Chances R fizzed into life in a 12-feet square breeze block room in the industrial part of Bristol, U.K. in October 1991. The last known public sighting was in January 1995 at the Fleece & Firkin in Bristol, where the band signed-off with an indie-fied 'greatest hits' set. This is the story of Chances R - a little band from the carrot-crunching fields of West England.
1987-1991 >> The Pre-Chances R Years
The true origins of Chances R stretch back to Christmas 1987, when guitarist Roy Harrill, drummer Jason Allen and 'trainee' bassist Paul Jolliffe first teamed up in a
venture called Smalltown. The band was based in Keynsham, a dull commuter town midway between Bristol and Bath, and soon enlisted the services of singer Adrian Shipp and drummer John Ashman (with Jason switching to rhythm guitar). The group set about on the 'Town To Town Tour', playing over 50 gigs throughout the region, first as a covers band and later on with added original material, most famously at the
River Suite in Keynsham, where the lads got carried away with a smoke machine and played too loud for the P.A. system.
Smalltown acquired a manager in the form of journalist Allison Shortman, and made one recording - The Cartwheel E.P. - with Dave Shipp in Trowbridge, Wiltshire. No planets were set alight but the band cemented a musical chemistry that was to remain alive indefinately.
Paul Jolliffe and Adrian Shipp left in the autumn of 1989, following the earlier misguided sacking of John Ashman, leaving Jason and Roy to form a new venture called Age Of Silence with bassist Phil Jones, singer Derek Smith and keyboardist Pete Jennings. Age Of Silence continued where Smalltown had left off, honing bigger and more developed tunes, regularly playing gigs in the West Country up until the start of 1991, when the momentum was lost and the group fizzled out.
Each member headed off in different directions, Jason teaming up first with Phil Jones in a studio-based writing partnership, and then with ex-Smalltown cohort John Ashman as guitarist in his new outfit, Bath-based
band The Chill. Roy, Jason and Pete were often to be found in Glastonbury, drinking for Europe and talking a good band fight.
It was during this time, on the other side of Bristol, that a reconciliation was taking place after two silent years between ex-Smalltown members Paul Jolliffe and Adrian Shipp.
Instigated by a mutual friend, Claire Mayo, plans were made over a meal to start a new band. It was late September 1991 when Adrian called Jason to enquire about enlisting his services as a drummer. He refused on the grounds that he was focusing on his guitar duties with The Chill, but offered to stand in as guitarist on any sessions that the band were planning (ie, hedging his bets!). This prompted Claire to ask a fellow student on a local music course if he would like to play drums in the new band. That fellow student was 18-year-old John Bidder, who promptly agreed and a date was set. On the 27th of October 1991, the inaugral rehearsal took place at Southside Studios in Bristol. Chances R had formed , and so begins our story for real.
1991 >> The Start Of Chances R
The inaugral Chances R gathering at Southside yielded the song Here Today, following brief flirtations with old Smalltown songs and Honky Tonk Woman, which every band plays at least once. Shortly afterwards, Jason was sacked from The Chill and pledged his undivided attention to the band, which was operating under the temporary name of Two Moon Junction. The band had briefly considered Brigstow as a name before settling on the Chances R tag, derived using a bizarre system of random numbers and Paul's CD collection. The whole project was being looked after by co-managers Claire Mayo and Allison Shortman,
who found the band their 'spiritual home' at Mr Grin Studios in Bristol.
Over the course of the following three weeks, a handful of new songs were born including an early version of Toybox, called The Poison Stream, and early live favourite City Of Gold. It was while the band were jamming the latter song that differences began to emerge between Adrian and the rest of the band over musical direction and other time-honoured chestnuts. On the 17th November, Claire placed the call to Adrian informing him of the bands desire to relieve him of his post. He took the news surprisingly well and Jason was temporarily promoted from backing to lead vocal duties.
Plans were set to find a new singer whilst continuing to write in readiness for a planned live debut in February of the following year. The next rehearsal saw the band write early versions of The Big Push and Can't Say No, as well as working on Staring At Clouds, a song Jason had written post-Age Of Silence. The three songs penned with Adrian were also developed, forming a tentative six-song set. It was following this productive session that Jason took the vocalist/guitarist
role on a permanent basis, leaving the band as a compact three-piece, with plans to record a 'live' demo at the start of the new year.
Over the next two rehearsals, the band completed the first six songs, adding Stomp and an unused tune called Remembrance to the arsenal. The rest of 1991 was spent fine tuning the 8 songs and attempting, unsuccessfully, to write more.
At the end of the year, the band discovered that Claire had attempted to secure a support slot with The Chill without the groups' authorisation. Following the ensuing debate, Claire resigned from her position, leaving Allison as the sole manager and the two instigators of the band (Claire and Adrian) out of the picture. It is widely accepted that without these two people, Chances R would never have happened, a fact that was acknowledged in the sleeve notes to the Bristol UK album, where the two were credited for 'assisting with the birth'.
1992 >> The Busy Year
1992 started on a bright note with the writing of five new songs in one session, buoyed by the addition of Paul's new bass guitar and Jason's guitar effects unit. Of these five, Worldscene and The Right Location bore promise whilst the others, Sepia Tinted, Believe It's True and a
comedy effort called Oooh Nurse looked like non-starters. The band stepped up rehearsals to twice a week for the rest of January, dropping the gloomy Remembrance (replaced by a cover of The Jam's Pretty Green) and postponing plans for a live demo in favour of a four-track recording that took place in the second half of the month.
Recorded in Room 4 at Mr Grin and various front rooms and bedrooms, the demo became known as the Worldscene E.P. It featured, in addition to the title track, Toybox, Here Today and City Of Gold.
Another new song emerged at the end of January in the form of Running Away With My Heart, and a gig was booked for Februaury 29th 1992 at the Research Station in Long Ashton, Bristol - Jason's place of work and John's home town. The gig became known as The Big Leap due to the leap year date and a handful of cover versions were knocked into shape; the previously mentioned
Honky Tonk Woman, U2's Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For and a punked-up version of Surfin' USA. Just four months after forming, Chances R were ready to face the people for the first time. The gig went exceptionally well, a large, boisterous crowd of friends, family and work colleagues saw the fledgling band tear through a power-pop set, sounding nothing like Smalltown or Age Of Silence.
The new-born songs were rapturously received and the whole event was deemed a success, captured on tape by Pete Jennings, with four songs appearing on the L.A. Live E.P.
Fuelled by the positive response to the gig, Chances R began writing further new material over the forthcoming weeks. First up in early March in Room 4 was This Time Tomorrow, possibly the band's best-known tune. The following week saw the band relocate to Koh San studios in Bath, where the riverside atmosphere inspired early versions of Soul In Motion, King Of July and Nowheresville. A photoshoot followed the week after with Richard Bowerman in and around Keynsham, and two weeks later the band were back at Mr Grin writing One And The Same, Radar and Hurt You The First Time.
April was spent polishing up the new songs and arranging a set in readiness for more gigs, although thoughts were beginning to emerge that the band would need to recruit a second guitarist/keyboardist in order to do the new songs justice live. Jason was especially keen to add back-up to his guitar playing, fearing that the bands sound was too thin.
An old friend of Jason's, Andy Maule, was invited to a rehearsal but declined the offer to join, so following the writing of the unused ballad Cage in mid-May, Jason proposed that Roy Harrill,
the ex-Smalltown/Age Of Silence guitarist, be added to the line-up. He attended a rehearsal as a spectator to watch the band write another ballad, New, and on 14th June 1992, he joined Chances R on a permanent basis, largely adding keyboards to the established tunes and guitar to the newer numbers. The following week at Mr Grin, John's drum tracks were recorded on DAT by producer Phil Golf in readiness for a demo to be made at Phil's G-Nome Zone studio in Keynsham. The recording sessions stretched into July, punctuated by the band's second gig, at Keynsham's Key Centre, where the band were stepping in to help the venue's 21st brithday celebrations. The gig went well considering the lack of set rehearsal and studio diversions, once again taped by Pete Jennings.
During the recording of the single at G-Nome Zone, the band began to overlay the songs with assorted guitars, sequencers and samples. The three songs, This Time Tomorrow, Toybox and Hurt You The First Time all grew into multi-layered mini-epics, driven on by the fact that EMI/Virgin were waiting for the tape, having been informed of Chances R by Mick Ward and Jim Withers at Mr Grin. Excitement levels were rising and the sessions were mixed twice to get the best results. The band hand-delivered a copy of the sessions to Ian Grant, Big Country's manager and the master DAT to the pressing plant in London - the first Chances R single was on its way.
As soon as the master tapes had been delivered to London, the band returned to Mr Grin to rehearse for the next gig. On 23rd July, the band played a 12-song set at Bristol's Mauretania venue in a 'battle of the bands' type showcase. The response was ecstatic, prompting the band to write Do Something High and Temperance over the coming fortnight, with She Gets Me, Up Here Before, Wishing It Out and an updated version of King Of July all emerging a week later in a Mr Grin rehearsal without Roy, who was working abroad.
During August, copies of the single, now officially called the This Time Tomorrow E.P., were sent to
venues in Bristol and Bath, as well as various major record labels. The band continued to tighten up the set in anticipation of an autumn of gigging, the first of which was a showcase at the Bierkeller in Bristol. The band impressed the management and the crowd, performing a tight 8-song set. The following week saw Chances R play a mammoth 17-song set at the Bristol Bridge Inn, one of Smalltown's old stomping grounds. They ended the set with a version of Knocking On Heaven's Door featuring Giles Rochelle on keyboards.
October was a quiet month by Chances R standards. Roy and Jason were busy playing pub gigs as an acoustic covers duo and also rehearsing in Jason's works band called The Fizzbombz.
Paul became dissatisfied with proceedings and resigned momentarily on 25th October, before returning to the fold later the same day for a positive rehearsal at Mr Grin. Another gig followed at the Bristol Bridge Inn on 8th November, which was plagued by technical problems. Chances R muddled on, playing another guest-musician encore slot, this time with Fizzbombz member Jo Manning on keyboards. The band's gigging year was rounded off with a showcase gig at Moles Club in Bath on 23rd November, and the compiling of the bands official 'bootleg' tape, All The Stuff And Live, 100 copies of which were distributed to the loyal following that had built up during 1992.
On 1st December, Roy and Jason travelled to Bath to begin negotiations with manager Harry Finegold, who had been looking after a band called TTT that Jason had played a couple of drum
sessions with earlier in the autumn. Chances R managed to find time to rehearse at the start of December and wrote Kingpit and Words Unspoken, as well as revamping some of the older tunes, most noticeably Worldscene, which was stripped of it's punk bluster and given a calypso makeover in time for the festive celebrations. In addition to further acoustic duo gigs with Roy, Jason made a surprise appearance at Moles on 10th December with The Chill, this time as a drummer, and a week later gigged with Roy and Adrian (Shipp) as part of The Fizzbombz at Long Ashton, where John Bidder took over Jason's drum post for the encore section. All in all, a busy end to a very busy year.
1993 >> The Changing Year
The new year began with a storming gig at the Bristol Bridge Inn on January 3rd, supported by The Fizzbombz, meaning Roy and Jason played both slots and Adrian Shipp was reunited with the Chances R crew.
The show saw the debut of the two new songs and was attended by Harry Finegold, who had been impressed with the single and wanted to see more. A meeting with Harry was fixed for 7th January, midway through recording sessions for the debut Chances R album, Bristol UK. The band were recording the album in the main studio at Mr Grin with Mick Ward engineering.
Seven democratically-decided songs were being worked on - King Of July, She Gets Me, Nowheresville, One And The Same, The Right Location, Kingpit and Words Unspoken, with the three songs from the This Time Tomorrow E.P. scheduled to be included on the final album release in remixed form.
The provisional mixes were made on the 16th and 17th of January and the band showcased the recordings to Harry at his cafe, who was indifferent to the songs. The band had elected, not unanimously, to give him a chance at managing Chances R on a trial basis. His main desire was to halt the group's gigging activities in
order to strengthen the set, and to add a keyboard player to the line-up, moves which were proving to be controversial. The ever-brewing storm was put to one side as the band (minus John) headed off to Lanzarote for a two-week break, soaking up the rain and playing covers in Charlies Bar. Upon returning, regular weekly rehearsals saw some of the older songs re-worked; Radar now featured Roy on violin,
Soul In Motion was extended and Stomp was slowed down for a verse and chorus before continuing at the usual hectic pace. The new versions were given a public airing at the Bristol Bridge Inn (March 12th) with The Chill supporting (now featuring Pete Jennings on keyboards), and the Mauretania on the 13th, where the band revealed a much tighter sound. The hard work was beginning to pay off.
The gigs were interspliced with trips to the studio at Mr Grin to re-record vocal parts and remix the album tracks at the request of Harry, and to a certain extent Jason, who felt that the overall vocal performance was lacking. With the remixing complete, aided by Phil Golf, the band booked gigs at Moles, Bristol Bridge and significantly, the Bierkeller, where Chances R were to support ex-Icicle Works mainman Ian McNabb on his Truth & Beauty UK tour. Harry Finegold had still yet to be given complete control of group affairs, with Jason still actively booking gigs. The band gave a great performance at the Bierkeller, their highest profile gig to date, where a Harry-arranged photographer
fired off countless rolls of film. Two days later, Jason finished his 'career' job and embarked on a full-time music career. A gig at Long Ashton followed in April where a cover of the old Smalltown classic Through To You was played, featuring Pete Jennings on keyboards. The Fizzbombz made their farewell performance on the same bill, with Roy singing and Jason playing drums.
The rest of April was spent writing new material and remixing the three E.P. tracks at G-Nome Zone in readiness for Bristol UK, with Toybox benefiting the most from a richer sound. May saw the band play their last ever Bristol Bridge Inn gig (7th), a talent 'contest' at the Bierkeller on the 9th, where Chances R were 'voted' into second place despite giving easily the strongest performance of the night, and Moles Club, Bath, on the 17th as part of a four band showcase. This gig marked the end of the four-piece era and was to be the last for four months, after it was decided to write and rehearse more new material, in light of the relatively low-key initial response to Bristol UK.
A new idea had been kicking around since the start of May - called Laughing With The Gods (a song which eventually evolved into Big Black Sky) - and the band were keen to add to this new direction. Another new song was written by Jason at home with on his Atari/Cubase set-up, called Desolate Moon, which the band added to the set. It was during this time that the need for a live keyboardist became evident. Pete Jennings sprang to mind and he was integrated into the line up during June 1993, a move which saw Roy switch to guitar-only mode and Jason dropping his guitar from half of the set in order to concentrate on his vocals. At the same time, inter-band relations took a turn for the worse due to Harry Finegold's lack of activity. A meeting was arranged at the Bath Hilton in July, where tempers raged, eventually leading to Paul offering the band a simple ultimatum; Harry goes or he goes. Inevitably, Harry was sacrificed and the band once again resumed complete control of business affairs.
The summer of 1993 was spent writing in various locations; The Drum Bank in Gloucester Road, Bristol, a rural haven called Walnut Bank in Somerset, Mr Grin and even a church hall in North Avon. Each band member undertook music coaching and over half a dozen new songs were penned and crafted, displaying a fuller, rockier sound. These sessions yielded
Sunburning, Desolate Moon, Big Black Sky, Never Felt Like This Before, Got The People, The Last Mistake and The Web You Weave, as well as seeing some of the old set significantly revamped. The polished new set was given a debut at Bristol's Fleece & Firkin on 28th September, the bands sound virtually unrecognisable as the old Chances R. Gone were 20-song setlists, replaced by a fixed set of ten tracks.
A gig at Brixton's Reaction Club, London, followed in early October. Taking two weeks out to write further new material, Chances R returned again in November at the Mauretania with two new songs in tow - Built On A Landslide and One Temptation. The gig was taped, the quality of which was good enough to merit the inclusion of five songs on the 1999 best-of complilation. Two more Mauretania gigs followed, both of which were filmed, the latter on the 19th December becoming the Chances R live video Raindancing. It was at this stage that the band decided to ill-advisedly change their name to After The Rain, a move which signalled the beginning of the end in some ways.
1994 - 1995 >> Landsliding
As the new year dawned, it was decided to rehearse three songs solidly, Desolate Moon, Got The People and Built On A Landslide, with a view to recording a new E.P. at Walnut Bank in February 1994. By the time the session arrived, financial restrictions meant that only Landslide was committed to tape. The tracks had been demoed at Jason's home studio prior to the session, a move which paid off when Pete failed to arrive at
Walnut Bank. His keyboard lines were played by Jason via the Atari. John was by now studying in London and Chances R activities gradually began to lessen thoughout the spring of 1994. Several gigs were booked at Bristol venues, only for the promoters to cancel again at short notice.
The band briefly reunited in May to rehearse for a show at the Ropewalk in Bristol on the 19th, a benefit gig for the Ashton Court Festival. Under the new name Waxman, they played a trimmed down 'greatest hits' set, including a solo version of Hurt You The First Time by Jason, and a storming renditon of Neil Young's Rocking In The Free World. It was to be the deciding gig; if the fundraising effort led to a slot at the Festival then the group had a reason to continue - it had been a band ambition to play the legendary free festival for
many years. Sadly, the festival committee didn't vote for the band and the game was all but up, not helped by Jason throwing a needless tantrum with the Ropewalk organisers.
Two weeks later, Jason telephoned each band member individually to inform them of his intentions to quit the band with immediate effect. No-one contested his decision and Chances R was placed into mothballs. An exhausting 32 months of tireless effort on the part of everyone involved with the band was finally over, with the most-advanced songs still unrecorded.
The band did resurface in January 1995, minus Pete, for a farewell gig at the Fleece & Firkin, Bristol, a show which saw Chances R say
goodbye with a selection of songs from their entire lifespan. The group signed off with a hectic version of Stomp and then disappeared into the Bristol night. The only tangible signs of life since
then came in the form of a compilation album, This Time Tomorrow (Best-of 1992-1995), which appeared in 1999, featuring the Walnut Bank recording of Built On A Landslide, plus a mixture of remastered Bristol UK tracks and live versions of the later material. A decade-long spell of non-activity came to an end on November 14th 2005 when the classic Chances R line-up re-assembled at Firebird Studios in Bristol for an impromptu reunion rehearsal.
1995 - Present Day >> The Where-Are-They-Now Files
So what happened to everyone afterwards? Just because a band splits up, it doesn't mean that the ex-members are stored in liquid nitrogen until such times as a reunion becomes viable. No, far from idling away their days in retirement homes talking about 'the good old days' and how everything was different 'before the war', the ex-members of Chances R have been keeping busy with a host of other shenanigans.
John Bidder was already playing in a college band in London and that proved to be his musical bread and butter following the split. He then travelled to Australia, New Zealand and Java, where he was unfortunate enough to (literally) step in a volcano, causing major burns to his legs. Upon recovering, he showed up in 1997 at Mr Grin in Bristol as a session drummer with a band recording a demo. Ironically, Jason was the session engineer and whatever was left of the hatchet was buried for good. John remained largely out of contact with the rest of the band up until the reunion of November 2005. He is now working in I.T. in London following a stint doing the same in Sydney, Australia.
Roy Harrill joined a band called Storytellers and proceeded to apply the knowledge he'd picked up in Chances R to polishing the bands sound. He gigged a handful of times with them as guitarist and occasionally on saxophone, recording a batch of songs in the process. Following the demise of Storytellers, he formed a comedy cabaret act called Tom Brown & The School Daze with long time friend Chris Colvin. They played numerous gigs, Roy often playing piano, and each appearance was marked with copious consumption of Champagne. He has since concentrated on his business interests, becoming a registered paramedic, and his piano and guitar playing.
Paul Jolliffe managed to perplex the drummers of various West Country bands, including Ice Station Penguin, with his complicated bassline to Built On A Landslide. He also played in a Fizzbombz-style works covers band on various occasions before deciding to 'retire' from the music scene indefinately in order to concentrate on technology and raising a family with Allison Jolliffe (nee Shortman, former manager), siring a wonderful daughter called Daisy Rose. He became a brief member of The 404's with Jason Allen and John Ashman in 2004, a band which lasted all of 1 rehearsal and 2 trips to the pub! Following a split from Allison, Paul is now happily re-married living in Gloucester and remains in contact with Jason and Roy.
Jason Allen returned to being a jobbing drummer after Chances R split. He rejoined The Chill temporarily and also became drummer in Bath-based band Crank, recording at various times with them over the next two years. The group played regularly across the UK, including a riotous tour of the Scilly Isles, and attracted a great deal of major-label attention on both sides of the Atlantic, before splitting in late 1995. A series of sporadic projects followed, after which Jason became an engineer at Mr Grin studios in Bristol, working with dozens of local artists. Writing as Bluebottlegreen, he released four albums and wrote music for TV and film. Jason is now making music under his own name, with five solo albums to date. Visit www.jasonallen.co.uk for more details.
Pete Jennings immersed himself in the Bristol dance music scene as Calm Seize and CircleSquare, playing stacks of highly-recommended gigs and releasing regular singles. His past collaborators include Tom Harding as part of the Outlandish set up. He hooked up with Jason Allen and singer Jane Pow in 2001, working on series of singles and remixes. Now a married father of one, he remains in contact with both Jason and Roy, and is still actively involved in the music business.