by Al Spicer (June 1997)
Formed London, 1977; last recording 1989
Chelsea was one of the early punk bands thrown together in a frenzy of bandwagon-jumping in late 1976. Like many of their contemporaries, they possessed one good song, a snotty attitude but they had little experience. Still, at least their frontman, Gene October knew how to strike a pose and dominate an audience. Given his past profession as young stud in a number of gay porno films, being covered in saliva made a pleasant change. He also had a booming, grown-up and powerful singing voice, not unlike that of Joy Division's Ian Curtis.
The rest of the original line-up was guitarist Billy Idol, Tony James (bass) and John Towes (drums, who had come from London SS along with James). After a few gigs, these three deserted October to form Generation X (with Idol later becoming an MTV staple). October roped in Carey Fortune (drums), Martin Stacy (guitar) and Bob Jessie (bass), with the last two soon replaced by James Steveson and Henry Daze. Not surprisingly, the band went through almost as much line-up changes as the Fall (!), later including James Stevenson (one of the longest lasting members) who would also jump ship for Generation X (following tradition in the band). With some two dozen members going through the band in a few years' time, you'd be hard pressed to find any punk rocker back then in London who WASN'T a member of Chelsea.
Chelsea's first single, 'Right To Work', had a shambling stop-start guitar riff, which gave a nicely raw backdrop to Gene's growling and shouting. The lyrics were a bit political for the average punk's taste, but it was all fine rabble-rousing stuff, good to dance to and with a chorus to bellow at the ceiling in the nasty sweaty clubs. Nothing that followed ever really matched it.
They spent most of 1977-78 touring in the UK and overseas, and didn't bring out their first LP, Chelsea, until 1979. By this time, most of their class-of-76 contemporaries were already working on their second albums or trying to make it in the States. Gene's concerns about unemployment, alienation and urban squalor were worked over by the band but by 1979, punk audiences were looking for something a little more profound than Chelsea's yob rock. And the band was losing credibility due to October's posturing before the music press and the band's increasingly obvious lack of talent.
Plagued by personnel changes, Gene's creation should really have retired after the second LP, 1980's Alternative Hits, little more than a collection of re-recordings of their early singles. As usual, the original versions are better and the three-minute manifestos rapidly lose impact when heard sequentially. Chelsea continued recording throughout the 80s but none of their stuff from this period can be recommended. They were a great live band in the late 70s, but by the late '80's, they were a joke.
Chelsea reformed briefly for the flurry of punk revival gigs of 96-97. The long period of inactivity appeared to have re-charged their batteries as Gene and the boys menaced their way across stages around the UK and back into the hearts of the old school. Great gigs, great opening comments (no "Hello London, it's great to be back", just a simple, yet elegant "Fuck Off!"), great memories of good times long dead.
Thanks to Conrad Mendez for his help with some fact checking.
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