Christie started music career at Judean Club

DAVID SAFFER meets Jeff Christie who hopes to score with his World Cup song Hat Trick of Lions (Come on England)

FOUR decades ago, Jeff Christie toppled England's World Cup anthem Back Home from the top of the charts with Yellow River.

And he has updated the classic song as Hat Trick of Lions (Come on England), which is set to become the unofficial anthem for Wayne Rooney and co's bid for World Cup glory in South Africa.

Released on Monday as a digital download, the song has had positive reviews - to the delight of the Leeds-born singer/songwriter.

"There is a tremendous feel-good factor about it," Jeff told the Jewish Telegraph.

"Yellow River has an ability to make people nostalgic, but this is so totally different and has a multicultural tag."

In British popular music history Yellow River has achieved a cult status, but it's a long way from Jeff's musical experiences growing up in Chapeltown and Chapel Allerton districts of Leeds with parents Toni and Mickey Christie.

Influenced by their mother, Jeff and elder brother Lester enjoyed operatic and classical music while also taking piano lessons.

Struggling to master Mozart and Beethoven, Jeff switched musical instruments after hearing Spanish flamenco guitarists first hand.

But there was only one route to follow after Elvis Presley exploded onto the music scene.

"All the rock 'n' roll guys were my heroes," Jeff recalled.

"Little Richard blew me away and then there were Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochrane and Gene Vincent.

"I was a reasonable piano player, but when rock 'n' roll came along I took to it like a duck to water.

"Dad had bought me a Spanish guitar and after school I would hack away. I got a chord book but knew chord structures and scales from the piano so would play a chord and work it out on the guitar."

Following a few guitar lessons, Jeff teamed up with pals at the Judean Club in Leeds.

"I'd made up my mind to make a living as a musician," he recalled. "I thought, how cool would it be to earn a living as a guitar player?

"The 1960s was such a revolutionary period. Anything was possible. It produced The Beatles, James Bond, British fashion and Carnaby Street.

"We'd practice at the Judean Club and then set up at Roundhay Park and perform."

Jeff - who has two younger brothers, Mark and Robin - formed a skiffle band 3Gs + 1 and then The Tremmers which developed into The Outer Limits who built a national following.

Predictions of a bright future ensued from those in the know, but struggling to make an impact, Jeff began to pen his own material influenced by a host of sounds on the radio.

"I listened to everything and knew about obscure blues and rock 'n' roll artists people on the street had never heard of," he said

"Backed by classical and flamenco influences, my own style evolved."

Hungry for success, Jeff added: "The first thing you want to be is a musician, then turn professional and then be in a group, do gigs, raise your profile, sign a record deal, have a hit and then hopefully a number one."

The Outer Limits recorded Just One More Chance, which proved to be a minor hit that spawned three covers, and the group toured with Jimi Hendrix in 1967 alongside Pink Floyd, The Move, Amen Corner, The Nice and Eire Apparent.

"The Hendrix tour was amazing," Jeff said.

"We were playing a lot of Motown songs, but then Lee Jackson (The Nice) heard me sing one of my first original songs on stage, Sweet Freedom, which was a bit of a rocker and his comments gave me the confidence to stop playing everyone else's stuff."

Not long after the tour, The Outer Limits broke up and, for a couple of years, Jeff played in a trio at the Lido Revue Bar in Leeds while writing prolifically in search of a hit.

"I was heartbroken when The Outer Limits finished because we so nearly broke through, but I'd evolved as a songwriter," he said.

The big breakthrough arrived when Jeff sent a tape of Yellow River, among other tracks, to The Tremeloes. The group liked Yellow River, but declined it as they were enjoying success with their own material.

Other groups registered an interest in the track, but Jeff recorded it with his own group Christie with CBS Records.

And the decision paid off as the single topped the charts in 26 countries, including the UK for three weeks in June 1970.

Selling more than 20 million records, Yellow River netted 10 gold discs and accolades including the prestigious Ivor Novello Award.

Looking back to those halcyon days, Jeff said: "I hit on a chord sequence that was quite unusual.

"From a technical point of view Yellow River was a merger of major and minor chords. The song is upbeat, but the minor chords had a melancholy sound about them.

"The buzz Yellow River created was incredible.

"There was a massive rush to get the band rehearsed, there was TV, radio. It got crazy. After months of waiting things took off in a big way.

"Yellow River changed my life forever. There is a website with all the covers from Elton John to REM. Every conceivable version has been done, but there is something about the original.

"Yellow River at the time captured a moment and clicked around the world. You cannot put your finger on it, but it had a magical quality and I was lucky enough to have created it."

Follow-up single San Bernadino reached Number 5 in the UK, Number 1 in Germany and made top 10 in many European countries.

Various musicians went on to work with Jeff as he forged a career in the music industry touring the world.

The current line up of Christie - Jeff on lead vocals and guitar, Adrian Foster (lead guitar), Simon Kay (drums) and Kevin Moore (bass) - has been together since 1990 and performs at gigs with bands from its heyday.

Christie enjoyed a successful 2009 European tour and has a big gig in Berlin next month.

"The buzz when you come off stage is incredible," Jeff said.

"With Yellow River, when you play it, especially abroad, you don't have to sing it, the audience sings it for you.

"Germany is a fantastic market for British groups from the 60s and 70s.

"I think it has something to do with The Beatles and Hamburg. The Germans have a sense of ownership and there is a special relationship."

Yellow River stunned the music world in 1970 and Jeff has his place assured in pop music folklore.

"Yellow River has become a classic and sometimes I look back on those days and think it's not me," he said.

"When you tell people you toured with Hendrix, their chins drop, because he was a god, as were Jim Morrison and Elvis.

"All were iconic figures and their songs became classics. Yellow River is up there and that is a very satisfying feeling."

* Hat Trick of Lions (Come on England) is available to download from Monday. Watch the video on YouTube.

© 2010 Jewish Telegraph