|Chico - 1979
Photograph courtesy: Tamworth Herald
Formed: December 1978
Tony Sadler - Guitar/Vocals
Debbie Barlow - Vocals
Mark Allway – Guitar/Vocals
Steve Hastilow – Drums
Steve Hartley – Bass
Belgrave Sports and Social Club
Amington Liberal Club
Sacred Heart Centre
Sacred Heart Centre
King of Denmark
Tamworth Herald – 01/06/79
A TAMWORTH band launched at the end of last year are wasting no time in making their mark on the local music scene.
The band, Chico, are Tony Sadler, guitar and vocals, Debbie Barlow, lead vocals, Mark Allway, guitar and vocals, Steve Hastilow drums and Steve Hartley on bass.
Chico, formerly known as Berlin, played at The Warren and Suffield Lodge and are now seeking a regular venue in the town.
The semi-professional group, who describe their music as soft rock say that they are influenced by the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan.
Already Chico are venturing beyond Tamworth and have recently played in Cannock.
If you would like to go along and support Tamworth’s newest rock band then they are playing two gigs at the Chequers on June 9 and 23.
Chico (left to right) Mark Allway, Debbie Barlow, Steve Hartley, Steve Hastilow and Tony Sadler.
I’m Tony Sadler and many of the memories I have of being in this band are hazy but I’ll do my best to write some unreliable thoughts. When I first moved to Tamworth with my parents I decided that there were two ways of getting to know people, one was to get myself into a band as music was always something I’d used as the basis of my social life, and the other was to get a job in a pub. So I answered an ad in the Tamworth Herald and went for an audition with a truly terrible punk band whose name I fortunately can’t remember. I got the job and to this day I have no idea why as I was an old-fashioned rock’n’roller having been brought up on Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. Oh and I was quite fond of Gilbert O’Sullivan too. The band I joined (I wish I could remember what they were called) was a three piece outfit with me on guitar and vocals, a mad bass-player who vowed never to have anything to do with women as they always split up the band, and Steve Hastilow on drums. We never got as far as doing any gigs but we did once go to Woodbine Studios in Leamington Spa and record a couple of songs that I’d written, “Smooth Operator” my one and only stab at writing a punk song, and another one that’s lost in the mists of time and marijuana smoke. Although the band was crap I did realise that Steve could play the drums, and in addition was a thoroughly nice bloke. He had a witch of a girlfriend (sorry Steve if you’re married to her now) who let him down badly by dumping him for someone else and he was terribly upset for a very long time, but believe me mate you’re better off without her.
Simultaneously I got a job working behind the bar in the Wigginton, which at that time was a fairly new pub selling Bank’s beers and had the ever so slightly dodgy Eddie as landlord. But the other thing about the Wiggy was that it had the lovely Debbie Barlow working behind the bar. My fondest memory of her was the night we celebrated her birthday by staying behind after hours for a little drink, and when Eddie asked her how old she was she told him she had just turned 18. He visibly blanched as he realised he’d been breaking the law for the last year by employing her.
Women and Bands
So going back to the punk band, after about six months of playing together our misogynistic bass-player announced that he’d met a girl, was getting married, was selling his guitar and amp and was leaving the band, which in a perverse way proved that he was right all along about women and bands. So that left me and Steve the drummer. Now I know that these days that actually counts as a band, but back then it didn’t. But Steve knew another couple of blokes, a bass player named Steve Hartley who also owned a Ford Capri and Mark Allway who owned a proper Les Paul. Now as I owned an SG it seemed like a match made in heaven, so we got together and jammed one Saturday morning and it was decided that we were a band. I can’t remember how it came about but we used to rehearse in a little wooden hut up by the crossroads in Two Gates, and I was back in Tamworth a couple of months ago seeing my Mum and my brother Steve took me up there and it’s still standing. Now this is nothing short of miraculous given the length of time it’s been there and the enormous volume we used to rehearse at.
After a while of working at the Wiggy I discovered that Debbie could sing and she was duly invited to audition for us on the basis that none of us could. She was offered the job on the spot, although on reflection I think the other members of the band were more interested in the tightness of her arse than her vocal performance. But there’s no doubt about it, the girl could sing.
Months of pointless rehearsal followed, coupled with much arguing about the material we were going to cover, and an uneasy peace was reached by doing everything from “I’ve got the music in me” to “Hey Joe”. Believe it or not we even covered a Chic song, but I think that’s because Steve was a bit sick of the guitar players and the singer getting all the limelight and he fancied himself as a bit of a lead bass-player. We went back to Woodbine in Leamington and recorded two songs, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “I’ve got the music in me”. The session was memorable for the amount of time that Johnny Rivers, the studio owner and engineer, spent tuning and miking up Steve’s Rototoms that he’d just bought. After a good hour of this Steve asked him why he was bothering with all of this as he didn’t use them on these songs anyway. But the session went well, we even did some harmony vocals on the Eagles song, and partly because of the fact we had a cassette to play to landlords we eventually got to the point where we could do some gigs and a booking at the Chequers in Hopwas followed.
There was considerable tension in the band at this point because one half of it wanted to play disco covers and recreate them as close to the original record as possible, and the other half (me and Steve Hastilow) wanted to continue the fine tradition of making it up as we went along. But enough agreement was reached for us to go to a music shop in Coventry one Saturday morning and by an HH 100Watt PA system along with a couple of monitors to sit on the floor at the front of the band. Now this we considered was the absolute pinnacle of professionalism, actually having monitors so that the singers could hear what they were doing and therefore have at least some chance of singing in tune. I often wonder what happened to those monitors.
So the gig at the Chequers came and went without any particular incident, cock-up or fight and we declared ourselves ready for the road. A string of gigs followed, all of them too distant now to remember apart from one at a big club in Atherstone that paid well but had the ever present threat of violence. There was a balcony that went right round the club above the dance floor where local blokes would hang over the barrier eying up the girls and their handbags shuffling around below. From there they were ideally placed both to decide who was going to be the lucky girl for the night and also to drop full pint glasses onto the head of any unsuspecting rival who managed to chat up their intended first.
The end of the band came for me after another gig at the Chequers where the business of me finding the concept of having to learn guitar parts off a record being too boring for words came to a head and before going on stage I drank the best part of a bottle of Southern Comfort. Now those of you who know about these things will know that this rarely makes you play better, and when in addition you’re charged with the job of talking to the audience in between numbers it can lead to all sorts of unpleasantness. Which it did. So the very next day I was sacked from the band, my one and only dismissal for bad behaviour. Although I’d argue that it wasn’t all that bad. My brother Steve who’d been roadieing for us was also to be dismissed but he beat them to it by ringing them up and telling that they were all boring tossers. Not strictly accurate as they were in fact nice people, but given that like me he had a raging Southern Comfort hangover and had spent a good portion of the night vomiting into a toilet it made him feel better nevertheless.
So that is my story of Chico, or at least how I remember it. I know they went on to much greater things after I’d gone, gigging regularly all over the Midlands and with Debbie’s voice and confidence getting better and better. I even went to see them play once a couple of years later at a club in Tamworth and by then they’d become a polished club act.
But there’s one little postscript I’d like to add here. Debbie worked for the PGA at the Belfry and she worked with a girl named Sue Ferguson who was a PA to the events manager. One Friday night me and my brother Steve went into the George in Tamworth town centre for our usual mix of beer, light-hearted conversation and mischief and Debbie and Sue were already in there setting about getting slaughtered. Sue’d just come out of a long-term relationship and Debbie was encouraging her to get over it by drinking large quantities of vodka with a side order of Breakers. Breakers, lager in a tin that had little space for lager as most of it was taken up by alcohol – do you remember them? And so romance blossomed between me and Sue, and twenty eight years later we’re still together.
Thank you both Chico and Debbie, you will always be remembered fondly.
For further info about what Tony Sadler’s up to now look at www.limousinliving.me.uk
Chico used to do cover versions of Abracadabra (Steve Miller) and Take It Away (Paul McCartney). I know the latter because my Uncle, Kev Osborne was married to Debbie Barlow (vocalist with Chico) at the time and I lent my copy of McCartney's Tug of War LP to Kev to arrange the bass part for the band. I saw them once at The Liberal Club, Amington, 1981/2, I was 11 or 12 years old at the time - a good covers band, but I suppose I am biased!
Adam (Speers) Cukrowski
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