Yellow River continues to flow
It’s 40 years since Yellow River topped the charts, and now it’s been reworked into a World Cup anthem. Chris Bond talks to Jeff Christie about his most famous song.
MANY musicians dream of having a number-one single, but few ever have one.
Fewer still produce a smash hit so big it changes their lives.
But for Jeff Christie, Yellow River did exactly that. As well as topping the UK charts, it reached number one in 26 countries, selling more than 20m copies and securing a place in pop music’s hall of fame.
Now, 40 years after it was first released, Christie has teamed up with producer David Robertson to rework his classic song into an unofficial World Cup anthem for England’s football team.
Ironically, the song that Yellow River knocked off the top spot was Back Home – England’s 1970 World Cup single.
The new version, Hat Trick Of Lions (Come on England), features Christie and ska musicians along with upand-coming rapper Aggi Dukes.
But when Robertson first approached Christie with the idea, the Leeds-born musician wasn’t sure about it.
“There have been hundreds of cover versions over the years, including some great ones by people like Elton John and REM, but I couldn’t see how this one would work,” he says.
But Robertson’s persistence eventually paid off.
“He gradually made me realise that it was a bit of fun and it could work, and when I heard the final version, I was really impressed. There’s never been a version like this before.”
As with all great songs, Yellow River has that little sprinkling of stardust and if music is, indeed, somehow magical, then Christie was hooked from an early age.
“My mum used to take me to Roundhay Park to watch the brass bands and she said I’d be mesmerised. Even then, music to me was pure magic.”
At the age of eight, he began piano lessons and became besotted with flamenco music, until rock ‘n’ roll came along and changed everything.
“A whole generation was inspired by people like Elvis, Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran. We all went out and bought guitars and played until our fingers bled, trying to sound like these people from across the water.”
As soon as he was old enough, he joined his first band, Three G’s Plus One, before going on to form The Tremors.
“Everyone talks about getting in a band to pull the girls, but I really wanted to be a musician from an early age and I felt it was something I could do.”
In the early days, Christie just played guitar, but when a
I’m amazed that I came up with something that had such an impact.
singer failed to turn up for a gig in Leeds, Christie took on the vocal duties.
“ We were playing at a club in North Street called the Tahiti, and someone shouted at me to have a go because I was the only one who knew the playlist, so I did and that’s how it started,” he says.
“I never regarded myself as a vocalist and I still don’t, but as long as you can carry a song, that’s all that matters.”
By the mid-60s, the band had morphed into the Outer Limits. Christie had also started writing songs and one of his compositions, Just One More Chance, became a