The Magic Highway


From the very early days: here's a pin-up from Jackie magazine, and an article from New Musical Express.



By Gordon Coxhill

It was Jeff Christie's big chance. A 22-year-old from Leeds, he had written some very good songs, and gradually groups and singers were taking an interest in his material, but that all-importan break was still just out of his reach. Then the Tremeloes said they liked one of his songs, Yellow River, and there was a possibility they would record it for their next single.
    "Of course I was knocked out," said Jeff. "To get a top group like the Trems to record a number for an album is something, but a single … that's something else. Naturally I was very disappointed when the Trems told me they had decided not to do Yellow River after all, and I was quite prepared to throw the song into the waste paper basket."
    And that's what would have happened if it hadn't been for Brian Longley. The former cinema manager is a top pop publicist with the Marmalade, Move, Love Affair and the Trems among his clients.
     "As soon as I heard Yellow River, I knew it was a hit song," he told me.  "When the Trems told me they weren't recording it, I asked Jeff if he would record it himself, and I volunteered to manage him. He agreed but said he would rather form a group than be a solo singer. I knew a couple of lads who had been in groups but had been forced to go back to normal jobs.
    "I asked them to come into my office, and Jeff met them. They got along very well, and you can imagine the look on Jeff's face when I told him one of the boys, Mike Blakley, the drummer, was the brother of Alan in the Tremeloes. The other Vic Elmes, a guitarist."
    Having decided on the name Christie, the trio went into the recording studio, along with Brian, and cut Yellow River. A scant few weeks later, it was selling 10,000 copies a day and soaring up the charts.
    The next time I ran into Christie was at Top Of The Pops, and needless to say, the three of them were in very high spirits. "I always thought the song was good," Jeff beamed. "But I never dreamed we would have a big hit with it. We've had no trouble getting radio plays and getting on Top of the Pops is usually a nightmare for new groups.
    "I'm so glad for Mike and Vic, they've worked jard for little success, and if things go the way we hope, we won't have to work quite so hard for a lot more success. Of course it's Brian's first venture as manager so he's walking about like a dog with two tails. People tell me they've never seen him so nervous before, let alone us!"
    Mike, who does look like his brother, told me it was Alan who bought him his first drum kit. "I don't think our parents were too pleased, what with my drums and Alan's guitar," Mike said. "I can't remember if I had made my mind up about a musical career before Alan joined the Trems, but watching them go from success to success and seeing the fun he had, it must have influenced me.
    "Although Yellow River would have been a good song for the Trems, I don't think we are going to be rivals. At the moment, we will be depending on Jeff's material, and melody is very important to him, so our records will always be commercial and hummable.
    "Don't think for a minute that I'm saying we aim to be like Creedence, but take the essence of their music, a hard rock beat, and a very distinctive chorus and strong melody, and that's what we'll be aiming for."
    Vic, who is shaping up as the strong silent one of the group, is more pleased at being able to quit his electrician's job again. "I didn't really want to get back into it," he said, "but Mike and I hadn't had much luck with our groups. When Brian Longley, who helped us out when we had a band called the Epics, introduced us to Jeff, we knew at once it was time to reclaim our national insurance cards.
    "I guess we'll be going out on the road soon, ballrooms, clubs, and we hope it won't be too long before we are professional enough for cabaret work. It's a tough job getting a new group established. A lot of people have taken a risk with us, but we don't intend to let anyone down."
    Last words from Alan Blakley: "My first reaction was to kick myself. It's never an easy job knowing the right songs to record, and we always give it a lot of thought.
    "Obviously it was a very close thing before we diced to give Yellow River back to Jeff. Of course it hurts to see somebody have a very big hit with it, but I'm very proud of Mike and very pleased for all three of them.
    "But I might suggest to the other Trems that we include Yellow River in our stage act!"