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c h a n t s f r & b

Trev Courtney, Jim Tomlin, Mike & Martin Forrer

The Chants left Christchurch for the unknown and possibly hostile Melbourne climes late in 1966. Australian magazines available in Christchurch, like People and Pix, told lurid stories of sharpies (skinheads) and mods (mods) doing battle in the streets and alleys of Melbourne and bands (such as Ronnie Burns' Flies) occasionally getting in the way. Mike and Trevor (Trevor Courtney – the Chants’ effervescent drummer) read these stories with foreboding - and promptly had their hair cut.
But they needn’t have worried about the mods and the sharpies – the innate tensions in the band, exacerbated by the move, ensured the Chants’ premature (and largely unreported) demise in Melbourne just a few months after leaving Christchurch.
(Just why Christchurch was such a fertile breeding ground for rock bands - think Max Merritt and Ray Columbus for starters - is discussed in depth by Dr Tony Mitchell in his compelling thesis Flat City Sounds: The Christchurch Music Scene).
Word of the Chants’ break up gradually filtered back to Christchurch, and even the most fervent fans of this “ferocious garage band” (as Australian Rock historian Glenn A. Baker described them) gradually forgot all about the Chants.
When Rudd went back to the old Stagedoor in 1997 he found it had become somewhat of a shrine. While it’s just a storage space underneath a café now, the names of the Stagedoor heroes are still carved in the black timber beams that Rudd cracked his skull on numerous times in his fashionably high-heeled black-suede boots.
And fashion was important. Borrie the Tailor in Chancery Lane (now living and tailoring in Surfers) made Rudd and Courtney’s stage clothes in the latest fab-fashions. While there was nothing on TV, there were always the magazines.
In an article written about the long-haired Stagedoor habitués in the Press in July 1966, Mike claimed he enjoyed “creating a barrier and then meeting the challenge of breaking it down.” He also said, “We’re maybe different, but we are still sensitive.”
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Mike was a
chorister in the Cathedral choir and head prefect at the Cathedral Grammar School. He deliberately avoided the organised music scene at Christ’s College but became interested in pop music and began an “alternative” dance band (Mark iv) with some school-mates.
It was at Art School the band started to consume Mike’s attention – to the point that he just “plain forgot” a submission for his graphic design exam. So he tossed in the Art course and began to play music full-time with his band, the Chants, soon to become Chants R&B.
Chants R&B only had the one single released (“I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” b/w “I Want Her”) before they left for Melbourne, but their fame had spread throughout NZ - mostly because of their legendary wild stage performances at the Stagedoor to a fanatical band of devotees.
In fact, the band only left the security of the Stagedoor a couple of times in their two years there. They went (by ferry) to Wellington to record at the HMV Studios and did a couple of gigs whilst they were there. They recorded “I’m Your Witchdoctor” (b/w “Neighbour Neighbour”) for their own Action label, which wasn’t released till after they left for Australia.
So, what happened to Chants R&B when they got to Melbourne? They made a couple of TV appearances – they won a heat of Bert Newton’s New Faces and mimed Witchdoctor on Kommotion – and played gigs like the Catcher and the Thumpin’ Tum.
It was at the gigs they discovered they weren’t alone – bands like the Wild Cherries and the Purple Hearts were playing the same Anglophile slant on the blues they were. The band had a dilemma – whether to follow Mike’s preference for soul and blues or go with Trev’s passion for Tamla and r&b.
The Chants did one more recording session in Melbourne before they split. The material ranged from versions of the Temptations’ “My Girl” to Them’s “One,Two Brown Eyes”. Both songs are on the recently released Zero CD and “Stagedoor Witchdoctors”, a low fidelity but exciting record of a band with everything before them, put together by
John Baker, himself a garage band enthusiast.
There are a couple of interviews on the CD. One done with Jim Tomlin, the group’s first lead guitarist, has Jim asking where they think it’s all heading musically speaking. Mike couldn’t have imagined that thirty-odd years later he would be recording some of the very same classic blues songs Jim recorded the Chants' playing on his flatmate's mono tape recorder back at the Stagedoor.

More Chants R&B   Check out Trev's current Chants R&B site a Listen to Chants' interview on Radio NZ (scroll down for 3 x Chants' pods) rr Read Andrew Schmidt's comprehensive article for Audio Culture
Read some enthusiatic Chants' record reviews

1) Pre-Chants lineup: Compton Tothill, Trevor Courtney, Mike Rudd, Jim Tomlin and Stan Maugher (Warren Sellers)

2) The Chants - Pete Hanson, Mike Rudd, Jim Tomlin and Trevor Courtney. (Warren Sellers)

3) The Chants at the Showgrounds (Warren Sellers) (see more) 4) Trevor Courtney, Mike, Martin Forrer & Matt Croke

5) Mike and Helen at a pivotal Max Merritt gig in 1965 5) Mike the model 6) The Stagedoor in 1998

7) Stagedoor graffiti - the Stagedoor's likely been levelled by now 8) Mike at the Stagedoor in '64
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