Courtney, Jim Tomlin, Mike & Martin
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.
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.”
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
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’
It was at the gigs they discovered they
– 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
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.
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
some enthusiatic Chants'