Ferguslie Park  Reissued by Intervention Records

Long time Gerry Rafferty fans were thrilled for the long-suffering artist when he finally had a hit single under his own name with “Baker Street”, taken from his late ‘70s release City to City.

It’s probably the only #2 song on the Billboard charts to have an eight bar saxophone riff star and provide the memorable hook. “Baker Street” probably would have reached #1 but for Andy Gibb’s “Shadow Dancing”, which took the top spot for the six weeks. “Baker Street” was #2.

Few of the new fans probably knew that Rafferty was the singer on his other singles hit, the now iconic “Stuck in the Middle With You”, which was on Stealers Wheel, the group’s eponymous debut album issued on A&M Records five years earlier.

In 1969 Rafferty began his professional recording career in a group called The Humblebums, with Billy Connolly, who went on to have a successful comedic career. When the group broke up, Connolly and Rafferty recorded a pair of albums for Transatlantic Records and then Rafferty recorded a masterpiece in my opinion called Can I Have My Money Back? that was issued on Bob Krasnow’s Blue Thumb Records in America. The album, produced by Hugh Murphy, met with critical but not commercial acclaim. The Transatlantic version at least, is a sonic stunner.

Like “Baker Street”, “Stuck in the Middle” was also an unlikely hit, written and produced as a loose-fitting Bob Dylan parody that caught the popular imagination with lines like “clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right”. It later caught the imagination of Quentin Tarrantino who used it in his 1992 film “Reservoir Dogs”.

While the tune was conceived and performed as a Dylan parody, the inspiration for it supposedly came from a business meeting Rafferty and Egan endured, hosted by record company executives and producers.

Following the debut album, which was produced by the famed songwriting team of Jerry Stoller and Mike Leiber (“Hound Dog”, “Kansas City”, “There Goes My Baby,” “Yakety-Yak” etc.) and recorded at Apple Studios and co-engineered by Geoff Emerick, Stealers Wheel returned to the studio—this time Island Studios—with Leiber/Stoller again producing, to record the follow up album Ferguslie Park, which was released on A&M Records in 1973. It would be fair to say that Stealers Wheel was really Egan and Rafferty since no one else credited as being in the group’s first album appeared on the second and the duo got star billing on the back cover credits. They also wrote all of the songs.

Among the musicians credited on the album were Joe Jammer, an American guitarist brought to the UK by Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant. Jammer had met Jimmy Page at a Chicago Led Zep gig and struck up a friendship with Page, eventually touring as a roadie with Led Zeppelin.

Peter Robinson, a member of the Harvest Records group Quatermass played keyboards (that band’s bassist, the late Johnny Gustafson later played with Roxy Music). The album’s rhythm section of Gary Taylor on bass and Andrew Taylor on drums had previously been members of The Herd, Peter Frampton’s first group, which he joined at age 16.

Also credited on this record, among others, are Bernie Holland on guitar, Corky Hale on harp, and Chris Mercer and Steve Gregory, both on tenor sax. Holland started with famed U.K. blues musician Long John Baldry, while Corky Hale (Merrilyn Hecht, born in Illinois), is a veteran studio musician who has played with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Tony Bennett and James Brown and has been married to Mike Stoller since 1970. Chris Mercer has played with John Mayall, Juicy Lucy, Keef Hartley Band, Bryan Ferry Band and on and on. Among Steve Gregory’s credits is the saxophone part on The Rolling Stones’s “Honky Tonk Women”. Richard Hewson arranged the strings on two songs. He also arranged the strings on dozens of songs including “Across the Universe,” “I Me Mine” and “The Long and Winding Road” for The Beatles as well as “Carolina on My Mind” for James Taylor’s Apple Records debut.

The recording and mixing engineer was Phill Brown who was the house engineer at Island Studios and engineered the sonically spectacular later Talk Talk Albums and albums for Roxy Music and of course for Bob Marley. I’m about to start reading his book “Are We Still Rolling?: Studios, Drugs and Rock'n'Roll – One Man's Journey Recording Classic Albums.” Oh, and his assistant on this album was Rhett Davies.

So Leiber/Stoller went for the deluxe package here from the musicians to the technicians. They clearly believed in Rafferty and Egan from the get go, recording at Apple and hiring Geoff Emerick as one of the engineers. Perhaps they saw the duo, writers of catchy, tuneful pop/rock as a successor to Lennon/McCartney who, with The Beatles gone, could satisfy the public’s Beatles craving.

Following the chart success of “Stuck in the Middle” the producing duo were probably eager to produce the big breakthrough album. They wanted to do right by Rafferty and Egan, which is ironic since the album mostly concerns itself with what Rafferty and Egan sung about on “Stuck in the Middle”.

Right! It’s an album in part devoted to bitching about the music business. Nothing new there: The Beatles did it, Ray Davies did it on Lola Versus Powerman and the Money Go Round and I’m sure you can add to that yourself.

“Good Businessman”, the opener is a dark, ominous one-note dirge that breaks open in the middle to sound like the opening to “Saturday Night Live”. It paints a bleak picture of a businessman and doesn’t reference the music business, but that’s a given.

“Star” is a hard, bitter number wrapped around a jaunty, up tempo melody that begins with “So they made you a star/Now your head’s in a cloud” and ends with “Tell me what will you do/When you find yourself back on the shelf”.

“Wheelin” is about a band break up and what happens when collaborative creativity runs its course. “(Waltz) You Know it Makes Sense” is a dream-state view of being sucked into the music business cycle while “What More Could You Want” expresses the exhilaration of stage performing. The side ends with “Over My Head”, a gorgeous optimistic ballad.

I’ll skip the side two play by play except to say that it’s even stronger than side one. “Steamboat Row”, about Rafferty’s hard-drinking, coal mining father Joseph is a tender number that perfectly meshes with “Mary Skeffington”, a song about his mother that’s on Can I Have My Money Back?. There are two versions of the deeply felt performance on the Transatlantic label. The earlier one is simply arranged; the later one is more complex. Another side stand-out is “Who Cares”, a song of desperation and disorientation that on a personal level expressed perfectly my 1973. It helped make Ferguslie Park one of my “go to” albums, though, again, despite strong reviews from many, it failed commercially.

Rafferty and Egan split in 1975 amid legal wrangling that confirmed every negative feeling Rafferty felt toward the music business. He had to wait three years for the legal dust to settle before he could again record. The resulting album was City to City and the monster hit “Baker Street”, which of course was about Rafferty’s disenchantment with the music business.

Ferguslie Park is a housing estate at the north-west extremity of Paisley in Renfrewshire, Scotland, bordered by the town of Linwood to the west and Glasgow International Airport to the north. In 2006, the Scottish Executive named it as one of Scotland's most deprived communities.

It’s probably not all that different from the working class community where Rafferty grew up. While his two finest albums, this one and Can I Have My Money Back? were not commercial successes, and his fan base was loyal but relatively small, City to City sold an astonishing 5.5 million copies. Royalties for that song alone annually earned him around £80,000—a song his then label United Artist did not want to release as a single.

I forgot to mention that Leiber/Stoller also had Bob Ludwig master the original at Sterling Sound so it sounds very, very good. However, this reissue mastered by Kevin Gray from ½” analog tape sounds far better, in part because it isn’t dynamically limited, which the original surely is. The sonics on this reissue are superb in every way. Even if you are a fan of this record and think you know it inside out, I think you’ll hear things previously buried in the compression that are now allowed to float freely on the soundstage.

By the way, Intervention Records is a new reissue label founded by Shane Buettner, late of Audioquest and one time editor of Home Theater magazine. Full disclosure: Shane is also a friend of mine. With Kevin Gray mastering, RTI pressing and Stoughton Press producing the covers, it’s top quality all the way—the quality the late Gerry Rafferty deserves. You do too! I've been playing this one since 1973 and never get tired of listening to it and to the always ear-catching production. Very highly recommended!

Music Direct Buy It Now

IR Shane's picture

Michael- your review is wonderful, and a terrific reward for the long and winding road of bringing this reissue to market! In fact, your liner notes and background information are better than what I've got on my own website!

Obviously I love this record too, and for my money while the debut had the big hit "Stuck in the Middle" Ferguslie might be the better record start to finish.

I hope the late Gerry Rafferty's fans appreciate having these two Stealers Wheel records back on vinyl!

IR Shane's picture

My handle here is IR Shane, and I'm Shane Buettner, Founder and Boss of Intervention Records!

thomoz's picture

Some of their songs like Wheelin' and Waltz would blend completely into Joey Molland era Badfinger!

IR Shane's picture

Some the tunes on this record just rock, and some get very trippy, like they had just heard Sgt Pepper for the first time. I think Rafferty and Egan's vocal harmonies are among the prettiest in rock.

Spewey's picture

I just want to hear the magic words...

"This was CUT from Analog tapes"

That seems to be the only hurdle we care about with reissues now :-)

IR Shane's picture

"This was cut DIRECTLY from Analog Tapes!"

Spewey's picture

I look forward to getting them!!

Jazzfan62's picture

Is that right? If so....boooo. That is a long time from now :). Christmas shopping in August?

Jazzfan62's picture

Damn auto correction gone awry.

IR Shane's picture

I have written the checks, and won't have any records to sell until then either! The first Stealers Wheel might sneak in earlier. Great record too!

Superfuzz's picture

The UK pressing of the first album will be hard to top.... good luck!

IR Shane's picture

Michael compared our LP to the RL (Robert Ludwig) US pressing, and we play tested against an original RL UK during mastering. We haven't fully compared notes, but I'd bet the same metal parts were used for both pressings. Michael's experience was exactly the same as ours sonically- hands down, we produced a better LP. Much bigger soundstage, better imaging and no smearing of instruments or complexity .This is not at ALL a hallmark of any other RL pressings I've heard (and I have a LOT) but the original RL UK had a striking amount of dynamic compression/limiting. When we tried to level match it was really tough because the RL UK was way louder and more up front in the quiet part, but in the complex passages the compression kicked in and the RL UK dropped way lower. We have WAY more information top to bottom and a dramatically superior soundstage. Mikey heard it and I know you will too!! In fact, he did a torturous thing to me in sending a high-res file he recorded off our Ferguslie LP with the SAT tonearm and a Lyra Atlas! It sounded so good on my computer I ordered new headphones!

Superfuzz's picture

Hi Shane, I was talking about the first album... I've never seen a UK RL of that (don't know if he even cut the US LP) but the UK of the first record I have is a Porky cut (George Peckham). I await Michael's review...

IR Shane's picture

So sorry! On Ferguslie, the US and UKs were RL pressings and that's what I was going on about since I had a very poor reading comprehension moment.

Regarding the first album the Porky/Pecko UK is what we listened to during mastering. I firmly believe you've always got to check yourself against the best available pressing! I'm very confident in what we did with Stealers Wheel's debut, and Mikey has a test pressing!

On my bad reading moment I'll apologize again and quote the back cover of Stealers Wheel- "We know that you believe you understand what you think we said, but we are not sure you realise that what you heard is not what we meant."

Again, my bad!

Superfuzz's picture

Haha, no worries! It sounds like you are doing everything right with your new reissue label. I'll probably buy the first album even without reading a review...it can't hurt to have 2 good sounding copies of that record. I'll wait 'til I can use a discount coupon though. I have an original of Fergusile but it never grew on me, maybe need to give it another listen.

wao62's picture

This interplay between Shane, the producer of the reissue, & the readers is terrific! Kind of a question and answer after the review. Lots of interesting & valuable information. I'd love to see more of this with other reviews!

IR Shane's picture

I'm hyper-verbal as it is, and thrilled beyond measure to finally have lift-off on this label, so I hope I don't wear you all out! I've been reader of this site since day 1 and I've been commenting here for years, first under the handle of "AQ Shane" from my days with AudioQuest. Michael has done an amazing job of educating all of us, and especially me. I've been reading the reviews, comments and questions here for years and I know you all want to know everything you can about my releases and others. So yes, I will be this available to AP's readers whenever Michael can squeeze in reviews of my LPs.

Another true story: the reason I know an RL from a Porky/Pecko to a Porky Prime Cut is Michael! A few years back when I was still with AudioQuest I visited Michael and he played me a wide variety of Beatles records, and I heard the HUGE difference between US, UK and German versions of The White Album. The same album! Totally different sound from different places. Totally common knowledge to many, but admittedly not to me at the time. Shortly thereafter I began amassing a collection of UK Beatles pressings, and Mikey cracked the code for me on how to read the runouts to find out whether Beatles UK records for sale were early pressings and therefore more valuable. And he also gave me a primer on reading the runouts in general, including the two mastering/cutting legends named above. This was costly information- those Beatles records cost me a pretty penny- but also priceless!

Minn Mark's picture

$30+ for either title from elusive disc? Kinda pricey, IMHO.

Auric G's picture

You just know someone at some point has told chad aka QRP, probably repeatedly, you'll sell X% more units if you price @ $29.99 vs $30, $49.99 vs $50. He's upfront on the price, and the source of his lps.

Kirby's picture

Amazon.ca wants $70.84 for these albums,$35 sounds like a bargain to me.

LesT73's picture

I'd really love to pick up both these Stealers Wheel reissues from Intervention but the pricing in the UK is restrictive, unfortunately.

Muso's picture

...I mentioned this review to a fellow music lover when I was over there the other day, and lo and behold, he produced from his record shelf not one, but *two* original copies of this album! (with the inserts, too) The first, he had played so many times he wore it out and thus had to buy the second.

Needless to say, we put the less-worn copy on the turntable, and wow, what a great album! It was my first listen, and it must have been his millionth or so :-) because he knew all the words to all the songs.

I immediately ordered this, and so did he. As I listened, I could hear where I think this new rendering is going to shine - I could hear where the punchiness of the drums was tamed, for example. Needless to say, we can't wait 'til Thanksgiving when it will ship.

LesT73's picture

...I finally picked up a copy of this and it sounds great!

LesT73's picture

..a bit of time with this LP, it really does sound great. I must confess, I have not listened to an original release but this is worth every penny in my opinion.