Here's Pt 1
of an interview Jeff did with Ralph Gowling, editor of the
UK publication Beat Magazine, which appeared in September
YELLOW RIVER was
the perfect record to start the 1970s because it triumphantly
showed that thrilling and creative music-making would not
end with the curtain coming down on the Swinging Sixties.
The record soared to No.1 in Britain and in 25 other countries
across the world, propelling Jeff Christie and his band
to international stardom. Jeff wrote the memorable lyrics
that conjured up the image of a US Civil War soldier getting
ready to go home at the end of the fighting. He also came
up with the bouncy musical backing that drove the number
along at a fast lick.
River helped lay to rest many fears as the 70s dawned
that rock music might die because The Beatles and many other
acts who had spearheaded the pop revolution that swept across
the globe in the 60s were calling it a day or had already
disappeared from the air waves.
Jeff was clearly a gifted singer-songwriter and two more
major hits, San Bernadino and
Iron Horse, ensured that Christie
- his appropriately named group - were not just one-hit
wonders but an act that would be firmly stamped in the annals
of pop history.
Now he has a fascinating
new double-CD package entitled No
Turn Unstoned and remains a big draw when he performs
live in continental Europe and elsewhere.
Christie were huge
in mainland Europe and South America, and those fan bases
have stayed very loyal.
Jeff was kind enough
to give The Beat an in-depth interview, despite a busy period
in his schedule to talk about the new CD, which underlines
just what a master he is at crafting pop songs with lyrics
that tell whole stories and music that helps to build up
a full picture. The CD, containing 40 tracks, is on the
Angel Air label.
The CD is a brave
venture by Jeff, as he says himself. All but two of the
40 tracks were "warts 'n' all unfinished demos and
outtakes that were not originally intended for public consumption
until re-recorded and mastered - hence the bum notes, sometimes
dodgy tempo variations, and other imperfections and tape
I personally found
the CD a riveting listen because it highlights Jeff's rich
creativity. If you enjoy good or interesting lyrics backed
by musical imagery, then this is a must-buy.
I've already listened
to all 40 tracks three times since I received a copy a week
The Beat's interview
threw up just how passionate Jeff is about his songwriting,
the buzz he still gets when performing live, just how close
The Tremeloes instead of Jeff came to having a No.1 hit
with Yellow River, the creative
energy of the music business at the time, and a vivid picture
of what it was like when Christie had the world at their
If that wasn't
enough, he opened the door to the possibility of a UK tour
or string of dates - something that would almost certainly
be music to the ears of Golden Oldies fans in Britain keen
to see "new faces" on the circuit.
"I'm on a
journey when I'm writing songs, and I'd like to take the
listener with me as I roam about!" said Jeff.
from Angel Air was keen to put out an album of songs from
the Christie period in the 70s. I had quite a lot of songs
from that period in the form of unfinished demos, outtakes,
rehearsal takes etc., all of varying sonic quality. Some
even had tape dropout and various other noises due to deterioration
which I had thought would be unacceptable for public release.
were, bar a few exceptions, mainly 'notepad' demos that
I did for singles or album consideration in small studios
in the Leeds area with time and financial constraints, so
the prevailing motivation was not to make finished masters
with 'perfect' recordings. I did them fast with the aim
of polishing them later at CBS studios in Bond Street, which
is where Christie made records.
Air heard the songs they were very enthusiastic and keen
to put them out as they were, warts and all. The fact that
they were unfinished gave them a certain gritty charm, unlike
some records of today that are sonically perfect but somehow
often lack character. Angel Air felt these songs were good,
and had integrity and character by the bucket load.
"I began to
view them differently, and slowly began to embrace the adage
that 'Inspired amateurism can sometimes be more thrilling
than professional perfection'. As it took root I then started
to sift through my archives and start shortlisting tracks
from that timeframe.
four songs on CD1 were done at home in Burnham on a Grundig
tape recorder with band members from the time circa 1973.
The remaining tracks in CD1 were done in the Leeds studios
mentioned previously. Track 15 on CD2 was done on a cassette
recorder at home in Leeds at the end of the decade, tracks
16, 17 at Longview Farm Studios in Massachusetts and 18-20
done at RK Studios, London 1979/80.
"I hope the
songs will speak for themselves in as much as content over
style can, as opposed to the other way round. There are
so many different songs here and this is what I love to
do - diversify.
"I have a
long history of experimentation with songwriting, given
the limits of my ability, and would not be true to myself
if I allowed myself to play safe with formulaic songs. The
fact that my most successful songs were in the country rock/pop
box is immaterial to me and does not define me as a songwriter."
There have been
whispers in the music business of late that Jeff would like
to do gigs in the UK again, so is it true and how practical
would it be for him and the rest of the current Christie
band as they currently operate mostly in mainland Europe?
"I have been
playing in bands for over 50 years and the getting up early
for planes and hanging around airports, then maybe driving
for hours on end in all kinds of weather, not to mention
waiting around for sound checks at gigs, starts to wear
you down after a while," he said.
"I'm not a
big fan of that anymore. It just drains all the juice from
the battery like a reverse blood transfusion!
the time you get to the actual performance, your energy
levels are way below what they should be and therefore it
takes so much more out of you.
it's hard to equal the feeling of coming off stage to rapturous
applause - the high is like nothing on earth!
"I don't gig
a great deal. I try to cherry pick and get a reasonable
balance with the odd TV show abroad, plus radio and occasional
press interviews from time to time that keep things ticking
over quite nicely. It also allows me time to write which
is such a release and a kind of therapy for me.
are outside the UK and we get on planes with our guitars,
and all backline is at the gig, which means no worries about
equipment or vans breaking down on the way to gigs etc.
"If a tour
or string of gigs were offered in the UK, that would make
more sense and be more worthwhile as you would then hire
in the help needed, i.e. backline and PA."
Yellow River - with its almost
jangly guitar riffs, throbbing bass lines and full drum
and percussive sound - was such a huge international success
that it has perhaps overshadowed other great Christie numbers
like Iron Horse, a personal
favourite of mine and many others.
Did it become something
of a millstone for Jeff in meeting expectations or was it
an accomplishment that set a high benchmark that has inspired
his songwriting over the last four decades?
Ralph: there is a truth in both your answers. San
Bernadino was also a big hit worldwide and Iron
Horse to a lesser extent also.
story of Iron Horse is that
our manager Brian Longley would get the sales figures from
CBS daily when it was sitting just outside the top 30. Johnny
Nash's I Can See Clearly Now
was selling less than Iron Horse
and appeared to leapfrog over us into the top 30 whilst
Iron Horse dropped out of the
Of course, it was
well known behind-the-scenes at the time that record sales
and therefore the charts could be "manipulated"
- after all there was a lot of money and prestige riding
on success or failure.
Brian Epstein is
reported to have bought thousands of copies of 'Love
Me Do' for his record shop in Liverpool in an attempt
to get The Beatles' debut single for the Parlophone label
into the charts.
These kind of practices
were something the music industry liked to hush up.
Jeff's songs remain in demand across the world and Christie
have been incredibly popular in continental Europe and South
America for decades now, pulling in huge crowds to shows.
"I don't know
why, but my best guess it all starts with how a song can
mean so much to people that they want to own it too. It
becomes part of the fabric and soundtrack of their life
and stays that way.
then to want to see the artist/creator from whom this 'gift'
sprang from, so when the artist or artists come to town
there is this sense of excitement at seeing an old friend
again, but of course it's more than that.
"This is the
magic of music, and one of many effects it has on people's
soul. It crosses all boundaries and can unite everyone.
audience I played to was at the International Stadium in
Bogota in the 70s to an estimated 30,000 people, outdrawing
Santana who had played there sometime before. Could never
get my head round that, but it's something you don't forget
in a hurry.It feels like some kind of a trophy now!
the Schalke Football Stadium in Germany last year and that
crowd was over 20,000!"