Disc and Music Echo – July 17, 1971
by Roy Shipston
Close up on Family’s Roger Chapman
A FEW YEARS ago Roger Chapman was one of the d tough guys in Leicester. When he sang in talent contests at the local palais his “heavy” friends used to go round the audience-telling people to “clap, or else.” Family’s drummer Rob Townsend used to cross the road to avoid him before Roger joined the group, because he was “terrified of him.”
Roger admits that he was very quick-tempered. “I used to explode at the slightest thing.” Now he’s more of a peaceful guy; he’s changed quite a bit. But he is still an important part of Family, and Family is very important to him.
He’s come a long way since he sang in Leicester pubs for ten bob a night. And it’s a long time since he broke a finger, helping the police, in a fight outside a gig. (Rick Grech broke his hand.)
In front of an audience Chapman becomes a different person, often unaware of what he’s done during a performance until told about it afterwards. Off-stage, he’s nothing like the extrovert he appears to be on it.
He’s also something of a wanderer, never staying in one place for very long. Even as recently as last year he spent a few months bumming, with “no fixed abode” his vague address.
Being in a top group can change people a lot, and for the worse. But Roger Chapman has probably become a
better person, not necessarily because of it-more in spite of it. And he’s still the sort of bloke who looks longingly at a golden Bentley gliding past the pub we were drinking at in London’s Leicester
Square, muttering “I wish I could afford one of those.”
His musical education was obtained purely from listening to records and playing in pubs. He can’t read or write music but the other members of Family will quickly tell you he has natural
Seven or eight years ago he was part of the Reg Calvert “pop stable.” calvert, of Radio City fame, also handled people like the Fortunes, Roy Young and Danny Storm and the Strollers. And Roger went through the Hamburg scene and all the other frustrations of being an unknown at that time.
“Before that my musical background had been playing in boozers. We used to do two gigs a week at the White Swan in Leicester for £5-10 bob each. And we thought that was good money. But I really enjoyed those days. It’s just the same now, except that I know so much more.
“You could say that I served my apprenticeship in boozers, and that’s quite a good thing to do. I always
wanted to be in groups. I had this in mind, and never thought of being anything else. I had day-time jobs, but I was usually on the dole. It never occurred to me to take up a profession because a1l I wanted to do was play.”
Rog has had many failures. He and Rick Grech were in a group called The Exciters years before Family. And he spent some time living in a van, hanging around London’s Charing Cross, getting the odd gig. “A lot of groups used to hang about round there. We used to travel about the country, kipping in the van, doing gigs for a couple of quid and pulling birds. We were all looney types then. Come to think df it, I’m not that much different.
“But I control myself more now. I used to go off at any little thing that annoyed me. Now I think about things for a minute or two before taking action, and something can annoy me without me doing anything about it. I’m very erratic but I only lose my temper about once a month these days.”
Rob Townsend and John (Charlie) Whitney support Roger’s view that he’s much more easy going. “I used to be terrified of Roger,” says Rob. “I used to cross over the road if I saw him coming because you never knew what sort of mood he’d be in. Sometimes he’d say hello, other times he’d just ignore you. I think he appeared as a bit of a mad man, probably because he was rather shy. But he was definitely King Leicester Herberts, though he quietened down a bit after a very bad car accident. He got a slipped disc and had to wear one of those things round his neck.
“When I first joined Family I was very cocky, really green, and we were rehearsing ‘Weaver’s Answer’ and Roger told me I wasn’t getting it right. So I told him he ought to get his singing together, and he came over to me, picked me up off my drum stool and told me not to be so cheeky. And put me back down on the stool.
“But I remember a time at Newcastle not so long ago when some chick started talking to him and her boyfriend got stroppy and said, ‘You trying to pull my bird?’, Roger just said forget it, whereas a few years ago he would have murdered him. He could have done, too.” So we have a more resigned Roger Chapman, but he’s still pretty aggressive on stage and very much the face of the band. His individual singing gives Family much of their identity.
“I let myself go on stage,” he says. “I lose my self-control because I don’t have to control myself on stage.” Charlie says Roger is totally involved when performing, so much so that he gets completely lost. “Once he fell off the stage and cut his head. There was blood pouring down his face but he really didn’t know he’d done it till afterwards.”
Rob says Roger is obviously the front man, but that people don’t realise how big a part he plays behind the scenes. – “He’s a great musician. He’s done so much for me as a musician. The way I play now I owe entirely to Roger, and Poli (Palmer). Roger has an amazing sense of rhythm. He’s not been taught, it’s just something he’s got. And he can put it over so well. He really brings it out of you, especially on stage.”
Charlie says: “He’s the singer, a bit of a madman, but people don’t realise the other side.” Roger has written much of Family’s material. And he has a wide range of influences to draw from. His first group was a vocal one, based on the Coasters. “I was about 16 or 17 at the time. We used to do things by the Coasters and the Velvets. W.e called ourselves the Searchers after the Coaster’s “Searching”; a long time before the Liverpool Searchers.
“Then I got on to Ray Charles and Muddy Waters, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis. Since then I’ve been influenced by Van Morrison, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, people like that. You get into their music because you play their albums a lot. We all buy a lot of records and are influenced by what impresses us. So our music is constantly being changed.
“Charlie and I have done a lot of the writing, mainly together. But Poli’s doing a bit now. We all write together and individually. I can’t force myself to write. I get an idea and work on it, but I have to wait for the ideas, It’s either there or it isn’t. With Charlie I usually write the lyrics and he does the music but often we’ve written half a song each and they’ve fitted together.
“You never know when the influences stop working and you start doing it yourself. You don’t know you are doing it, but I don’t pretend I’m in the Coasters anymore.”
Family have been in existence for four years, although the name was around for about a year before that. It was four years ago that they started playing at places in London like The UFO, The Speakeasy, Tiles and Blaises. It was then that they started writing their own material. Before that they were doing things by the Byrds and “freaking out James Brown songs” as they put it.
When they started writing they were highly productive. “It came out in a great rush; like diarrhoea,” says Rob. “We wrote all the songs for ‘Doll’s House’ in a month.” That was August 1967. Right now Family are haviing a holiday.
Roger has gone to Corfu but it’s doubtful whether he will stay there the full two weeks. “I’m very flighty; I enjoy being on the road. You go to a place and meet old friends and stay for maybe a couple of days, then you go somewhere else. You go to another town and it’s completely different. I like going round the country and seeing my friends. It’s only through gigging that I’ve got a lot of friends all over the place.
“I really enjoy shooting off somewhere. Last year I spent some time with only 2p in my pocket and no permanent home. It was nice for a bit, I really enjoy it – but it did me in, not having anywhere to go to. I like having a base but I never stay in one place for long. I find a flat in London I really like, then six months later I want to get somewhere else.
“When we first came down to London we all lived together for a year. It did us a lot of good, mentally. Sometimes you could have chopped the atmosphere with an axe. We thought we knew each other before we lived together. But you’ve no idea how silly things, like the way somebody brushes his teeth, can
annoy you. We went through a lot of heavy times. But now, if I go out, I go out with the others in the group. I don’t go out with anybody else.
“I like living in London a lot. It’s the speed that attracts me. I like to get caught up in the hustle and bustle; it gets the adrenalin going. I go back to Leicester now and then and spend a couple of days there but then I want to move on.”
Roger doesn’t go in much for material things, although that could be because he’s “far from rich.”
“But I like to be able to afford things I like, things I enjoy. I have a nice stereo because I like listening to records. And I have a good rape recorder … things like that. “But the group costs “Something like £500; to £700 a week to run. That’s why we do so many gigs. Most of the money we make goes back into the group. We spend a helluva lot on equipment. So gigs mean everythlng to us.”
Family have British and Continental tours lined-up for later in the year. But they’re only doing occasional gigs for the time being, partly because of their holidays and also because they are setting aside recording time for their next album. And, of course, they are looking for a new bass player, owing to John Weider’s departure.
Roger is also finding time to take part in a charity fodtball match in Leicester on July 25 with John Peel and a couple of the City players, although he thinks he might only be able to manage the kick-off.
He has a very simple philosophy about things now, at the age of 28, with “Love” and “Hate” still tatltooed on his fingers and a whistle round his neck to attract the attention of friends. (It’s also because he might referee the charity match, which is to raise money for Pakistan.) All he really wants to do is enjoy himself.
“I want to enjoy every day. I don’t think about the future. You can’t enjoy something that doesn’t exist. But maybe I’m subconsciously afraid of it anyway. I’d just like to stay as happy as I am now and as happy as I have been, but, then again, you only remember the happy times. I’d like to be as content as I am now, doing whatever I’m doing.”
The thing Roger understands least about himself is his singing, which is what he is best known for. He doesn’t know much about it probably because it’s one of lthe most natural things he does. “I just open my mouth and it comes out like flat.”
He may not be a Frank Sinatra or Caruso but he has a certain individuality. Perhaps that’s what provokes “bad vibrations” from other singers.
“I’ve often felt that other singers didn’t like me. Nobody’s ever said anything but I just get that feeling sometimes.”
Maybe it’s because backstage he is such a contrast to what he is performing. Roger himself is conscious of the fact that fans who meet him af1ter a concert might be disappointed that he’s not really aggressive or violent.
Or perhaps another singer who didn’t like Roger’s singing wouldn’t ‘Say so to his facebecause
he might just bash his head in.