The Magic Highway



Christie 1974

From left: Grahame Whyte, Tony Ferguson, Roger Willis,
Roger Flavell and Jeff Christie (seated)

CHRISTIE fans still see photos of this line-up floating around from time to time, and — apart from not knowing who some of the members are — often wonder why there are five people in the shot. After all, Christie had always performed as a trio or a quartet.
     These 1974 photographs, as it turned out, proved to be the last promotional pictures taken of the band before it officially split up in the 70's. It shows Jeff, Roger Flavell, and three new members — Tony Ferguson (lead guitar), Roger Willis (drums) and Grahame Whyte (guitar). The recruits had been with a band called Capability Brown, whose music had garnered some critical acclaim.
Capability Brown     Capability Brown had and still have a cult following in UK music history as a "progressive" band, ultimately based on an outstanding piece from their second album, Voice. But largely their range covered mainstream pop music, treated in an "arty", alternative fashion. The band was a six-piece in which everyone sang and played instruments. The line-up consisted of Tony Ferguson (guitar, bass), Dave Nevin (keyboards, guitar, bass), Kenny Rowe (bass, percussion), Grahame White (guitar, lute, balalaika, keyboards), Joe Williams (percussion) and Roger Willis (drums, keyboards).
     Ferguson and Nevin wrote the majority of the band’s material, and the band also excelled in covers of obscure material (Rare Bird’s Beautiful Scarlet and Redman, Argent’s Liar, Affinity’s I Am And So Are You and Steely Dan’s Midnight Cruiser).
     Capability Brown’s forte was vocalizing. Together they sounded not unlike The Association or Queen: a massed choir of voices, ranging from baritone to high clean falsettos. Their first album, From Scratch, which included Liar, was average and unexceptional. The second album Voice, released in 1973, was their claim to fame, incorporating an over-20-minute richly melodic piece called Circumstances (In Love, Past, Present, Future Meet) — a stunning piece of music incorporating keyboards, a cappela voices, synthesizers and mellotrons, solo vocals, delicate harpsichord-like acoustic guitar sections, powerful electric guitar chords and massed vocal choirs.
     The band did not manage to record again after this, and in 1974 Tony, Roger and Graham were recruited by friend and Christie member Roger Flavell to join his group on a tour of Central and South America. They replaced Greg Ainsworth and Terry Fogg, who had left for other pursuits.

Christie 1974

     However, Graham never showed up for rehearsals because of illness with his father, and days Liarbefore the tour was scheduled to begin, decided to pull out of the group altogether. The shows went ahead without him, and proved to be a success. It was on this tour that Roger performed Guantanamera on stage, to much approval from the Spanish-speaking audiences. The group also performed another song specially for the Latin fans, Navajo. The two songs were released as separate singles in Mexico, with Navajo hitting No 1 in the Mexican charts. In Europe, the two songs were released back-to-back on a single.
     The Capability Brown members incorporated two of their songs into the Christie stage sets — covers of Rare Bird's Redman, and Argent's Liar. There was an interesting connection here — Liar was written by well-known songwriter Russ Ballard, who was in Unit 4 + 2 with former Christie member Lem Lubin.
     The group broke up shortly after the tour, and Christie never performed live in the 70s again. Tony, Roger and Graham reunited to form a group called Krazy Kat. Today, Roger still plays in a band, Tony is a high-ranking executive at A&M Records, while sadly Grahame passed away in 2008. See also History.