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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
ROGER CHAPMAN & THE SHORTLIST, 100 Club, London November 11th, 2005
Roger Chapman I have to admit that Roger Chapman and I go back some. In fact it’s 1970 (remember – we all used to make our own entertainment then?) and I’m at Birmingham Town Hall with a couple of mates for My First Proper Concert, and it’s Roger Chapman fronting Family (picture), touring to promote their fourth album, Anyway.
Now for those of you who don’t know, or who don’t or can’t remember, Family were that strangest of strange bands, ‘snotty little Leicester louts’ from the East Midlands who, proud of their non-cosmopolitan working class roots (“everyone thought that we took acid all of the time, but we’re much more of a working class sort of band …”) never quite fitted in wherever they went, and no more so that the USofA, where Chapman’s unrealised attempt to decapitate Bill Graham (the famous evangelist rock promoter) at the Fillmore, with a characteristic twirl of his microphone stand, brought their international career to an abrupt end, or so the stories go. After that Birmingham gig (something of an adventure, as I ended up sleeping overnight in Birmingham New Street Station, quite a rock and roll experience for a young kid from the country) I saw Family twice more, the last time in Oxford on their farewell tour (as I write I have the Zig Zag tour programme – 10p – on my desk) in 1973. By then they had already started to turn their back on their more psychedelic tendencies, bringing in the boozy and beefy Tony Ashton to replace vibe player and Moog experimenter Poli Palmer on keyboards.
This beery and blokey outlook defined their next incarnation – Streetwalkers (picture) – formed around Chapman and guitarist and co-writer from Family, Charlie Whitney. I saw them once – a brawl of a night at Banbury’s Winter Gardens (apparently the Stones and the Who played there, but before I pitched up in the place back in ’68) when the bouncers, fresh from their tractors, decided to kick eight pounds of shit out of one of the road crew for dancing (it was a Sunday night, and there was no dancing license). Roger Chapman
An incensed Chapman responded by trying to decapitate the bouncers with the mike stand (are you beginning to get the picture …?) and the evening turned into a standoff between band, audience and management. Streetwalkers didn’t last too long – Chapman and Whitney broke their knot – and Chapman went into a sort of retirement before producing the R&B infused Chappo in 1979. It’s still a quite brilliant album, but sadly became something of a template that Chapman and his band, The Shortlist, have followed in most of their subsequent recordings. We saw him launch the album somewhere in Victoria in a club owned by Richard Branson – strangely one of the highlights of the evening was when he tried to decapitates a couple of leery drunks at the front of the stage with the – you-know-what.
After that it was probably twenty years before we came face-to-stage again. In the meantime Chappo had taken off to Germany (and German Whiskyfun readers please note – he’s starting a short tour there in December) where, like many a lost monster of British rock and roll, he’s forged a pretty successful career. And released a fistful of albums, albeit all somewhat formulaic and derivative of the blues and soul feel of Chappo. It was at the original Meanfiddler up in Acton – and a pretty good gig, though clearly the Chapman voice was nowhere near as strong as it had been years before. Five years later, and having just celebrated his solo career’s silver anniversary Chappo is back in London at the 100 Club. It’s late on a Friday night, it’s hot and it’s packed, there’s beer in glasses, on the floor, on the wall … well everywhere.
Roger Chapman The prostateically challenged are queuing for the Gents, there are fathers and daughters (“I’ve never heard of Robert Cheeseman” one confided in The Photographer in the secrecy of the Ladies loo, “I’m just here to make sure Dad gets home safely” – later she’s spotted dancing passionately with a stranger) and to our left a very drunken bus-party of balding, middle-aged, check-shirted rocket scientists are swaying in anticipation, lager bottles and clandestine cigarettes in their hands.
So I was not surprised to see a heavier Chapman take the stage, or to see that his once trademark mike-stand callisthenics were heavily subdued (though he can still knock the living daylights out of a tambourine). Nor did I expect much of his interplay with the audience, which as I anticipated, had not moved on much in thirty years, “Fuck me, that’s alright then”, “Fucking hell, what’s next”, “Woa, that was a bit of a fucker …”. Indeed, I might often have been tempted to think that Chapman was somewhat inarticulate were it not for the fact that I’ve read a fistful of quite thoughtful interviews with him over the years, and that he’s often forgotten as the lyricist in Family, responsible for songs such as ‘My friend the sun’ (“This used to be a lovely fucking song ‘till you fuckers got hold of it” complained Chapman to the tuneless sing-along audience), ‘Burlesque’ (“right down to my snakey spat shoes”) and of course the absolute classic ‘The Weaver’s Answer’ (“Weaver of life, let me look and see, the pattern of my life gone by shown on your tapestry”).
Roger Chapman And for what it’s worth, he’s written or co-written much of his more recent material too. I suppose the disappointment, though not surprise, was just that The Voice, probably at one time the most unique in rock, can’t quite make it anymore. Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t as bad as, lets say, Stephen Stills a few months ago, but it just couldn’t quite get to that pitch or frequency that in his prime was simply spine-tingling. And it was noticeable that the band carried him by drawing out many of the tunes to give him a good old rest now and again. Well deserved I’d say.
Now for once, as The Photographer managed to divert the attention of the road crew by harassing Chapman for an autograph, I managed to get hold of a set list from the stage. Do you know people sell these on e-bay? Why, I’m surprised they don’t just fake them.
This one listed nineteen songs, but I doubt if we got more than twelve of them, and certainly not in the order listed, so not much help there then. But in addition to the three Family numbers we definitely got ‘Kiss my soul’, ’18 wheels and a crowbar’, ‘X-town’, and ‘Kick it back’. Not being too familiar with some of this later stuff I was, to be honest, at a bit of loss, but helpfully the projecting fists of the rocket scientists was a useful guide to both perceived quality and the overall excitement (and lager) level in the room. Of course by the time we got ‘Weaver’s answer’ as an encore they were beside themselves - I thought the one standing on a chair was probably going to take off. Roger Chapman
And we were all pretty happy too – after all it’s not that often you can spend such a pleasurable few hours in such close proximity to a true hero of rock, who apparently swears (“fuck me …”) that he’ll never retire. But here’s a thought. Just in case he does, why not go out and buy one of his albums, just to help with the hard earned pension ... - Nick Morgan (concert photos by Kate).

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