Magazine article The Spectator

Remembering Rafferty

Magazine article The Spectator

Remembering Rafferty

Article excerpt

It should no longer come as a surprise when old pop stars keel over and die. Ten years ago, obituary columns were dominated by heroes of the second world war, with the occasional member of the Carry On cast included for light relief. Nowadays, barely a day passes without some old heavy metal singer croaking, and a funk guitarist or two.

The shock, if there is any, is that so many have survived so long.

Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison were all 27 when they died, and years later Kurt Cobain secured his legend by hanging himself at exactly the same age, conscious that, if he had waited another year, his surviving relatives might not have been able to eat. Even if they make it through the tricky twenties, pop stars rarely seem to make old bones. Reaching 70 is a result. Only Jet Black of The Stranglers has, I believe, reached 80.

Still, I was very sad when Gerry Rafferty died a month or two ago, aged just 63.

Thanks to a mildly rhotic 'r', I have always struggled to say the words 'Gerry Rafferty' without people smiling - and if Jonathan Ross ever played 'Baker Street' when he was on Radio 2, I must have missed it. But Rafferty has long been a favourite of mine.

When City to City came out in early 1978, I was 17 and about to go to university. Everyone else was listening to punk, and so was I to some extent. (The Stranglers in particular, as it happens. ) But taste in music is not something you consciously decide upon, unless you are very sad and impressionable indeed. Some tunes you hear once and love for ever, and one of those for me was 'Baker Street'. In his later years, when he had hit the sauce, Rafferty was still making £80,000 a year from sales and radio play of 'Baker Street' alone. All very ironic, of course: the song is about being chewed up and spat out by the music industry, which, after the song's success, chewed up Rafferty and spat him out.

He seems to have been a shy and difficult man, who hated playing live, wouldn't promote his records, and refused to make 'Baker Street II', to his everlasting credit.

I have most of his records in one form or another, but City to City and its follow-up, Night Owl (1979), are the ones you would want, the products of a brief, intense surge of creativity, and long days and nights spent in Chipping Norton Studios with expensive session players. …

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