Stuck in a battle with booze

Share this article


ONCE, trashing a hotel room was expected behaviour from musicians; an outrage as standard as donkey cruelty and bingo during a British summer. But a new, more sober, or at least more budget-conscious breed of star seemed to have killed off this aspect of enfant terrible behaviour. Until last week, when hotel soft furnishing abuse made a startling comeback.

Gerry Rafferty wasn't even on tour – his last public performance was a good half decade ago. Instead the 61-year-old singer-songwriter quietly booked himself into a five-star London hotel and four days later allegedly left a violated room soaked in blood and urine. By all accounts a quiet guest, who kept himself to himself, his stay was halted when cleaners finally gained access to his suite - although the hotel manager claimed that instances of Rafferty relieving himself in unlikely corners of the hotel were also causing distress for the other residents. The 'Baker Street' composer was later admitted to St Thomas's hospital to be treated for liver problems, but he disappeared, leaving behind his clothes and luggage. On Friday, it was reported that hospital staff had filed a missing persons report with police.

This is the latest in a string of health dramas for Gerry Rafferty. In 2005 he was rushed to hospital after collapsing at his home in Hampstead, and later denied reports that he had taken an overdose of prescription drugs. Two years ago, he flew from California to Inverness to visit a friend, and had to be carried off his privately charted aircraft by wheelchair after landing, reportedly because he was so drunk. There was further indignity when the friend refused to take delivery of Rafferty and eventually he was deposited in a drying-out clinic run by the Church of Scotland.

Around the world the man who once worked as a clerk for the DHSS has sold more than 10 million records, but he has never been as comfortable with attention as his one-time music partner, Billy Connolly. Rafferty was brought up in an "ultra-working-class home" in Paisley, with his elder brothers, Joe and Jim. His father, a miner and lorry driver, was a domineering character who spent his weekends in the pub until his death when Rafferty was 16. "There were lots of unhappy times spawned from that when I was a kid," Rafferty has said. "My father's life was not great, his vision of the world was extremely narrow. It was an incredibly hard life."

Music, however, played its part from an early age. His mother taught him Irish and Scottish folk songs and then, inspired by Bob Dylan and the Beatles, he started to write his own and launched his career in Clydeside's folk clubs, as one half of a folk duo, and straight man, with fellow shipyard worker Connolly. Together, they were the Humblebums. "I'm humble..." began Connolly's introduction at their gigs.

"When we teamed up we played some pretty hairy places and it was then that we both learned how to take care of ourselves. After the gigs, we'd go to these crazy house parties full of heavy-duty characters carrying blades. Billy avoided getting a sore face by virtue of being the funnyman. I was the shy guy in the corner who kept the singsong going," Rafferty recalled.

As Connolly's jokes became longer, the songs became shorter, and in 1971 they parted amicably, with Connolly going on to do stand-up. Rafferty subsequently formed Stealers Wheel with Joe Egan, and his second best-known song, 'Stuck In The Middle With You', was universally loved – unless you were Mr Blond's torture victim in Reservoir Dogs. The band, however, quickly lapsed into morning-after obscurity.

At his best, Rafferty's songs have the sweet melodiousness of Paul McCartney, John Lennon's weary huskiness and a smooth synthesis of country music, folk and transatlantic rock. But in 1983, Rafferty quit writing and recording songs to "watch my family grow". He said: "It dawned on me that I had been touring the world, travelling everywhere and seeing nowhere. It wasn't difficult for me to walk away from the business. Whatever I do in the future, it's at my own pace, on my own terms."

For the next three years, with his then wife Carla and their daughter Martha, Rafferty travelled the world, but after the couple split up in the early Nineties, Rafferty became increasingly reclusive. At one point he seemed set on returning to Scotland, and bought a property in Strathpeffer but sold it two years later without moving in. He retreated to Los Angeles, and the death of his brother Joe in 1995 devastated him. Later he became embroiled in an extraordinary feud with his elder brother, Jim, who set up a website called Effing Peasants, after the insult he alleges Gerry hurled at Jim and his friends. On the internet, Jim Rafferty taunts his brother as "the Great Gutsby" and "the Human Bottlebank", claiming that Rafferty had become overweight, drink-addled and paranoid. Oddly, the site is also a gathering point for Rafferty's fans, who lament that his last album, Another World, sold exclusively on his now-defunct website eight years ago, may be the last they will hear from the Paisley musician as far as tours and recording are concerned.

Rafferty's perfect pop moment came in 1978 with 'Baker Street', a song of hoarse sincerity about giving up the booze and the one-night stands and settling down. It is now a staple of soft rock stations, where it has the sturdy inevitability of Christmas or death. Movie director Gus Van Sant used it for a key scene in Good Will Hunting and the song was a hit once again in the Nineties when covered by Undercover. It even featured in an episode of The Simpsons, with Lisa playing it on her saxophone. Yet until Raphael Ravenscroft overlaid a glistening saxophone solo, it was destined to be just another folky tune. Ravenscroft's name doesn't appear on the writing credits – allowing the NME to start up an urban myth that bespectacled former Blockbusters presenter Bob Holness had performed the sax solo. Rafferty maintains that he wrote the hook, and claims he intended to sing the refrain at first. Ravenscroft disagrees, saying he was presented with a song that contained "several gaps".

"In fact, most of what I played was an old blues riff," says the sax musician. "If you're asking me: 'Did Gerry hand me a piece of music to play?' then no, he didn't." Ravenscroft's fee was a cheque for 27, which he says bounced anyway and is now framed and hangs on his solicitor's wall. Rafferty has not attempted to make further payment, and Ravenscroft has chosen not to pursue the matter of a song that guarantees Rafferty a yearly income of 80,000. Since the song thrust Rafferty into a spotlight that has made him deeply uncomfortable ever since, maybe Ravenscroft is right to regard the riches of 'Baker Street' as tainted money: "If I had received pots of money, I wouldn't have known what to do," he remarked recently. "It might have destroyed me."