INVERCARGILL music stalwart and all-round rocker Chris Chilton was somewhat taken aback when he was presented with a special award for contribution to music at the ILT Southland Entertainment Awards last month.
“I was like a stunned mullet,” he said.
He had written the script for the awards show, so when the presenters went “off script” he was more focused (concerned) about that than what was actually being said.
“It was a huge honour.
“I am a team player, so to be singled out for something like that, I was quite overcome by it all,” he said.
“You don’t do these things for the pat on the back. You do these things to recognise other people.”
Chilton may have been surprised by the unexpected honour, but reflecting on his more than 35-year involvement in the Southland music scene on and off stage, and the award is more than fitting.
He had played bass with numerous Southland bands, including Sister Europe, London Polyplop, Justin Funkmonkey, That 80s Band and present-day Triple Shot.
Chilton convened the Southland Entertainment Awards show for seven years, is an executive committee member and life member of the Southland Musicians Club, and is an inductee in the Southland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
As if that wasn’t enough, for many years he wrote articles and reviews showcasing other Southland bands while working as a sub-editor at The Southland Times
“I always enjoyed giving [local bands] a push.
“I could see they weren’t going to get support or recognition any other way.”
Chilton said he could not single out a highlight of his 35-year-plus career in music.
“I just love all of it. I like the organising side of it, but I enjoy playing probably more.
“It’s the pinnacle playing on a big stage in front of a big crowd.”
Having been born into a musical family, it comes as no surprise Chilton gravitated towards music.
His father was a jazz musician who played in several bands. On Sunday afternoons jazz musos from Invercargill used to come to jam at the family farm in Hedgehope. “I always thought this was the most awesome environment to be in. It wasn’t even the music, it was the social aspect of it.”
After he left school and started working, Chilton bought a bass guitar and proceeded to teach himself to play by playing along with cassette recordings.
He answered an ad seeking a bass guitarist and became a member of 1980s Southland cover band Sister Europe, the launchpad of his music career.
Playing with London Polyplop was arguably the closest Chilton got to living the rock ‘n’ roll dream, adorned with greasepaint-covered faces and loud paisley clothing.
“People thought we looked like Split Enz, but we didn’t sound like Split Enz.”
They released a cassette entitled Plopus Maximus, hired a “manager/sound guy”, “chucked in” their jobs and toured the South Island.
“That was a real life experience band that one.”
However, after living on the road for a year and tired of having no money, Chilton left the band in pursuit of a regular pay check.
After a stint in Hamilton and Wellington in the 1990s, Chilton returned home and joined covers bands Justin Funkmonkey, That 80s Band, and now Triple Shot, which plays a mix of blues, country and classic rock.
It was his wife and country music singer Bonnie Turner, who “kind of” converted him to country music, he said.
“It’s a different discipline. It’s all about the singer and about telling the story, and not so much about the music.”
The award in no way signals the end of Chilton’s contribution to the Southland music scene.
On the contrary, Chilton intends to continue to be involved for as long as possible, he said.
He would like to focus on recording more original material, and amass a body of recorded work. Having worked with Steven Hayes last year, and at present with Pretty Wicked Head, he is well on his way.