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The Chefs

Through they had their roots in the Brighton punk rock scene, the Chefs made a name for themselves playing upbeat, propulsive pop tunes whose sunny melodies and often playful lyrical take on everyday subjects made them a prescient influence on the C-86 and twee pop movements to follow. The Chefs were formed in 1978 by bassist and singer Helen McCookerybook (born Helen McCallum) and guitarist and singer Carl Evans. Helen had come to Brighton in 1976 to study art and printmaking, and she became interested in the local music scene, taking up the bass and joining a short-lived punk band called Joby & the Hooligans (whose guitarist, Steve Beardsley, would go on to form the Accents). Joby & the Hooligans soon evolved into the Smartees, and Carl joined the group on guitar. The Smartees split up in late 1978, by which time Helen and Carl had begun writing songs together; when Carl wrote a melody to accompany a poem Helen had penned called "Food," and Helen came up with a drawing of a dancing cook to accompany it, the two decided to launch a new band called the Chefs. Helen recruited her brother James McCallum (formerly with Smeggy & the Cheesybits) to play guitar with the Chefs, while a number of drummers passed through the early lineups; a percussionist named Muttley was behind the kit when the group made its recorded debut in 1979, contributing "Food" and "You Get Everywhere" to Vaultage 79 -- Another Two Sides of Brighton, a compilation released by the Brighton-based Attrix Records label. Attrix was happy enough with the Chefs' material that they issued a four-song EP on the band in 1980; by this time, Russ Greenwood (formerly of the Parrots) had become their drummer, and his tight, powerful style helped solidify the Chefs' sound.

The Chefs began playing more and better gigs around the country after iconic BBC disc jockey John Peel gave the EP significant airplay, and he invited the group to record a live-in-the-studio session for his show. The Chefs' classic single "24 Hours" was released in the spring of 1981, and their growing success emboldened them to move to London. Graduate Records, an indie label that had enjoyed considerable success with UB40, signed the band and reissued "24 Hours," but Graduate had a hard time marketing the band, whose sound ran counter to the more self-conscious sounds then dominating the British charts. Demo sessions for a full-length Chefs album did not go well, and in 1982, the group decided to change its name to Skat. Their career fared no better as Skat, despite recording another Peel session dominated by new material, and after releasing a single of the Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale," Russ Greenwood left the group. Bron Buick became Skat's new drummer, but the band only lasted a few more months before splitting up for good. Greenwood would later become a member of the Popticians, Carl Evans would form the cowpunk-inspired Yip Yip Coyote, and Helen McCookerybook sang with the retro-styled combo Helen & the Horns. James McCallum, who was sometimes troubled by stage fright, opted to drop out of music as a profession, and became a lawyer. A collection of the Chefs' studio recordings and radio sessions, Records & Tea: The Best of the Chefs, was released by Damaged Goods Records in 2012. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
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