GERRY Rafferty sang soft rock in perfect pitch. The songs for which he’s best known, Stuck In The Middle with You and Baker Street, may seem harmless enough. 

Dig deeper and you find themes of alienation and isolation, perhaps on reflection unsurprisingly so from a sensitive and well-read fellow, with a strong work ethic, who deplored the trappings of stardom. The life of a showbiz personality, he said, was “not for me”.

Born on April 16, 1947 to a working-class family in Underwood Lane, Paisley, Gerry’s formative years were spent on the Foxbar council estate.

At home, he learned Irish and Scottish folk songs. At St Mirin’s Academy, however, he learned, by his own estimation, “nothing”, and left at 15 to work in a social security office and then at Timpson’s shoe shop.

He’d taught himself banjo and guitar and, on weekends, he and former school classmate and future Stealers Wheel collaborator, Joe Egan, played in local group The Maverix, mainly covering Beatles and Stones hits.

In the 1960s, Rafferty busked on the London Underground, before returning to Scotland to enjoy a drink in Glasgow’s Scotia Bar, there encountering folk luminaries John Martyn (then known as Iain McGeechy), Aly Bain, Rab Noakes and Barbara Dickson.

In 1969, Rafferty joined Billy Connolly and Tam Harvey in folk group The Humblebums. When Lafferty left, Rafferty and Connolly continued as a duo, recording two now collectable albums.
Connolly recalled how Rafferty made him laugh, not least by searching the Berlin telephone directory for Hitlers. With “Billy’s jokes getting longer and longer, the songs shorter and shorter”, the pair went their separate ways in 1971.

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Rafferty then recorded his first solo album, Can I Have My Money Back? which, while a critical success, did not make much of the aforementioned spondulicks. Around this time, aged 23, Rafferty discovered something money couldn’t buy: Colin Wilson’s classic account of alienation and isolation, The Outsider, which was to have a a pronounced influence on his songs and life. Daughter Martha later recalled it as “a pivotal moment”.

Wheel of fortune
In 1972, he teamed up with Joe Egan again to form Stealers Wheel, recording three albums including huge hit Stuck In The Middle with You, which Rolling Stone called “the best Dylan record since 1966”, while Sounds described it as a “cross between white label Beatles and punk Dylan yet with a unique Celtic flavour”.

Paul Simon said it was his favourite pop song. Twenty years later, its surface innocence saw it used with blood-curdling irony in the film Reservoir Dogs.

In 1978, after the break-up of Stealers Wheel, Rafferty recorded his second solo album, City To City (these being London and Glasgow), which included Baker Street with its memorable saxophone riff played by Raphael Ravenscroft to a tune sung first by Rafferty.

Rafferty wanted “a wailing, lonely, big-city sound”. His daughter Martha has said there might also be heard “the soaring, transcendent optimism of the promise of a new life … the discovery that life could, indeed, be ultimately meaningful”.

Bizarre rumours attributing the riff to Blockbusters television presenter Bob Holness turned out to be incorrect.

City To City sold 5.5 million copies, prompting Rafferty to insist: “My life doesn’t stand or fall by the amount of people who buy my records.” Ironically, the lyrics reflected Rafferty’s disenchantment with the music industry and discomfort at the thought of stardom.

His next album, Night Owl, also did well, its three successors not so much, hampered perhaps by his reluctance to perform live. 

Sleepwalking (1982) saw the introduction of synthesisers and drum machines, with a less acoustic sound and increasingly introspective lyrics.

Outstanding in his field
IN 1983, Rafferty decided to devote more time to his family, installing electric gates at his 16th-century farmhouse near the Kent-Sussex border, where he built a recording studio, and worked either by himself or with producer Hugh Murphy.

Michael Gray, Rafferty’s personal manager at the height of his success, said: “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.”

Stealers Wheel’s second album, released in 1974, had been named Ferguslie Park, after the Paisley council estate, “to get”, in Rafferty’s words, “as far away as possible from all the bullshit of the music industry in London”.

Charlie Reid of The Proclaimers believed that for “a very, very sensitive man”, fame was “probably not appropriate” for Gerry. However, Gray, also detected fear, exemplified by his spurning the opportunity to work with Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney, the sort of superstars that Gerry could not meet “without a drink or five”.

By the end of the 1990s, new technology enabled the singer-songwriter to work entirely on his own terms: “At my time of life, I don’t want to be talking to 23-year-old record executives who are just trying to sell their products to 19-year-olds.”

Another World, released in 2000, was originally available only by direct order from his website. Its cover art was by John “Patrick” Byrne, lifelong friend and fellow alumnus of St Mirin’s, who had also illustrated earlier albums.

Somebody mentioned drink earlier, and it was no secret that Gerry frequently bent the elbow. In 2008, he embarked on a four-day binge at a five-star Mayfair hotel, extensively damaging his room and indeed himself: the hotel manager said he was “in self-destruct mode”.

HE appears to have gone AWOL after this, with rumours reporting him either in rehab, Tuscany, Dorset, or various London hotels until November 2010 when he was admitted to the Royal Bournemouth Hospital and put on a life-support machine. 

After rallying briefly, he died of liver failure at his daughter’s home in Stroud, Gloucestershire, on January 4, 2011. He was 63. More than 400 people attended a requiem mass one frosty morning at St Mirin’s Cathedral, less than a mile from his birthplace in Paisley.

The eulogy was given by John Byrne, who recounted intimate conversations from Gerry’s final days and said: “I know that he went to meet his maker sober and unafraid, and fiercely curious and with enormous bravery.”

Tears flowed and applause broke out when daughter Martha joined 
other family members in an unaccompanied version of Whatever’s Written In Your Heart: “Whatever’s written in your heart, that’s all that matters/You’ll find a way to say it all some day …”