Story by Karen Paton-Evans
Photography by David McDonald Photography @davidmcdphotos
Windsor’s own rockers, The Tea Party, are topping the charts with their new hit, Black River, and back on tour. Jeff Martin, Jeff Burrows and Stuart Chatwood are performing for their hometown audience at Caesars Windsor, 8 pm, Thurs., April 18. Stuart (bass, keyboards, mandolin and harmonium) spoke with Windsor Life.
WL: Fans who wondered what The Tea Party has been doing the last 4 years are being rewarded for their patience with your new music and big tour. Has it felt like old times, back writing songs and recording with the two Jeffs?
SC: Yeah, more so than ever. The new music we’re writing feels more like the stuff we were making in our prime of 1997, the Transmission record. Jeff Martin has set up a beautiful studio in Australia, and Jeff Burrows and I are fortunate enough to take the winter months to go down there and work on some new songs. We have to look out for snakes – I’m being completely serious, there are a lot of snakes there. Giant spiders. Land monitor [lizards] which are a Komodo dragon type creature; there are two of those on his property and they eat turtles for fun. It’s quite a dangerous place at nighttime and lends to the character. Hopefully some of it will come out in the music. Maybe we’ll have some jungle rock coming out! For us and touring, it’s been nice since the band got back together in 2012, which was the first major tour….in 2015 we had the 20th anniversary of The Edges of Twilight and in 2017, the same thing with Transmission. It was a pleasure to play a lot of the songs that we haven’t played very often to some of the new fans who’ve come on board and weren’t there back in the heyday in the late nineties when we were doing stadiums. This March, we’ve got new music. It’s nice to not be touring to celebrate a record of the past and now looking towards the future. We ran an interesting competition online of favourite singles of the band’s career. It gave us a real insight into which songs to include in our setlist. Every day, 2, 3, 4,000 people were hopping on to vote, deliberate and suffer the agony of their favourite song going down. (The winner of The Tea Party Singles Face Off was Sister Awake, with Psychopomp in second place).
WL: Your new single, Black River, is doing well. How does it feel to know that radio stations are finding your latest song very playable? And that several entities wanted to be part of it?
SC: The president of Warner [Music] heard it and said, “I want to do this.” The deal was done in two days. Back in 1992, 9 or 10 record companies came to see us but it was always a case of negotiating and begging, “Can we please make our own record ourselves?” We’ve never had this happen before where someone actually wanted us earnestly. We had quite a good feeling that the song would do well on radio. It’s gone beyond our expectations. We were hoping for a top 10 and now it’s a top 5. (At press time, Black River was number 2 on Canadian Rock Radio).
WL: If you knew the secret of time travel, what would you now tell your younger self when The Tea Party first hit the music scene?
SC: I think you have to learn lessons yourself. You can tell people, “Be nice to people on the way up, you might see them on the way down. Don’t count your chickens till they hatch.” We had to go through that ourselves. We were in Europe and we got word that we were supporting Lenny Kravitz across North America. We bought all this champagne and partied, then 2 weeks later we lost the gig.
I think we were supposed to play with the Rolling Stones like 6 times. We ended up playing with them in 2003 at the big SARS concert. But the first 2 times were cancelled because of the ice storm. It was like we were doomed not to meet the Stones and play with them. But we eventually met them; Keith Richards fell over on me and I saved him and saved the show. That’s another story. Looking back, I’m glad we weren’t a one hit wonder. At the time, we were jealous of all these bands that came out and our songs didn’t do that well in the States.…but in retrospect, we’ve had a long career. I’ve known personally too many bands who have the one hit wonder and all of a sudden, they act like idiots. They have an entourage and then the second last chapter is the tax man comes and the final chapter is they hit Skid Row. We’re very thankful it’s been a slow growth. It’s enabled us to be professional performers, on and off the stage. It’s good.
WL: Global TV chose The Tea Party’s Fire in the Head as one of its Legendary Canadian Songs to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday.
SC: That’s a big honour. When you cross the barrier into being remembered, that’s great. Someone showed us a Sydney, Australia newspaper about somebody forming a new band that sounds like The Tea Party. We’re a point of reference for people now who want to do world music and rock music together. It’s really an honour – and a goal achieved.
WL: Windsor is certainly proud of its hometown boys.
SC: I’m thankful for people coming out to support the band. We’re getting embraced better than ever at home right now. I’d like to give a shout out to 89X; the station is so supportive of The Tea Party and other local bands – including Autumn Kings, which is opening for us. This is the second time we’ve headlined at Caesars Windsor and they do a great job. The Colosseum is probably one of the best sounding rooms in Canada.
If you’re thinking of checking out the band and want a comfortable seat, great sight lines, great sound and great lights, then this is definitely the show. Tickets for The Tea Party concert at The Colosseum start at $23 and are on sale now at caesarswindsor.com.