Former Family man Roger Chapman didn’t exactly pick a prime time to start his solo career. Following his Family days, he formed a new band, Streetwalkers, who enjoyed modest success, but they didn’t experience the same level of success as Family had. By 1979 the Punk flame, although guttering, was at least still lit and the future of rock music was very much in the hands of spirited by sullen looking skinny youths. By contrast Roger Chapman was no longer in the first flush of youth at 37, slightly balding, not exactly slender under that bright red boiler suit and grinning inanely on the cover of his solo debut Chappo. Actually, given I’m exactly the same age at the time of writing and within significantly less hair on my head, and much broader around the beam than Chapman was at this time of life, I can appreciate the scope of the task that Chapman had set himself.
Chappo is chock full of the type of bluesy, soul infused rock that Chapman had been performing since the mid 60s when he was in The Farinas, True, the jazzy flourishes were no longer as obvious, and there were now sultry female backing vocals, but by and large this is Chapman playing to his strengths with his vocals pitched somewhere between Joe Cocker and a soulful goat. That’s not intended as an insult, indeed Chapman’s vocals were a unique proposition and it’s one of the reasons that his music career has continued to endure down the decades.
Although a little frontloaded with the most accessible material, causing a modest drop off in engagement as the album enters its final third, Chappo is a strong start to a solo career of a well established vocalist. Backed by a bunch of session musicians, many of whom would continue to serve him on and off through his career as members of the ever rotating, ever evolving Shortlist, with Chappo Chapman stamps his identity on a small corner of the contemporary music scene in preparation for a decade in which ageing former prog rockers would find it hard to find much traction. While it may have seemed that Chapman was a man out of time at the start of his solo career, the early 80s would find him having his biggest chart success since his Family days, as vocalist on Mike Oldfield’s hit single “Shadow on the Wall”, something which dragged him back into the public eye and stoked interest in his solo career.
Chappo is an album by a man who seemingly had everything to prove as a solo artist when it was released, and had chosen absolutely the worst time to do it. That Chapman was able to stand his ground when the current music scene was supposed to be somewhere else entirely is a testament to his work ethic, the fact that he continues to do so to this day is proof that regardless of shifting fashions, true talent always shines through.