Gerry Rafferty was one of the most influential and successful singer-songwriters ever to emerge from Scotland.
And even now, a decade after his untimely death, many of the works which he created, from Baker Street and Night Owl to Get It Right Next Time and Stuck in the Middle with You, are ingrained in pop culture.
It all started with The Humblebums, where Rafferty joined forces with the banjo/guitar-playing Billy Connolly amid a thriving arts scene in Glasgow.
They toured, composed, performed and blazed a vibrant trail together.
Next up was Stealers Wheel, and Rab Noakes fondly remembers joining Gerry in a spontaneous rendition of a Beatles classic while the duo were still youngsters at the beginning of their respective careers in the late 1960s.
It was the launch of a cherished partnership, which he has now outlined as part of a poignant tribute to his late, lamented colleague.
The journey began on an auspicious day in Partick in Glasgow and St Andrews-born Rab spoke with affection about how everything fell into place as he and his compatriot suddenly found themselves hitting all the right notes.
He recalled: “The occasion was a pre-show get-together on the afternoon of The Humblebums’ first major Glasgow concert in the City Hall.
“We had each been invited to sing a couple of songs. Later, as we were packing up to go, we engaged in a dressing-room rendition of The Beatles ‘In my Life’ and a lifetime friendship was born.
“He was a month older than me, so we were total, shared-experience soul-mates in the sense of being post-war offspring of the 1950s and 1960s.
The wheel turns to Tunbridge
“Gerry then joined The Humblebums for a couple of years in a duo set-up with Billy Connolly.
“When that came to a natural end, in 1971 we convened in Tunbridge Wells where Stealers Wheel was born.
“The initial performances were Gerry and me as a duo, throughout the UK.
“The house in TW was consistently alive with singing, strumming and writing.
“Gerry was finishing songs for his solo record ‘Can I have my Money Back?’ which was his first work with producer Hugh Murphy.
“There was always a song going on and it’s the singing that really underpins it all. I love to sing, especially with other people and it wouldn’t be a lie to admit that my best companion in that was Gerry.”
Music filled the nights into the wee sma’ hours
This was in the days before music was awash with technology and 24 and 36-track recording decks with every conceivable piece of equipment.
On the contrary, there was something life-affirming and inspirational about the often impromptu fashion in which partnerships and relationships were formed and, although Gerry was shy in the media gaze and uncomfortable with the trappings of celebrity – a term he detested – he relished being in the company of other chanters and musicians who could create a joyful noise.
As Rab told me: “Singing at parties was a regular occurrence. I can recall us singing all night in places, never repeating a song.
“I was privileged to attend some family parties when all three Rafferty brothers [Gerry, Jim and Joe] were alive.
“There would always be a couple of songs from the trio, in the most gorgeous sibling-driven harmonies. ‘Island of Dreams’ was good but the most astounding song was from [the musical] ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ – ‘I’m a Lonesome Polecat’.
“On recordings, I sang and played on a couple of tracks with Gerry, and he and Joe sang backing vocals on a few of mine.
“I wasn’t ever part of the Stealers Wheel songwriting, but I was present at the infamous bash that spawned the long life of ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’.
“We were being wined and dined in the Aretusa, in King’s Road in London. It was Gerald, Joe Egan and myself, flanked by the boss of A&M Records, who was quite an aloof fellow, and these producers who were there for the time-honoured free meal – hence the line [in the lyrics of] ‘Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right of me’.
“Gerald just thought it was ridiculous that these people were talking about the band but not to it, but then he did find a lot of the music industry ridiculous.”
Rab was frequently in London during the post-Stealers Wheel period and, as he recollected, ‘drank the night away’ near Baker Street on many occasions with somebody he regarded as his ‘wild best friend’.
This was at the stage when Gerry Rafferty’s star was in the ascendancy, during which time he recorded some of the most memorable and enduring hits of his career and was feted by the music industry.
Yet, there are TV pictures of him receiving an [Ivor Novello] award in 1978, where he was expected to make a speech in front of an audience of suits and tiaras, supping champagne, and the expression on his face suggests that he would rather have been at his own execution.
He and the limelight were not mutual friends. Quite the opposite.
The contradictions in Gerry’s character
For many years, despite his disinclination to court publicity and Garbo-esque determination to blaze his own trail, the hit albums and singles flowed from this hive of industry who was happiest when surrounded by musicians.
There were signs of the stress and pressure taking their toll and Gerry’s battle with alcohol was one of the reasons for his premature death at only 63, but he never lost his ability to create magical melodies with often haunting lyrics and even now, decades later, these songs are timeless classics.
Rab said: “The success from 1978 onwards was phenomenal. He reunited with Hugh and made some exceptional records. As an artist and producer, he knew what he wanted from people, but he also knew how to leave space for them to make their own marks.
“He could never be described as shallow and I have benefitted from, and enjoyed, his generosity of spirit. He had little patience with lazy living.
“Over-reliance on received wisdom and sloppy-thinking tested his patience as much as anything did.”
The end of the line for Gerry
Ultimately, Gerry couldn’t exorcise his demons, but it’s a measure of the respect and fondness in which he was – and still is – regarded that there was universal sadness at the news of his declining health, not least from Rab, who was at least allowed to share one last song with his confrere.
He explained: “In November 2010, I received a call from Martha, Gerry and Carla’s daughter, to tell me that he had been taken to hospital in Bournemouth and death appeared imminent.
“I made my way south virtually straight away. When I was left alone with him, I sang through a few songs that had been in our shared soundtrack.
“He lay on his back, inert. But a delightful moment occurred when I got to ‘Lonesome Polecat’. He sat up a little and very gently sang along.”
It was an eloquent elegy to one of the most talented Scottish music maestros.
Rab added: “At Gerry’s funeral [in 2011], Martha and I agreed that the best tribute would be a multi-artist concert of his songs in Glasgow.
“Celtic Connections agreed to mount it as a key event in January 2012. It sold out in short order and an additional show was added. One was televised and a high reputation of the events remains.
“I miss him and I always will. ‘In My Life’ rings in my ears.”
A lot of water has poured under the bridge since the days in 1971 when Rab remembered performing a concert with Gerry at the Salutation Hotel in Perth.
It was one of those memorable summer occasions 50 years ago when the duo were working in blissful harmony and their homeland was waking up to the alchemy which they were producing.
Indeed, as Rab said: “Michael Marra subsequently told me that he and his chums made the journey from Dundee for the gig.”
And, as recently as 2015, he released a song which he had written for Gerry called No More Time.
The bond between them still survives and it will do so forever.