was interviewed by BBC Merseyside's Spencer Leigh for his
well-known On The Beat show in September 2009. Spencer has
also authored many books and articles on musicians and icons
from Liverpool in the UK, including of course the most famous
exports, The Beatles. Extracts
from the program are provided below.
Leigh (SL): Tell us about your musical background.
Jeff Christie (JC): My
mother was a trained ballet dancer and she instilled in
us a love of classical music. I learnt the piano at an early
age and I learnt it rebelliously because I had not wanted
to do it even though it helped me musically.
But really what changed things for me
was when I heard the Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly records
.. my parents took me to see a flamenco guitarist .........
and I was completely smitten with flamenco and I would have
liked to have learnt flamenco but there was no way you could
have learnt that back then or find a teacher back in those
days, 56 or 57. Rock and roll was the next best thing, we
had never heard anything like it, never seen anything like
it. That inspired me to move off the piano.
But because I had been learning piano
and studying classical theory, I experimented with first
playing little tunes on the piano before I played the guitar,
and maybe that was a budding start to the songwriting that
came through later on. The piano really helped me because
I already knew what the chords were on the piano and I just
transposed them onto the guitar.
SL: Did you ever use any
of your early songs later on?
JC: I think I was 17 or
18 when I first started writing. They were a bit grim and
a bit zany. By this time rock and roll had really moved
up a gear. The Beatles had happened, the group scene had
changed, people weren't wearing red suits and doing Shadows
walks anymore. We started going to record auditions, and
failed them because we were doing other people's songs.
The A&R guy told me afterwards, the band's a good band
but you got to do your own stuff. And that was the turning
point. If we had to get a deal, then we had to start writing.
Nobody else was willing to sit around
with me to have a crack at it, but for me it was an extension
of all the doodling around I used to do on the piano.
So the first songs that came out that
I wrote were probably songs like My
Baby Loves Me and Anna
that the Outer Limits did very very early on, and as the
writing progressed a bit and we got the first record deal,
Just One More Chance, by that
time the writing had improved significantly.
One More Chance was on the Deram label, a progressive
label and subsidiary of Decca.
JC: Yes, it came out in
1967 but we must have done it late '66. It was in some suburb
of London, the first time I had been in a fashion studio.
SL: You'd been playing
all around Leeds, hadn't you?
All over. Been playing everywhere, played the Cavern ..
SL: How well do you remember
the Cavern (famous Liverpool club where the Beatles used
JC: There was a dressing
room on either side of the stage, that's what I remember.
And when the band had finished on stage, they moved their
gear into the dressing room, and it was very much like a
rotation thing, there must have been three bands on when
we played. We played at The Three Coins, a great club in
Leeds, those days there were so many great places to play,
great ballrooms to play, we'd play all over the country.
SL: And you toured with
JC: The Outer Limits toured
with Hendrix, The Move, Amen Corner, Pink Floyd. At that
particular time I remember we were still doing a lot of
Tamla things, and I still didn't have enough confidence
to play the songs I had been writing. One night on the tour
I decided to slip one of my songs in, we only had a short
spot, maybe a quarter of an hour, and we did a song called
Sweet Freedom which is on the
B-side of Great Train Robbery,
and it went down quite well. After the show, Lee Jackson,
the bass player with Nice, came up to me and said "What
was that song you did?" and I said "That was one
of mine" and he said "THAT'S what you should be
playing, not all that other Tamla stuff". There's nothing
quite like encouragement from your peers is there? If somebody
says to you that was great .. that gave me the confidence
to keep on writing.
Hendrix would turn up just before he went
on, say something shyly as he walked on stage. I remember
one time, I think it was at Sheffield, there was one girl
following him around, bugging the hell out of him, telling
him he wasn't as good as Eric Clapton!
He wasn't just a great guitarist, he wrote
some great songs. We used to listen to him in the dressing
room, with the little speakers he had. He used to count
Foxy Lady by jumping up and
down on the stage, and that would be the count-in and then
they would go into the song.
SL: What is interesting
about your songs at that period is the feel of America in
JC: Well, we nearly moved
to the States when I was a young kid. My mother's sister
lived in San Francisco and we were all set to go and then
they were told that if their sons come over, they were liable
to end up in Vietnam and that was the decision which stopped
my parents from moving out there. But we'd been over in
1962, my mother hadn't seen her sister since the war, so
we went, my brothers and I, there were four of us kids.
my dad stayed behind, so we went out there. I was 16 and
I had never seen anything like it in my life. The music
was great .. it was the cars, it was the buildings, it was
the food, it was the whole culture, something about it so
captivated me as a 16 year old kid.
I had also always had this very strong fascination with
the native American Indians as well, when I was a kid I
used to be able to rattle off the names of the tribes ..
the Sioux, the Cherokee, the Rapaho, the Apache, the Comanche
.. I was going to move there later, I was living there in
1975 when Christie broke up, I was actually waiting for
a green card and I was living out the West Coast, then my
father died and I came back and I got stuck back here. But
those influences from America were very, very strong, and
they started to come out in songs.
When the Outer Limits broke up in 1969,
I was actually heartbroken, we were so close, we didn't
have any money, had a lot of problems and I was also playing
at a nightclub in Leeds. I started writing songs, a lot
of songs with an American feel, I wanted to just explore,
I wanted to know if I could write ballads or rock and roll
or a bluesy thing or a country genre. There was one record
which I used to love, Leroy Van Dyke's Walk
On By, I loved the sound of that record. This influenced
me. Yellow River ... I didn't
know there was such a place called Yellow River. I've since
found out that there are .. San Bernadino
came about as I was leafing through the Daily Express
and a column called This Is America .. and the headlines
said Prison riots in San Bernardino, it just rolled off
the tongue. I do that today, if I hear a clutch of words
together or everyday phrases, I just sing them and write
songs about them because there's something about the magic
of creating a song from nothing. Someone might say an innocuous
phrase, Another Point of View
for example, and I'd go hmmm .. good title, that.
SL: Did you try and get
someone else to record Yellow River?
JC: At that time I didn't
have a band, and I was trying keep body and soul together,
I was working at a nightclub, I was playing bass, doing
standards, and I was writing during the day, I was going
round seeing all the acts that were playing at Batley Variety
Club and at that time, Batley was a big venue .. this little
mill town 10 miles out of Leeds, Louis Armstrong had been
there, the biggest stars from all over the world would come
and play there, and a lot of the English bands that had
been in the charts would also play there ... New Seekers,
Alan Price, Tremeloes .. and I had always managed to get
backstage, being relatively local, I knew people there and
I knew the guy at the door and in those days you could access
the artists, you could get to them. There were a lot of
bands not writing their own stuff, and by now I felt that
I was writing good songs. And Yellow
River was just one of a whole bunch of songs.
I had a Grundig tape recorder, a reel
to reel tape, and I'd pick out songs for the artists, I
wasn't writing stuff specifically for them, I was trying
to break through as a songwriter. I'd take my tapes to them,
they'd listen to the songs, the Tremeloes were one group
that picked up on Yellow River.
They ended up taking a copy with them, they had it six to
eight months, first of all they were going to put it on
an album, then they were going to put it out as a single
themselves, then they said they weren't going to do it.
And I was pretty gutted because at the time the Tremeloes
were a pretty big band, and everything they had was top
And then their PR guy Brian Longley
got in touch with me and said The Tremeloes aren't going
to do it, but I've heard your demo and they basically followed
your demo, I've heard you singing it and there's nothing
wrong with you singing it. You've done a couple of records
alteady, how about having a crack at it yourself?
We ended up going to the studio and ended
up using their track and I put lead vocals on their track.
The Tremeloes said themselves it was the biggest mistake
they ever made because if they had put Yellow
River out themselves it would have extended their
career, as they never had a hit after that.
You could see there was such a buzz about
this song, there were so many people in the music business
who wanted to get this out quickly, Gordon Mills wanted
to manage me, and had Leapy Lee who was going to do it,
the thing was hot. I thought that if this created too many
waves, this wouldn't come out at all. I was inexperienced
and I allowed myself to be pressured, and I got steamrollered
into doing it.
SL: And it didn't come
out under the name of Jeff Christie.
JC: No, because a group
was put together and Brian suggested a name Christie because
it was the fashion at the time to use the lead singer or
writer of the group's surname, like Santana or Manfred Mann,
I thought that was a good idea later on, so it came out
SL: There were three of
you in the group and one of them was Alan Blakley, the Tremeloe's,
JC: Yeh, it was all very
political how that band was put together. The Tremeloes
were with CBS, Mike Smith was the producer for the Tremeloes,
and they were just cracking the whip, they were saying this
is how this is all going to happen. I was just a young lad
from Leeds, overawed by it all. I met these two guys from
London, Mike Blakley and Vic Elmes, they'd been playing
for years and years trying to break through, they had groups
like The Epics and Acid Gallery, and had all this help from
Alan Blakley, and still hadn't made it. We started rehearsing,
it was ok but I wasn't happy at all. The song was No 1 and
we went all over the world and they were putting us out
on tours, but I really felt it just wasn't good enough.
I said to management either they go or I go, and I sort
of closed the band down 18 months later. I resurrected it
and put different people in. Over the next five years different
people would come into the group, and it didn't matter because
really it was only a vehicle for me and my songs.
(In the 90s) I put a band together again
because people had been getting in touch with me for the
nostalgia circuit, in places like Germany. That band's been
with me now nearly 20 years.
That explains a German album I have called Thommy's
Christmas Party, which features two songs from the
JC: They wanted a lot of
bands to do two tracks each for a Christmas
album .. one would be a classic Christmas song and the
other one of your own. I had a song of my own called Northern
Lights, which I changed to Yuletide
Lights. So then I had to choose another song, a cover,
and I thought, "What's left", I don't like most
of them anyway, and it dawned on me that probably the best
Christmas song was Happy Christmas
War Is Over, and I thought, dare I do that? It was
a great song and me tipping my hat to Lennon and the Beatles
because they kicked the doors down for the old regime of
what music was in this country, and have a crack yourselves.
SL: People can still book
Christie and you do stuff like Yellow
River and new songs.
JC: Yes, we're out this
week in Germany and been to Spain this year doing TV and
we have a big show in Belgium coming up, there's always
been a strong reverence in Germany for British hit bands
of the 60s and 70s. Probably goes back to the Beatles Hamburg
thing? Yellow River and San
Bernadino have become two very big worldwide hits
and Yellow River in particular
has become kind of a standard, kind of a classic.
SL: Using Yellow
River for Yellow Pages .. that must have been your
JC: No, no, believe it
or not .. these things are done by the publishers, I had
no say in it at all. At first I thought it cheapened the
song in some way, fingers walking and stuff like that, but
if it had come to me in the first place, I would have probably
said No. Songs are like your babies, you nourish them and
send them out into the world, and if they're really, really
successful, they have a life of their own, you can't always
SL: Jeff Christie, it's
been great talking to you, thanks very much indeed, and
we hope to see you playing Yellow
River live in Liverpool at some stage.
JC: Well, I'd love to come
to Liverpool and play at the Cavern!