By Keith Sharp
Toronto’s Chalk Circle find themselves facing a unique challenge when they take the stage Sunday at Mississauga’s Classic Bowl facility to perform two shows as part of Ed Sousa’s Pop-Up Concert Series to a limited audience.
Known for classic techno-pop hits like “April Fool”, “Me Myself I” and “This Mourning”, guitarist and band co-founder Chris Tait noted that he and band members (bassist) Brad Hopkins, (keyboardist) Jason Sniderman and (drummer) Derrick Murphy will be re-tooling their setlist to accommodate this intimate environment but Tait, over the phone, acknowledged the band had enjoyed the process of re-vamping their material.
“At first, we weren’t sure how we were going to make certain songs work but we enjoyed the challenge and Jason has figured out a way to re-work some of his keyboard parts,” Tait noted. “We haven’t been on stage since a Lee’s Palace gig on March 7th, 2020 (a charity concert for Brad’s wife) but we are excited about getting back in front of an audience.”
Formed originally in 1982 in Newcastle Ontario, and inspired by the likes of U2, Echo And The Bunnymen and The Smiths, the band (with original keyboardist Tad Winklarz) issued an independent cassette of two songs; (The World b/w Black Pit) which was strong enough to allow them to win The Most Promising Unsigned Band CASBY Award in 1985.
“We tried to get major labels to sign us but we got all the usual rejections, ‘You don’t have enough material’, `You haven’t played enough live’,” Tait informed, “So we actually financed our debut EP `The Great Lake’ ourselves before we signed with Toronto indie label Duke Street Records.
Tait noted that Chalk Circle signed with Duke Street because the band was impressed with the label’s existing talent roster “They had artists like Jane Siberry, Manteca, Hugh Marsh, FM, Willie P Bennet, they were really hot at that time, they had some great people at the label, they owned their own recording studio (Manta Sound) and, initially, it was a fun label to be on.”
When Chalk Circle piled in a van to head west, their debut single “April Fool” had yet to be released and a lack of radio exposure adversely affected attendance at those initial gigs. “We drove right across to Vancouver and back, when we headed out there, no one had heard “April Fool: and we were playing to like 10 people in Winnipeg. But then “April Fool” broke at radio and when we came back and played the same venues again, the places we had played previously were packed.”
Brampton’s CFNY played a major role in breaking “April Fool” but that track also crossed over to several rock stations and the debut video of that track earned traction on MuchMusic while earning a Most Promising New Group Juno nomination in 1986. “Suddenly, we had major record companies pitching to us but we stayed with Duke Street and that may have been a mistake but we were contracted to them.”
It was that contract that in the end, led to the band’s demise. They released two more albums on Duke Street “The Mending Wall” and “As The Crow Flies” in 1989 but by the time they got to that final session, Duke Street had been decimated and owner Andrew Hermant was virtually the only person left at the label.
Andy didn’t want to put out another single but we weren’t ready to give up on “As The Crow Flies” so,I took out a personal bank loan to pay for the “Together” video. We were back where we started, just doing it ourselves,” Tait noted. “We owed the label seven more records, so I had to ask myself, what’s the point in continuing? It just wasn’t fun anymore.”
Chalk Circle broke up in 1990 with Tait going on to form a new band, Big Faith, with Fergus Marsh, Michael Sloski and former Red Rider guitarist Ken Greer. When Universal Music Group bought out Duke Street’s catalogue, they release a Chalk Circle Greatest Hits album which inspired the band to regroup in 2006.
“Adding Jason (Sniderman) on keyboards gave us a lift and we found it was fun playing together again,” Tait enthused. A revived Chalk Circle played two concerts with Blue Peter at Toronto’s Phoenix Theatre and The Mod Club and played a solo concert at Montreal’s Corona Theatre in 2011 before culminating with their final charity concert at Lee’s Palace on May 7th, 2020.
As Chalk Circle prepares to relaunch itself on Sunday, Tait notes the reason is purely for fun and is not driven by any particular legacy issues. “We all have outside jobs, we don’t need to play again as Chalk Circle but now with social media, people all over the globe are discovering our music. We don’t need to record albums; we can put out singles which is appealing to me. It is possible we might put out some new music in the future.”
Event organizer Ed Sousa notes there are very few tickets available for either show and Tait is pleasantly surprised that people from as far afield as Ottawa and Montreal are travelling to the gig.
“When we plan a gig, I am surprised if anyone shows up.” Tait laughs. “But it is great that people are still supportive of the band and that new people seem to be discovering us all the time.”
Chalk Circle fans can see their band when they perform at
- Lee’s Palace – Friday, June 3rd,
- Ottawa’s Brass Monkey – Friday, September 23rd and
- Pembroke’s Festival Theatre – Opening for the BOX on Saturday, September 24th.
Here is the ticket request link for Chalk Circle for Sunday’s Classic Bowl Pop-Up Shows. http://www.classicbowl.com/popupshow/