Roger Chapman and The Shortlist Live At WORCESTER PARK CLUB

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Friday 28th September 2001

It's several decades since Roger Chapman's fierce vibrato last alarmed an audience in the Top of the Pops studios. But anyone who assumed that the former singer with the defiantly oddball rock band Family had long retired to some sort of rest home for ageing pop folk on the South Coast would be jumping the gun.

When punk put many performers of his generation out of a job in the UK, Chapman decamped to Germany and has since pursued a successful career touring the Stadthallen of Middle Europe.

Lately though, the old country has drawn him back and he has begun tentative club tours. For anyone who's heard the legend of the wild-eyed, leather-lunged frontman of the Isle of Wight Festivals, recent sightings confirm that even at the wrong side of 55 Chapman is still a compelling performer.

He stalks the stage, a vast bear of a man, and with a voice that still sounds as though he gargles with gravel, he injects drama into a mix of R&B and country-tinged rock. The idiot-dancing has gone but he can still batter the lights out of a tambourine.

His five-piece band is led by Stevie Simpson, who swaps deftly from guitar to mandolin and fiddle. This being England, some Family favourites are resurrected: No Mule's Fool, Burlesque, and the group's old anthem, The Weaver's Answer.

Between songs Chapman offers some rudimentary stage patter. Mostly this consists of mild obscenities in response to audience requests and jokey asides about the alleged inadequacies of his long-standing bass player, Gary Twigg. When the audience joins in on the delicately lovely My Friend the Sun, Chapman bows our with "OK, you sing the f***** yourself."

Chapman is not, though, a nostalgic act. His two studio albums of the late Nineties - Kiss My Soul and A Stone Unturned? - are among his best. The edgy innovation of Family may be long gone but there's a new soulfulness instead. On stage older tunes are often reinvented: Shadow on the Wall, a big continental hit, gets a reggae backbeat; Chuck Berry's Downbound Train steams along to Simpson's fiery fiddle. When Simpson switches to 12-string guitar and the keyboardist Ian Gibbons opts for a harmonium sound, the band moves into Cajun territory for X-Town. The Shortlist has, of late, been forsaking rock clatter for a more rootsy sound.

Chapman is hoping to play more dates here. And in a British music scene large enough to allow such veterans as the glutinous Moody Blues to pack out city halls, he deserves a warm welcome back. The rest home can wait a while.

John Bungey, The Times