Chips – Chips
For a group with such a large back-catalogue and some reasonably famous ex-members, it’s surprising that Chips have yet to receive the digital reissue treatment. The group had their origins in Belfast R’n’B group The Dominoes. In 1966 some of The Dominoes, including guitarist/keyboardist Bill Morrison, formed rival band The Group. The remaining Dominoes, including Dick Pentland (sax/keyboards) and Robin Irvine (vocals/guitar/bass), later became Heart & Soul. Members of both bands reunited in a new line-up of The Group who were quickly re-christened Chips in 1969. The original band were Morrison (keyboards/vocals), Pentland (keyboards/vocals), Irvine (bass/vocals), Robin Lavery (drums/vocals) and lead singers Linda Martin and Annie Ferguson. In 1970 both Morrison and Pentland left (forming a group named Dunno) and were replaced by Paul Lyttle (guitar/vocals) and Adrian Mullan (keyboards/vocals), both of whom took over Morrison’s role as the band’s musical director. Chips turned professional and moved to Dublin, where their debut single Today I Killed A Man was banned by RTE because of the political situation in Northern Ireland in 1971 (it was actually about a reluctant army conscript). This was the first of at least sixteen singles on seven different record labels over the course of little more than a decade – an impressive record for a band that never managed to reach the charts outside of Ireland. In September 1971 Ulster Television broadcast a documentary about what was then one of the most popular bands in the province. (It would be great to see, and hear, more of this broadcast in better quality.)
Chips on UTV’s Spectrum in 1971, including an interview with a young Linda Martin.
Just a few months later, in January 1972, creative differences led to the break-up of this talented line-up, with Linda Martin and Paul Lyttle (by then romantically involved) quitting to form Lyttle People. Chips, meanwhile, drafted in a number of new musicians, including singer Nicola Kerr and keyboardist Damien O’Reilly, and adopted a heavier prog-pop direction which earned a new audience in Dublin. In June 1973 they released the excellent single Open Your Eyes / Earth, but very shortly afterwards drummer Robin Lavery was replaced by Reno Smith (a Chicago drummer who had come to Ireland in 1971 for aborted recording sessions with the band Truth, and was apparently still here two years later), while Robin Irvine was reportedly being replaced by Frank Boylan (ex-The Creatures, Ditch Cassidy & The News and Mellow Candle). However, with the split of Lyttle People in October 1973, the band announced the full reunion of the 1971 line-up, billing themselves as ‘Original Chips‘. The single King Kong was issued in Ireland in early 1974, credited to ‘Lily & Chips‘ (did ‘Lily’ refer to one of the band members?), though a French release bore a 1973 date, so it’s unclear exactly which line-up featured. Intriguingly, the same French single had a ‘B’-side with the unwieldy title ‘Editions Peter Plum Publications‘, but this is actually the same track (Love For An Angel) that appeared on other versions, and may just be due to some sort of administrative mix-up.
Inevitably, the reunion did not last and within months founder members Robin Irvine and Annie Ferguson had departed, followed by Robin Lavery in 1975. Nicola Kerr once again joined the group from 1974-75 as Ferguson’s replacement and went on to compete in successive Irish National Song Contests between 1976 and 1978 as a member of three different acts before joining The New Seekers in 1979. This was part of a long infatuation with the National Song Contest – which chose Ireland’s entry to the Eurovision Song Contest – among various members of Chips, perhaps inspired by the recent international break-through of ABBA; Adrian Mullan and Paul Lyttle both wrote competing entries for the 1974 contest. The band were now effectively controlled by Lyttle and Martin, and despite continuing line-up changes there was a consistent quality to their output and a determined drive for success thanks in part to new manager Louis Walsh. Kerr’s replacement, Irene McElroy, stayed with the band until 1983, while long-serving keyboardist Adrian Mullan left in 1978, but the remaining membership changed often. In 1974 Chips were given their own series on BBC Northern Ireland, titled Chips and Friends, and appeared on Britain’s Opportunity Knocks, followed in 1975 by Top of the Pops. Although UK sales never took off as a result, they were asked to tour with the Bay City Rollers in 1976. Charting Irish singles in this period included Love Matters and Twice A Week (both 1975) and Goodbye Goodbye (1976), and their prolific contract with Decca/Rex Records included their only album, a self-titled LP released in 1976 (though all sources I’ve seen list it incorrectly as 1978). The album included some of their recent singles and more of their trademark close-harmony sunshine pop, but of particular note are their brassy cover of Steely Dan’s Reelin’ In The Years (slightly longer than their earlier ‘B’-side version), powerful takes on Neil Sedaka’s (I’m A Song) Sing Me and Jimmy Webb’s Walk Your Feet In The Sunshine, I Ain’t Giving Up (which could easily have come from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack) and the heavier band original Living Is Ours.
As a group, Chips entered the Irish National Song Contest in 1976, 1977, 1978 and once again in 1982, but failed to qualify for the Eurovision contest on each occasion. RTE recorded an hour-long live performance by the group in 1981 as part a TV series called The Best of the Bands, and there were further singles including a version of Neil Young’s After The Goldrush (via Prelude’s arrangement) and another chart entry with David’s Song in early 1982, but their final single would be released later that year. Linda Martin won the Castlebar Song Contest in 1983 and scored a hit single, leading to a parallel solo career during the next few years. As a solo artist she eventually won the Irish Song Contest in 1984 with Terminal 3 and finished second in the Eurovision finals. Chips continued performing as late as 1986, but with only the core duo of Martin and Lyttle surviving from earlier incarnations, and functioning increasingly as Linda Martin’s backing group. After the band’s split, Martin unsuccessfully entered the National Song Contest yet again in 1986, 1989 and 1990 (billed as ‘Linda Martin and Friends‘), before finally winning the entire Eurovision Song Contest in 1992 with Why Me? The resulting international hit, and a string of minor hits in Ireland, overshadowed the legacy of Martin’s former band and effectively ended any prospect of further activity from Chips. Paul Lyttle went on to work in music retail management. Linda Martin continues to work in many different aspects of the Irish entertainment industry. Other former members of Chips have left the music profession, but many continue to perform part-time. As mentioned above, even excluding the solo work of Linda Martin, there’s a vast resource of Chips material to fill an anthology collection, and perhaps someday someone will adress this oversight.
- Love Matters
- Empty Days (Have Gone By)
- Reelin’ In The Years
- People Like You
- Twice A Week
- (I’m A Song) Sing Me
- Walk Your Feet In The Sunshine
- Game Of Love
- Head Over Heels
- Living Is Ours
- I Ain’t Giving Up
- We Can Fly
Chips – The Singles (now in a separate post)