Remembering Gerry Rafferty, rock's most reluctant star
From folk roots to Stealers Wheel to solo success, Gerry Rafferty seemed to move through eras of popular music with ease. In truth, the star was struggling with fame – and his own demons
Of all the many songs that Gerry Rafferty wrote, the one that made him famous was drawn from a thoroughly humdrum experience. For the better part of three years, Rafferty had to slog down from his native Scotland to London, so often he could trace the route with his eyes shut, to sit with a gaggle of lawyers, poring over the fine print of a potentially ruinous contract he had signed up to when he was with his old band, Stealers Wheel. The light relief in these forays were the times at the end of a day when he would meet up in the pub with his friend and fellow musician Rab Noakes and drink to their better fortune. The two men’s regular London boozer was called the Globe and located at the junction of Marylebone Road and Baker Street.
“He was a pretty erudite character,” says Noakes. “One of those people, from the post-war consensus, who’s bright as a button, but that didn’t do all that well academically. We had some great times with long conversations into the night.”
Rafferty had travelled an otherwise scenic route to this point in the mid-1970s. Beginning with beat groups in his hometown of Paisley, a satellite of Glasgow, he had been making his living playing music for going on ten years. Next he had dipped into the fertile Glaswegian folk scene, joining a colourful young local character named Billy Connolly in a duo called The Humblebums. Those had been good times, but not so as each of them didn’t want for something more and on their respective terms. Connolly was a born comic, the more introverted Rafferty minded to forge a different path. In 1971, he split from Connolly and made an accomplished solo album, Can I Have My Money Back? that got good reviews, but hardly sold.
Back to the bosom of a group he went, forming Stealers Wheel with an old running mate from Paisley, Joe Egan. This time success was huge and instant, a smash American hit with a song Rafferty had meant as a parody of Bob Dylan, Stuck In The Middle With You. Soon enough, though, things turned sour for Stealers Wheel. After the hit had proved a one-off, their management company filed for bankruptcy, leaving the band’s royalties unpaid and Rafferty and Egan in a state of contractual limbo, each restricted from writing or performing. Rafferty fled home to Scotland to lick his wounds and settle to the grinding routine of an attritional legal battle.