Enduring rock vocalist Roger Chapman is one of only handful of rock vocalist to have effectively enjoyed two careers. It is rare enough to find someone enjoying solo success after having achieved iconic status in the 60's/70's with a band like Family, and it is rarer still for someone to totally rebuild their career abroad as Chappo did in Germany in particular, and Europe on general. Having all but left the post Punk UK music scene behind him in the late 70's and having previously unwittingly closed the door on the US while with Family - courtesy of a well documented incident concerning the late Fillmore East promoter Bill Graham and a mic stand - Chappo incredibly went on to conquer Europe on both sides of the old
Aside from a massive hit with 'Shadow on the Wall' with Mike Oldield, which acted as a back drop to the fall of the Berlin wall, Roger also managed to scoop the prestigious 'Album and Artist of the Year' awards in Germany. Back in the 80's Germany was the second biggest rock territory in the world and twenty or so years later he returned with the glare of national TV to collect his 'Lifetime Achievement Award' for 'Artist of the Decade', again for the 1980's.
Since those halcyon days Roger belatedly returned to touring the UK through the 90's and recorded a handful of albums including the very polished production of 'Kiss My Soul' and 'A Turn Unstoned'. Since signing with Mystic records for a massive re-issue programme plus the unplugged live cd 'Rollin & Tumblin', he has toured extensively in his own right, and has guested with Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings. Now comes the long anticipated studio album, 'One More Time For Peace'. As his colourful biography suggests, Roger Chapman is no ordinary singer but the new album places the emphasis squarely on both his prolific writing style as well as his unique voice.
I asked Roger Chapman if the new rootsy 'One More Time For Peace' was a conscious return to basics?
'Well I wanted to make some 'hand made' music, with a real band, playing live in the studio, with a return to the emphasis on the voice and creating a situation in which the musicians brought their own skills to bear on the songs. It turned out to be a really enjoyable process'
'One More Time For Peace' finds the former 'Wild Man of Rock' and scourge of tambourines, musically stripped down to the bone with a very roots blend of country, blues, r&b, blues, gospel, swing, folk - yes folk - and lest we forget it rock! Die-hard Chappo fans will probably be less surprised than the more casual listener as aside from 'Rollin & Tumblin' there was also the retrospectively released, 'The Loft Tapes, Volume 3' which was an unplugged record company presentation recorded at Dingwalls. But 'One More Time For Peace' is still a significant shift in style. There is both lyrical introspection, poignant observation, and some inspired singing and playing born of self confidence in the material, as well as confidence in the producer, (former Family/Rod Stewart guitarist) Jim Cregan, and a confidence in a cracking live band in the studio.
In some ways 'One More Time For Peace' marks a radical departure from your previous material, was there a specific aim for this project?
Yes, I've already said it was basically to make some 'hands on' music - a real live, band effort, playing live in the studio recording with basic charts and with a 'let's see what happens' approach. It's a leap of faith which I was very confident with as I believed in both the songs and the musicians. Also aside from live albums and a recent batch of re-issues, I haven't released a new album for nearly ten years. And over that time I've written a lot of stuff. But I'm constantly writing and re-writing, especially lyrics that tend to concern events and things that happen at various times. So it was never a case of stockpiling songs.
There are a few song such as 'Oh, Brother, Take Me!' and 'Heading Back To Storyville' that have been part of the live set for a few years but even they changed when we took them into the studio. They worked brilliantly on stage and I think the crowds liked them too, but as I said this is a different situation with a live band in the studio, and the results turned some of the songs on their head. They became an almost complete reversal of the original arrangement of the song. 'Oh Brother' for example was a semi acoustic number on the road, and in the studio it became this wonderful electric live blues thing with Stevie Simpson's slide, and Ian Gibbons on organ.
'Storyville' on the other hand was a very electric song on stage that might last from anywhere between ten to fifteen minutes while in the studio it was just two acoustic guitars - well Stevie on acoustic and Micky Moody on dobro - plus bass and drums, and Max Middleton. So it became essentially an acoustic piece, but it still has the energy, the balls and integrity that we get on the stage but in an acoustic framework. The songs were good to start with, and I've always worked with a great band, so if the songs hadn't worked on stage they certainly wouldn't have worked in the studio. On the other hand I wrote a few of the songs just before we were going into the studio on the back of the buzz we had generated. So the live band feel was an important part of the whole project. It was very live, lots of feel, great playing, and the players did me proud.
How long has it taken to record, and what inspired the stripped down arrangements?
Well we started working on this last year and released the 'Hell of a Lullaby' EP just before Xmas to lead into the album and tour this year. But most of it was done by the turn of the year, apart from the final mix.
Dylan recently said 'You listen to these modern records, they're atrocious, and they have sound all over them. There's no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like - static'. Was his shift back to the basics an inspiration for you?
As regards the ideas for the actual material, when I stared thinking about the album I was listening to a lot of new stuff and I suppose I was drawn to these kind of projects that went back to a rootsy feel. I was listening to Dylan's 'Modern Times' for example, and I thought if he can approach his album like that so can I. So in many he was an inspiration, but he always was! I liked the feel of his approach, but it's a big change in the way a lot of us had worked before. Often you'd record bits and pieces and drop them in, but yeah I suppose Dylan gave me the confidence to try the same sort of approach.
I was also impressed by Ray LaMontagne who is another vocalist who takes things in a very simple manner with uncomplicated arrangements, and gives everything over to the voice. Then there are the usual blues influences that have always been part of my music, and overall there was an obvious rootsy emphasis to this album. I like the process of everything being joined together - bringing the live work in the studio, with a real band, in a very organic way.
So there was a definite feel of this being band project rather bringing already completed songs to the studio and then drafting few people in to play them?
Definitely, I had the band in mind, the kind of players I wanted and above all I had the confidence in their playing ability. I've known most of the chaps for some time. I've been writing, recording and touring with multi-instrumentalist Stevie Simpson for example, for years, and of course I've recorded and toured with people like Micky Moody - off and on - for nearly as long, so there was always an unspoken confidence in my players. And perhaps the one thing I would say about 'Peace' is that I'm very proud of the way the band gave an account of themselves. I couldn't have asked for more. It was a really enjoyable time recording this album. I started out with the idea of wanting a real band playing live in the studio with simple arrangements and room for spontaneity and what we actually produced was even better than I'd hoped for.
What prompted you to record the hymn 'Jerusalem'
Well it wasn't planned at all. It was pure chance. I went to a friend's daughters wedding and when you go into the church you get the book, and all the paraphernalia they surround you with and then if you feel like it you sing! Anyway I opened the page and there was 'Jerusalem'. I'd never read the lyrics before and had always associated it with Pomp and bombast, like ''God Save The Queen' etc, but I had a feeling that it could work for me by doing it in an understated way, as a simple song, with maybe a mandolin accompaniment. Really I saw it as stripping it back to its folk song origins, it's a hymn but really a folk song, and given the way it's come out I'm very proud of the way the band interpreted it.
One of the strongest songs on the album is 'Hell of a Lullaby'.
Yeah it was the lead track on the EP, as people seemed to like it, and Jim worked hard on that with me. It was done quite quickly really whilst for example the other track on the EP, 'Devil Got A Son' was the opposite, and we nearly abandoned that one as it didn't really fit in with the live feel we were aiming for. But Jim brought his own arrangement to the song and it worked well.
Your lyrics seem very contemporary and of late seem to have been influenced by contemporary events, and in a sense are less eclectic than before?
Oooh I'm not sure what you mean by eclectic? (laughs). The album does reflect things that have happened in the last decade, and obviously the impression they made on me - two changes of administrations, international affairs - conflicts ('One More Time For Peace') and things closer to home like my son growing up ('All Too Soon'), but some of the songs started out as once thing and then changed, almost because things move so swiftly. I rewrite lyrics quite a lot, and I get fed up very quickly or get pernickety about something and need to change it, so in the end there is broad sweep but what I'm singing about are some very real concerns.
Finally how did you hook up with Jim Cregan again?
We actually played a handful of shows together the Christmas before last with the unplugged line-up and it worked really well. But Jim wasn't keen on touring and he's been doing a lot more on the production side of things. It was great working with him again, and we actually did the demos for the album at his studio in his house. We both liked the idea of working on a back to the basics projects. We recorded the album in the middle of the Buckinghamshire countryside, and after that Jim sent the album to LA for mastering. As I said I really enjoyed recording this album, especially given the band approach it think we achieved what we set out to do….making some enjoyable hands on music! (laughs).
'One More Time For Peace' is released in April 2007 on Mystic Records
Interview © April 2007 Pete Feenstra
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