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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

The Jazz Café, Camden Town, London, May 5th 2009

I won’t hear a word said against Roger Chapman, owner of one of the most distinctive voices in British rock and roll, former vocalist in Family (probably the greatest of all the Greatest British Rock Bands Not To Make It), and a cultured exponent of the English language. I hadn’t realised that ‘fuck’ originated in Scandinavia: the Norwegian ‘fukka’, meaning copulate, and possibly the Swedish ‘focka’, with the same meaning, found their way into English via the Scots (who as we all realise, know a fucking good thing when they see one). One of its first recorded written usages is in Sir David Lyndsay’s sixteenth-century comedic morality play Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaits, an attack on the Scottish establishment.

Whether Mr Chapman knows this (“Fuck off”) I know not (“Don’t be so fucking cheeky”), but he certainly uses the word (“Which fucker’s next, you fuckers?”) with the concentrated abandon of a naughty schoolboy (“I just don’t want to sing that fucking fucker tonight”) aided by his chums from Neverland, The Short List. Tonight they comprise regulars Stevie Simpson on guitars and fiddle, Ian Gibbons on keyboards, Gary Twigg on bass, John Lingwood on drums, and Helen Harding on backing vocals. On lead guitar, proudly demonstrating his Hughes and Kettner amplifier and pedal board is Geoff Whitehorn, more often to be found playing guitar with Procul Harum, amongst others (“I’ve got to go now to get the fucking bus home”). Which reminds me, for the longest-running legal dispute in the history of rock and roll, have a look here.
Roger Chapman Anyway, I won’t hear a word said against Roger Chapman, even if he is slowing down a bit on stage. No more microphone stand callisthenics or manic tambourine trashing, he’s now almost rooted to the spot, never too far from his music stand and the lyrics to his songs. Memory bad, eyesight good. And his moody menace (“Fuck off”) is somewhat tempered by all too apparent frailty of not just the memory: he even shivers when he pours a bottle of water over his head. But that’s not the point. Chapman is a key part of my personal rock and roll history (as I have explained before) and one of the reasons I’m still going to gigs is because of the profound impact he had on me all those years ago with Family, on the stage of Birmingham Town Hall, my first big gig outside of the Blues Attic at the Jolly Weavers. Watching him come onto stage and sing ‘Good news, bad news’ was like a huge electric shock from which I’ve never quite recovered.
Once seen, heard and felt, never fucking forgotten. And the voice, that rasping rhythm and blues vibrato, is still there, maybe not with quite the same range, but still with the ability to send an ice-cold shiver down your spine, notably when he sang a superb version of Dylan’s ‘Blind Willie McTell’.
Chapman has never rested on his laurels. He tours endlessly, mostly in continental Europe and in particular, Germany, and regularly records new material (his latest album, Hide Go Seek, is just out). So the majority of this gig’s material is drawn from the past ten years or so, rather than the past forty. Songs like ‘One more time’, ‘Kiss my soul’, ‘Sweet bird of youth’ and ‘Two pieces of silver’ all fit neatly into the R&B groove that Chapman has developed for himself over the years. There’s a great version of ‘He said, she said’, which morphs into ‘Sixteen tons’, and ‘Short list’ (“I’m going to sing this fucker because I’ve told you I don’t want to sing that other fucker”). And of course he ends with Family’s ‘Burlesque’ before returning for a messy ‘Weaver’s answer’ and a rip-roaring ‘Who pulled the night down’, from his first solo album, Chappo, which has stood the test of time very well, a bit like Roger, I suppose.

Sadly not currently in production, you can only buy it from dealers, from around £40 to £80. But I would urge some caution: Chapman has suffered greatly from the scourge of counterfeit or unlicensed CD sales (yep, it’s not just malt whisky and electric guitars that get faked), to the extent that you can download ‘Chappo’ from his website ‘for free’ (well, almost), which I urge you to do. And remember, I won’t hear a fucking word said against him. - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)

Listen: Roger Chapman on MySpace


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