She was born and grew up in Barrow-in-Furness, Lancashire, where her childhood, work and relationships provided a basis to many of her songs. She began to learn to play the guitar at the age of thirteen and was soon performing and singing at local folk clubs. She left Barrow to tour in a duo with her then husband, pianist and songwriter Joe While. After their divorce in 1991 she embarked on a solo career, releasing the albums Still on Fire (1991) and By Request (1992) in tape format. The albums demonstrated English and American folk and country music influences that have all remained important in her career. The tracks included some traditional material and covers of songs by some major songwriters, but also marked her emergence as a songwriter, in particular the track ‘100 Miles’, which has been frequently covered by British and American artists. This song was also on her first CD format album Look at Me Now (1993) with others written with Nigel Stonier and her former husband, but many of the tracks were single compositions indicating a growing confidence in her own songwriting. From 1992–95 she also performed with accomplished guitarist and songwriter Ken Nicol who contributed to the high level of musicianship on Look at Me Now. Their 1994 recording was eventually released as Shadows on the Wall (1995), which included three While-penned tracks from her early solo material.
In 1993 she joined the Albion Band as lead singer and guitarist, replacing Julie Matthews. She toured and recorded with the band for four years gaining a much wider audience and reputation, both nationally and internationally, honing her stage technique and contributing individually or collectively to most of the songs on three group albums. The first, Acousticity (1993), included five of her collaborations as writer or arranger with other members of the group. In 1994 Julie Matthews rejoined the band and the 1995 release Albion Heart included two tracks penned by Chris, as well as the While/Matthews collaborations of 'Man in the Bottle' (with Ashley Hutchings) and together on the title track, which became something of a group anthem and was the first evidence of a fruitful musical collaboration. During this time she co-wrote (along with Ashley Hutchings and Phil Beer) over forty new English folk songs for the TV series The Ridge Riders, which resulted in the release of a sixteen-track CD Ridgeriders (1999), seven of which were jointly written by Chris.
In 1995 Chris and Julie toured Canada as The Women of Albion. The intention was a one-off project, however, audience reception and their growing musical partnership led them towards pursuing joint projects. They released an EP Blue Moon on the Rise with five jointly penned tracks, including the since much recorded reworking of a traditional theme as 'Young Man Cut Down in His Prime'. In 1996 they joined with Christine Collister, Melanie Harrold and Helen Watson to form Daphne's Flight. They produced an eponymous record that showcased the formidable vocal talent in the group and included another song by Chris that would become an audience favourite "Circle Round the Sun". The last Albion album with Chris and Julie, Demi Paradise, was released in 1996. With more polished production than was often the Albion style, most of Chris's contributions had already been showcased elsewhere and the band was perhaps no longer the primary focus for either performer. Their last gig with the band was the 1997 Cropredy Festival in August.
In 1997 Chris and Julie left the Albion Band to pursue their individual and joint projects and Chris released her fourth solo album, 'In the Big Room'. As well as containing some notable covers, it included one track, 'Sister Moon', from early in Chris's career, but was dominated by Chris' new songwriting.
This was followed by what was formally Chris and Julie's first album as a duo, 'Piecework', in 1998. This included what are often considered some of Chris and Julie's most powerful songs and marking the emergence of their distinctive and highly polished sound. Chris contributed her vocal and instrumental skills to Julie's songs as well as penning the powerful title track, which recalls her time in factory work in Barrow. A busy recording schedule resulted in their second album 'Higher Potential' in October 1999, which showcased their diverse influences, from Chris's bluesy 'Tire Tracks in the Snow' to the poignant 'Love has Gone to War'. It also included Chris's ' The Light in My Mothers Eye", dedicated to her own mother, which was nominated for best song in the first BBC Radio 2's prestigious Folk Music Awards. The following year there was the much anticipated double live album, Stages, which managed to capture some of the duo's outstanding live sound and stagecraft, as well as many of their best songs to date.