Liner Notes from "Right Down the Line" (Courtesy of the Artistís Site, 2006)
The classic pop song had no greater ambassador throughout the 1970s than Gerry Rafferty.
Ironically the greatest charge to his work was when he was battling the music business - the innate fire and passion of the Scotsman pouring forth on the cool, manipulative machinations of the record industry in London; it was a classic 'city to city' confrontation, a fact which he readily acknowledged in the title of his most successful album.
But if Gerry Rafferty was often his own worst enemy then the beneficiaries were a growing army of fans who were to push international sales of City to City above 5.5 million.
Gerry Rafferty arrived in London in 1969 having replaced Tam Harvey alongside Billy Connolly in The Humblebums. For a while their different musical backgrounds provided a fertile counterpoint and yielded two collectors albums but when, in Gerry's words "Billy's jokes were getting longer and longer, the songs shorter and shorter", it was time to go their separate ways.
The miraculous low-budget solo album Can I Have My Money Back? (another provocative title) fulfilled the contract with Trans-Atlantic and set in progress a long, fruitful relationship with producer Hugh Murphy.
It was during the second phase of his career that Gerry Rafferty was to gain his first taste of commercial success after forming Stealers Wheel with Joe Egan, whom he'd first met on the Glasgow pop scene when he was 17. The band should also have featured fife folk luminary Rab Noakes with Gerry and Roger Brown in a British answer to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, but Noakes pulled out, to be followed by a series of personnel changes. True to form, Stuck in the Middle With You, which was a stateside #1 and a song which Paul Simon at the time remarked was his favourite pop song, was conceived as a tongue-in-cheek lampoon on a farcical management pre-signing party for record execs.
"The party was held in a fashionable restaurant in London. We all sat at a huge long table, like one of those scenes from the Last Supper. A few days later Joe Egan and I wrote this humorous little ditty about everyone getting out of it, never thinking it would go to number one in America", Rafferty recalls, "But in some ways it was our downfall because it put a lot of pressure on us."
Refusing to tour the States and generally "play the industry game", he left the band and returned to Scotland as the collapse of their management company eventually brought the curtain down - some would say prematurely, some would say for the best - on Stealers Wheel's chequered four-year run.
Unfettered by management or musician problems, Gerry Rafferty was now to embark on the most consistently productive period of his career. He had left London disillusioned and licking his wounds, but back in the bosom of his family he was soon ready to demo five or six songs in Edinburgh and set off in search of the recording deal that was to lead him to United Artists.
"I knew I'd written a good bunch of songs so I called Hugh Murphy and we recorded at Chipping Norton. I remember thinking I'd be pleased if City to City sold 50,000 copies" he recalls. It sold five and a half million, delivered arguably the best pop song of the year in Baker Street and certainly the most memorable sax intro of all time, although Raphael Ravenscroft's line had actually been written and performed by Rafferty on the original demo of the song."
Both he and Murphy knew they had an outstanding track but felt it too esoteric to foist on a record company and indeed United artist pre-empted its release with the album's title track before a groundswell from among the ranks at UA demanded its inevitable single status.
The shadow of melancholy now seemed to rise like a weight from Gerry Rafferty's shoulders. Baker Street was an instant smash and he went on tour with the core of top session team that had made City to City - men like Tommy Eyres, Gary Taylor, Hiugh Burns, Jerry Donahue, and Henry Spinetti.
The album was slow to move but by the time they reached Belgium they learnt that it had finally gone top ten in America. Still Gerry refused to tour the States but conceded to make a single appearance on the David Frost Show - which catapulted City to City straight to the top spot. The album's success was duly reinforced by sales of the next single Right Down the Line, which was another Transatlantic hit.
Gerry now decided to leave home base in Scotland once again and return to the south-east of England. Through 1979 he was writing and recording Night Owl in a period of frenzied output. His creative juices turning out songs like the title track and the unforgettable Get It Right Next Time, which both chalked up bigger successes the other side of the Atlantic where his FM/AOR formula was perfectly suited to American audio ears. With very little promotional back up, Night Owl reached a sales aggregate of 2.5 million units.
Inevitably this album was to be the turning point. Financially secure on the one hand and the "production line" pressure to turn out hits on the other, Gerry Rafferty was feeling creatively spent by the time he sat down to produce Snakes and Ladders. Having lost the desire to manufacture chart hits he went to George Martin's studio in Montserrat and delivered one of his best socio-political polemics in The Garden of England (on the CD version of this compilation), as well as Look at the Moon (on the vinyl version) and a beautifully remixed Bring It All Home.
But if The Garden of England best summed up Gerry Rafferty's Snakes and Ladders mood, a song called The Right Moment fulfilled that position on the subsequent Sleepwalking album - a song considered by the artist to be among the best he'd ever written.
Finding himself at the crossroads and looking to replace the treadmill with a new dimension in his life he built a recording studio at his Kent farm and by the time Sleepwalking was released by EMI in 1983, following their take-over of UA, he and his family were off on the road - living for a year in Italy, then driving across America. "I enjoyed travelling outside the confines of the music business. But eventually my puritanical streak emerged once again so I settled down, set up a home studio and started to write and record.
Working once again with co-producer Hugh Murphy, the resulting North and South album showed the song writer to be back to his hungriest and most creative.
The autobiographical title again dwelling on the dichotomy between the years living in and around London and his genuine need to stay in touch with his Celtic roots.
Jerry Gilbert - 1989
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