When The Chantrelles played their first set at a coffee roastery, they weren’t planning on leading a soul dance party from Victoria to Montreal, but two years later the crowd favourites haven’t stopped.
“We were thinking of playing Motown covers and we were never thinking it would go anywhere,” says keyboardist Erin Dwyer, who was studying at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, along with half of the original eight-member lineup at the time. “We didn’t even think that it would go that well.”
“Well” equated to repeated invitations to play from a catalogue of about 50 covers, before the group eventually began collaborating on their own originals. Since that first show at Discovery Coffee in February, 2011, The Chantrelles have created a style so familiar, yet almost completely absent from the current musical landscape, either in Victoria or further afield in the country – and it’s one embraced by crowded dance floors across the city.
“People were a little awestruck, but for us it was really natural feeling because we had played all of that stuff and covered all of the right songs for so long that we knew how everything should sound,” she says.
The upbeat, soulful tunes move dancers as naturally as they come to The Chantrelles, Dwyer says.
“We’ve been so lucky. You go to other shows and you don’t get that immediate looseness in the crowd. That was pretty much the case all the way right across Canada. People were pretty willing to get into it right away.”
On the rare occasion a crowd wasn’t enticed by the band’s best efforts, including a horn section and Chance Lovett’s impassioned vocals, there was always at least one in the audience really enjoying themselves – enough to keep the band happy, Dwyer recalls with a giggle. But despite their overwhelmingly positive reception The Chantrelle’s have received both at home and on tour, few groups seem interested in sharing the same soul spotlight.
“That goes for right across Canada,” Dwyer says. “We don’t see people playing in that style. … We’re involved in a scene with a lot of guitar rock. Whether it’s soul or not, you just don’t see people playing horns, or even keys for that matter.”
Nathan Ambrose, organizer of the first annual Garden City Grooves Music Festival agrees. No one else is emanating the classics quite like The Chantrelles – but groups like The New Souls have emerged with a “powerful, sweet sounding” repertoire that bridges the gap between the sound of the ’60s and something more modern, he says. Both bands are set to play the festival this weekend (Sept. 27-28).
“The soul and funk scene in Victoria is burgeoning,” says Ambrose, who, along with partner Reuven Sussman, moved forward with the festival after successfully co-organizing the one-night Funk Fest last November. “There are a lot of bands that have started to make a name for themselves over the past two or three years and we thought, what a better way to celebrate them than to focus on these genres?”
Those genres fall beneath the umbrella of groove – soul funk, afro beat, afro funk, down-tempo, world music – a seemingly endless list, Ambrose admits before offering some clarity.
“Essentially it’s music that makes you want to move and the beat is key.”
It’s a definition not so different from how Dwyer explains The Chantrelles’ act:
“It’s really fun music to play and fun music to listen to. I don’t think anybody at a party would disagree with throwing on “Ain’t to Proud to Beg.” It’s a universal style of music anyone can get into. That’s what we saw at our first few shows: people just dancing their asses off.”
The Chantrelles play Saturday (Sept. 28) at Lucky (517 Yates). The New Souls perform Friday (Sept. 27) at Publik (1318 Broad). Full lineup and tickets to Garden City Grooves Music Festival at gardencitygrooves.com.
By Natalie North