Regular Afterworders will know that I’m a fan of Northern Irish blues trio the Hardchargers and have been involved in helping them record and release an album. It was recorded late December 2016 and will be released on January 5th 2018. It’s a terrific album (well, I would say that…), but it’s certainly been a winding path.
A planned sabbatical for the first third of 2017, with frontman Lonesome Chris Todd moving to Dorset to work with Billy Boy Miskimmin’s band, was affected by Chris having family strains back home, an impossible landlady in Dorset, and winding up living in a pub car park for several days. And then it got really bad.
The trio’s drummer, Hodge, had become seriously ill in the interim, sharing the situation on social media and very bravely facing it down. There were a handful of gigs undertaken in the middle of the year, with Hodge in recovery, and things looked like they might be heading in a positive direction.
Chris, however, was heavily burdoned with a number of issues in his private life, which have taken a heavy toll, though a corner has definitely been turned in putting out those fires in the past month or so… albeit coinciding with his bandmates Dave and Hodge opting, for different reasons, to move on, within touching distance of the album release. There’s no ill will from Chris about that – it’s been a strange year, and it’s been the eighth year of those three individuals being a team – that’s as long as the Beatles’ recording career. Though that didn’t end well. Still, everyone’s priorities change as life throws those googlies.
So, having got through the year by the skin of his teeth, securing a new place to live in a leafy lane on the edge of the Ballyclare delta and enough guitar teaching work nearby to keep the wolf from the door, if not the hellhound from his trail, Chris was faced with his vocation, his dream – being a full-time touring artist outside of Ireland – hanging by a thread.
He got busy, rehearsing three sets of bassists and drummers fast – including the great Ali MacKenzie and Dave Kennedy, formerly of the Mighty Mojos, and Lithuanian brothers Jan & Peter from the Kaz Hawkins Band – and forging ahead with plans for the album, including upcoming local TV and radio appearances, print interviews and, not least, fulfilling Kickstarter campaign obligations.
The band had undertaken a Kickstarter campaign in October, to get their funds over the line for the album project (the last bit of the process: pressing costs) given that there had been very little gig income for health reasons. Fantastically, their target was reached in one day – and I know one or two AWers helped out (thank you!).
Two full-band house concerts were sold during the Kickstarter process, and the first of those – the first ‘new’ Hardchargers gig – in Cookstown, County Tyrone, happened on November 30th. The line-up would be Lonesome Chris with Ali ‘Entwistle’ MacKenzie and Crazy Davy Kennedy. Even on the very morning of the gig, Chris’ extraordinary run of bad luck had one last blizzard to throw at him – meaning hours of haring around the country trying to sort out a new bank account and associated payments out/in and the like, before several hours of guitar teaching and then an hour on the road to deepest Tyrone at 8pm in time for the house concert gig at 10pm with a new band he had properly rehearsed with once.
The man, though, is indefatigable. Others would have been crushed by some of what he’s dealt with this year in his private life along with the challenges and changes in his professional life. He even got a song out of that pub car park situation – almost certainly the only blues yet written about existential car-parking issues in Dorset.
I wasn’t at the Cookstown event, but both Ali and Chris were on really upbeat form the next day – the first time either had performed at a house concert, so a whole new scene as well as a whole new band. They’d loved it and had a lot of fun – and it must be heart-warming for Chris to know that fans are prepared to host his music in their homes and give so generously to a much-needed crowdfunding campaign.
Happily, I’ve just found that someone at the show (quaffing red wine, as you’ll see) has posted a cameraphone clip on YouTube. Hopefully this unassuming 4-minute glimpse into high-energy country-blues one night in winter in deepest mid-Ulster marks the point when Chris Todd can finally put all the travails of 2017 behind him and, as Noddy Holder might say (loudly), look to the future – it’s only just begun…