'The Night Chicago Died' lives on for nostalgic UK rockers

43 years later: Phil Wright's Paper Lace, touring Australia in November.
43 years later: Phil Wright's Paper Lace, touring Australia in November.

Old habits die hard.

Or don’t die.

Phil Wright, the 69-year-old drummer and one of the founders of UK pop rockers Paper Lace, says staying up until 11.30pm to call me from London is no bother.

“I’m a night owl,” he says, confessing a career making rock’n’roll has probably contributed to the trait.

We are talking about the band’s upcoming tour of Australia, which includes a gig in Newcastle at Wests in New Lambton on November 5 where they will play in a “70s HitMakers” concert line-up that includes Richard Gower’s Racey and The Rubettes.

Paper Lace hit the big-time in 1974, with Billy Don’t Be A Hero and The Night Chicago Died, and toured Australia that year (their only trip Down Under). 

“I remember very little,” Wright says. “It was a complete and total haze.”

Australians will remember. The band’s second album, Paper Lace and Other Bits of Material, went gold in Australia. Wright still has the Australian “gold album” hung on the wall of his home.

Although The Night Chicago Died reached the top of the American charts, the band never toured there, as their label, Mercury, didn’t think it was necessary.

The success did not last, and the band split up.

“There’s been a few hard times in the past,” Wright says, “as I am sure there have been for a lot of people.”

In recent times, there have been two bands with members who called themselves Paper Lace. Wright’s version of the band includes original bass player Cliff Fish.

The trip to Australia has been in the making for several months, and, besides escaping an English winter, Wright is looking forward to catching up with many Australian fans he regularly communicates with through social media.

And, of course, putting on a live show.

“I still sing songs in the same key, it still sounds the same,” he says. “I’ve been lucky over the years to have the same register of voice.”

Wright says there are no ego battles with the other two bands on the tour. “We’ve all been around the block a time or two,” he says. 

Racey hit the jackpot with Lay Your Love On Me, a huge Christmas hit in the UK in 1978, which also reached No 1 in Australia. They followed it up with the single Some Girls and their debut album, Smash and Grab, sold over 1 million copies. 

The Rubettes had a chart topper in 1974 with Sugar Baby Love, and going on to sell more than 30 million albums featuring songs like Tonight,Juke Box Jive, I Can Do It and Baby I Know.

“The resurgence of nostalgia means we can revisit places like Australia,” Wright says, “because people want to hear the music.”

70s HitMakers concert featuring Richard Gower’s Racey, The Rubettes featuring Alan Williams and Paper Lace, November 5, Wests New Lambton.