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Back in the live arena after a break of over twenty years, The Chesterfields were, despite hailing from Yeovil, one of the main players in the vibrant indie-pop scene that developed in Bristol in the mid 1980’s.
In a similar fashion to the Go-Betweens, the band was formed and centred around two songwriters, Simon Barber and Dave Goldworthy. They were snapped up by Bristol label, Subway Records, for a string of catchy singles and an excellent debut album, 'Kettle', that was released in 1987.
For ace follow-up album, 'Crocodile Tears', and in keeping with the DIY ethic of the time, the band set up, their own Household Records label before initially bowing out with farewell single, 'Fool is the Man' in 1989.
The band briefly reformed having been lured back by the Yen for a tour of Japan and a new album, 'Flood', on Vinyl Japan in 1995 before calling time once more.
Sadly, Dave Goldworthy died in a car accident in 2004, but Simon has expanded his current band, Design, to include former Loft guitarist Andy Strickland to create a new Chesterfields line-up that also includes Helen Strickland and Rob Parry.
Having already starred at the New York Popfest and 100 Club in London in 2016, the band will be headlining Pennyblack’s Manchester gig on Saturday 18th February at Gullivers (109 Oldham Street).
Prior to that, chief Chesterfield, Simon Barber agreed to spill the beans as to why they are back after such a long time away:-
PB: What was the catalyst to performing under the Chesterfields name again, particularly after your band, Design, had just released their debut album on Cherry Red records?
SB: I think we can blame Maz Hadid, who runs the NYC Popfest,. He wanted The Chesterfields to play the Popfest last year and wanted to bill us as 'The Chesterfields'. We'd already played a few times as 'Design play The Chesterfields' and I was a bit resistant, but not stupid, so I said yes, and then a week before our 100 Club gig in April we were playing Exeter Cavern and there was a moment on stage when I realised that we weren't Design, but we were the Chesterfields!
The timing hasn't been brilliant for Design as we lost a bit of momentum after the release of our album 'Black Marker Red Marker', but we've now got a host of new pop songs to sink our teeth into after the Chesterfields’ gigs in February. Hopefully there'll be a new Design album out later in the year. But we're up for further Chesterfields adventures if asked!
PB: I was lucky enough to see your show with the Flatmates and Karen at the 100 Club in London earlier in the year and thought you nailed the comeback. It must have been surreal playing without the late Dave Goldworthy and singing many of the songs he would have taken lead vocals on?
SB: It wasn't the first time, as when Davey left the band in 1988 my brother Mark and I co-fronted the band for a year, but it's the first time I've had to learn how to play and sing some of the songs that I couldn't attempt in 1988, 'Completely and Utterly' and 'Sweet Revenge' in particular have been tricky, and 'Two Girls and a Treehouse' is impossible. Maybe I should ask Andy or Helen, or both of them, to sing that one!
PB: You also played at the New York Popfest last May. How did that come about and how was it?
SB: Andy went out there with The Loft in 2015 and when he came back he told me that Popfest organiser Maz was a big Chesterfields fan and would be very keen to have us play, so that was it really, and then he asked Design to play too, which made it even more exciting for us, although we should have taken more copies of the album over as they all sold out within seconds of us finishing our set!
PB: You’ve stuck pretty religiously to the playing tracks from the first two LPs, 'Kettle' and 'Crocodile Tears' and ignored third album,'Flood'. Is there a reason for this – it’s got lots of good tracks on it?
SB: Thank you! I wanted the set to be the better known songs. We did rehearse 'Glad For You' but it didn't make the cut, and I'd love to do 'Hangover Eve' but it's not the same without Mark's insane singing. Of course. none of the songs are the same as they were in 1987 but they do need to be 'authentic' - if that's the right word, the fear is being a Chesterfields covers band and not The Chesterfields. I've seen a few bands during the last few years that really shouldn't have reformed, and I don't want The Chesterfields to be another one!
People say I'm too worried about these things, but the legacy really does matter to me... Bands matter! I'm also someone who doesn't want The Smiths or The Jam to reform! Thanks to John Peel, post-punk and contemporary art I'm always hungry for the new and the sideways view!
PB: You’ve managed to lure guitarist Andy Strickland back into the band for the live shows. Was your brother, Mark, not interested?
SB: Andy and I have stayed good friends since he stepped in to help us out in 1987, He was in the band when we played some of our biggest gigs, including Glastonbury Festival, so he was the obvious choice. And it was also important to me that it was someone who knew Davey, so when I realised Mark wasn't really up for it, I called Andy, who lucky for us didn't need much 'luring'!
I have asked Mark since whether I could have 'persuaded' him, and got a 'maybe' shrug, so perhaps I could have. He played (as Pop Parker) at our NYC Popfest warm-up in Yeovil in May and gave us a thumbs up, despite me messing up the words to his song 'Let It Go', so I do feel the current line-up has been properly endorsed!
PB: You released a souvenir CD of re-recorded Chesterfields songs with the new line-up to coincide with the New York Popfest. Are there any plans for future releases?
SIMON: No plans, but I'd love to write and record an album with the current line-up, I know Cherry Red would put it out if we did, but they wouldn't be able to fund the recording and manufacture, and neither can we, so unless there's someone out there who wants us to do it then I'm not sure it'll be happening...
PB: Finally, what songs are you particularly proud of from the back catalogue?
SIMON: It's hard to be objective. Even after thirty years, I'll never tire of playing 'Ask Johnny Dee' because of the reaction it gets, but my favourite songs are still the ones that feature Davey's lyrics - 'Best of Friends', 'Completely & Utterly', 'Love Mountain', 'Lunchtime for thee Wild Youth', 'Two Girls and a Treehouse' and 'Something Happening'. He was such a great wordsmith, up there with Morrissey and Howard Devoto for me. I was very lucky to have met him!
PB: Thank you.
The Chesterfields will be headlining our next Pennyblackmusic Bands Night at Gullivers in Manchester on February 18th with support from Karen and Charlie Big Time. Tickets are £7 in advance from www.wegottickets.com and 39 on the door.
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Experimental Pop Band
Dixie Ernill speaks to Simon Barber, the front man with 80's indie pop act The Chesterfields, about their reformation after an absence of twenty years and their forthcoming appearance at our next Pennyblackmusic Bands Night at Gullivers in Manchester on February 18th
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