There’s not a lot left of the Bluesy experimental Rock that gladdened the hearts of music fans in the early 70’s to be found in todays music scene. There are though a lot of those fans still around, and they themselves are now in their early 70’s – along with their hero tonight at the Harmonie. Roger Chapman came to fame as singer/co-writer with UK Prog-Rock band ‘Family’ and is in fact now 72 but don’t let that fool you, he still outruns my camera’s autofocus mode as he bounds enthusiastically around the stage, more often than not with a waterbottle menacingly in hand.
Despite the absence of a hit record, or major release for that matter in many a year, Chapman is far from forgotten and earlier this month the band he founded ‘Family’ got together for two re-union concerts at the Shepherds Bush Empire for their first gigs together in 40 years. The initial plan was for a one off gig, but fans from around the globe over-ran the box office until a further date was added. Clearly there are a lot of people out there who love Roger Chapman.
There are also clearly a lot of people who like Roger Chapman in the Bonn area. By the first notes of opener ‘Moth to a Flame’ there is only room left for those who can levitate. If you didn’t have your beerglass in hand at 8.15pm then you were in for a thirsty two hours. I enjoyed the frantic Zydeco sound of ‘Cross-Town’ but it wasn’t until the old Family Classic ‘Weavers Answer’ started that the real magic of the evening began. Chapman’s famous vibrato lilt is a little grittier than it once was, and maybe that’s a good thing since it lifts the song out of the original electric-folk era sound and puts it more into Rock territory.
“Weaver of life, let me look and see – the pattern of my life gone by, Shown on your tapestry”
Very early 70’s lyrics, but they reminded me to prick up my ears for the words. Chapman really is an excellent songwriter. ‘Prisoner’ from 1999 is a strident Rock song with a glorious call/answer chorus: “Wearing Shackles” calls Chapman. “Ball and chain!” shouts back guitarist Geoffrey Whitehorn (and most of the audience). More superb lyrics:
“Got me a mynah, but it can’t talk
I got a wolfhound, but it don’t walk
Got me a mountain, I can’t see down
Turn me a corner, I can’t see round”
This is my first taste of a ‘Chappo’ concert and I’m definitely warming to the man. Chappo ,himself is warming too, and pours more water over his head than into his throat from the plastic bottle. Whether by nature or by design, Chapman has something of a ‘cantankerous Uncle’ persona. There’s a fair bit of ‘hopefully’ good-natured swearing coming from Chapman – When he calls across stage to Paul Hirsch asking ‘Are you ready on the keys’ and a fan behind shouts back ‘Yeah!’ ‘Chappo’ growls back “Not you. How many f**king keyboard players have I got?!” Or when the Hall photographer finds Chapman glaring down his telephoto lens and asking if he ” thinks it’s fu*king long enough?!” I had to remind myself that the man is actually from Leicester and wasn’t born next door to the Kray brothers in East London. The Band itself wasn’t immune to Chapman’s asides either: ‘Son of Reed Moon’ was introduced with “This is the old version”, and when ‘Chappo’ got looks from the band of confusion he quickly added “I hope it is anyway!”
He needn’t have worried of course. The band may not be one of the youngest I’ve seen, but is undoubtedly one of the best. Gary Twigg on bass looks so at ease that the bass could be playing him. Geoffrey Whitehorn on guitar has a 70’s haircut and guitar sound to match – chunky riffs with a short catchy lead flourishes. John Lingwood on drums is celebrating his birthday this very evening, playing a year older but with an enthusiasm that’s a good 40 years younger. Paul Hirsch makes an excellent foil to Chapman’s lively presence – a face carved in grey stone but a warm keyboard sound that flourishes where flourishing is required yet hides in the shadows when hiding is called for. An especial word is due Nicholas Payn – his trumpet and Blues-harp contributions were always perfectly delivered – especially the sax on ‘Weavers Answer’
No Chapman show would be complete without ‘Shadow on the Wall’ with it’s minimum of lyric lyric but maximum of power. It would be impossible to stand through the song without shouting back “SHADOW ON THE WALL!” Try it yourself someday – impossible. One of my favorite numbers is ‘Shortlist’, and it’s yet another goldmine lyrically. We’ve all been on someone’s ‘shortlist’ – never to hear from them again. By the last notes of encore ‘Let’s Spend the night together’ I’m hoping that Bonn isn’t on such a shortlist. Of the capacity audience I suspect that 100% would buy a ticket next year – ‘Chappo’ is, well, part of the ‘Family’