I spent a good part of 2022, soaking in the work of Roger Chapman. Forever cherished by long-time fans of late 60’s Leicester-based progressive rock act Family, offshoot band Streetwalkers failed to attract the same attention in a changing music industry, so he went solo; finding a welcome audience in Germany, from which he re-established and grew his brand throughout Europe.
This five CD collection proves what a hot commodity he could’ve become on these shores during the first half of the 80’s, if only someone had opened their eyes, and chequebooks, a little wider. The international hit single ‘Shadow On The Wall’ should’ve paved the way, but that guest vocal slot by him was undermined by record management staff looking to further Mike Oldfield’s mainstream appeal. The breadth of music Chapman himself was putting out could just as easily of connected.
The advent punk and new wave are blamed for running acts like Chapman out of town, having had their time in the sun. While the singer himself may claim his interests were always blues, soul and some occasional rock ‘n roll, but he wasn’t averse to taking on the times and reacting to them positively, using the advance technology becoming readily available to create walls of sound and dynamic tensions within the framework of his songs. Fans of solo Peter Gabriel and Peter Hammill material during this period would find many a valid comparison compositionally, lyrically and quite often in a sonic approach, while the template was still broad enough to have allowed Chapman leeway into the classier LA byways that the likes of Cocker and Stewart caroused in. But, we suspect, Roger Chapman has ever been his own man.
That he is most often aided and abetted by one of my favourite guitarists, Geoff Whitehorn, as player, co-songwriter and producer is a personal delight. Though the copious sleeve notes in this collection have the singer declaring, in hindsight, they were better offer with others seated at the production stool, more objectively. Personally, I’m not entirely sure. And much as Whitehorn offers some hot stuff on record here, if you’re a bass aficionado knowing the likes of Bad Company’s Boz Burrell and Asia’s John Wetton should prove worthy of interest, the later having been a late-date in Family’s family tree, with that band’s long-term member Poli Palmer also showing up throughout on keyboards and some lovely sounding vibes, among other players.
But that’s in the studio, live, Roger Chapman and The Shortlist were something else, able to twist their sound completely on the flip of a sixpence and so tight that you couldn’t fit a coin of the realm up their collective jacksies – wherein the band is often augmented by horns and backing vocals, remaking classic chestnuts in their own mould.
Disc One features a remastered edition of Hyenas Only Laugh For Fun. Featuring Chapman’s live band, it’s predominantly a blues rock album with obligatory ballad come slow numbers at its core, but produced by Terry Barham and Paul Smykle it’s allowed studio embellishments, benefiting on the right side of in vogue synthesiser sounds and programming from Palmer, alongside additional keyboards from Tim Hinkley.
A laid-back drum beat saunters through speakers with determined casualness while a deep-ended funky blued guitar riff with an attitude from Whitehorn begins to play over it, and Chapman offers a rap sheet tale of amusing despair of life as a ‘Prisoner’. The main man wails out soulfully in his inimitable style, while some real old school gang-style backing vocals help this jail-house rocker swing all the more. Carousing wild and free while never changing pace, a harmonica’s given a decent work out, synths don’t sound out of date and Whitehorn sticks in some wiry licks, while Chapman remains leader of the pack. Imagine a hard-nosed reboot of Porridge and McVicar and this is your theme song…however, it is in fact a song about animal conservation!‘Hyenas Only Laugh For Fun’ isn’t that dissimilar, in a lazy synthy-blues beat manner, Chapman once more amusing himself with his play on words, and not unlike some lost track between Peter Gabriel’s debut and sophomore album. Nick Pentelow blows sax blows in as ‘Killing Time’ opens under power chords and proceeds to ooze in and out over a multi-themed piece. Incorporating racing funky rhythms, soul-fused blues, chilled vibes, and some crazy Latin fandango-ism and more before slowing down to an avant garde bluesy jazz crawl. This miasma of changing sound and groove is one for the Family fans.
Despite its title, ‘Wants Nothing Chained’ is something of a bondage undercover number. Again, it captures the zeitgeist of the times in which it was recorded, while principally being a hard-edged mid-tempo blues rocker. The piano-based ‘The Long Goodbye’ might fall somewhere between Billy Joel and Leo Sayer, musically is lyrically far deeper. ‘Blood And Sand’ begins to build the groove up once, with the backing vocals again proving highly effective on this euphorically-natured new wave keyboard-based number. The CD credits one Steve Simpson for violin, mandolin and slide guitar and they’re much in evidence on ‘Common Touch’ that starts off as a roots rocker before getting into some jungle love by way of a bossa nova-meets-Bo Diddley beat. Barely over a minute long, ‘Goodbye Reprise’ is a winding expressive guitar solo by Whitehorn, leading into the jazzy AOR of ‘Hearts On The Floor’ that fans of one-hit wonders Quarterflash might find intriguing. Oddball funk and spangly cosmopolitan art rock come to play on ‘Step Up – Take A Bow’, while the whole caboodle comes to a halt with ‘Jukebox Mama’ another short one coming in at only over sixty seconds, and the queerest on the record, Chapman’s enigmatic lyrics song over a rather krautrock keyboard melody. Hyenas Only Laugh For Fun rewards the persistent listener, Chapman’s lyrics are rich in concept and often evocation, the majority of the tracks tempered in their boldness, several waiting to spring into further life performed on stage.
“He Was…She Was…You was…We Was” finds Chapman & The Shortlist live in 1981 and in excellent form across CD’s Two and Three. The roar of the crowd informing us the moment Chapman’s walked on stage during opening number ‘Higher Ground’ – Revolving round a peddling riff that comes on hard, shifting to a laid-back funk and hitting several points in between, this anti-war number sets the mood with Burrell’s bass setting the tone, with Pentelow’s saxophone drawing admirable attention to itself throughout, while Whitehorn sets his guitar to stun when soloing. Picking up the pace a little ‘Ducking Down’ is a good time rocker but has a hell of a lot more going on besides. Chapman’s voice suitably warmed, he pours out slow declamatory denouements one minute, tongue-twisting syllables the next and soulful roaring warbling in between.
‘Making The Same Mistake’ follows game-fully, but much as it’s played relatively straight with a steady underlying tension at work, set free gently over Palmer’s vibes solo. ‘Blood And Sand’ pumps hard, with Chapman blasting out high notes in the verses, crooning gently with the band on the verses, with Hinkley given plenty of air time on organ and piano alike, and Pentelow having the time of his life throughout. Covers of Slim Harpo’s ‘King Bee’ and Muddy Waters’ ‘That Same Thing’ alongside his own ‘‘Face Of Stone’ allow Chappo to breath and sigh, holler and scream, and imbue the former with spiritual presence of mind spiritually and lemon-squeezer histrionics the next. Allowed to stretch gently for the first half, the musicians add colour and drama, then a more bludgeoning rock sound. Live, ‘Hyenas Only Laugh for Fun’ proves looser, funkier, better, and a number you could well imagine Madness trying to cover. While ‘Night Down No. 2 (A La Z. Z.)’ finishes the second CD and mixes Chicago and ZZ Top between some funky whiteboy grooves, but is prefaced by a frankly stunning vocal rendition of the opening lines to ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’.
Disc Three brings us a somewhat laid-back and in the groove ‘Prisoner’, the call and response backing vocals working all the more effective for it though. Larry Williams’ ‘Slow Down’ similarly benefiting from harmony vocals and veering into ‘Common Touch’ with added Latin affectations. ‘Juke Box Mama No. 3’ proves a down-the-line fun rocker while ‘He Was, She Was’ proves to be a more serious excursion, from Whitehorn’s somewhat sinister guitar hook falling perfectly alongside Chapman’s Hitchcockian thriller feel narrative, with Palmer and Hinkley delivering subtle vibes and piano solos to boot.
Able to extemporise as soon as someone laid down a lick or sung a line, The Shortlist would apparently jam cohesively thus we get them blasting through a cover of Hendrix’s ‘Stone Free’ that thrusts hard like an Otis Redding revue, get raucous, then takes a left turn incorporating Miles Davis jazz fusion classic ‘Bitches Brew’ before returning to the main cover. ‘Unknown Soldier (Reprise)’ blurs several musical forms, all willingly subservient in their flexibility to Chapman’s raging expressionist vocals. This live collection concludes with a piano-led take on Muddy Water blues hit ‘I Just Wanna Make Love to You’, and the iconic riff is in place but the way that Chapman and band swings, shuffles, shakes ‘n stirs the mood takes it way beyond just a cover version.
Thus far we have a blues rock album applying itself to the technology of the times, followed by a double dose of magnificence wherein a classy set of musicians create timeless music. Disc Four is a remastered edition of Mango Crazy and the sleeve notes reveal that in hindsight Chapman feels that co-producing it with Whitehorn was a mistake, becoming lost in the studio, overdubbing and applying whatever new technology was at hand, to deliver something rather too glossy. I appreciate what he means, and perhaps the continuing use of external producers might have had its merits, but personally, this is one of my favourite records featuring Roger Chapman.
‘Mango Crazy’ itself is one of my hot favourites, and with an opening that throws you off the scent completely with a slow burn of keyboards and guitar, over ruminating rhythm section you could easily lose a bet thinking it was from A Trick Of The Tail by Genesis, only for Boz Burrell to slap and pull on his bass just 25 seconds in and the band to shift gear moving between unrepentant AOR funky rock attack and more reflective passages, as evidenced by Duncan MacKay (Cockney Rebel, Camel), Ronnie Leahy (Stone The Crows), J Lawrence Cook, and even Whitehorn, all playing assorted keyboards through the course of the album. Absurdist lyrics have you singing along, and if you get a few drinks inside you probably making a fool of yourself on the dance floor. ‘Toys: Do You?’ follows on nicely as vary-toned blues and proto-rap, with many an experimental sound at play, it shouldn’t work but does, and should Alex Harvey have still been alive there’s little doubt he’d have turned his theatrical rock bent to something akin to this. ‘I Read Your File’ features keyboard gimmickry but is really a straight-on-down-the-line blues rocker, one-step removed from Desolation Angels-era Bad Company. Similar, and at once ballsier but also extenuating into prog rock territory is ‘Bluesbreaker’, blurring genres again, with some added dowdy funk but vicious-come-sarcastic lyrics about the music industry is ‘Turn it Up Loud’.
Place Quo’s three chords over a military beat, speed up the tempo for an AOR rocker, and you get ‘Let Me Down’ with an impressive synthesiser solo and some mean growling from Chapman. ‘Hunt the Man’ strikes both harder and funkier, it’s where Thomas Dolby met the Power Station for a knife fight down a back alley after the bars closed. There’s no turning back with ‘I Really Can’t Go Straight’, that’s akin to Peter Gabriel fronting Dr Feelgood, with added talk box guitar, plenty of keyboards, a near-funeral section then an up-funked end where Chapman’s voice refuses to let up as he scats merrily away. Between these up-tempo numbers, you’ll find a rather sweet Latin lovers’ dance in ‘Los Dos Bailadores’ featuring understated guitar from Whitehorn and mellow alto sax from Pentelow, the soulful gospel shimmering shuffle of ‘Rivers Run Dry’, ‘Room Service’ where the blues meet barber shop quartet that proves to be one of rock’s staple lyrical themes, about life on the road, but decidedly different from what you’d expect. ‘Hegoshegoyougoamigo’ is like ‘Mango Crazy’ in reprise with added madness, and like Jukebox Mama’ on Hyenas Only Laugh For Fun, about a minute long, then this collection ends with a bonus track in ‘Shot in the Dark’, another experimental number, its world music cut-and-paste rhythm and melodies akin to Peter Hammill, more popularised via Gabriel, but uniquely Chapman vocally. Some random sound choices, with overplaying here and there rather than the intuitive band sounds of before, Mango Crazy nonetheless offers some great songs that stand the test of time.
Seeking some due attention under the limelight following his making ‘Shadow On The Wall’ an international hit for Mike Oldfield, reflected glory was intended in Disc Five’s The Shadow Knows. Once more in the sleeve notes, Chapman reveals his dissatisfaction with the recording. Adding to the lack of external production offering an objective view on the material, was the lack of a regular band (though Pentelow makes an appearance on tenor saxophone) and that real drumming was being supplanted by the application of the now often reviled Linndrum. While, I’ll concur and agree it doesn’t swing for me the way Mango Crazy does, and technology sometimes gets in the way of a good song while others went a little too far towards looking for another mainstream hit, on the whole it’s far from a bad place to close this box set on.
With regards to potential mainlining of the mainstream rock sound of the time, there’s a fair few numbers that are led by a rocking piano edging towards expansive epics in both lyrical narrative and musical arrangement; pivoting contentedly in a rock joint urinal either side of an over-melodramatic Meatloaf and a self-mythologising Bruce Springsteen. Opening number ‘Busted Loose’ gives us some of that, in a tale of a bad boy who goes on the lam, escaping prison to go after the goon who stitched him up and has the run off with the money from the last job they did together – Chapman’s lyrics are colourful, amusing, ripe with pent-up emotion and daring do. In under five minutes he gives you the plot for the kind of crime caper movie Guy Ritchie would be regurgitating to varied success on celluloid about a dozen years later and onwards.
‘Leader Of Men’ initially gives the impression it might be carousing along as similar theme to ‘Busted Loose’ with easy money to be made, but it’s not some gangland mob boss offering the deal but a record company executive promising the world (again?). A funky bopping rhythm section much in evidence here, courtesy of Tony Stevens on bass and either Sam Kelly or Jon Longwood on drums, as they are on the easy riding ‘Ready to Roll’ with Whithorn playing with neat tempered precision through both.
‘I Think Of You Now’ is a soulful slow blues ballad, Chapman sighing manly in reflection, his larynx pouring out emotive frustration the next. ‘Sitting Up Pretty’ dovetails nicely, kind of an understated Philly soul number with then-contemporary but subtle-enough keyboards. The funk is back but harder-edged with a wrangling tortured guitar at work in ‘How How How’ and lines like “We got hijacked up in the sky, I fell in love with a rebel leader, She dropped me off somewhere in Paraguay,” suggested the bad luck prone protagonist of earlier songs is back and possibly a drug deal’s gone awry.
Mid-paced, semi-AOR with a pleasant enough vocal melody line ‘Only Love Is In The Red’ feels like it’s been written for the singles chart, and while lacking the added spice to get it there does indeed feature some impressive sax work. The magic is back for ‘Sweet Vanilla’ a chugging trucking-on-down, in-yer-face ringing guitar sound, Chapman’s personae not quite truculent nor melancholy, but possibly one too-many-sheets-to-the-wind as he outlines current misfortunes on this up-beat number. As with previous records, the final original studio track tends to be shorter and a little off the beaten track, this time round it’s ‘I’m A Good Boy Now’ a kind of fetching vaudevillian shuffle by way of New Orleans sung as a fun apology to the misbehaviour expressed on previous tracks.
The CD features several bonus tracks, starting with bopping oompah and oi-blues of ‘Hold That Tide Back’, the single edit of ‘How How How’ feels more squarely programmed for the dance floor while giving airtime for some wild guitar wailing and thrashing. Very Power Station-y. The remaining tracks are recorded live in Berlin: early on ‘Shadow On The Wall’ is played like a creepy Free number and suits the song’s words rather well, though the song is extended to over seven minutes. ‘Let Me Down’ proves a rewarding punkier rocker live, sax solo and swift rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ withstanding, ‘How How How’ rages suitably thereafter and we’re reminded how the backing vocals add a wider dimension in the live environment, while again the number is extended, with assorted lyrical riffing and jamming, then leaves the audience wanting more with an enthusiastic rocking and a bopping ‘Mango Crazy’. This final number is over 11 minutes long, incorporates an extended guitar solo, roars into double time when the band join in riffing on the Batman TV theme, then a down and dirty Stax rendition of the Stones’ ‘Satisfaction’, some blues covers, and gloriously returning back into the main number for the last minute and a bit.
Exhausted is how you should feel after listening to this collection. A grab bag of great numbers with some inspired narratives, occasionally weird, at times thoughtful lyrics delivered with aplomb, and live what must have been a sensational visual experience.
- Reviewed by Paul H Birch.
Turn It Up Loud (The Recordings 1981-1985) is released via Cherry Red Records and is available from here.
Disc One: Hyenas Only Laugh For Fun (Remastered Edition)
- Hyenas Only Laugh For Fun
- Killing Time
- Wants Nothing Chained
- The Long Goodbye
- Blood And Sand
- Common Touch
- Goodbye Reprise
- Hearts On The Floor
- Step Up – Take A Bow
- Jukebox Mama
Disc Two – “He Was…She Was…You was…We Was” (Part One)
- Higher Ground
- Ducking Down
- Making The Same Mistake
- Blood And Sand
- King Bee
- That Same Thing
- Face of Stone
- Hyenas Only Laugh for Fun
- Night Down No. 2 (A La Z. Z.)
Disc Three: “He Was…She Was…You was…We Was” (Part Two)
- Slow Down
- Common Touch
- Juke Box Mama No. 3
- He Was, She Was
- Stone Free/Bitches Brew
- Unknown Soldier (Reprise)
- Bonus track: I Just Wanna Make Love to You
Disc Four: Mango Crazy (Remastered Edition)
- Mango Crazy
- Toys: Do You?
- I Read Your File
- Los Dos Bailadores
- Turn it Up Loud
- Let Me Down
- Hunt the Man
- Rivers Run Dry
- I Really Can’t Go Straight
- Room Service
- Bonus track: Shot in the Dark
Disc Five: The Shadow Knows
- Busted Loose
- Leader of Men
- Ready to Roll
- I Think Of You Now
- Sitting Up Pretty
- How How How
- Only Love Is In The Red
- Sweet Vanilla
- I’m A Good Boy Now
- Hold That Tide Back (Bonus track)
- How How How (Single Edit)
- Shadow On The Wall (Live In Berlin)
- Let Me Down (Live In Berlin)
- How How How (Live In Berlin)
- Mango Crazy (Live In Berlin)