Musicians it seems come and go. Some have just their fifteen minutes of fame, some even have a couple of hit albums, and a very few come and stay. One of those was at Bonn Harmonie on Wednesday. Meet Roger Chapman – 73 years over, and very clearly far from out.
So when I was playing in the streets of Portsmouth on my three wheel scooter outside my family home, so young I was prohibited from crossing the road never mind going to a Rock concert, Roger Chapman was embarking on a musical career. His band, Family, turned out to be rather successful and a solo career after their demise in 1973 was successful too – culminating in a legendary performance on the in itself legendary Rockpalast in 1979.
They still talk about that Rockpalast performance today. Well, people in Wednesday’s audience certainly still do anyway. It’s quite possible that a large percentage of the audience were either at that famous gig or watching it in the early hours of a morning long gone.
I arrive early as always, but already the front row before the stage is taken. Filled not with people, but with bar stools. I’m standing behind an empty stool for an hour until – two minutes before shows start – an elderly white haired gent jossles me to one side and apologizes with the words “Darf ich kürz vorbei?” Which in reality translates as “I’ve had my beer sitting comfortably at the bar whilst you were standing rooted to your spot. Now I will obscure your view for the rest of the evening”. Admittedly it’s a rough translation – but in essence accurate.
Maybe it’s just as well though, because Roger Chapman has a habit of chucking half a bottle of water over himself and the other half over the front row. I decide to consider the white haired interloper as a form of weather protection for my Nikon. Behind me is a man who insists on chanting “Zey got me on ze Shortlist” every five minutes (which actually continues for the next hour and a half) so I am very glad indeed when messrs Chapman and The Shortlist arrive onstage.
There’s never any doubt about the quality of the music with a show by the Shortlist of course. Let’s run some names by you of bands/musicians that the various ‘Shortlisters have played with: Geoff Whitehorn (guitar) – Bad Company, Jethro Tull, Kevin Ayers, Elkie Brooks, The Who, Roger Waters, Manfred Mann, Paul Mcartney, Billy Ocean, Paul Rogers. Paul Hirsch (keys) – 10cc, Patricia Kaas (with Hannover Radio Orchestra), Chris Rea ,ABC , Status Quo, members of Steely Dan,Francis Rossi Band. John Lingwood (drums) – Maddy Prior, Elkie Brooks, Manfred Mann, Leo Sayer. Gary Twigg (bass) – Chris Farlowe, Climax Blues Band, Kim Wilde.
Each has a style and distinct personality of their own. Twigg is laid back and happy to sup a pint between songs. Whitehorn is always smiling, Hirsch is always grimacing, and Lingwood takes a drag from what looks like an E cigarette whilst Chappo holds court in between songs. Which he is a master of. There is nothing to prove to this audience which has clearly grown up chanting “Got me on the short list!” and “Shadow on the Wall!” When the British bestow a vowel on the end of your surname you have made it! England’s world cup winners became ‘Bally’& ‘Mooro’, there was the mercurial ‘Greavesie’ and even the Irish got in on the act with ‘Besty’ (although they got it wrong on the vowel front)
You can’t help but like ‘Chappo’. And the truth is he’s actually a rather excellent singer who looks and sounds more than a little like the late and great Joe Cocker. He has some great songs of his own like ‘Jukebox Mama’ and ‘Prisoner’ from 1981’s ‘Hyenas only laugh for fun’ disc. The latter track with a marvellously edgy call and answer refrain:
‘Wearing shackles (ball and chain)
Working suit (faded grey)
Souless boots (it’s very plain)
Gathering darkness (day by day)
Want a number (please, refer)
Want a number (call return)
‘Who put the Nite down on me’ has a wonderful chugging 70’s riff to it and ‘Mr Policeman’ has Chappo howling happily during it’s Jamaica tinged bluesy break.
Marvellous stuff, and there’s equally marvellous stuff when Chapman takes on cover versions too. There’s an affectionate jibe at the Stones as Whitehorn insists that ‘Keef’ and ‘Mick’ really love Roger’s take of ‘This could be the last time’ after which Whitehorn has to fiddle for a couple of minutes with his guitars tuning pegs, laughingly complaining “Typical. Just play one song by Keith Richards and the thing goes out of tune!” Best cover of the evening – and my favourite track overall, was a super bluesy take on Bob Dylan’s ‘Blind Willie McTell’. On the subject of super bluesy, not far behind were excellent versions of two oldies but Blues goodies in the form of Bo Diddley’s ‘Who do you love’ and Willie Dixon’s ‘Spoonful’.
Thankfully, at around 9.30pm my irritating ‘friend’ in the third row was put out of his misery when ‘Short List’ got it’s almost inevitable airing and equally inevitable was the made for shouting in a pub/club favourite ‘Shadow on the Wall’ it’s actually such a great song for shouting out your stress that the number should be on free prescription. really and truly, what can you say about Roger Chapman? After nearly fifty years in the music business he has earned that ‘o’ of endearment. Long live Chappo and may every year of ‘retirement’ be succeeded by a year of ‘comeback’. Roger Chapman needs music and in these days of inauthenticity and fleeting fame music needs him too.