This month, celebrated mod-revivalist band The Chords grace Australian shores for the very first time, headlining Mods Mayday 2012. According to original frontman Billy Hassett, a special opportunity kick-started their resurgence almost 30 years after their initial split. “In 2010, we had an offer to play a festival. It fell through in the end, but it initiated a string of events which culminated in us getting a tour together. I had also just seen a Julien Temple film called Oil City Confidential, about Dr.Feelgood. Lee Brilleaux died, so they can't get back together again... and we're not much younger than them, so I guess I just thought, 'It's now or never.' Australia is the icing on the cake. We never thought it would happen. It's a miracle we're here, really.”
Curiously, Hassett was once content to see the back of the band. “I ran away, escaped from The Chords. I didn't want to have anything to do with them. I just got so disillusioned with the whole thing,” he recalls. “We didn't have management or any kind of A&R guide. We had to manage business between the four of us, which always led to trouble. I got newly married then, then there were pressures of me being married to the band or her. It was just too much of a strain for me and I kind of had enough and disappeared. I tried to bury The Chords.”
“He's still got a shovel in his luggage just in case he wants to bury us again,” interjects drummer Brett 'Buddy' Ascott. “I'll bury us in Melbourne when we're finished,” Hassett laughs. The natural decline of the British mod-revival arguably killed the band off the first time round. “We were superseded, if you like. We were criticised for being revivalist and retrogressive... and we were replaced by rockabilly bands. Ska bands: The Pole Cats and The Selecter. I've got nothing against those bands, but it was a bit ironic.”
Now, hailed as an essential staple of the mod-revival era, The Chords are set to strut their stuff at the Hi-Fi as part of the upcoming Mod's Mayday event. According to Ascott, the band's chemistry has endured beyond their halcyon days. “We still argue! The dynamic is interesting because it's one of the things that fired us and it's also one of the things that connects us to The Who: four disparate characters, pulling in different directions. It's not always attractive but it kind of produces a lot of energy. In a way, it's a shame Martin (Mason) isn't here, because he was the anchor. I did say 'anchor', there.”
In their short career, the south-east London band scaled dizzying heights. As best gigs go, it's tough to look past their support of The Undertones in Leeds. “We got four encores that night. That was our first show with them and we got four encores. It was unbelievable. We played one encore and we could see one of the Undertones. We played another and they were all there with a stopwatch, saying 'Get off!'.
Naturally, the bands bonded and remain friends to this day. “I spoke to Damien (O'Neill) before we came here to Australia. I didn't know it, but The Undertones have never been here. So yeah,” Ascott jokes. “In your face, Damien!”
On The Chords' legacy and cult-status, Hassett has the final word. “It's just wonderful because, in a way, that's what we worked for. We wanted to be in a band that people would remember, that meant something to them. It's just wonderful that people still love the music.”
BY NICK MASON
THE CHORDS are involved in two Mods Mayday events this weekend – a winter warmer meet'n'greet at The LuWow on Friday May 11 (with Continental Rob's Continental Blues Party) and playing The Hi-Fi on Saturday May 12 (with Little Murders and The Messengers, plus DJs).