John Lancaster remembers 1318 4th Avenue

As an addendum to Justin Johnson’s 1318 4th Avenue - An Aural History series, we wanted to bring John Lancaster on to get his take on the venue that Johnson has been writing about over the past few months. Not only did Justin rank Lancaster’s band Chum in his top five shows, he noted how much Lancaster would have wanted to see Godflesh in December 1996, Justin’s third-ranked show in his Top 10.

Below are some of Lancaster’s thoughts and memories of 1318 4th Avenue…

WVRockscene: What are some of your favorite memories at Gumby’s or Drop Shop? First show, either attending or playing?
Lancaster: Between the two places there are way too many memories to list, so I’ll go with the first gig that I played at Gumby’s. It was quite an experience. The band I was in was called Soul Circus at the time (went on to be renamed Guru Lovechild another show or two later). It was our first show and it was the first time I had ever sang in front of anyone, so needless to say I was quite the bundle of nerves that day.

During set up/soundcheck I met the legendary John Kerwood and needless to say his antics provided a necessary distraction from those nerves. At one point his girlfriend at the time had taken his keys from him for some reason and he was chasing her around the bar like a madman yelling “Keeeys! My keeeeys! Give...me...my...keeeeys!” Haha; a pretty tame Kerwood moment relatively speaking, but an interesting introduction to the man nonetheless. Anybody that knew John knew that the guy was quite a character but he did so much for live music in this town back then. He is missed for sure.

rockscene: This show that Justin lists 11.20.96; you had just released your debut, Dead to the World, and Justin says you were at the top of your game; where was the band at at this point in time?
Lancaster: Wow, Justin has a hell of a memory. I couldn’t really say where we were based on that date but I believe this is right before the tour we went on that went South -- both geographically and figuratively! Haha. If that’s the case then I think we were really excited to finally be getting out on a tour since it had been nearly six months of auditions, rehearsals and occasional local shows since the record had been released.

rockscene: How much turmoil befell Chum in the sense of the drummer situation and then the broken down van on the tour of the South? As much critical acclaim you may have had, how much of it was tough sledding?
Lancaster: I’d say a majority of our run was tough sledding from the drummer situation on. We lost Chuck right after we recorded Dead to the World and before that point we had really reached a comfortable groove with one another creatively. Everyone played an important role in how our sound came together so once he was gone, I think we tried too hard to keep that same momentum going that we had with Chuck which in hindsight was never going to happen. No disrespect whatsoever to the drummers that followed him, they were all incredible musicians. Chuck’s style had just become an important element to Chum’s sound and I don’t think we were able to look beyond that.

So that caused problems creatively, and then there were always problems in trying to promote ourselves in a pre-internet age with no money. Our label at the time helped to get our name out somewhat in the beginning but pretty much left it in our court in terms of going on the road, finding/arranging tours, etc. It was a constant struggle and in short, it eventually it brought things to a close for us.

rockscene: Back to this venue, Justin says that in the mid-late 90’s he would put Huntington as a college town up against all others. How cool was it during this time period and would you agree with that?
Lancaster: I agree one hundred percent and I have said the same thing. It just seemed like an exciting time not only to play music but to go out and see great music on random nights throughout the week.

rockscene: You’ve seen bars at this location come and go; what’s the difference between now and then when it comes to how venue owners operate and/or book bands, and the state of the Huntington scene now versus then in the general sense?
Lancaster: I think all you need to do, as I did recently, is look at the Drop Shop Facebook page and check out one of the old random monthly schedules that have been posted. The months were filled with shows from all genres whether it be locals or nationals. There really was something for everyone.

rockscene: Justin mentions you being stranded down South not being able to see Godflesh in December ‘96, you being their biggest fan, was that something you were trying to get to?
Lancaster: No, I knew ahead of time I wasn’t going to be in town to see it, but it still pained me a great deal! There were also couple of shows we played on that tour where Godflesh had just played the same venue a night or two before, too, so that wasn’t too helpful. The expression “insult to injury” came to mind quite a bit!

rockscene: So many people have such fond memories of Huntington in this time period, whether they loved the bands or the atmosphere at a specific venue or what. You still being involved with the scene as a solo rocker, how neat is it for you to be able to look back and say ‘I was a part of that,’ or hear people say how much your music meant to them; that they might still have these Chum cassettes laying around and they still rock them out?
Lancaster: I’m very glad to have been a part of it. As I said before it was an exciting time that I will never forget and I’m sure anyone else that took part in it won’t forget it either. There are still some people that ask me about those days and Chum specifically, and for anyone to still remember us in any kind of positive light is beyond flattering.

mp3: “Greetings (From The Inner Self)“ by Chum

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Related: CD Review -- John Lancaster Phantom Moon; For John Lancaster, the Fire Has Just Begun (Huntington Herald-Dispatch)

See also: Chum downloads on Exploding Eardrums

photo: Laura Gregory

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