Chalk Circle’s beginnings were the same as so many others in history – a group of high school kids with big dreams. Formed in 1981 around singer Stan Veselivonic, guitarists Chris Tait and Brad Hopkins, and Terry Miller on bass, they added drummer Derrick Murphy and soon changed their name to The Reactors. They played for free at school dances and parties, and got their first paid gig at school in Newcastle, Ontario opening for Goddo.
Soon Miller was gone and Hopkins moved over to bass, and when Veselinovic left it opened up the way for Tait to take over on vocals. As a three-piece they dubbed themselves New Addition for a period, before eventually settling on Chalk Circle (taken from Bertolt Brecht’s play “The Caucasian Chalk Circle”) once they were out of school and now in college, not to be confused with the American based indie/reggae group with the same name which had disbanded only a couple of years earlier.
They began recording some of the material they’d been working on for the last couple of years, honing their chops on the Toronto club scene. Their entered the 1985 CASBY Awards sponosred by Toronto radio station CFNY-FM with their two-song demo “The World” and “Black Pit,” a cassette they were also hocking at their shows and having a hard time keeping in stock because of demand. They won for Most Promising Non-Promising Act. This caught the attention of Duke Street Records’ president Andrew Hermant, who signed them to a deal the following spring. Around the same time they added keyboardist and Polish immigrant Tad Winklarz to help round out their sound.
Produced by Blue Peter‘s Chris Wardman, the six-song GREAT LAKE EP was in the stores later that year. With over 35,000 copies sold and “April Fool” and “Me Myself & I” both top 10 hits, it became the label’s biggest selling record at the time. They were also nominated for a Most Promising Group Juno that year in between more gruelling shows across the country, including dates with Blue Peter and Rough Trade.
In between tours across Ontario and central Canada, they headed back to the studios, resulting in MENDING WALL in ’87, titled after a Robert Frost poem. With Wardman returning as producer, and although still a cleverly written mix of rock and pop with slick hooks, the lyrics took a turn for the more serious. Still, it produced another pair of well-recieved singles in “This Mourning” (a political commentary about nuclear war) and the environmental awareness undertones of “NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard).” Within only a couple of months, the album was certified gold and re-released, this time with the top 10 cover of T Rex’s “20th Century Boy” included. To this point the band had also become darlings of the video age, with five videos having made regular rotation on MuchMusic.
With their stock rising, Duke Street re-released their first EP in ’88, but this time GREAT LAKE had “20th Century Boy,” as well as the previously unreleased “Come With Me” and “Believe In Something.” Around the same time, a show at Montreal’s Le Spectrum with Northern Pikes was taped and broadcasted on MuchMusic’s “Big Ticket.” They also scored a German distribution deal that year, where they were an instant hit on the airwaves and on TV, prompting a European tour with Rush. Upon returning home, they also started ’89 by opening for Crowded House on selected dates on their cross-Canada tour.
After a brief hiatus, they returned in the fall of ’89 with AS THE CROW FLIES with new producer Michael Phillip Wojowoda. Recorded at Toronto’s Manta Studios, the album featured cameos from Jane Siberry and Moe Koffman, among others, and produced the singles “Sons and Daughters” and “Together” over the next year or so.
But the video for “Sons and Daughters” got the cold shoulder from MuchMusic, and neither single made a significant dent in the charts. Coupled with growing dissension in the troops and Duke Street dropping them from the roster, the band called it quits in 1990 after a series of cross-Canada jaunts. Tait remained the most visibly active, forming Big Faith, while everyone else became session players or got out of the business all together.
Universal released a greatest hits compilation as part of its 20TH CENTURY MASTER series in ’06 that included the previously unreleased “Buildings,” prompting rehearsals for the first time in 15 years. They first show back was that June at Lee’s Palace, sparking several dates that year, but the band again drifted apart without even considering reforming full-time. They’ve reunited off and on since then, including a double bill at The Phoenix in Toronto in 2011 with longtime friends Blue Peter, and a show in Montreal that November, their first time there in 20 years.