The Magic Highway


An interview from the Yorkshire Evening Post, April 2010


By Grant Woodward

come on cd“SORRY about that,” says Jeff Christie, earnest in his apologies for keeping me waiting.
     “I was doing an interview with a radio station. My phone’s going crazy.
    “I have to say I was a bit sceptical about all this in the beginning, but we’re having a lot of fun and it’s getting a tremendous response.”
    Forty years ago, Jeff was living the high life. His record was top of the charts, his band Christie were selling millions of records around the world and a glittering future beckoned.
    “We went to No.1 in lots of different countries but we only celebrated here,” he recalls. “CBS, which was our record label at the time, picked us up in this massive Austin Princess and just kind of chauffered us around London.
    “We went for lunch somewhere and there was press and gosh knows what. The whole thing was an incredible ride, it was a bit unreal in a way.
    “When you’re kids you just want to get a record deal, then when you get a record deal you want a hit record. Then, when you get a hit record, you want a No.1.
    “All those things happened and life was never the same again.”
    The hit record that went to No.1 was called Yellow River. Chances are you know it, even if you don’t think you do.
    As well as topping the charts here for three weeks in June 1970, it also reached No.1 in 26 other countries.
yep     Now it’s being re-released as Hat Trick of Lions (Come on England), complete with reworked lyrics (‘Blow that whistle the game is won, Fill my glass high the time has come’), ska brass and even a rap, to coincide with the approaching nationalistic fervour of another World Cup.
    “Dave Robertson (the song’s producer) had this idea of doing Yellow River as a World Cup song but I wasn’t sure to start with because the song has a life of its own,” says Jeff, now 63 and living in
    “It still sells in its original form right across the world and I thought ‘I don’t really need this’.
    “It was only when Dave was able to sell me his vision of it that I thought, ‘Well it’s not really me but it doesn’t matter because a great song’s a great song and will lend itself to being adapted’.
    “I’m sure it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but people who have heard the song say it’s great. And of course it helps that most people already know it.”
    Life as a rock singer wasn’t Jeff Christie’s first choice of career. Growing up on the border of Chapeltown and Chapel Allerton, he had dreams of becoming a Spanish flamenco guitarist.
    But he soon discovered to his disappointment that there weren’t many flamenco groups in Britain, let alone Leeds 7.
    He moved to London at 23, by which time he had already toured on the same bill as Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd with his first band The Outer Limits, who were big in Yorkshire before splitting in 1968.
 cutting   They had a small hit with Just One More Chance, while second single Great Train Robbery was produced by Rolling Stones’ knob-twiddler Andrew ‘Loog’ Oldham but banned from the BBC for being, as Jeff puts it, “too close to the mark”.
    “Between 1968 and 1970 I was working in the Leader Revue Bar, which was in Albion Place in Leeds, playing in a trio to keep body and soul together,” says Jeff.
    “I was writing as much as I could at that time and knocking out half a dozen songs a week. In those days it was a lot easier to get to bands, so I’d go and see them and take them the songs I’d written.
    “The Tremeloes were having a lot of success with these Italian sort of songs and I’d written one for them called Tomorrow Night, but they said that was exactly the kind of thing they were trying to get away from.
    “I played them Yellow River and they loved it but they ended up dropping it and putting out something themselves, so I ended up releasing it myself.”
    Many musicians come to loathe the song that brought them their biggest success, think Noel Gallagher and Wonderwall or REM and Shiny Happy People, but Jeff doesn’t feel that way about Yellow River.
    “It’s kind of like a little child that you release into the world and it becomes its own personality, it has its own life.
    “When I hear it I’m still proud of it and still think it’s a great song. It’s been very good to me and the fact that 40 years later people still have an interest in it is testament itself.
    “It’s been covered by so many people, everyone from Elton John to REM. That shows it’s a classic song.”
    The follow-up single San Bernadino reached No.1 in Germany and made the top 10 over here but after that the hits dried up for Christie.
    Jeff kept the group’s name alive with replacement members, before reforming in 1990 and having an unsuccessful stab at representing the UK in the following year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
    They continued to tour all over Europe, Russia and Israel, recording intermittently, before reconvening last year for a European tour.
  yep  “Christie still has a life,” says Jeff. “I’m still doing gigs and we’ve got a big one coming up in Berlin in July. Germany is quite a big one for us.
    “I never thought when I started playing in bands at 13 that I’d still be doing this but it’s impossible to explain to people what the buzz is like when you come off stage.
    “All the hardship and hassle that goes with it is wiped out by that fantastic reponse you get from people. With a song like Yellow River, when you play that song, especially abroad, you don’t have to sing it, you just play it, the audience sings it for you.”
    As for his World Cup song, Jeff hopes the nation takes it to its heart.
    He used to be a fervent Leeds United fan and counted the likes of Bremner, Charlton and Hunter as close pals. He says he would be delighted to cheer England to victory in South Africa, ideally to the soundtrack of Hat Trick of Lions (Come on England).
    But he’s not pinning his hopes on the song catapulting him back into the limelight in the same way as his namesake Tony Christie, who a few years ago saw his rereleased hit (Is This The Way To) Amarillo go to No.1 and land him a slot at Glastonbury.
    “We’ll see if it’s got legs,” says Jeff. “There are a few things being lined up. I guess we’ll just have to see what happens.
    “I certainly don’t regard this as a make-or-break situation. I’m still writing, so there’s always a chance I might write something else.
    “But even if it doesn’t take off it’s raised the profile of the song a bit and the whole experience has been a lot of fun.”