SL: “What Have They Done To The Rain” was a very moving song and a marked change in direction.
CC: It was written by Malvina Reynolds, who was an old lady and a great songwriter. It was on a little blue Fontana 45 and I thought it was a great title. When I played it, I realised that it was a lovely tune as well. I thought bongos would be nice instead of drums and lots of guitars, and Tony Hatch asked if he could put some strings on it, and it was lovely, it really made the tune. It was a great record. It had a very profound message and considering people didn’t know what they were listening to, it did very well. It was the first green, ecological hit record and the most money Malvina Reynolds ever earned was from us.
SL: Do you really think that people didn’t get it?
CC: Now is different, you’ve got the Green Party and you hear ecological voices the whole time. After Chernobyl, we are finding out that our animals are being poisoned so it’s what have they done to the wind as well as the rain. It is so pertinent to today and I could see Oasis doing a hard rock version of it. (Sings song like Liam) He wouldn’t have to learn the words – I’m sure he has them written on the ceiling.
SL: Yet another classic hit came with “Goodbye My Love” and your drums are very distinctive.
CC: They’re double-tracked, that’s why. They recorded the rhythm track, played it back to me and I played on top of that. The original was a gay song, “Goodbye, My Lover, Goodbye” and we totally changed it We worked on the record for a long time and the engineer wiped out some of the bridge. This was six in the morning and as we didn’t want to do it again, he spliced things together. The first person I played that track to was Brian Epstein and he related to the rhythm which was almost Spanish. He said, “Oh Chris, this is wonderful.” I said, “Don’t get carried away, it’s only a bleeding record.” He said, “I’ll bet your agent £5,000 that this will be No.l in the first week it is released.” I said, “You shouldn’t do that. People will say, ‘Why didn’t you manage us if you thought the product was so good?’ It wouldn’t have worked with Eppy as we were too similar in the way we thought.
SL: Did you often discuss things with him?
CC: From time to time. He played me “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” by the Righteous Brothers and said, “I’ve got this for Cilla.” I said, “Do it if you must, it will be a hit for her but the Righteous Brothers will overtake her.” It was heartbreaking as she couldn’t sing that song for nuts. Her best record was “Liverpool Lullaby” where she actually sounds like a Liverpool girl. I once went in a snowstorm to the Liverpool Empire with a song that would be brilliant for her called “Another Heart Is Broken (In The Game Of Life)”, one I’d written especially for her with all posh chords on the piano. I thought she’s got to go for this, she hasn’t had a hit in yonks, and she told me, “I don’t do songs from cassettes.” How’s she going to hear the bloody thing? Did she expect me to walk in with a 40-piece orchestra? And she hasn’t had a hit since.
SL: Then after all those B-sides, you wrote an A-side, “He’s Got No Love”.
CC: Ah, but you know what that tune is. You play that and then play “The Last Time” by the Rolling Stones. We were naughty boys as I stole the tune.
SL: But the Stones took it from James Brown’s “Maybe The Last Time”.
CC: We’re all the wrong side of legal then. Aretha Franklin had an album track that I loved called “Can’t You Just See Me”. We did the backing track and I loved it, but then I thought, “I’m not getting enough out of this”, and I put a whole new set of lyrics to it called “I’m Your Lovin’ Man”. The lyrics are rubbish but I got the money.
SL: With “What Have They Done To The Rain” and “Take Me For What I’m Worth”, you were defining folk-rock.
CC: I admired the belief in “Take Me For What I’m Worth”. Instead of people saying, “I’m better than you”, take me for what I’m worth. It’s a very profound statement and it could have become a gay anthem. We did some other good songs like that. I loved “Four Strong Winds”, which I’d got on record by Bobby Bare.
SL: If you were making these good records, why did you leave the Searchers?
CC: We were touring South-East Asia and we ended up in Australia and can you think of a more daft bill than the Rolling Stones and the Searchers? We couldn’t compete with Mick Jagger or Keith Richards. They know how to work an audience so the audience was chanting, “We want the Stones” while we were on and I couldn’t handle that. I enjoyed being with Keith as he can play an acoustic guitar like a dream, wonderful stuff, stuff that I couldn’t possibly do. The Stones’ success is down to him. Mick Jagger’s lyrics are usually pretty stupid but there is always good work on the backing track. Keith asked me to give “Take It Or Leave It” a whirl. I thought it could be a single but I’d left the band by then. They did it with their new drummer and it was pitiful.
SL: So what happened in Australia?
CC: I hated Australia. I thought it was a country of dreadful people and I was off me cake. I fell off the stage and I still have the scar on my leg. (Pull up trouser leg to show me.) I went out with an Australian girl who said, “You need some sleep, darling, come home with me.” She had this marvellous flat, more like half an apartment building, with a wonderful view over the harbour. During the night I was drinking coffee and thought I would leave before she woke up. The windows were open and it was a heavy door. I opened it but it came back and smashed on this finger. Nearly took it off, but I went back to them with my bad leg and my bad finger. I went to my doctor’s bag to find something for the pain in my finger, and I found that they had emptied the entire contents, all my tranquillisers, down the lavatory. They thought they were doing me a favour, and I told them that was it, I couldn’t take anymore, but they made me finish the tour. On the way back home, I wrote a Searchers’ song on a sick bag but it wasn’t used as I left the group. When I got back to Bootle, they tore the nail out at the hospital.
SL: You soon found yourself in opposition to the Searchers as you produced Paul and Barry Ryan’s “Have You Ever Loved Somebody”.
CC: I was recording Paul and Barry Ryan for their stepfather, Harold Davidson, who is Sinatra’s best mate, so you do what you’re told. Graham Nash had given me the song and I liked the title, the answer could either be happy or sad, yes or no. John McNally asked me what I was working on and I played him the song. He went behind by my back to the publisher and got a copy for himself. They recorded a very icky version – the vocal wasn’t that good and it sounds like there’s a rat running across the snare drum. Paul and Barry Ryan, who were lovely people, did it much better. I was recording a Welsh group called Ten Feet and they backed them on that. I told them that I wanted a drum sound that sounded like it was coming from the back of a hall to the front and the guitar was to go (Demonstrates) and it worked and I was well pleased. Because of the Searchers’ version, the publisher asked me to hold back on Paul and Barry Ryan, so I went to Harold Davidson and said, “This is a No.l”. He said, “We’ll have to move fast. I’ll get them on ‘Ready, Steady, Go’ this Friday and on such and such next Tuesday”, and he did what he said he’d do. Tito Burns, who handled the Searchers, said to me, “You bastard, you bastard”, and I said, “Excuse me, one bastard’s enough around here.” He said, “You’ve ruined the Searchers.” I said, “I’ve had nothing to do with them, they had something to do with me. They’ve tried to be smart arses and it hasn’t worked.”
SL: Did you do much else with Paul and Barry Ryan?
CC: I got friendly with Jackie de Shannon who used to come and see me in the flat I had round the corner from Harrod’s. Through her, I got to know Sharon Sheeley, who suggested that we did a few songs together. She was living with Gordon Waller at the time, whom I didn’t like at all – bit of a tearaway and he gave her a hard time. We wrote a song for Paul and Barry, “Night-time”.
SL: You also made a single with Alma Cogan.
CC: Yes, she was lovely, just the nicest person in the whole wide world. She was very up on the groups, she loved John Lennon and her best friend was the manager of the Ad-Lib in Leicester Square, which is where the bands used to meet. I wrote “Snakes And Snails” for her and she was made up with it. I got Bobby Ore on drums, John Paul Jones on bass, Jimmy Page, Vic Flick and Joe Moretti on guitars and they played out of their skins. She didn’t realise that she’d have to sing over a heavy rock backing and she loved it. The backing vocalists were Dusty Springfield, Doris Troy, Rosetta Hightower from the Orlons, and me. Boy, did we have fun.
SL: And your solo single was “Aggravation”, certainly a song with a message!
CC: Yeah, don’t give me any, that’s it. It’s a Joe South song and it had a good riff. I had Jimmy Page, Joe Moretti, John Paul Jones and Vic Flick on that record. I did my Tom Jones hard rock voice and I was really loud. I knew I had a voice that would record well but it wouldn’t have worked with Tony Hatch as he was not a funky chap. I just did the one single ‘cause I’d had enough. I’d shown I could do it. That song, “Aggravation”, is on a compilation, “It Happened Here”, a 10-inch LP that came out on PRT. There’s “Just A Little Bit” by the Undertakers and then “Aggravation” by me and they sound great together – like real rock’n’roll.
SL: You had the idea of forming a heavy group though, didn’t you?
CC: Yes, my money was running out and I had an idea for doing a band called the Roundabout where you have a nucleus of musicians who come and go with myself as the lynchpin. I met Jon Lord, who was living in a dump, and I flew Ritchie Blackmore and his girlfriend over from Germany. I introduced them to a friend of Vicki Wickham, who was the editor on “Ready Steady Go!”. He was Tony Edwards, who was in the clothing business. He thought I wasn’t right for the group and they left me behind. I met him a few weeks later and he told me that they had changed their name to Deep Purple. He arranged for them to record a song that I had been playing to Jon Lord for months, “Hush” by Joe South, and it became a very big hit for them in the States.
SL: In the end, you jacked it all in and took an office job.
CC: I joined the Inland Revenue in 1969 and it was difficult for me, but the people in the office were lovely. They went out of their way to be nice to me, and I stayed there for 19 years. I’m retired now, but my health suffered. I think it’s the sick building syndrome, but I didn’t have the money to challenge them.
SL: I’ve heard some demos that you made in the mid-70s with a local producer, Bernard Whitty.
CC: There was an accountant, Alan Willey, who worked in the Revenue and was one of the best guitarists I’d ever heard. He asked me to join his band, Western Union, but I used to jump up and down playing rhythm, which didn’t go well with all these synthesised instruments. He recommended Bernard to me and I got a batch of songs together and put them down. I was living in hope and wanted to do some demos for Elvis. I was really pleased with “Wait Until Tomorrow” and “Down To Earth”. I also liked one called “Don’t Make Love In A Doorway” on which I played 12-string and did a Gerry Rafferty impression.
SL: And what do you do now?
CC: My life now centres around the parish church called the Holy Rosary and the priest, Canon Bill, is just brilliant. He wants me to get the kids back into church. It’s simple really. You need to have more fun in church – have some folk music and some rock’n’roll. I’m also singing in the Old Roan pub, and it’s a very friendly thing. As soon as I come in, people say, “Sing ‘Needles And Pins’” and I do it halfway, up to where the drums come in, and then go into something else. I especially like doing Tim Hardin songs. I love “Don’t Make Promises” and I don’t know how Rod Stewart has missed that one. I produced a version by Michael Aldred from “Ready Steady Go!”, who died a couple of years ago. I’m still writing, better than ever actually. If you keep at your craft for long enough., you’re bound to improve.
SL: Chris Curtis, thanks very much for your time.
CC: I’ve enjoyed this very much. Will that we be all for now, Dr Spence?