Bryan ‘Chas’ Chandler is one of the most famous of all Heaton’s sons being notable for not one but three famous musical achievements. He was bass player in one of the groups making up the famous ‘British Invasion’ of the USA in the mid-1960s; he discovered and managed two more of the most famous acts of the 1960s and 70s and he left his mark on his home city with an important venue, which has seen concerts by some of the most famous acts in music, since it opened a quarter of a century ago. Yet life for Chandler began in a humble home in Heaton and he was to return there on numerous occasions.
Chas Chandler was born in Heaton not long before the outbreak of WW2, on 18 December 1938, and grew up at 35 Second Avenue. Chas attended Heaton Grammar School, before he began work as a turner at the Swan Hunter shipyard and Parsons’ engineering works. However, it was music that really interested young Chas – and it was in the music business that he would make his career.
In 1962, Chandler, who had learnt to play the guitar and then bass, whilst working as a turner at Swan Hunter, joined the ‘Alan Price Trio’, a band named after the man who would become keyboard player in ‘The Animals‘.
‘The Animals’ went on to play a major part in the British Invasion of the USA in 1964, after ‘The Beatles’ had opened the door for groups from this country. Indeed ‘The Animals’ were only the second British group to have a USA number one, with their electrified version of the traditional American folk song, ‘House of the Rising Sun’. ‘The Animals’‘ bold interpretation of the song didn’t only earn them number one spot, it is also generally considered to have had a huge influence on Bob Dylan, who had recorded an acoustic version of the song on his 1962 debut album, encouraging him to go electric and effectively invent what was to become folk-rock.
However, despite their success with ‘House of the Rising Sun’, the seeds of the demise of ‘The Animals’ were sown immediately. As it was a traditional song, with no known composer, Alan Price, the keyboard player, persuaded their record company to label the recording ‘Trad arr: Alan Price’, claiming that his keyboard solo was, if you excuse the pun, instrumental in the success of the song. This meant that Price got all the royalties on what was a worldwide hit. This caused enormous bitterness with the other four members of the group and it was also claimed that Hilton Valentine’s guitar arpeggio throughout the recording was at least as distinctive as Price’s keyboard playing.
Whatever the arguments, Price left the band and, despite further hits, most notably ‘We’ve Got to Get Out of this Place’, which became the theme song for many a disgruntled American GI in Vietnam, by 1966 ‘The Animals’ were on their last legs. Chandler himself described his feelings in an interview for the BBC series ‘Dancing in the Streets’, when he said that, ‘ it just wasn’t as much fun any more.’
By the summer of 1966, ‘The Animals‘ were no more and Chandler was in New York, looking to build a new career as a manager within the rock music business. He was also dating the model Linda Keith at the time. One evening Chandler went to listen to the folk artist, Tim Rose, and was particularly struck by one song he sang: ‘Hey Joe’. Chandler made a mental note to remember that song so that, once he had found a suitable artist, they could record it. It was then that fate stepped in as Linda Keith persuaded Chandler to go and see a young guitarist at the Cafe Wha in Greenwich Village. That guitarist was Jimi Hendrix and one of the songs he played that night was ‘Hey Joe’. The rest as they say is history…
Chandler persuaded Hendrix to come back to Britain with him in September 1966, so that he could be launched on his stellar career. Chandler reported years later that one of the few questions Hendrix had asked was whether there were Marshall amps in Britain. Chandler assured him that there were and soon Chandler and Hendrix were on a flight from New York to London. Once in London a band was formed around Hendrix’s prodigious talents, with Noel Redding joining on bass guitar and Mitch Mitchell joining on drums, to form the ‘Jimi Hendrix Experience’.
It was soon after this time that Hendrix made his connection with Heaton. Chandler brought Hendrix to Newcastle in January 1967. However it was not for an official performance, but for a late-night drinking session at Chas Chandler’s house in Heaton. It is reported that Hendrix lived there with Chandler for a short time. It has often been rumoured that Hendrix even took to the streets, busking on Chillingham Road, while another story has Hendrix busking outside the Raby Arms on Shields Road. Sadly neither photographs or recorded evidence of the music he played have ever been found.
Hendrix definitely did play in Newcastle, at both the Club a’Gogo in what was then Handyside Arcade on Percy Street and at the City Hall. Indeed his performance at the Club a’Gogo is marked in a rather unusual way on Front Street in Tynemouth. A commemorative plaque records that ‘Jimi Hendrix ate fish and chips from this shop on a bench overlooking the sea after performing at the Club a-Gogo Nightclub, Percy Street, Newcastle, Friday 10th March’ 1967′. The plaque is on Marshall’s chip shop – the same name as the amps Hendrix wanted assurances about back in New York – and also Hendrix’s middle name.
Hendrix was soon to leave both the nightclubs and chip shops of Tyneside behind him to become one of the biggest stars in an already crowded 1960s musical galaxy. Once Hendrix had wowed the crowds at the Monterey Music Festival near San Francisco in the summer of 1967, he was on his way and headlined the huge festivals at Woodstock in 1969 and the Isle of Wight in August 1970. Sadly the last of these festivals was to be the last major performance by Hendrix; he died on 18 September 1970 after an accidental overdose of sleeping tablets in his London home.
Chas Chandler was to hear the news of this tragedy back in his native Newcastle. Getting off a train from London, Chandler was surprised to find his dad waiting for him at the Central Station. As he later recalled, he asked his father why he was there, noting that he had caught the train back to Newcastle from London on many occasions, without his father being there to meet him. Chandler’s father soon let Chas know the sad reason why he was there.
Chandler continued his management career and soon struck gold again, with a group of four young men from the West Midlands: ‘Ambrose Slade’. Looking for a way to publicise the band, Chandler notoriously decided to get them to get their long hair cut very short and dressed in the boots and braces of the new skinhead cult. It wasn’t a great success. The band’s guitarist Dave Hill later recalled that the skinheads they attracted were less than impressed: expecting to hear their favourite reggae music, they were confronted by a band with a violinist performing a cover version of Paul McCartney’s ballad ‘Martha My Dear’, from ‘The Beatles’’ ‘White Album’.
Soon common sense prevailed: the band regrew their hair, dropped the Ambrose part of their name and, following a minor hit with ‘Get Down and Get With It’, were on the way to massive success, ending the 1970s with six UK number ones, the joint highest number, alongside Swedish superstars ‘Abba’, of any group in that decade.
Just as Hendrix came to Newcastle, so did ‘Slade’. It has been reported that, in 2013, reflecting on his own 50 years in the music business, the band’s frontman, Noddy Holder, said: ‘My manager and producer, Chas Chandler, was from Newcastle and I had a lot of good times in the North East when I went up there…..I can’t remember much about it but I know I had a great time!’
Chandler’s final musical achievement was to leave his native city of Newcastle with a lasting legacy. With his friend and fellow Tyneside-based musician Nigel Stanger, in 1995 he helped to establish the Newcastle Arena (currently the Utilita Arena). Although plans are afoot to replace it with a state of the art venue on Gateshead Quays, the Newcastle Arena has allowed the Tyneside public to see major stars from David Bowie to Bob Dylan and from Neil Young to BB King over the last 25 years. To paraphrase the words of the famous old song from the same blues genre Chandler had started out with back in the late 1950’s, Chandler had ‘brought it all back home’.
Sadly Chas himself was not to see many of these acts come to Tyneside. He passed away from a heart attack in his native Newcastle in July 1996, aged just 57. One of the mourners at his funeral was Al Hendrix, father of Chas’s protege.
A year later Dylan began his set at the Arena Chandler had established with his first rendition of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ in many years in what has been seen as a tribute to Chandler in his home city.
A commemorative plaque adorns the wall of 35 Second Avenue, Heaton which Chandler called home for the first 26 years of his life.
Mike Norton, originally from Hartlepool, lived at Chas’ old flat at 35 Second Avenue from 1992 to 1995. His landlord, John Morton, told Mike a few stories of the days when Chandler owned the property.
John Morton bought the property in the early 1980s with a sitting tenant downstairs, a Mrs Chandler. When Chas used to call and see his mum, she wouldn’t let him smoke in the flat and so he used to enjoy a cigarette on the steps outside. The flat upstairs used to be used by ‘The Animals’ back in the early 1960s.
One of the funnier stories related to when a friend of Mike visited. Knowing the Hendrix connection, he said that he couldn’t leave without using the toilet Jimi had used and so, even though he didn’t really need to, he nipped off to the smallest room before leaving. Mike didn’t have the heart to tell him that a new extension had been built in the 1980s which included the present toilet…
In addition to Tynemouth, the tiny Moroccan village of Diabat has a similar did he, didn’t he relationship with Hendrix as Heaton – but it unashamedly markets the tenuous connection to great success with at least two cafes named after him which draw visitors from all over the world, perhaps an idea for local entrepreneurs trying to rebuild their businesses following the current pandemic and its economic fallout. In the meantime, we have the music.
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‘Dancing in the Streets’ BBC, 1995
Interview with Mike Norton, 21 March 2020
Researched and written by Peter Sagar of Heaton History Group, with additional material by Chris Jackson. Copyright Pete Sagar and Heaton History Group.