In the house I grew up in there was not one, not two, but three record players. One in the living room and two upstairs which, in the vein of Fr. Dougal and the big red button, were strictly off limits to me. All I ever knew about them was my aunt owned one of them and along with it a stack of vinyl that dwarfed even my unusually tall childhood frame. To some members of my family, music collections were a serious endeavour and granting a nine-year-old boy access to their bounty must have been akin feeding white Alba truffles to a goat. So, to spare you the intricacies, I made it my business to get to that sound system and the accompanying record collection. With the critical awareness of a drunk man with a bag of chips I started grabbing the ones I wanted based on absolutely no criteria other than liking the look of them. I just decided on each one as it came from the stack and, thankfully, included in my yes pile was an album by a band I’d never heard of, it was C’est Chic and they were Chic.
If I’m being honest I really didn’t think a whole lot of it at that time but I’m blindly going to put that down to my inability to see beyond the illicit mountain of records at my disposal and giddy fervour. I can still remember listening to ‘Chic Cheer’, the chattering crowd, the little piano licks and the hissing high-hats, and based upon my initial reaction to it I was intrigued but fully expecting to be through the entire vinyl pile before my Mam realised I was nowhere near the bath.
The rest of the records were a mishmash of assorted Now That’s What I Call Music editions and a few played-too-many-times Gill Scott-Heron records and it wasn’t long before I was privy to the knowledge that this was not a hidden trove of musical nuggets, but a mound of blackballed and seemingly out-dated work that my aunt had no further interest in. But that didn’t stop me and as my trips to the room and my listening sessions became more frequent and less clandestine, the realisation that I desperately needed to find something else to listen to other than only two musical possessions, a 7” version of ’Shout To The Top’ by the Style Council and Bad by Michael Jackson became more apparent. After a few weeks I had been through the majority of the pile and decided to go back to the first record I had played and give it another belt. Only now did I start to think that there was something very, very special about some of the songs on it; namely ‘Le Freak’ and ‘I Want Your Love’. I was completely blown away by these sounds and had no clue as to what they were, let alone who or what was making them. It wasn’t until my early teen years that I discovered that this fat, warm, slick resin-like tone was the bass and that jangling, tight, melodic ringing was the guitar, played by the remarkable Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers respectively.
By the time I was fifteen I must have listened to the album hundreds of times and, in fact, it was the very greatly missed Edwards’ faultless line from ‘I Want Your Love’ that inspired me to learn to play the bass. I still contend that there are only a handful of bassists in his league. Regretfully, I never got beyond ‘passable’ as far as my playing went but hearing that little ten-note run in the chorus and the brilliant hammer-on’s still make me jealous and elated at the same time. As for Rodgers, I don’t know where to start. What can anybody say about this man’s playing that does it justice? Maybe the fact that Johnny Marr named his only son after the man will suffice for now.
I won’t pretend that I went on and bought Chic’s back catalogue or that I became a super-fan; I currently own three Chic albums and one of those is 2006’s A Night In Amsterdam. But I can say without any hint of shame that to my mind their singles (and flying in the face of one of music’s unwritten rules – their Greatest Hits collection) are without doubt works of genius. The seemingly endless list of past and present members means that I for one regard Chic as good-time music and an unmissable live act. And for this I am thankful and gratified. You see, for me there is no guilt attached to loving only the songs and it’s rare enough for me to love a band’s musical output this much without loyalty to one particular incarnation or line-up. Do you know anybody that would rather see the Robbie Maddix-era Stone Roses over the John Squire one? Or prefers Guns N’ Roses during the Buckethead years to the Slash ones? For my money, and with the obvious exception of Nile Rodgers, this band could go on performing without nearly all of the current members just as long as their replacements could play to the same level as they did in the ‘70s.
However I do believe that if Bernard Edwards had lived on he would be just as vital to them as Rodgers. The songs they play are bright, catchy and perfectly played, disco and funk as it should be. Tunes like ‘Good Times’, ‘Le Freak’ and ‘Everybody Dance’ (just try not to be jolted into dancing by that intro) played live truly are something to behold and I’m eternally grateful to have seen them played live. I strongly suggest you experience them that way and if you don’t have the night of your life, despite your musical predilections, you probably should consider going out less.
Chic, for me, hold memories of first exploring music that I wanted to and had to hear again and again. I love music as much as humanly possible and sometimes it feels just as important to me as my hands do. Nile Rodgers, Bernard Edwards et al were the very first band I enjoyed listening to simply for the sake of listening and although I have bands I hold closer to my heart, there is a strong possibility that music would not have become my passion had it not been for Chic. So cheers, lads, you owe me hundreds of thousands of euros and several girlfriends…
Chic play Mandela Hall, Belfast (August 1st), Button Factory, Dublin (2nd), Liss Ard Festival (3rd / 4th)