The Rock’s Backpages Flashback: Chic Freak Out

Barney Hoskyns

At the dawn of 1979, Chic were bossing disco with their sassy Manhattan classics. Danny Baker interviewed Nile Rodgers and 'Nard Edwards for New Musical Express, issue date January 27——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages

There were so many good singles last year that when it came to deciding what I thought were the best 45s to show out, I ended up with a bigger list than the HMS Bismarck.

In the final tote-up, both the Bee Gees and Village People had two prizes each in the Top Twenty, and yet both were shown the door by Chic with 'Dance, Dance (Yowzah Yowzah)', 'Everybody Dance (Doodoodoodoo)', and their latest fling, 'Le Freak.'

Even taken outside the China Hall Tavern, away from the bustle, disco lighting, the edge of a weekend night, 100 voices singing the bits that peak — Chic can really play.

So Chic come to town, and I'm on the case. In the Montcalm Hotel, up on the fifth, Bernard Edwards is ushered in to his fifteenth interview of the day. He looks some real business — close tailored jacket, shirt/tie, butter-cutter crease in his strides. He pushes back his glasses with his index finger, and apart from initially calling me David, gives no indication that I probably have a fat 15 invisibly tattooed on my back. Sluicing back the Lowenbrau, I sit back as a band unfolds.

Chic were formed eight months back in New York, and, like Steely Dan, are truly only two musicians who are using a group of semi-permanent members.

One is bassist Bernard Edwards himself, and the other is guitarist Nile Rodgers who's doing another interview next door. They both appear to be in their late 20s, and together they write and produce everything Chic do. Edwards talks fast and confidently, with a good smattering of laughter.

I tell him that after listening to the new album, it's clear that any assembly-line theories go flying out the window. Chic in fact veer toward the Crusaders.

"Uh-huh. Let me tell you, both Nile and I are jazz musicians and both have studied classical music too. I spent years with all this heavy stuff, until things clear and you realise that a lot of what you're doing is just the same old ego-tripping.

"The two of us with our drummer Tony Thompson — he used to be Labelle's drummer — could walk into a studio and sweat off some stuff that could floor these so-called serious music guys. But for what?

"Look, have whatever in your collection at home, but everybody needs a little Friday night. And really that is Chic. No big deal. Y'know, smile, dance, get crazy...we sure do while we're making it, because music is our leeezshure, it's my fun."

What separates Chic from the majority of disco acts is their rejection of the show-biz glitter outfits and puppet synch dance routines. If you caught their Top of the Pops appearance you saw four men (Nile, Bernard and Tony plus keyboards player), in well-cut but not matching suits, with the girls upfront — Alfa Anderson and Lucy Martin — dressed in their own styles.

In the back are the Chic strings: three girls on violins, including the lovely Cheryl Hong. So how much of the style is planned?

"Oh, I wouldn't say planned at all. You'll know that the girls aren't the sole vocalists — I sing on some tracks, but I always thought that to present that all male show, like Commodores, is really lacking something. So the girls are looking great, singing great and it all helps tone down the, y'know, black funky impression that a lot of bands put over.

"The three women who play violins are very important too, for our balance, our look and our sound. Even though I dislike a lot of strings on a disc — I hate all that German formula shit — I think they add a necessary sweetener to our rhythm."

On the day 'Le Freak' turned double platinum in the U.S., I asked where Chic are going.

"Well eventually, Nile and myself would like to back out and let Chic continue with us just producing. At the moment we've still got other things. We've just finished recording Sister Sledge, and next month we go in with Aretha Franklin.

"But while it's still a groove we'd like to just ride it out."

"All that pressure's got you down/Has your head spinning all around/Just come on down to 54/Find a spot out on the floor and freak out/Le Freak — So chic..."

As it happens, don't worry 'bout Studio 54. The nearest disco pub is dynamite...

© Danny Baker, 1979

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