pristine, it’s not digital perfection, you can hear all the false bits, it captures the period.

PJH: You wrote every song. 43 tracks written by the same writer.

JC: Well, I’m a songwriter. The album is basically pre- and post-Christie. The album after the OL disc was a solo album I did in the late 70s and that didn’t come out because of contractual reasons, which was frustrating. Most of the songs I was just overdubbing myself, using a small league of friends and players, the odd session guy. When the album didn’t come out, I was gutted, so I’m pleased that the songs are out now.