|The Chords circa '79: Chris Pope, Brett 'Buddy' Ascott, Billy Hassett, Martin Mason|
The first time I saw The Chords I was a 16 year old mod at Orpington Civic Hall in August 1981. The Chords were everything I thought a band should be - young, vital, fast and with something to say. Within a month, they’d split. Tagged Jam wannabes by a music press that cooled quickly on the mod revivalist tag once art school boys went west and did the make-up and Dorothy Perkins look, the Chords dropped into the world of occasional appearances on compilation CDs. The band's main writer, Chris Pope, toured with his own outfit trading on a sprinkling of old Chords songs and newly written material.
Cut to a murky night in Sheffield last year. I’m 200 miles from London and the reformed Chords are in town at the Leadmill. Judging by the Omo glow of newly purchased white Fred Perrys in the crowd, I’m not the only one here taking a trip down mod memory lane. And when the Killermeters, the evening’s other survivors from my (revival) generation take the stage for the support slot, I find myself having second thoughts about the whole thing. A nostalgia trip for its own sake is a pretty hollow event at the best of times and there’s something a bit tired about the Killermeters. More PK50 than SX225.
When The Chords take the stage, you sense it could go either way. But here’s the weird thing: as the gig goes on, the band steam into each song like it’s the last time they’ll ever play it. Pope and Hassett give the angsty suburban kick of songs like Maybe Tomorrow, Something’s Missing, and Now It’s Gone a twenty-first century relevance I hadn’t seen coming. The Chords always majored in great power chord choruses and sentiments that took the best aspects of Weller's social comment songs and made them their own in a string of great singles like In My Street. Chris Pope’s arrangements – in some cases re-arrangements – breathe new life into the familiar. Thirty years on and by the time the band encore – A British Way of Life and a rousing, inevitable So Far Away (Billy Hassett gets a smack in the mouth from a mic-stand and still manages to come back bloody-lipped and smiling) I swear the band and most of the audience are looking ten years younger.
Nostalgia’s an odd thing, but the truth is, if music is relevant now and if it matters now, it transcends criticism that it’s just looking over its shoulder. It's the same criticism the NME et al made back in the day. But that night The Chords gave us a reminder why they were always worth much more than the revival tag allowed them. And, in the process, proved themselves a band capable of being relevant in the here and now.