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Rafferty, Gerry

Category: Musician or composer

Gerald "Gerry" Rafferty was a singer-songwriter and a musician.  He played the guitar, electric guitar, piano, saxophone, and bass guitar.  Rafferty was born on 16th April 1947. He died on 4th January 2011 aged 63.

In 1969 Rafferty became the third member of a folk-pop group, The Humblebums, along with comedian Billy Connolly and Tam Harvey. Harvey left shortly afterwards, and Rafferty and Connolly continued as a duo. After they disbanded in 1971, he recorded his first solo album, Can I Have My Money Back?  Even though Rafferty and Billy Connolly parted ways in 1971, they remained close friends until Rafferty's death in 2011.

Right:  Rafferty (pictured with Billy Connolly) started his career in a school band before working with Connolly's folk band The Humblebums.

Rafferty and Joe Egan formed the group Stealers Wheel in 1972 and produced several hits.  In 1978, he recorded his second solo album, City to City, which included "Baker Street".  He is perhaps best known for his hits "Baker Street", "Right Down the Line" and "Night Owl", as well as "Stuck in the Middle with You", recorded with the band Stealers Wheel.  

Rafferty was born into a working-class family of Irish Catholic origin from Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland.  He grew up in a council house and his Irish-born father was a miner and an alcoholic, who died when Rafferty was 16.  Inspired by his Scottish mother, who taught him Irish and Scottish folk songs as a boy, and heavily influenced by the music of The Beatles and Bob Dylan, the young Gerry started to write his own material.  

Living for music

Gerry Rafferty lived his entire life for music.  He also lived the musician’s constant nightmare, how does one remain true to your music and earn a living at the same time? 

In 1965, 18-year-old Rafferty met 15-year-old Carla Ventilla, from an Italian family in Clydebank, at a dancehall.  Carla worked as an apprentice at her father’s hairdressing salon in nearby Clydebank. The two of them became inseparable, much to her father Tony Ventilla’s disgust.  They married in 1970 and lived in Scotland with their daughter, Martha Mary.  So Gerry had to support a wife and daughter from an early age.  Gerry took other jobs to make ends meet, but he once said in an interview, " there was never anything else for me but music. I never intended making a career out of any of the jobs I did."  In the mid 1960s Rafferty even earned money, for a time, busking on the London Underground.

But his talent was recognised very early on.  Barbara Dickson was ‘bowled over’ by Rafferty’s songwriting. Dickson happened across Rafferty performing solo one night at Glasgow’s Scotia Bar.

“I remember being completely transfixed by him,…It was very rare for me to feel that way, but he was fantastic. Gerry was a huge personality…. He had a laugh like a machine gun and a fantastically infectious smile. He was wonderfully expansive in his gestures, yet terribly shy which made him devastatingly attractive of course…………I wasn’t the only person to discover Gerry at that time. Hundreds of other people were listening to him around Glasgow, but it was a seminal moment in my life and not just in music.”

The friendship with Barbara Dickson was another that lasted Rafferty’s entire life.  In the early 1990s, he recorded a cover version of the Bob Dylan song "The Times They Are a-Changin'" with her, and she contributed backing vocals to both City to City and Night Owl.

The terrible clash between commercial interests and creativity

The music business is no different to many other big money oriented businesses.  There is talk of markets and promotion, marketing and sales, but the song itself is rarely mentioned, instead it is judged not on its artistic merit but its sales potential.

The problem is that most producers don’t have much of a clue about what sells and what doesn’t.  They have a tendency to choose music based on what has worked before, a sort of formula, often because they are incapable of even seeing when they have a quality product on their hands. 

Rafferty found the world of record production dispiriting beyond compare.  He felt totally alienated by the approach to music making taken by, especially, all the big American companies.  According to Rafferty's daughter Martha, it was around this time that her father discovered, by chance, Colin Wilson's classic book The Outsider, about alienation and creativity, which became a huge influence both on his song-writing and his outlook on the world:
"The ideas and references contained in that one book were to sustain and inspire him for the rest of his life."

How can one stay true to one’s music, if you have a record company executive shouting at you about making the music you have just made with your heart, more commercial?

Stealers Wheel, for example, was beset by legal wranglings from the start.  Furthermore, legal issues after the break-up of Stealers Wheel meant that, for three years, Rafferty was unable to release any material.  It was only after the disputes were resolved in 1978, that he was able to record his second solo album, City to City, which included the song with which he remains most identified, "Baker Street". According to Murphy, interviewed by Billboard in 1993, he and Rafferty had to beg the record label, United Artists, to release "Baker Street" as a single: "They actually said it was too good for the public."

The album sold over 5.5 million copies, but Rafferty stated a very important thing to Melody Maker the following year:

 "...all the records I've ever done before have been flops. Stealers Wheel was a flop. 'Can I Have My Money Back?' was a flop. The Humblebums were a flop... But my life doesn't stand or fall by the amount of people who buy my records."

Rafferty was fighting for his integrity as a musician here, it was an exceptionally important  statement to make, I do not wish to be judged by record sales, I wish to be judged on the quality of the music I create.  The two are not the same.  Quality does not necessarily equate to sales.

Paul Gambaccini for BBC World News:

"Baker Street" was about how uncomfortable he felt in the star system, and what do you know, it was a giant world hit. The album City to City went to No. 1 in America, and suddenly he found that as a result of his protest, he was a bigger star than ever. And he now had more of what he didn't like. And although he had a few more hit singles in the United States, by 1980 it was basically all over, and when I say 'it', I mean basically his career, because he just was not comfortable with this

Rafferty never changed his mind about the music business; if anything, his views hardened. In 2000, he told the Paisley Daily Express that the second Stealers Wheel album, released in 1974, had been named Ferguslie Park, after a deprived area of Paisley, "to get as far away as possible from all the bullshit of the music industry in London."

Back to basics

In 1983, Rafferty announced his intention to take a break and devote more time to his music and his family: "It dawned on me that since Baker Street I had been touring the world, travelling everywhere and seeing nowhere. Whatever I do in the future, it's at my own pace, on my own terms."

He based himself in his 16th-century Tye Farm in Hartfield, near the Kent-Sussex border, installed electric gates to protect his privacy, and built a recording studio, using the unexpected proceeds from his record success.  According to his former wife Carla, he discouraged visitors.

His next album, North and South, was released in 1988.  Reviews of the album were mixed.  In The Times, critic David Sinclair was particularly scathing: "On North and South, it sounds as if he has thumbed a lift up the road to a mock-Texan bar somewhere in his native Scotland. There is a mid-Atlantic blandness lurking behind the rococo roots veneer." Ow, not nice and here is where Gerry Rafferty went wrong – he took notice of the reviews. 

He plunged into despair, turned to alcohol and by 1990, Rafferty and Carla were divorced.  According to Carla: "There was no hope. I would never have left him if there'd been a glimmer of a chance of him recovering." 

Carla loved him till the day he died and he loved her, but she couldn’t believe what happened to him,” says Barbara Dickson. “There was nothing anybody could do for Gerry. Carla was the closest person in the world to him and she wasn’t able to help. Alcoholism is a terrible sickness.”

His grief at the loss of Carla can be seen in his songs, song after song is about his loss and him wanting her back, with the realisation that she would not be coming back unless he significantly changed.  They had been married 20 years.

Then came a further terrible blow.  Hugh Murphy, the man who had helped produce seven of Rafferty's solo albums and was sympathetic to the way Rafferty worked, died in 1998. According to guitarist Hugh Burns, Murphy's death was "a great blow to Gerry" and marked the end of a creative partnership that had lasted almost 30 years.   Blow followed blow.  In 1995, Rafferty’s older brother Joseph died.  Rafferty was deeply affected by the death.

Another World

But Rafferty did not totally give up, towards the end of the 1990s, Rafferty made an album that was extraordinary. 

Now based in London, he employed sound engineer Giles Twigg to assemble a Digidesign mobile recording studio and, with Twigg's help, recorded the album Another World with collaborators like Mark Knopfler and Egan.  It featured an album cover illustrated by John 'Patrick' Byrne, who also illustrated the covers for Can I Have My Money Back?, City to City, Night Owl, Snakes and Ladders, and all three Stealers Wheel albums.

Rafferty was able to do this by using the Internet as his means of making the record known.  Through his company Icon Music, Rafferty promoted and sold the album independently on a website (www.gerryrafferty.com) created specifically for the purpose.  As he explained in a press release heralding the new record in November 2000: "My heart and soul have gone into this album, and by releasing it in this way my creative influence has not been diluted in any way."

As he told the Evening Standard at the time of the release: "At my time of life, I don't want to be talking to 23-year-old record executives who are just trying to sell their products to 19-year-olds. I'm older and my audience is older. They'll know where to find me." In the same interview, he revealed that the entire record had been made for approximately £200,000, with half spent on travel, the recording system costing £75,000, and the website and marketing adding £25,000.

We have included a number of songs from this album along with the lyrics to the songs, because they demonstrate what an extraordinarily spiritual person Gerry Rafferty was.

The search for spiritual fulfilment

Rafferty’s schooling furnished him with little of value, but he is an example of someone who taught himself.  Martha his daughter described him as an autodidact with an "incredibly strong work ethic" and passion for books "There were literally whole walls of book shelves at home and he'd read every single word. Mainly philosophy, art, religion, psychology and many a biography."

Remembering Gerry Rafferty , rock's most reluctant star by Paul Rees (Classic Rock) January 04, 2018 Classic Rock  

Of Rafferty’s golden period, there were a couple more fine records –1980’s Snakes And Ladders and Sleepwalking in 1982 – and then six years of silence. He had a studio built at his Kent farmstead and continued to make music, but otherwise spent the time away … according to Martha Rafferty, being engaged on a more personal quest.  “His real journey was an inner spiritual one,” she says. “He wanted to understand why we were here. I don’t think he felt as if he was shutting himself off from anything of great value. He was disillusioned with the commercial aspect of making music to sell product. He made records because he had to. He was driven to create; it’s what helped him put his inner world back in order.

Rafferty was on the spiritual path and he realised early on that the self promotion demanded of people in the music business was almost diametrically opposed to the approach of humility and servitude needed for successful progress on the path.  In an interview with Colin Irwin in 1988, Rafferty said: "There's a thin line between being a songwriter and a singer and being a personality... If you feel uncomfortable with it you shouldn't do it. It's not for me – there are too many inherent contradictions."

He went with Martha to live in California for several years, for a spell joining a group devoted to the teachings of Russian-born philosopher and spiritualist George Gurdjieff.

Conscious love

Science won't save you, religion won't save you
Art won't save you, I can't save you
Got your desires and you do just what you please
This sleeping sickness is a very strange disease
You won't wake up until you're brought down to your knees

Monsignor John Tormey, speaking at Rafferty's funeral mass, suggested the singer's attitude to fame was an indication of his spiritual integrity:
"He always searched for a more authentic way to live his life, shunning the outward trappings of celebrity so that he might live as he chose to live his life."

Rafferty was, as most inspired people are, an autobiographical writer.  As such we have used the observations as the means by which more of Rafferty’s state of mind and spiritual understanding can be seen.  A great deal of angst and even anger is expressed in some of his songs "Stuck in the Middle With You", "Good Businessman", "Take the Money and Run" (from Night Owl), "Welcome to Hollywood" (from Snakes and Ladders), and "Sleepwalking" (from the album of the same name).   He felt, for example, that he was sleepwalking through life – not awake spiritually, even though he desperately wanted to be.


The Telegraph - Obituary

While a memorable line in his best-known song included a promise to “give up the booze and the one-night stands”, Rafferty never conquered his private demons. In London, in 2005, he collapsed, ….

Rafferty checked himself into St Thomas' Hospital suffering from a chronic liver condition, brought on by heavy drinking. After leaving St Thomas' Hospital, he met Enzina Fuschini, an Italian artist. The media then reported that he had gone missing – but the star himself hit back.  He said: ‘I became increasingly reluctant to perform live and my so-called "disappearance” became the subject of ill-informed speculation about my lifestyle and, more recently, my whereabouts.  The truth is I had simply relocated to Italy, where I write a lot of music. I believe, even before we are born, our role in life has been determined. Mine was to write music.  I’ve never worried about how a new release will be received. I just do the best I can and leave the rest to the gods.

Children of the Sun
We are not one
We are legion, we are many (crying out for water)
We are the children of the sun
Oh sun sun, oh sun sun sun

Enzina Fuschini did her best to save him, but she has said she "felt that he was under some sort of evil spell. He felt crippled by it... I saw a man in despair".

In November 2010, Rafferty was admitted to the Royal Bournemouth Hospital where he was put on a life-support machine and treated for multiple organ failure. After being taken off life support, Rafferty rallied for a short time but  died of liver failure at the home of his daughter Martha in Stroud, Gloucestershire, on 4 January 2011.

Left:  Carla at his funeral, Jerry's former wife carried a red rose with a love note from him.  It read: ‘To my dearest darling wife, like a little bird you are now about to spread your wings and fly, and my heart goes with you, wherever that journey may take you.’  He even added the ironic note that he would 'love her 'till the sees ran dry'

A requiem mass was held for Rafferty at St Mirin's Cathedral in his native town of Paisley on 21 January 2011. Politicians in attendance included the then First Minister of Scotland the Right Honorable Alex Salmond MSP.  The eulogy was given by Rafferty's long-time friend John Byrne. His remains were cremated and his ashes scattered on the island of Iona.  Maybe in death he found a spiritual home.  He was survived by his daughter Martha and granddaughter Celia.

If we ever should meet in another world
If we both come in out of the cold
If we ever should meet in another life
I will recognise your soul
I will recognise your soul



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