Chick lit

By Paula Yeoman

It's a surreal moment - Fiona McDonald and Grant Fell are sitting across the table from me and it could be 1991; the year the Headless Chickens' Cruise Control soared up the charts.

How they looked in the Cruise Control video is how the band is forever etched in my mind and it's a relief to see they're the same, minus McDonald's huge white shades and Fell's dreads.

It is, of course, 2008 and more than a decade since we last heard from them. But, the Headless Chickens are back - albeit briefly. View catches up with McDonald and Fell before their first rehearsal for their upcoming summer concerts, and McDonald explains that it's been even longer than that for the reunited line-up, which includes Chris Matthews, Michael Lawry, Anthony Nevison and Bevan Sweeney.

"It's almost 17 years since we all were in the same room together," says the award-winning singer, who shares lead vocals with Matthews.

Suggestions that it'll be like a school reunion are met with nervous laughter, but McDonald says it's not because she's worried about catching up with old friends.

"I'm not anxious about getting together but I am a little about the gigs. I think I'll feel better once we've had a few rehearsals."

It was a phone call from the organisers of Sydney's Homebake: Peace in the Park festival that spurred the Chickens' comeback. Given that it's one of the largest summer gigs in the Australian music calendar, the nerves are understandable.

"When I first saw the line-up, I thought: 'There's Crowded House at the top, plus a whole bunch of young hip and cool bands and then there's bands like the Died Pretty, who've been around for about 400 years. And then there's us!"' laughs Fell.

"We're in that top line-up and we haven't even rehearsed yet."

As soon as the Chickens' had agreed to do Homebake, New Zealand's biggest summer festival came calling too, and on January 16 the legendary Flying Nun band will take its place alongside music's newest and brightest stars at Auckland's Big Day Out.

But Fell and McDonald are taking it all in their stride.

"We're just doing our own thing. We're not here to carve a new career - we're just coming back to play a bunch of songs and revisit old turf. We're just the old buggers," says McDonald.

"Neil Young [one of the BDO's headliners] is a lot older than us too - so that's good," she laughs.

It's clear nostalgia is a large part of why the band is getting back together.

"We're just really looking forward to being with people who are like a family; being together and playing music is something we all love doing. It's a pretty special combination," says Fell.

"You get really intimate in a band. It's a bit of a cliche but you go on tour, you argue the way siblings do. Friends can't argue the way band members do because you have to fight to get things done," adds McDonald.

There will be no arguments in the back of the tour van this time around though - the Chickens have only agreed at this stage to a couple of gigs - Homebake, Big Day Out and a special one-off at Auckland's Powerstation this month.

It means fans who have been pining since the 1990s for the return of the Chickens will have to be in quick because, as Fell explains, it's possible to have too much of a good thing.

"When we broke up, people went off and did their own things, so the legacy of the band stopped then. We weren't being resurrected - like every other Flying Nun band every half an hour - which is quite good for a reunion."

But sadly, it also means there's unlikely to be a new album on the cards. McDonald nearly chokes at the suggestion.

It's not a daft idea though. After all, the Chickens pumped out hit after hit, including Gaskrankenstation, Cruise Control from the 1991 platinum-selling Body Blow and Greedy's chart-topping George in 1997.

So why not a fourth album?

"It's hard to put out a cohesive album with a lot of great songs on it, at your peak, let alone when you're re-forming," says Fell.

So, it seems fans will have to be satisfied with a few select dates but Fell and McDonald promise it'll be well worth the wait.

"It will be loud and it'll be intense," says McDonald.

* Headless Chickens play at Auckland's Powerstation on November 28 and the Big Day Out, January 18.

- NZ Herald

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