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TRIBUTE: James Chance

James Chance has died at the age of 71. His brother David Siegfried stated that the hugely influential composer, bandleader, singer, saxophonist, keyboard player, and key figure of New York’s No Wave music scene of the late 1970s had sadly passed away on Tuesday. Chance had experienced declining health for some time and last performed live five years ago.

Having moved from his Wisconsin home to New York City in 1975, James Chance first founded the instrumental quartet Flaming Youth before joining Teenage Jesus And The Jerks with fellow musical nihilist Lydia Lunch. Their furious amalgam of punk, minimalism, and the avant-garde formed one of the foundations of No Wave. Another key component of this more extreme response to punk and New Wave arrived courtesy of James Chance’s next band the Contortions who introduced jazz improvisations and funk elements into this heady mix.

The Contortions, in various incarnations, were to reconvene with James Chance at a number of subsequent points in his career, most notably perhaps when he reformed the original line-up for live dates in 2003. Some four years later I had the great fortune of seeing James Chance and Les Contortions at the New Roscoe public house in Leeds. To this day it remains one of the top ten gigs I have experienced in over five decades of going to see live music.

That night James Chance played in front of just 23 people, but it could equally have been to a full house at Madison Square Garden such was the professionalism, power, and sheer show business pizzazz he brought to that performance. Blowing the saxophone like some modern-day Charlie Parker and cutting a Fred Astaire-like rug on the pub’s small dancefloor, it was an incredible spectacle. Speaking to him a few years later at the ATP Festival in Minehead we both just smiled at the warm memory of that Leeds show.

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I was to see James Chance on one final occasion, this time with Die Contortions. It was sadly evident that night at the Brudenell that he was no longer the man he once was but through sheer willpower still managed to deliver a concert that also lingers long in the memory. It came as little surprise to find out later that this was to have been one of James Chance’s last ever live shows. It was a pleasure and a privilege to have seen one of the great showmen and true visionaries of contemporary music.

Photos of James Chance at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, in March 2019: Simon Godley

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.