Posted by: ben | October 14, 2009

left of centre: the chalets

chaletsheader

So many great songs, artists and albums seem to be passed over entirely. Left of Centre aims to highlight music which should have reached a bigger audience than it did. In this edition: The Chalets.

Ben: During a dark Glasgow evening late in 2003, I was idly flicking through record label websites looking for bargains, news and free mp3s. I went to Setanta Records’ site hoping that they might have some old vinyl pressings from The Divine Comedy. Disappointed by the lack of anything of note in their online shop, I looked at their current artists roster.

That’s where I stumbled across the best pop act of the last decade. Ladies and gents, let me talk to you about The Chalets.

Like most of Setanta’s acts, The Chalets hail from Northern Ireland. They met at All Tomorrow’s Parties in 2001 where they ended up sharing a chalet, hence the name. They consist of five members – Pony, Peepee, Chris, Enda and Dilbot.  No, those aren’t their real names (mostly) but they give an idea of the band’s playful sense of humour.

Sense of humour? Oh yes!

After Britpop imploded in the late nineties, it became illegal for any musical group to smile or be silly. As a result, the early years of the new century were filled with lots of po-faced, serious, introspective acts – Damien Rice, David Grey, Turin Brakes, Starsailor etc etc ad infinitum. It was unthinkable to release a record that people would joyfully dance to without branding yourself as some messianic cult. You were either a serious artist singing soulfully about your deepest feelings or a childish novelty act. In mainstream music, there was no happy third way.

The Chalets were a direct reaction to that. They crafted songs based on the old punk and pop idiom of thrashing through three minutes of guitars and moving onto the next track quickly. They fused the eclecticism of punk with the bubblebum artpop of The B-52s and Devo. They developed close girly vocal harmonies, call and response song structures, brilliant videos, throwaway imagery and (gasp!) girls dancing on stage.

They took the best bits of everything they loved and made them into their own.

They teased a few limited edition 7″ singles for a few years, only managing to release an EP in 2004. But what an EP it was! The four-track Nightrocker EP (rubbish title) bowled over everyone who heard it – Hot Press legendarily exclaimed “where the hell did this come from?”. From being a live act with some scruffy 7″ records under their belt, they produced four very polished, very catchy songs onto a crowd expecting very little. Two of the tracks – Nightrocker and Sexy Mistake – ended up being used on Grey’s Anatomy.

Even more importantly, closing track David Boring makes it onto almost every mixtape I ever make.

The debut album Check In was released a year later and only further cemented how well-rounded and fun a group they’d become. Suddenly the number of people attending their gigs  exploded. On one memorable occasion, I caught someone whistling Feel the Machine in a lift (no mean feat!) and struck up a conversation about how good The Chalets were and how their next album would see them hit some dizzying highs.

Sadly after demoing some tracks for the second album and doing some warmup gigs, the band announced they’d split.

Despite getting some recognition amongst us artrock-loving types in Dublin, Glasgow and elsewhere, they struggled to get any attention in the mainstream. I’ve read that there were issues about them not making enough money and that they all had other interests/jobs to be getting on with. This is certainly true of Chris – he’s now quite a prolific graphic artist. In the course of writing this article I emailed him and asked why they disbanded whilst demoing. He said:

It’s a real shame we never got to release a second album but by the time we finished touring the first one we hadn’t made much money and we were suddenly all in our 30’s. It was a tough decision to make but I don’t think we could have continued.

Perhaps those rumours of a remake of This Life based on The Chalets wasn’t too far off the mark?

The band’s legacy extends to four singles, one EP and one album. Given that unique sound, it’s genuinely heartbreaking that there is no more to listen to and that there’ll be no more in future. The girls have formed a new band called Talulah Does The Hula which is interesting but lacks the pop and the punch of their past musical selves.

The petition for the release of the album two demos begins here!

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