sAltastate Band History
Back in 1995 singer/songwriter Chris Sharp was playing covers in bars around Camden under the name "Chris Black". Although sucessfully making a living from music, Chris was becoming frustrated with playing other peoples' songs. During the autumn of 1995 he wrote 4 songs of his own and made a cassette under the name "Contrast". He played his first original composition, a song called "You Want It All" the following Saturday night in Islington and to his amazement 15 people bought a copy of the tape. Between October and Christmas 1995 he sold over 300 copies and with his mate Jem Huckfield, decided it was time to get a band together.
Chris Sharp as "Chris Black"

By February 1996 the full line up was established. He met the bass player, Sebastian (Baz) Mitchenson at the Islington gig, guitarist Mark Kulke answered an ad in the NME and drummer Ian Whitehead was recruited when long time friend Christian Riou (former vocalist with Claytown Troupe) passed on his number after bumping into him at a wedding.

Chris Sharp - Vocals
Jem Huckfield - Rhythm Guitar
Baz Mitchenson - Bass
Mark Kulke - Lead Guitar
Ian Whitehead - Drums

The first gig was booked for May 31st at the Underworld in Camden. A headline slot on a Friday night. (Not a bad blag!) The band rehearsed constantly for 3 months and Chris continued writing new songs for the first gig. Meanwhile he used the pub gigs to promote the concert and by the time the gig arrived the Underworld was almost full. Not a bad way to make a debut... The gig was buzzing and the promoter passed on the bands' details to a manager who was to sign them up within 2 weeks.

Over the summer the band developed new material and played at The Borderline, The Barfly (at that time still at the Camden Falcon), The Monarch, The Powerhaus, The Underworld again and the LA2. The record labels started taking notice and Steve Lamacq singled them out for praise in Music Week. Steve Strange offered them a support with Ash if they signed to his new booking agency, Solo. By Christmas 1996 the band had established a loyal fan base and "Contrast" t-shirts were spotted being worn all over Camden. However the question remained as to why Contrast were still an unsigned band and why the tour was turned down...

It transpired that Contrast were being managed by a dodgy boxing promoter parading himself as a music business big-wig based on the grounds that he had once been Jon Bon Jovi's bodyguard. He was turning down great deals left, right and centre and as a result the record labels found him impossible to deal with and therefore no-one was prepared to sign the band.

Once the truth was out Contrast parted company with their management. During a very turbulent start to 1997, long time friend and founder member Jem Huckfield also left the band and Chris took over his rhythmn guitar duties as well as fronting the band. The group then played an acoustic charity gig at the Borderline with Hurricane #1 and the Stereophonics before bass player Baz Mitchenson left to persue an acting career (on the advice of his best mate, the then unknown Orlando Bloom!!) A replacement was needed quickly as a new management deal was about to be signed, not to mention a short UK tour and a slot at the 1997 Phoenix Festival.

The new bassist arrived through a Loot advert. John Blackburn (who would become the longest serving of four bass players - Spinal Tap drummer syndrome comes to mind!) The band continued to gig 3-6 times per month for the rest of 1997. The new 4-piece line up started writing new material as a band with Chris and Mark in particular penning most of the new songs from then onwards. By the end of the year they had clocked up their 66th gig and finished with a Christmas party at The Garage in Islington.

1998 began, like the previous year with a lot of changes. The new manager was finding it difficult to get record companies interested because of the cock-ups of the previous manager so it was decided a completely fresh start was needed. The first thing the band did was change its name from Contrast to "Altastate". Mark then broke his hand while playing football and managed to damage it so badly he needed a pin and 2 bolts inserted into it which ruled out any live gigs for the first 4 months of the year.

John Blackburn - Bass no.2

The band decided to concentrate on writing new material and a new song "Throw Back The Veil" was born. The Barfly-based Blue Dog label signed them for a one off single deal and the new song was perfect. The X-rays of Mark's hand were used for the front cover of the single and it was released as a limited edition 500 copies on 7-inch vinyl in May 1998.

One of the plus points of the new manager was that she was best mates with XFMs Claire Sturgess and as a result the song got plenty of airing on XFM with Claire and now Ian Camfield championing the band's cause and coming to almost every London show. Other influential people at the time who could be spotted at the gigs were Embrace singer Danny McNamara (who Chris knew through Danny's girlfriend Emma Evans who was also a great supporter and help to the band) and Cult guitarist Billy Duffy. Chris had always written incredibly catchy pop songs but by this stage Mark was adding a vital darker edge. This combined with the amazing energy of their live shows helped the band attract many plaudits as the year went on. Despite this the elusive record deal still failed to materialise and the band ended the year in much the same position as the previous one.

1999 began with another bass player leaving and another single deal on the way. John Blackburn became the 2nd bass player to depart and in May another new song "Higher" was released as a CD single on the Curveball label. A revue in The Sun (of all places) described it as an obvious hit from a band destined to set the charts alight! The Melody Maker hated it however and criticised Chris's lyrics comparing them to those of John Power from Cast which Chris took as a compliment being a big Cast fan. A new bassist called Steve Hackett joined from Irish band The Young Offenders. Within a week of Steve joining, there was a video shot for the new single which got national airplay after Mark made an appearance on ITVs Popped In Crashed Out. The band did a fantastic gig at the 100 club in Oxford Street
Steve Hackett- Bass no.3
after the new single got on the XFM B-list. This guaranteed it at least 2 plays per day for 3 weeks. The new bassist only lasted 5 months however and by September had left to start his own band "The Fuzz Lightyears". Yet another bassist, Chris Danby joined in October 1999 and the band continued to gig around Camden until the end of the year (and millenium!).
The strains of being 4 people in a full time band, all unemployed and with no record deal and therefore no income had taken its toll. Altastate continued into 2000 and also continued writing more songs but sadly the gig at The Monarch on April 29th was to be their last and 2 weeks later in May 2000 the band decided to call it a day.

Chris decided to do a tour of Europe in a VW camper playing covers as "Chris Black". He ended up making enough cash to pay off the debts the band had amassed over the previous 4 years. During those 4 years they had recorded over 30 songs in various demo studios and home recording sessions. Most people who know the band well agree that the 2 songs actually released were very average compared to some of the other material and found it strange that they were selected as singles. In actual fact the recording of Throw Back The Veil released on the Blue Dog label in 1998 was far inferior to the bands re-recorded version which they did later that year in Chris's home studio. Chris decided to take all these recordings and make the best of them into

Chris Danby - Bass no.4

2 CDs. He completed the job at the end of 2001 and spent the next 2 years touring Europe (mainly in Switzerland) playing covers but also promoting and selling the 2 CDs. (which he did very successfully, selling over 2000 copies!). He adopted the name "Retina" during this period but has recently reverted back to Altastate again.

Mark Kulke and John Blackburn have been playing in former Skunk Anansie vocalist Skin's new band since 2003.

With the advent of this website in November 2004 it is finally possible for people to hear the music of Altastate and decide for themselves. So many people over the years have said to every band member at different times that they were one of the great live acts of the late 90's and their songs would have stood up to anything around in the charts or in the pages of the NME at the time.

As for the future, Chris and Mark still write together occasionally and there are always possible plans for a new Altastate line up which never seem to get off the ground!. Chris played bass for the recently re-formed Claytown Troupe in 2004. For more details visit www.claytowntroupe.co.uk

Altastate (Ian, Mark Chris & Chris) last photo shoot spring 2000
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