by Terence Dackombe A sometimes precocious, sometimes shy teenager, I worked at Capital Radio for a little while in 1975.
In actual fact, to be completely accurate, I was working for Pye Records, but because my boss knew someone who knew someone, I was asked to go and work at Capital on some kind of loan arrangement; not because of my extraordinary skills but because the radio station just needed somebody – anybody.
Capital launched in October 1973, and along with the FM frequency of 95.8 (still the same today), they were allocated 539m on the medium wave band. Although hardly a soul would listen to music on AM radio now, in the early 1970s FM radios were considered a bit of a rarity – a bit upmarket. So in college common rooms, factories, and shops all around London 539 on AM was usually the only way to hear Capital.
For the next two years this frequency became a battleground as right next door on the dial was the Dutch pirate station Radio Veronica, and particularly on the outskirts of the city (or at least a distance from Lots Road, Chelsea where the transmitter was housed) the listener had the unique but awkward experience of listening to both stations at once.
After a protracted battle with the Independent Broadcasting Authority, Capital was shifted, two years later in 1975, right along to the other end of the AM dial on 194m.
That’s where I came in. Besides the need to re-brand the whole station and embark on a whole new publicity campaign (I particularly remember we all wore garish yellow t-shirts with ‘Capital 194’ emblazoned across them), a new set of jingles was commissioned related to the new frequency.
My first week at Euston Tower was spent listening to Tommy Vance (my supposed new boss) regaling me with tales of his time working in radio in America and on a pirate radio ship on the North Sea. Tommy took great delight in answering the phone (it didn’t ring very often) by yelling “Capital Radio – We Produce!” and terrifying the representatives from Houndsditch Warehouse or Freddie Barrett’s Liquor Mart who only wanted to obtain a quote for getting some commercials produced.
Around this time, a young bloke would wander in, look at us both, and wander out again. We didn’t know who he was, but subsequently found out he was a friend of Kenny Everett and that he had recorded some jingles with the new frequency announced all over them.
Eventually, Tommy and I took ownership of a big reel of tape and, as Tommy was busy voicing commercials for just about every advertisement on Capital, it was left to me to chop these reels of tape into individual jingles for each of the Capital disc jockeys.
Here’s the thing. We were expecting a rather low budget set of lo-fi jingles; it may be hard to imagine in today’s world of multiple radio station ownership, but Capital had almost no money in 1975. But, indeed, here’s the thing.
I played these jingles and instead of getting stuck in with the razor blade, I listened to the whole tape in one go. Then again; then I dragged Tommy back from his post-lunch snooze and asked him to listen. We were staggered at the complexity and stunning harmonies – layer upon layer of them, all produced by this one chap that we had only seen wandering about and to whom we had never spoken. Later we found out that he had a severe stutter that (as is often the case) disappeared when he sang.
Apart from producing a whole series of jingles for Capital Radio, Christopher Rainbow used his extraordinary talent with harmony to produce a short burst of singles and a couple of albums in the middle of the 1970s.
If you try and find out anything about Chris Rainbow now – well don’t bother, I’ve tried and he seems to have disappeared. The trail is confused by other chaps called Christopher Rainbow also producing music and their presence on the web has obliterated much of the potential paths to ‘our’ Christopher Rainbow. He might be living in Scotland; he may be planning a new set of songs; he may not be.
The detective work is not aided by the fact that Christopher Rainbow isn’t his real name anyway – he was born Christopher James Harley, changing his surname to avoid any confusion with the lead singer of Cockney Rebel.
Yet… Hurrah for Spotify! For here we can find a tantalising glimpse into the beauty of Rainbow’s short body of work.
I’ve created a little seven song Christopher Rainbow playlist on Spotify (link) that will give you highlights of his best work. If you like them – I’ll leave it to you to explore further.
But there’s one track you must hear – ‘Dear Brian’ is Chris Rainbow’s aching song of love to Brian Wilson:
“Dear Brian, You held us so long, To ride on the wave of a song, Was part of America
When, You brought California home, A picture in pure vocal tone, A hymn celebrating the sea, Will leave its impression on me.”
It’s a beautiful hosanna to the 1960s, the California dream and the pre-Manson joy of riding down Sunset to Santa Monica, riding the waves of the songs of an America caught between the pain of Vietnam and the view from Laurel Canyon.
Here it is – Christopher Rainbow and ‘Dear Brian’
Terence Dackombe, February 2012