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Concert Review by Nick Morgan

The Jazz Café, Camden Town, London, December 15th 2009

Hold the fucking front page, Serge.  It’s hot news.  Ace veteran rock vocalist, he of the lurid language and colourful turn of phrase, Roger ‘Chappo’ Chapman, is retiring.  At the age of 67 he’s hanging up his microphone stand for the very last time.  After tonight there are just two hopelessly sold-out gigs in home town Leicester, the birthplace of Family, the band that first brought Chapman to fame.  And that’s it. 

Roger Chapman
So there’s a decent crowd of largely washed-out and dead-beat sixty somethings downstairs at the Jazz Café, looking, I realise, strangely similar to the washed-out dead-beats on the stage.  They have (or should it be ‘we have’?) grown old together.  In fact there are probably more pension-books in this place than you normally find in a Post Office (if you can find a Post Office in the UK, but that’s another story).
But Chappo’s determined to go out in a characteristically perverse style, and with his Shortlist delivers as impressive a gig as I’ve seen from him in recent years, his voice far better and stronger than when we last saw him.  It’s a sideways, back to front, and sometimes upside down retrospective of his career, reluctantly narrated by the normally taciturn front man.  At one point he breaks off: “I’m doing fucking verbals.  I don’t do fucking verbals.  Fucking hell’.  Given that Family, probably  still his most famous collaboration, with the likes of Charlie Whitney, drummer Rob Townsend, Ric Grech and John Whetton, only took up about six years of his career Chapman commendably refuses to trade on their back-catalogue at the expense of his more recent work, which makes up the majority of the set.  And very good much of it is too, not least of all thanks to the guitars of Steve Simpson and Micky Moody, although as befits the occasion the whole band are on top from.  This only serves to encourage the witless in the audience to call for famous Family songs such as ‘Weaver’s answer’ and ‘My friend the sun’.  The uncompromising Chapman’s response, ever the considerate conversationalist, is entirely predictable  “fuck off”, or when he’s singing, an artfully raised finger .  But that doesn’t stop the yelling.  At one point he deftly holds his mike-stand aloft over our heads – a threatening and career-defining pose that many of the veterans present will have remembered from the early seventies.  “I’ve got to get rid of this fucker somewhere’ he says.  “Remember what happened last time, Roger” replies a wag in the crowd.
Defiant to the end Chapman delivered only one Family tune, ‘Burlesque’, and also only ‘Who pulled the night down’ from his still excellent ‘Chappo’, the first solo album of his career.  In response to the cries for more he turns back to the crowd, grinning broadly, with a terse ‘Fuck off’ before heading back to the dressing room.  But even this bunch of old-age pensioners are determined to get their pound of flesh, so a weary Chapman trudges back. “You greedy bastards.  You’ve already had forty-five fucking years”.  Maybe only about forty for me but that’s still quite a stretch.  His last song is ‘Shadow on the wall’, which he recorded for Mike Oldfield’s 1983 album Crises.  Roger Chapman
At the mention of Oldfield’s name there’s some grumbling from the audience.  Chapman sprang to his defence.  “Now fucking listen I’ve got no problems with that fucker.  That fucking song paid for my fucking house”. And with a “goodbye” and a “I need a fucking drink” he was gone.
So is it domestic bliss in his adopted home of Barnes, that south-west London retirement resort for resting rock and rollers?  I read somewhere that he teamed up with his old mate Bobby Tench in the summer to play a gig to raise funds for the ‘ancient’ Barnes Bowling Club.  So maybe he intends to see out his years turning the air blue whilst indulging in that most genteel of lower-middle-class pastimes.  But what’s this I hear?  Roger Chapman and the Shortlist to headline at the Rhythm Festival in August 2010?  Surely some mistake?  Retirement?  You’re fucking having me on, Roger. - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)
Listen: Roger Chapamn on MySpace

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