Friday, 7 March 2014
Rapha misses an important date with Gerry Rafferty - By Bryan Cooney
UNLESS there has been a seismic shift in relationships, one notable name will be missing from the cast of singers and musicians celebrating the life of Gerry Rafferty in Paisley next month.
The colourfully named Raphael Ravenscroft, it seems, continues to occupy the role of bete noir with the Rafferty camp, and you imagine even the diplomacy of a United Nations peacekeeper would struggle to soothe minatory brows.
A couple of years ago, Radio Four made a documentary about Baker Street, the most famous, if not most accomplished, Rafferty composition; the one driven by Ravenscroft’s mesmeric alto saxophone riff.
And yet there was a significant omission in that 30-minute programme. The BBC producer later told me that, try as she might, she couldn’t persuade any of the contributors to mention the sax player by name. Rab Noakes merely dismissed him as The Saxophonist. It was difficult to believe anyone could be so childish.
We return to 1978 - when the haunting pop song initially hit pay dirt - to discover the genesis of the rancour. Ravenscroft, as a young and fairly impecunious musician, was called to the Chipping Norton Studios, where Rafferty’s City to City album was being assembled. He was a replacement for Pete Zorn.
His rags were transformed into riches: not long after his stint was completed (he was paid £27.50 but later claimed the cheque had bounced), he was enjoying international recognition by playing for such luminaries as Pink Floyd and Marvin Gaye. His session fees rose astronomically as a result.
Being something of a natural showman, unlike Rafferty, Ravenscroft embraced first fame as he might a beautiful woman - and history suggests there were plenty of them in evidence at the time. He was Mr Showtime: they say he would sweep imperiously into his workplace, accompanied by two Irish wolfhounds and an entourage fit for royalty, and nominally take charge of proceedings.
Significantly, even if his ego had found a niche market of its own, he insisted on repaying old friendship. He signed for Portrait Records of America (a subsidiary of Sony) and made a solo album, Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway, in 1979. It was a Rafferty composition, suggesting at the time that both men were on equable terms (although, allegedly, this later would change).
Rafferty didn’t feature on the album, but he was perhaps about the only man in Britain who didn’t. An incredible 60 session musicians were called upon and paid for, presumably out of the Ravenscroft purse. That makes any fair-minded person believe that perhaps he wasn’t such a bad guy, after all.
It’s now just over three years since Rafferty died. So why does the stench of hostility linger after all this time? In the eyes of many, Rapha - as he favours being called - had committed the cardinal sin of claiming at least some responsibility for the composition of that saxophone riff, which propelled an already wonderful tune into the Tin Pan Alley stratosphere.
In an interview with The Times in 2006, he recalled being presented with a song that contained “several gaps.” And he added: “Did Gerry hand me a piece of music? No, he didn’t. In fact, most of what I played was an old blues riff.”
But when a re-mastered version of City to City was released months after Rafferty’s death, it included the original, electric guitar version of the song, confirming his authorship. And yet the hostility refuses to go away.
When I began writing the ebook, Gerry Rafferty: Renegade Heart, I resolved not to allow my allegiance to the musical genius to obliterate objectivity, and thus I contacted Ravenscroft. There again, we shared common ground in that I ’d also assumed potential bete noir status with some factions of the Rafferty family for having the temerity to become a biographer.
Rapha was suffering from a serious heart complaint at the time, so the matter went into abeyance. When he had recovered sufficiently, we re-engaged last Christmas and he agreed to do an interview on the telephone. I recorded it for this website. It was a lengthy conversation and he went into considerable detail about the contested riff, his relationship with Rafferty and the rancour directed against him.
Unfortunately, as a mobile phone was his sole means of communication, the quality of the recording was wholly unsatisfactory for website reproduction, so I determined that instead I would rewrite a new chapter of my ebook, alongside further disparate revelations.
Hereabouts, matters took an unexpected turn. Ravenscroft declared himself less than satisfied with events and asked if we could film the interview. A whole new ball game was in town and an expensive one at that. I agreed to fly down to meet him in his adopted home town of Exeter, but for some obscure reason he insisted on coming to Glasgow.
In retrospect, perhaps that decision was not so obscure. A date was settled and it was the wholly appropriate one of January 4 - the third anniversary of Rafferty’s death. I secured the services of a film crew to film at our flat, made the requisite airline bookings and secured him accommodation at a hotel which would meet his exacting standards: ie: the Central Hotel.
More disruption was on order, however. Rapha fancied having what he termed a “blow” on that Saturday evening (at least that‘s what I think he said). Feverishly, I began to explore the possibility of securing him a jam session that would satisfy his requirements. By now, I was experiencing the travails of a much put-upon roadie. For reasons too complicated to reproduce here, this was almost impossible.
Eventually, the Central Hotel generously agreed to stage a musical interlude in their Champagne Bar. I reported the news to Ravenscroft on another bad mobile phone line, but imagined that he was unimpressed. “I’m more into jazz,” he said. “They’ll be wanting me to play the Girl From Ipanema - and that’s not on.”
This somewhat distorted my best-laid plans: previously, I had contacted a television company and a big newspaper group about the arrival of a famous musician on their Glaswegian patch. I didn’t reveal his name, nor the relevant story behind it, but they were sufficiently intrigued and awaited confirmation of his arrival.
The trouble is that he didn’t arrive that day. I was woken at 7a.m., Ravenscroft informing me that his connecting flight from Manchester had been cancelled. Cue the abortion of Glasgow plans. But consolation was at hand: our musical man revealed he still favoured an in-depth interview.
In fact, he insisted on it. He texted me that his work diary was filling up rapidly, but that he had Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday free. We alighted on the next Saturday. I made all the necessary arrangements again and found everyone in an accommodating mood.
This time he would be flying into Edinburgh, so there I was ten minutes ahead of the appointed landing time of 9.40a.m. The flight arrived early and I espied a smiling Nicola Benedetti, complete with violin case. This was a good omen, I decided.
But omen are not always accurate. As the arrivals dwindled, there was no sign of the bold Rapha and suddenly my mobile began chirruping. A text message from Exeter read: “Bryan: following yesterday’s hospital procedure, I have now just been advised by the airport on call medic that in their view, I was presently unable to fly.”
Now, you cannot blame a man for being unfit to fly. But hadn’t he told me Friday was free? And why hadn’t he had the intelligence to inform the hospital of his travel intentions? And, crucially, why was he delivering a sackful of bad news
almost four hours after he had been scheduled to take off?
Two people disappeared into meltdown that day. I phoned my wife. She’d experienced the idiosyncratic behaviour of sportsmen for the last four decades, but now was confronted by the caprices of a musician. She was muttering vengeance on prima donnas everywhere.
Me? I immediately texted Ravenscroft with breaking news of my despond and told him he had cost me the best part of 800 quid. When I arrived back in Glasgow, my wife admitted that she had texted my would-be interviewee and perhaps had even been more vituperative than myself. I shuddered and concentrated on cancelling the photo shoot for a second time and also the hotel booking.
Just as I had completed those embarrassing tasks, another text arrived. “Dear Mr and Mrs Cooney, I’m presently aboard the 7.30 from Exeter to Glasgow, arriving at 17.07. I’m currently into my journey: my phone has just recharged.”
Another humiliating request: I was obliged to ask the film company if they could reschedule for Sunday morning. Happily, they could. But this was turning into a marathon of first elation and then disappointment. And still a happy ending eluded us.
Throughout the day, texts came through from Rapha. One said he was carrying both tenor and alto saxophones as requested (cripes! By this time I‘d forgotten all about an evening gig). Two more came from Trainline carrying exact details of his nine-hour-plus journey; another saying that he was nearing Edinburgh.
I drove to Queen Street station with all the assertion of an undecided Referendum voter. If there was apprehension in me, it expanded when I received another message from you know who asking me to explain the text which excoriated him for his behaviour. Rapha declared that he wasn’t accustomed to being spoken to like this.
Suddenly, the cutting edge of confrontation had been added to our meeting, but there was no point in a response, surely? It was after five and Ravenscroft was on his way. Or was he? The appointed train arrived. A diaspora of Saturday night folk alighted: theatre enthusiasts, football fans, shoppers, a few drunks and comic singers. But no Rapha.
I waited for the next four trains which came in at fifteen-minute intervals. Not a glimpse of a man with the trademark curls. Not a sighting of a sax, neither alto nor tenor.
Had my wife’s admonishment proved so stern that he had turned back eight hours into his journey? Or, perhaps a more persuasive thought, had he never placed his artistic body on the train in the first place?
There was nothing left to do but return to a woman who wore that intensely infuriating look of distaff self-satisfaction. Again I was confronted by humiliation: I reached for the telephone to cancel all bookings.
It’s now almost two months since I talked to Raphael Ravenscroft and, although it’s fair to say there will be a significant revision of my ebook, it’s difficult to see where our paths will cross again.
Do I stomp my feet and gnash my teeth at the mere mention of his name? Hardly. Would I revert like some to calling him The Saxophonist? I very much doubt it. But I must admit that any thoughts of dealing with him again make me wince.