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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011


Gerry Rafferty & producer Hugh Murphy, February 1980
photo © Michael Gray 2011

I was saddened to hear yesterday that Gerry Rafferty had died that morning. I first met him in 1977-78, that punk-dominated era, when I'd retreated from the cold of freelance writing and taken a job as press officer for United Artists Records in London. Gerry was signed to the label - after years in a contractual tangle after the demise of Stealer's Wheel - and had recorded, very economically, the album City To City. The company decided to issue the title track as a single. It didn't do much. I sat in the weekly marketing meeting at which we were all asked which track should be the next single. Someone suggested 'Baker Street'. With my usual infallible finger on the pulse of popular taste, I said "No: too jazzy."

After the huge success of that record, and the album's enormous sales around the world, Gerry found he needed a manager - but he'd been burnt by heavy American pro management in the case of Stealer's Wheel and didn't want that again. He just wanted someone he could trust, to stand between him and the cacophony of music-biz people wanting him to tour America, meet so-and-so, do this TV, and so on. We'd got to know each other from when he'd sat in my office answering questions for press releases and a long interview we'd constructed together for a UK tour brochure, and from coping with the odd bit of media together. I think he recognised that my fit in the biz was as awkward as his and my ardour for great records just as real - though all through the years I knew him, he always retained the artist's wariness for the critic.

At any rate, I stopped working for the record company and started working for its most mega-selling artist (involving a satisfying shift in my relations with the label's managing director). My son Gabriel was often around in this period, spending time in the dressing room on tour, time at Gerry & his wife's homes first in Scotland and then in Kent, always treated with great kindness by both, and enjoying the time spent with the Raffertys' daughter Martha, who was about the same age. Gabe remembers all this with great fondness, and was deeply saddened by yesterday's news.

In some ways my job was less fun than you'd imagine, because mostly I was being asked to say "no" to everything and everyone. Gerry never would tour America, and when he and I went over there just for him to do bits of media, we stayed at the Beverly Hills Hotel but declined, I was sorry to say, all invitations to celebrity Hollywood parties. In New York, we stayed at the Plaza. We crossed the Atlantic several times in the first-class cabins of aeroplanes, and one time flew both ways on Concorde. We spent weeks at George Martin's recording studio in the West Indies and holidaying in beachside luxury on Antigua.

Yet while Gerry relished all this, it was, I think, the relish of the naughty boy allowed by chance to run around some corridors of power; and besides, he retained a healthy scepticism not just about the music industry but about society, money and politics in general. His background was soaked in Scottish socialism and poverty, his mind sharp and his personality acerbic, and he wasn't going to be dazzled by the glamour of success.

There was a good deal of grass and cocaine around, but Gerry always seemed to derive more pleasure from drink. Whisky didn't bring out the best in him, and yet it never occurred to me in all the time I knew him that he was heading for alcoholism. Maybe I should have realised, but I didn't. I'm unsure whether he did.

The second edition of my study of Dylan's work, that time titled The Art of Bob Dylan: Song & Dance Man, came out in 1981 in the UK and 1982 in the States, and Gerry and I parted company that latter year. I went back to full-time freelance writing. We never met again. I often missed him.

Last year, after reports of his illness made the papers, I was asked to write an obituary for him for The Guardian. (With people judged to be famous/important, they like to have these things ready in advance, so that they can publish promptly when death comes around.) I wrote one. It was published online last night - here - and should be in today's paper. It ended up with a bit more about his alcoholic decline than I'd wanted, and I wish I'd been given the space to put in more of the kind of stuff I've written here and now - but an obituary isn't supposed to be about its writer, and while he'll aways be important to me, I don't claim it was mutual. It was good at the time, though, and I'm sorry he's gone.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nicely put, Michael. The lyrics of "Baker Stret" always suggested to me that he knew where he was headed. The middle verses seem to me not so much about struggling with alsoholism but struggling in the certain knowledge of defeat:

Way down the street there's a light in his place
He opens the door, he's got that look on his face
And he asks you where you've been, you tell him who you've seen
And you talk about anything.

He's got this dream about buyin' some land
He's gonna give up the booze and the one night stands
And then he'll settle down, it's a quiet little town
And forget about everything.

My favourite bit is “he’s got that look on his face” which is akin to the observations of Jackie Leven (another Scottish singer-songwriter who loves Bob and "battles with the same demons" as they say) in its exactitude re hard drinking folk.

To cheer myself up though, all I need to do is think of the wonderful (title including) couplet of:

“Why Don’t They Come Back To Dunoon / Where the night life stops in the afternoon?”

Which explains so much re the falling population of my homeland that 100 social analysts probably lost their jobs the next day. (And headed away somewhere with nightlife to start a new life, doubtless...)

best wishes as ever

1:43 pm  
Blogger jeffen said...

That piece in the Guardian was so well-written it haunted me all day. However, it wasn't till I read this post that I realized who the author was.
Good work on a sad subject.

3:47 pm  
Anonymous Jack Evans said...

It's sad how we lose track of friends, but everyone goes their own way eventually and relationships are
hard to maintain and require effort. I always loved
Gerry's music and remember wearing out the vinyl.
It's sad and I'm sorry to hear that he is gone.
I didn't realize that you were a jet setting manager
of a high profile act until reading that Guardian bit and I knew it had to be "the" Michael Gray. I think you must have at least a couple of more books in you.
kind regards/condolences

4:15 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Thank you for the supportive comments: they're much appreciated.

And Homer, thanks for that tremendous couplet ("Why don't they come back to Dunoon / Where the night life stops in the afternoon?") I'd never heard that before.

1:27 pm  
Anonymous Yvonne said...

Ah, such a sad life story. I remember those songs with great fondness. I will have to go and listen to them now.

8:34 pm  
Anonymous John Carvill said...

As already noted above, although it induced a deep sense of sadness, the Guardian obit also proved (if proof were needed) that Michael's writing skills are as razor-sharp as ever. It's wrong to say I 'enjoyed' reading it, but I did very much appreciate it, and was very glad to read the more upbeat memories recorded here. I wonder, are there any copies of that 'long interview' with Gerry available?

By coincidence, I just got back from a very brief visit to London, and this is a colossal cliche, I know, but still it's true: it's impossible to pass through Baker Street tube station without hearing that song in your head.

1:01 pm  

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