Labelled ‘the greatest Yeovil band of all the time’, The Chesterfields was an indie guitar pop four-piece based around the songwriting talent of Dave Goldsworthy (vocals, guitar) and Simon Barber (bass, vocals). Formed in 1984 and soon snatched by the legendary Bristol’s Subway Organization Label, the band turned into one of the key players of the lively and fast-growing indie-pop scene of the West Country, along with The Brilliant Corners, The Blue Aeroplanes, The Flatmates and The Groove Farm. They released three great singles (all compiled in the ‘Westward Ho!’ LP) and the 1987 debut album ‘Kettle’, full of amazing slices of jangle guitar pop, included their brilliant faster cover version of Vic Godard’s ‘Holiday Hymn’.
After setting up, driven by the DIY punk spirit of the time, their own Household Records label, the group, with Simon’s brother Mark Barber on board, released their ace second full length ‘Crocodile Tears’ in 1988. Amid the indifference of the press and the departure of Dave Goldsworthy, the band split up the following year, leaving us with their last great farewell gift of the ‘Fool Is A Man’ EP and lots of treasured ‘indie-pop anthems’ to remember.
Within the last year The Chesterfields, lead by the only original member Simon Barber, are back playing live with a new excellent line-up; a friend of mine told me to consider himself fortunate to see them live back in the days, so grab them while you can!
Let’s start from the early days, how did the band come together?
Davey and I knew each other from the local music scene around Yeovil, Somerset. I first saw him in a band called The System, and then The Bikini Mutants (who also included future My Bloody Valentine bassist Debbie Gooch). I had been in a few local bands, including The Act, Scarlet Downs and India Falls, and after those bands had all imploded or fizzled out, mostly because people had moved away, I asked Davey if he fancied doing something together. He suggested I go round to his place with a bag of my favourite records and that’s where it started. We spent the afternoon playing each other great pop music, drinking lager, and making big plans for our future! A few days later I went round with my bass and we started writing ‘Girl On A Boat‘.
How did you end up signing to the Subway Organization?
A friend of ours, Steve Ball, who ran ‘‘Screed’’ fanzine and put on gigs in the Yeovil area, was asked by Brighton’s Big Twang club to find a venue for a June Brides and Shop Assistants gig that they could bring their audience to by coach on a ‘‘Magical Mystery Tour’’ to the West Country. Steve found a pub in the middle of nowhere (in Templecombe, Somerset), and was able to add The Chesterfields to the bill, so that’s where Martin Whitehead first saw us and asked us immediately to be on his label! We made a lot of new friends at that gig, including Johnny Dee!
Future PJ Harvey partner John Parish was your early producer too…
Yes, I knew John from school (Yeovil School), he was also part of our local scene, fronting The Headless Horsemen and then Automatic Dlamini. He was always the one who seemed to know what he was doing. He’d played gigs outside our area and had recording studio experience, so we asked him to produce our ‘Guitar In Your Bath’ EP. His calm and creative authority was definitely what we needed at that time. He then produced everything we did for Subway.
What were the major musical and artistic influences of the band?
Musically it was Orange Juice, Fire Engines, Buzzcocks, Go-Betweens, The Monochrome Set, Teenage Jesus and The Jerks, Rich Kids, The Beatles, The Fall, The Loft, June Brides, Lloyd Cole, The Smiths and Sandie Shaw. Culturally it was the John Peel and Janice Long shows on Radio One, Dada fanzines, Malcolm Garratt‘s record sleeves, 1950s magazine adverts, and Postcard Records of course.
What Chesterfields song or records are you most proud of?
It’s hard to be objective, even after 30 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 The 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.
What are your best fond memories of that time?
So many! Playing Glastonbury Festival, seeing our ‘Goodbye Goodbye‘ video on national TV, recording a Janice Long session at the BBC Maida Vale studios (with Mott The Hoople drummer, Dale Griffin producing, and John Parish on percussion), touring Europe and Japan, supporting Edwyn Collins, creating record sleeves with my then girlfriend Amanda as The Terrible Hildas, but above and beyond that, meeting so many lovely people who had the same passion for pop music!
The Chesterfields’ core-members and songwriters too, were you and Dave Goldworthy, who tragically died in a tragic car accident in 2004. Could you talk about your special partnership with him?
Well, it was special, because it changed both our lives completely. I think we were lucky to find each other, I don’t think we’d have got out of Yeovil on our own! We were quite different personalities, but musically we definitely hit it off, he had ideas for all my songs and I had ideas for all his and it was always those ideas that gave each song something extra!
C86 was a cassette compilation released by the British music magazine NME in 1986, that tag C86 was used to define an indie music scene, flourishing around a plethora of DIY new record labels, fanzines and clubs, and a ‘jangle pop’ sound, even if not quite as uniform if you think about the ‘‘shambling’’ dadaist Ron Johnson Label. Could you give to our readers a deep insight of that period and what does it mean for you C86? Did you think to be part of any scene at the time?
We definitely felt a part of that post-punk DIY fanzine and club scene that was where the ‘punk rock’ spirit still thrived. It was all about people who had a passion for making things – events and artifacts – happen, and nothing to do with the prevailing major label landscape. It certainly wasn’t called C86 at the time, and the word indie wasn’t describing a genre but was just a way of telling the major labels that we didn’t need them! But of course, none of the independent labels said ‘‘No’’ when the major labels opened their cheque books. That was probably when indie became a commodity rather than a state of mind!
The new line-up is an expanded version of Simon’s band called Design comprised of drummer Rob Parry (former of The Ray Morgan Quartet and Radio Radio, him right?) and guitarist Helen Strickland with the addition of her husband and old member Kevin Strickland on guitar (of The Loft and The Caretaker Race fame). It will be the definitive The Chesterfields of the near future?
Rob Parry wasn’t in The Ray Morgan Quartet or Radio Radio, and Helen Stickland (no ‘’r’’) isn’t married to Andy (not Kevin) Strickland (with an ‘’r’’). But yes it’s Andy from The Loft and The Caretaker Race, and yes the 21st century Chesterfields line-up is Design plus Andy Strickland. I’m not sure what the ‘‘near future’’ might have to offer. We’re recording the second Design album this spring with a new line-up that features more cellos, more girls and more sound interventions, and as for The Chesterfields, we’re open to suggestions!
You played at the NYC Popfest last May with many younger bands. Could you talk about that live experience? Have you been impressed by any new ones?
We loved playing NYC Popfest, and we loved New York, I’d never been before, in fact The Chesterfields never played the Americas. It was great to see so many exciting young pop bands from all over the world; my particular favourites were Alpaca Sports and Soft Science. It was quite a surprise to meet so many young people who knew so much about The Chesterfields, some of whom had travelled a long way specifically to see us!
On 17th February you’ll play at the The Continental in Preston alongside great ’80s bands as The Orchids and The Suncharms, what the old and new fans should have to expect from it?
They can expect some noisy life-affirming pop music, and hopefully some of them will go away determined to form a pop band!
Many many thanks for the interview and all the best for your Preston gig, anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you, and thanks for your interest in The Chesterfields!
Photo credits: Rowan Taylor (1st one), Pop Parker (2nd one)