Chris Blanchflower: THE LAST TIME AROUND
By David N. Pepperell

Photo by Jacques L’Affrique




One of the most unfortunate happenings at Sunbury ‘73 was undoubtedly the announcement by Chris Blanchflower that he, in company with Keryn Tolhurst and John A. Bird, was leaving Country Radio.

Chris, both musically and as a personality, had always been one of the mainstays of the band. In many tunes his harmonica was the only solo melodic instrument and his intros to tunes became the trademark by which they were known.At Sunbury Chris, and the whole band, played superbly - their melodies had never seemed so emotional, their music so beautiful, their sound more varied and multi-hued. Chris' harmonica soared above the whole group adding new dimensions of pathos, awareness, sadness and joy and certainly Country Radio will find it difficult to ever play that well again. Of course time only will tell.

It is true that many people thought it a gamble at the group's outset to add a permanent harp player. At times it did restrict the band slightly, but it would have been difficult to let Chris stand at the side too long doing nothing, so he had to play on every number and that did tend to make all the tunes a little samey.However Chris overcame this problem to be the central pivot of the band and its most interesting and creative member. Few people could have taken on the task he did and succeed so well.

Chris took up harmonica some four years ago while still resident in the UK. His early life had been spent travelling the world with his father, a surveyor. and he had rarely been able to call anywhere his home for longer than a few years. His early interests were the black jug bands of the early 1900's and by collecting these records he soon became adept enough on the harp to join a number of groups playing in small folk clubs in England.

The first successful band he joined in the UK were called Panama Unlimited, a group that in various stages of its development featured Stefan Grossman and many other fine musicians.

At this time Chris was mainly singing with the band and was also working on playing mandolin -- he is still working on playing mandolin to this day and has a large collection of old fretted instruments some of them dating back many years.

At this time also he jammed with many American musicians visiting England, including Spider John Koerner of Koerner, Glover and Ray fame and he built up a reputation as one of the top harp players around.

He finally quit England to come to Australia and after a small sojourn in Tonga he settled here permanently.

His first group in Sydney was the Stovepipe Spasm Band, a spasm band being a group playing a kind of ragtime blues jug type of music. The group became very popular at festivals, wine bars and coffee houses in Sydney and finally led to Chris being offered session work on Greg Quill's first single "Fleetwood Plain", the success of which led to the formation of the group Country Radio.

Chris was asked to join the band permanently and he appears on the cover of their first album "Fleetwood Plain" with half of his face covered by a fine growth of beard.

Originally the group was only three piece and were often backed by local rock bands at gigs (Pirana plaved all the backgrounds on their first album).

However with the eventual addition of drums, bass, piano and then the guitar and mandolin of Keryn Tolhurst the band became complete and also enormously popular.

'The Flying Circus had laid the groundwork for the popularity of country rock in Australia and with their departure for Canada Country Radio stepped into their shoes as the new favourites of country rock fans here.

Chris decided to leave the band mainly because of musical differences but also because he was tired of the endless travelling and hassles involved in being part of a full-time rock band. He is interested in playing more in sessions and just doing occasional tours rather than being a member of anything permanent. He is still working hard on Mandolin and hopes to become proficient enough to play that instrument professionally in the near future

He already has a fine technical knowledge of his best instrument, the harmonica, and can play "straight" or "cross" harp with ease, using whichever fits into the framework of the music he is accompanying at the time.

He has progressed amazingly from the reasonably simple licks of jug music to the high, wide harmonics and melodies of country music and at this time would probably be the finest country style harmonica player in Australia.

Despite his English heritage and blood, Chris' life style and ideas are based largely on the American experience. He is a believer in the confederate cause preferring the gentlemen to the unwashed rabble, yet his ultimate sympathies lie with the black population who lose out no matter which side won the war; he reads mostly American novels and magazines and prefers the open spaces of Nashville to the cloisters of Abbey Road.

His height alone is amazing and surely one of the memorable sights of Sunbury was this man, all "seven" feet of him under a cowboy hat, wailing away to the birds and to all those thousands squatting there in the dark on the hill in the heat of the night.

He learnt his instrument completely by himself, having no teachers or even a comparable environment to help him in his endeavour. Harmonica is a most difficult instrument to even play simple tunes on but for him to master the effects and the sensitive sounds it can produce in the short space of only four years is surely the mark of a special kind of man.

Country Radio and the whole music scene in Australia have certainly suffered a loss and one can only hope that he finally find himself in a position, once more, to play in perhaps a far happier situation than previous, Certainly no person, whether the reason be talent, personality or just plain good vibes, deserves it more.

This article was originally published in Go-Set (date unknown)
Copyright © 2002 David N. Pepperell. Reproduced by permission of the author.
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