Sep 3, 2009

By Rob Nagy

CHRISSIEHYNDE-STONEPONY8-09-09-4-ROBNAGYIt has been more than three decades since the “Pretenders” exploded onto the music scene. Bordering on punk and pop, the Pretenders made a huge splash in America with their self titled 1978 release.  Anchored by the brash, captivating vocal talents of lead singer Chrissie Hynde, the Pretenders achieved what few bands are able to do, establish a signature sound that has always unmistakably been the Pretenders. Now with their latest release“Break up the Concrete”, their first in six year, the Pretenders have been hitting the concert trail hard keeping the band’s name in the public eye while proving they are still capable of delivering a great song.

The Pretenders were given birth in 1978 when Chrissie Hynde met up with original bassist Pete Farndon in London, England. Hynde had been bouncing around the globe the decade prior attempting to launch a musical career without much success. Farndon was impressed with Hynde’s songwriting and started working with her. In need of a guitarist, Farndon lured James Honeyman-Scott to record an early demo with both he and Hynde.  In the summer of 1978 Hynde, Farndon and Honeyman-Scott returned to the studio to record another demo this time with Nick Lowe of Rockpile producing two Pretender classics “Precious” and “Stop Your Sobbing”.  Soon after Martin Chambers joined the band on drums and the Pretenders line-up was intact.  In 1979 the Pretenders released their self-titled debut yielding the single “Brass in Pocket”, which went to number one in the U.K. Two years later they released their sophomore effort “Pretenders II” and The EP/ Extended Play album containing the U.K. and U.S. hits  “Message of Love” and “Talk of the Town” and a live version of “Precious,” recorded in New York’s Central Park furthering the bands commercial success and solidifying their place for years to come. By the latter part of this same year Farndon’s drug addiction was putting a strain on the band and he was fired in the spring of 1982 following the bands world tour. Two days after Farndon’s departure the band received the tragic news that James Honeyman-Scott had died in his sleep, the result of drug induced heart failure.  “You don’t know what the repercussions are through the remainder of your life”, recalls Chambers. “I have missed him every day since.  He was one of my best friends. We used to share bedrooms before we could afford a real room. You can imagine the hilarity that brought on. We were Laurel and Hardy. It was just great fun. That was just an unfortunate thing three and a half years into the group to lose, for Chrissie it was her right hand man in Jimmy.” To their credit Hynde and Chambers regrouped and went into the studio a month later to record a new record, which featured the song “Back on the Chain Gang”, in honor of the late Honeyman-Scott.  Guitarist Robbie McIntosh and bassist Malcolm Foster were brought on board to complete what became the Pretenders next album “Learning to Crawl”. Tragedy struck days before the release of this album when Farndon was found dead in the bathtub from a drug overdose. Out of the ashes personal chaos, “Learning to Crawl” achieved much deserved critical acclaim and commercial success, with the single “Middle of the Road” and the band continued to tour until disbanding following their 1985 performance at Live Aid. Over the next decade a variety of musicians performed with Hynde releasing some successful singles including “Don’t Get Me Wrong” and “I’ll Stand by You”.  Martin Chambers returned by the mid-nineties after abruptly departing the band a few years earlier.  Touring and recording continued highlighted by an appearance at the Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio in 1995. Hynde went into seclusion for a few years resurfacing with new material, which was released independently to a lukewarm response from the general public. In 2006 the band released, in conjunction with Rhino Records, a four disc box set, which included over five hours of music and a DVD of rare live performances. Chambers is quick to acknowledge that Hynde has been and will always be the centerpiece for the band, without her there is no Pretenders. “More than ever now it’s been Chrissie’s band a long time”, says Chambers. “It’s a completely different set of rules now. Chrissies is basically in charge and that’s that. She has called it a tribute band, a tribute to Jim (James Honeyman-Scott) and Pete (Farndon), which is a way of looking at it. For me, the Pretenders died in 1982, that was the end of the true Pretenders.

With the bands current release “Break up the Concrete”, they are proving that they aren’t going away anytime soon. Featuring a stellar line-up of musicians, which in addition to Hynde includes guitarist James Walbourne, pedal steel player Eric Heywood, bassist Nick Wilkinson and Martin Chambers on drums, the Pretenders have produced twelve solid songs showcasing Hynde’s songwriting backed by her vocal talents, which have not diminished as she has again captured the Pretenders sound and spirit. “She not only can sing but she’s got a great voice”, says Chambers.  Above all she’s singing her own stuff mostly so it’s a pretty good combination. There’s not many like that and she’s pretty unique. I’ve always thought it’s good never to work with rubbish so I’m glad to be working with her still.” Chambers added, We’re pretty lucky to have come full circle for a band that’s the top of the heap as far as I’m concerned. I’m very proud to be associated with it. Standout songs includes “Boots of Chinese Plastic”, “The Nothing Maker”, “Don’t Lose Faith in Me”, Don’t Cut Your Hair”, “Loves a Mystery” and the title tracks “Break Up The Concrete”.  Chambers is very optimistic when looking toward the future. “We’ve got a bit of life in us yet”, says Chambers. “It’s difficult in this business to look more than a year or two ahead but I can certainly see another great record. It’s definitely on the cards as far as I can see. It’s only a question of coming up with a few good tunes.” Chambers is aware of the bands place in history and would like people to think of the Pretenders fondly. “I’d like people to say, ‘we were a true band. That they put their priorities in the right place, that their music came first.’ We made a good noise. Had some good times and had some people that really enjoyed it and I think that’s really as far as you can go with that.”

On August 09, 2009 the Pretenders played to packed Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey.  With the seductive presence of Hynde at the helm, the band played a ninety minute set of all the Pretenders classics, which included “Message of Love”, “Brass in Pocket”, The Wait”, “Middle of the Road” and “Back on the Chain Gang” as well as a handful of selections from their latest release. The band was near perfect, sounding as lively and as fresh as when they first conquered America three decades ago. Based on tonight’s performance, the Pretenders are going to be around for a while. Their tour, which started in the U.S. in January of this year, has since found the band performing through-out Europe. They wind things down this fall in the U.S. before taking a much needed break over the winter months.  Look for a possible new release sometime late next year. For more info on the Pretenders or to order a copy of their new release go to

Photos by Rob Nagy

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