Friday, August 21, 2020


Well there are a lot of those in the music biz, I thought, on a first mistaken hearing of the title of this piece. Maybe one, then, for another day. But count, that's whole lot trickier. Do I run with one, two, three or go for the title; digits or Dracula? When in doubt I plod my traditional route and ask my i-tunes search, today quite pleased with the outcome. Welcome back, Mr Rafferty, it being some time since he last featured, 2017, I think.

With a golden voice and a seemingly effortless gift for melody, Rafferty could bridge the worlds of folk and pop/rock without giving any clue they could be different genres, with often acerbic lyrics preventing any slide into saccharine. McCartney-esque is a description often given and one I dislike, as I prefer my tea and coffee without ten heaped spoons of granulated. This song, from his 1971 debut, Can I Have My Money Back, typifies my description. With a keening vocal over a strummed acoustic, there soon kicks in some more rhythmic backing, with delightfully choppy electric guitar underpinning the rest of the song. A plea for acceptance as himself, for himself, rather than any easy and more acceptable conformity, berating anyone who may feel a casual acquaintance may offer any deeper understanding of his psyche. This is a subject to which he returns throughout his recording career and nine subsequent albums. Brought up in the rough and tumble of Paisley, then a grim town in the central belt of Scotland, not far from Glasgow, he retained a life long loathing and suspicion of the trappings of fame and fortune, with the paradox that he ultimately did very well from both, at least financially. A grotesque irony comes in the second verse, wherein he passes comment around his fondness of alcohol:
"When the sun goes down You'll find me sitting in a bar in the dark side of the town And if you tell me that I drink too much and that it's going to be the death of me Hear me shout, don't count me out."
Given, nearly forty years later, it was alcohol related liver disease he died of, with his later years awash with disturbing tales of alcoholic mayhem, the runes were already being cast. Indeed, may have been cast long before, his father and brother both succumbing to similar.

This first LP came after his partnership with Billy Connolly, the Humblebums, had foundered, with Connolly, an extremely adept banjo player, finding he preferred the long between song anecdotes to the singing itself. The record was not then a huge success, if a critics favourite, and it might be that it was more the record company that would seek their money back. But these were different days, and record companies, even his label, Transatlantic, a small and predominantly folkie imprint, had more money and faith than now seems the norm. Hooking up with Joe Egan he then formed Stealer's Wheel, as outlined in the previous piece referenced above. Again, no fortunes then made: this was years before Reservoir Dogs, and the pair split in no small acrimony.

A prolonged delay, on legally binding requirements, meant Rafferty had plenty time to hone his craft, second solo record, City to City, not arriving until 1978. With both Baker Street and Right Down the Line present and featured as the lead singles, this was a turning point and he never much had to worry about money again. This was able to give hime sufficient security to increasingly turn his back on the "industry" he despised and to stubbornly do as he pleased. Refusing to re-record or re-release Stuck in the Middle With You when Tarantino could have allowed it to hit paydirt was one such obstinacy. Interestingly, as time went by, his endeavours to remove himself entirely from the control of others preface what is now increasingly everyday practice. 2000's Another World was made at home in his own (mobile) studio, and, to begin with, was only available via his website, an early adopter of this approach,, everything, even the promotion directly down to his own efforts. OK, it later received a release on the Hypertension label, but this style of working seemed to appeal to Rafferty, he using his website to be the conduit of new material and information for the next three years, if increasingly intermittently, perhaps as the booze was taking greater hold.

Rafferty has been sadly overlooked and undervalued since his demise. Seen as a two trick pony in hindsight, this simplification devalues the huge body of work up to a similar standard. I would go as far as to suggest he is one of the UK's finer songwriters, and certainly one of the better singers. He also was a capable record producer of others. Maybe it isn't news that he produced the first ill-fated version of Richard & Linda Thompson's Shoot Out the Lights, commonly referred to as Rafferty's Folly, the legacy of which suggests he wasn't up to the game. That is unfair, his style just not bleak enough for the songs. What is less well known is that he also produced the debut outing by fellow Paisley-ites, the Proclaimers. I really think he deserves a decent tribute album to remind how very much more to him than two singles there is. (In fact, there is one, if little known, featuring and performed by his friend, the singer Barbara Dickson, which is possibly worth seeking out, if a little M.O.R. in approach and audience intended.) There was, however, a 2012 tribute concert at Glasgow's Celtic Connections annual festival. Here's Ron Sexsmith:

Finally, and if only because I would be pilloried if I didn't mention the B word, I was uplifted to appreciate the end to the debate as to whether it the sax solo in Baker Street was Rafferty's idea or that of the player, the now also deceased Raf Ravenscroft. Ravenscroft was on record at one time to state it was of his doing, being asked to fill in between verses, and coming up with the iconic riff spontaneously, in the studio. Rafferty disputed this, citing Ravenscroft as not even being his first choice to play with him, although the two continued to work together, even after the argument, for his next few records. The answer to the quandary came with the release of the City to City remasters in 2011, including a pre-saxophone demo of the song. With the same riff on Rafferty's guitar. Like to hear it?

Go, Gerry, R.I.P., I did count on you.

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