whitetrailsI was very sad to hear of the death of Chris Rainbow (real name Chris Harley) on February 25 after a long illness. He was 68. Chris had been living on the Isle of Skye since the 1970s – there’s a picture of the scene outside his Vital Spark studio on Looking Over My Shoulder, his 1978 album that I would say was his greatest.  Chris never really found mainstream success, but those who heard his intricate multi-tracked vocal work on that record, on the earlier Home of the Brave (1975 – standout tracks “On My Way” and “Glasgow Boy”) and on his final solo record White Trails (1979 – standout tracks “Be Like a Woman” and “Song of the Earth”) never forgot it.  After these, Chris recorded and toured for a few years with the progressive rock group Camel, but there wasn’t much room there for him to get his personal style across – the closest, perhaps, was in the song “Long Goodbyes” from Stationary Traveller (1984).

The Alan Parsons Project was a very different matter. Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson allowed Chris full rein to arrange the multi-tracked backing vocals on many APP tracks, and gave him the lead vocal on others. There’s close to another full album’s worth of material that, although not actually composed by Chris, could almost pass as his solo work. I’d list the following songs as the most influenced by him: “Winding Me Up” and “Secret Garden” from Eve (1979);  “Gold Bug”, “Snake Eyes”, “Nothing Left to Lose” and the title track from Turn of a Friendly Card (1980 – and surely that’s him at the very end of “Time” as well, from 4.00 onwards); “Gemini” from Eye in the Sky (1982); “Since the Last Goodbye” from Ammonia Avenue (1984); “Days are Numbers” from Vulture Culture (1984); and “Beaujolais” from Stereotomy (1985). Chris also contributed vocals to the tracks “Closer to Heaven” and “Money Talks” from Gaudi (1987), but they don’t sound particularly finished to me and have a much leaner production.

That fantasy compilation album will have to stand in for the fourth solo record Chris almost made around 2000. In the 1990s he spent most of his time producing other bands, most notably Runrig. But in 1999 he got back in touch with his fans – this time directly through the Internet – and to their delight he issued CDs of his original material, re-mastered and with some previously unheard demos and outtakes. That’s when we first started hearing about a proposed new album, to be called In a Perfect World. The surprisingly detailed biography of Chris on AllMusic still maintains that this record actually hit the shelves in 2001. I wish it were so. We waited in hope, but it never came.

In the tributes this week, Alan Parsons remembered Chris as “the one man Beach Boy”, and Brian Wilson himself posted a tribute here. I’d often wondered whether Brian had heard of Chris, and it’s great to know that he did at least hear the song written about him, “Dear Brian”, from Looking Over My Shoulder. “I was touched and honored by it. It was a beautiful track”, he said.