Sunday, November 07, 2010

'Vinyl Rules!' Episode One - The Chairs

Proof (were it needed) that I've had far too much time on my hands this week comes with the news that I've bought myself one of those turntables that allows you to convert records into mp3's which you can then make into CD's, put on an iPod and probably do lots of other things with that I'm not clever or indeed young enough to know about. I've been thinking about getting one for a while, as there are quite a few records in my collection that are sadly unlikely to ever emerge on CD and this seemed to be an obvious way for me to transfer them across to the digital world. It's also a chance for me to re-discover some of these recordings, and in doing so it occurred to me that it would be fun to write about them here. So let's start with a band that could have been, and indeed were contenders - I refer of course to The Chairs.

I think I first saw The Chairs at the late and much-lamented Fulham Greyhound (well it's certainly lamented by me although I can't find much on the Internet about it!) sometime in 1988. I guess they were supporting someone but I can't for the life of me remember who, a fact which amply sums up the impact that they had on the evening. They were simply tremendous. I'd been a huge fan of much missed Medway magicians The Prisoners who I'd seen many times and who I always thought should have been massively successful, but here was a band who had all their best elements (great songs, loads of energy and a Hammond Organ that sounded like the loudest and therefore greatest thing on Earth) but who somehow seemed to be an altogether more commercial proposition. They looked good, sounded great and such was their overall brilliance that I somehow overcame my innate shyness and struck up a conversation with one of them, who directed me to their larger-than-life manager Jim - I left for home that night with a copy of their first single and a masterplan that somehow meant that The Chairs and The Price were somehow going to take over the World together. I may have been a little drunk...
The next morning (afternoon?!?) I played the single - the A-side 'The Likes Of You' was brilliant, the b-side 'Something's Happening' was if anything even better, and the band were clearly as wondrous as I'd decided they were the previous evening. By the time their second single came out (the magnificent 'Size 10 Girlfriend' / 'Cut 'n' Dried', probably my favourite of their releases) they'd established themselves as a popular live act and were in hot pursuit of a record contract. Over the next couple of years this became something of an obsession within the band, as there always seemed to be a label or labels interested but no one would bite the bullet and sign them. I remember singer / guitarist / songwriter Paul Sullivan once saying to me words to the effect of 'all that matters is us getting a record contract, we can work everything else out from there', which is a measure of how much it meant to him. Their third single 'Honey I Need A Girl Of A Different Stripe' / 'I Can't Say I'm Sorry' kept up the pressure, as did their live shows which continued to be superb although by their fourth and last single 'Crestfallen' / 'Sometimes It Takes A Hammer' I remember thinking that the atmosphere in the band had changed - the music was still excellent but the mood seemed somehow darker. And then, suddenly, they were gone, leaving just 4 singles and an almost limitless amount of potential that appeared to evaporate almost overnight. Paul went on to play with The Crowd Scene and The Liberty Takers as well as making some solo acoustic appearances but I'm not sure what he (or indeed the rest of the band and their mercurial manager Jim) gets up to these days. I hope they're all still involved in music, but in the meantime there are any number of unreleased songs that remain in the memory banks from live shows - 'Boys From Slumberland', 'Brave Little Soldier', 'All I Need To Know' (inspired by Albert Goldman's controversial book 'The Lives Of John Lennon' - Paul's a huge Lennon fan, and judging by this song is not too enthusiastic about the book) and 'Neck Of The Woods' among them as well as a cover of Elvis Costello's 'Beaten To The Punch', all doubtless destined to remain unheard unless a retrospective compilation magically appears.

Well I've made my compilation from the singles and I've hardly stopped playing it since - 20-odd years on they sound as great as ever. It's good when that happens. Sit on that music!

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