The Magic Highway



The Outer Limits: Stan Drogie (left), Gerry Layton, Gerry Smith and Jeff Christie

JEFF Christie's first band of note was The Outer Limits, but it certainly wasn't his first group. Around 1958, Jeff and good mate Rod Brooks formed a unit called Goliath and the Barbarians: Jeff on lead guitar, Gerry Layton on rhythm guitar, Stan Drogie on drums and Rod on sax.
     Jeff wasn't too keen on the saxophone sound, so persuaded Rod to get a bass guitar.
     "Jeff suggested that I got a bass guitar because we wanted to try Shadows stuff so off we went to the local Scheerers music shop and I bought me a red Hofner bass guitar. The next step was to Jeff's house and he taught me the basics and off I went," Rod recalls.
     Even at this young age, Jeff was somewhat of a musical prodigy, adept at guitars and keyboards and having already won a talent competition when he was 13.
    "We knocked off Shadows and Ventures instrumentals one after another. Jeff was the best thing since sliced bread with his Hank Marvin style. Nobody could touch him," Rod said.
    The band changed the name to The Tremmers, and began to make a name for themselves on the local circuit, even being considered innovators of the northern UK rock sound. They were offered local gigs: the Cro Magnon Club (local) and a Friday, Saturday and Sunday at a night club called the Tahiti.
     They also used a couple of lead singers when they needed to produce some vocal numbers in their acts. One of them was a black singer named Gary Steele, unusual for that time.
     Like any new band trying to establish themselves, they found that income was meagre and expenses had to be curtailed. "Our transport was a very small Austin A35 van which belonged to Gerry's dad. Gerry drove, Jeff sat on Stan's knee, and I laid on top of the gear in the back ... being the smallest," Rod said. (Stan was a burly ex-boxer.)
     Finding that they needed to expand beyond playing just instrumentals, the band decided Rod should become a singing guitar player. "The first number I ever sang was "It's all over now" by Shane Fenton and the Fentones," Rod said. (Shane later took the stage name Alvin Stardust).
     "Jeff never sang in those days. He was a little shy I suppose. His singing started when he formed the Outer Limits after I left, and I formed the Dawnbreakers."
     Jeff recruited Paul Cardus to replace Rod on bass. Paul and Gary later left the group to join a group called 5-Man Cargo, and Gerry Smith came on to play bass. This line-up was responsible for putting out three singles under the name of The Outer Limits: When the Work is Thru, Just One More Chance, and Great Train Robbery.
     When the Work is Thru, a song written and produced by Godfrey Claff, was a charity record for Leeds University which was only released in Leeds for RAG (Raise-and-Give) Week. "Gerry Layton plays sax on this very effectively," Jeff recalls.
     On the flipside was a song by 5 Man Cargo, thus making the record one on which seven Outer Limits members played.
     Thanks to help from Jeff's father, the Outer Limits secured a recording contract with Deram, and Just One More Chance was the first single - and it proved a promising start for the band.
     "This was my first time in a London studio to actually make a record and not audition for a record contract," Jeff says, "and I suppose marked the beginning of my recording career.
     "I was 20, excited, and eager to fly! It was a beautiful day, the birds were singing, and so was I. The session went smoothly, and there was a buzz of expectancy in the air as the song was generating a lot of hopes of a hit.
     "By today’s standards it probably was, albeit a minor one in that it bubbled under the top 50 for a few weeks. Today we have a top 75 chart, so by definition it might have had a placing between 50 and 60.
     "It generated massive airplay, particularly on pirate stations Radio Caroline, and Radio London, as well as the BBC. It also had heavy airplay in Germany, and was a small hit in Germany, and very popular in Berlin for some reason."
     This song also generated a few covers - a great coup for the young songwriter! There was an Italian version, the first time someone covered a Jeff Christie song, and also a typically surf-sound rendition by US surfer group The Hondells.
     The B-Side, Help Me Please, features almost unrecognisable vocals by Jeff - caused by a bad cold. Jeff calls this his Spencer Davis impersonation.
     The second single promised so much more: The Great Train Robbery had a lavish musical arrangement and production, and such was the melody that it had a more instantaneous appeal than Just One More Chance. Things were also looking rosy when the group was signed onto the Immediate label owned by Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham.
     Perhaps in tribute to the Outer Limits' promise, the song was chosen to launch Immediate's progressive rock label, Instant, which paradoxically worked against them because the label was not well-known. The Immediate catalog number originally issued to Great Train Robbery was subsequently given to PP Arnold's Angel of the Morning. But more damaging was the fact that because there had recently been a real great train robbery in the UK, the BBC were very sensitive about playing anything that might be seen as glorifying the event - even though Jeff's song was a fiction/fantasy Western Railroad stick-up.

Outer Limits

     Subsequently, there was little airplay .. and what everyone had tipped as a surefire hit never eventuated.
     Gerry Layton left before the group accompanied Jimi Hendrix on a pop package tour in November 1967, and was replaced by Steve Isherwood. Stan left the following year, and was replaced by Rod Palmer. Paul Cardus rejoined as bass player for a couple of shows.
     This new line-up soldiered on until the demise in early 1969, and the break-up became the subject of a Yorkshire Television documentary titled 'Death of a Pop Group'.
     If anything, the Outer Limits experience served as a good launching pad for Jeff's songwriting and singing career. Apart from the songs that were released as singles, the band performed several other original compositions of Jeff's, while giving him the opportunity to develop as a more-than-competent vocalist. Jeff and his father also composed a piece called The Dream - Jeff wrote the music, his father the words. Heavily influenced by Procol Harum, the song is a beautiful piece of work which features Jeff on hammond organ.
     After the group's break-up, Jeff vigorously pursued his songwriting ambitions .. and after a few months, succeeded in getting the Tremeloes to record Yellow River. The rest, of course, is history.


When The Work Is Thru/What a Wonderful Feeling (5-Man Cargo)
Just One More Chance/Help Me Please
Great Train Robbery/Sweet Freedom

Outer Limits CDOTHER SONGS (all by Jeff Christie except where noted)

The Dream: This was a song inspired by Procol Harum's Whiter Shade of Pale, and shares a lovely keyboard refrain. The melody was composed by Jeff, the lyrics by Jeff's dad Michael.

Stop: This is such a perfect pop song, mixing twinkling piano with electric guitar. It embodies a bit of everything that was popular in the 60s: Motown, R&B, pop, rock, and strong harmonies. Would surely have been a big chance of becoming a hit if released.

Everything I Touch: The group had a unique sound with their harmonies. This is more strong 60s pop fare, and easily would have been a crowd pleaser at the band's gigs.

Any Day Now: The piece has a killer riff, which would not sound out of place if sampled on any of today's songs.

See It My Way: Great two- and three-part harmonies in a melodic arrangement that clearly shows the band were always striving to produce a sound that was more than just straightforward pop.

Funny Clown: Throw in the melodies of the Beatles, the harmonies of the Hollies, and the coarser harder edge of the Who, and you might be able to conjure up the basic sound of the band. Jeff throws in a basic top line tune, and goes off on a couple of tangents.

Listen: As above. Great counter harmonies, and again, a complex song progression. It must be said that in all the songs, Stan Drogie does a great job with the drums moving from one arrangement to another.

Paper Jake: A heavier, progressive sound, verging on the psychedelic, but with a nice underlying melody.

Days Of Spring: Delving deeper into psychedelia here perhaps. You can almost see the concentric circles swirling round.

Epitaph For A Non-entity: As the title says, a story of a lonely man. A lovely melody for this slower-paced piece.

Man In The Middle Of Nowhere: Jeff's voice sounds very John Lennon-esque at times, and when the band sticks to a straightforward pop song, they can almost sound like the Beatles. This is one such piece, with a lovely chorus, and even the title is reminiscent of a Beatles song (Nowhere Man).

It's Your Turn Now: Jeff's twinkling ivories kicks off this song, which culminates in a nice, almost-singalong chorus, backed once again by the great harmony work.

Dancing Water: Back to the psych sound, and there's maybe a hint of mind-altering substances with the name of the song.

Look At Me: Along with Stop, perhaps the best of the band's pure pop songs. Again very Beatles-like, but certainly in a mould of its own. Great bass riff and nice chorus. Throw in an electric guitar riff, soften the harmonies, and this could have been a Christie song.

Run For Cover: Another instantly likeable pop tune. Verse, chorus and bridge all gel into a song which must have had the dance floors packed.

Mr Magee's Incredible Banjo Band: This closely resembles Great Train Robbery, but stands up in its own right. Maybe it would have even made for a better single. Tremendous melody, and just rife for all the lavish extras that accompanied Train Robbery. It's boosted by a nice instrumental interlude and those magnificent harmonies. Probably my favourite Outer Limits song.

Tomorrow Night: The most unlikely-sounding OL song. This was written to a formula: ultra-commercial singalong melody for which Jeff hoped other performers would perhaps buy, and certainly not in the band's own style. This was the famous song which Jeff planned to give to the Tremeloes, but his tape overshot the mark and instead accidentally played Yellow River. The rest was history.

Writing On The Wall: A powerful song with punchy guitar riffs, featured in part on the documentary Death of a Pop Group.