GERMAN TOUR REVIEW - MAY 1999
by Simon Bell
‘In Our Own Time’
Into The Future Via The Recent Past
With the release of ‘In My Own Time’ and the prospect of a series of concerts in the United Kingdom and Europe and the small matter of the end of the century, what better time to consider the musical merits of The Shortlist.
SHORTLIST described in the Oxford dictionary as a ‘list of candidates from whom final selection will be made’. Quite apt really when you think back to some of the great musicians that have provided more than able musical backing to Roger, and I use the term backing in its loosest form as The Shortlist concept of hire ‘em and fire ‘em has ensured that over the years since 1979 the possessor of the most inimitable voice in English rock music has been free to pursue his solo career with barely a backward glance. Not for Chappo the endless renditions of past hits, the chicken-in-a-basket circuit where no one really cares about the performer or the band, or the descent into corporate hospitality rock with its jaded format of the same set every night. No this is British Rock/R’n’B at its best, played by musicians who are playing it because they enjoy it. In fact many Chappo fans have said that they would pay to see The Shortlist without Roger as they consider them to be consummate musicians and far more than a backing band.
Arguments will forever rage over who was the best guitar player, bass player, keyboards etc. to tread the boards behind Chappo, I personally have no favourites as for me The Shortlist has provided a musical platform for a varied shortlist of players with many and varied styles. It has been a constant source of musical enjoyment to all those who take the time to listen.
However in Roger’s own words some of his albums have been stinkers and unfortunately some very fine musicians had to go out night after night and promote these less than brilliant albums, so with the passing of time and the dullness of the memory the contribution of some past Shortlister’s may seem to have perhaps been average, this I would dispute as I have never walked away from a Chappo gig thinking ‘if only so-and-so had been there instead’, its just not that kind of band.
OK, enough of the philosophising and down to business. A new album and European dates just the excuse for a visit to Germany and Austria. The new album may not be bang up to date with regard to the present Shortlist, but it is a pretty good representation of Chappo’s music circa ‘99 and with sales to promote there’s no telling what the set list(s) will consist of.
Munchen, Nachtwerk 03.05.99
Chicken Fingers 16 Tons Hideaway
Lets Go Get Stoned Riot On The Western Front
Do I Leave A Stone Unturned? Wicked World Chicken Fingers
Lets Go/Kick It Back/Saturday Night/Who Do You Love Hideaway Son Of Red Moon/Daddy Rollin’ Stone
16 Tons ‘X’-Town Kiss My Soul
Habits Of A Lifetime Toucanplay/126.96.36.199
Shadow On The Wall/Shortlist Midnite Child Jesus And The Devil
Who Pulled The Nite Down/How How How
To say this venue is rock ‘n’ roll at its most basic is an understatement, I have been in some shitholes in the past but this is the worst. Everywhere is filthy and covered in graffiti, your feet stick to the floor as you walk across it, you sit on the seats at your peril and the backstage area is no better, no wonder Helen Hardy didn’t chance wearing a skirt.
I managed to catch the soundcheck with the band running through numbers that they hadn’t played with any regularity for quite some months, really good to hear ‘Chicken Fingers’, perhaps not ‘Hideaway’, fingers crossed for the gig.
With the venue filling up to a sizeable crowd the band ambled on-stage at approximately nine o’clock, a brief tune up and into ‘Do I Leave A Stone Unturned?’ with Roger appearing from behind the amps and raring to go. It may be early days with regard to the tour but as far as Chappo is concerned it’s business as usual, anxious glances all round as the on-stage monitor mix is adjusted and then into ‘Wicked World’, no time for anybody to warm up or relax, forget those rehearsals we make it up as we go along. Great stuff.
‘Chicken Fingers’ reduced to the bare bones of the original was nothing short of magnificent. Gary Twigg laying down that bass line, leaving acres of space for Pat Crumley to fill with jazz tinged saxophone, all this with new-boy Paul Hirsch’s almost hesitant keyboard playing. What about the man himself? Chappo, vocals barely more than the spoken word, emotion in every line waiting for Helen to let rip, Stevie on the slide, crowd going crazy.
With the need to promote the new CD it was inevitable that ‘Hideaway’ would reappear in the set, not one of my favourites from the past, but tonight for some reason there was a certain freshness about the number. Again excellent backing vocals from Helen and Steve, some fine slide playing as well. Only shame being the lack of audience participation. Whether it was the language barrier I don’t know, still you would have thought that ‘Hideaway’ was pretty simple whatever the country.
It’s always a pleasure to hear a different interpretation of well-known songs by a new member of the Shortlist, did they borrow a tape, perhaps an album, somehow they always seem to breathe new life into old songs and Paul Hirsch is no different. ’Son of Red Moon/Daddy Rollin’ Stone/Toenail Draggin’, sound totally different it may be that he is feeling his way or perhaps he always plays like that, trading riffs with Steve Simpson always that little bit behind not sure whether he should solo in this number or not. As the numbers segue from one to another Roger’s prowling the stage like a caged animal, towels, bottles and cowbells thrown around, waiting for that chance to escape the solos and bite into the vocals again, and what a bite it was, a couple of Streetwalkers classics just enough to leave the crowd howling for more. Laurie Wisefield ending the number with sustain that washes over everything, Chappo in that characteristic lean back toward John Lingwood and BANG! What an ending you can see Chappo wince; Lingwood's right foot went straight through him.
Next comes three more recent numbers, firstly ‘X-Town’ a real roller coaster number of a number, guitar solos getting tangled up with the keyboards, always being driven by that beat from John and Gary, first glimpse of the wild blue thing, just enough to fire the crowd, Chappo bellowing the vocal like a fire and brimstone preacher. Brief pause for breath and into ‘Kiss My Soul’ Chappo calling for solos from all in no particular order, before leaving the vocal to Steve Simpson whilst adding his own backing vocal. ‘Habits Of A Lifetime’ with Pat Crumley‘s saxophone always there, not quite a solo perhaps more of a rhythm. Chappo’s vibrato rising and falling.
Next up the oldest new song in the set. ‘Toucanplay/188.8.131.52’ has been with us for so long that it had began to occasionally sound dated, but not tonight. Great solo from Laurie Wisefield with Steve Simpson riffburgling away like a man who has just discovered a back catalogue of riffs, you know you have heard them somewhere before but you just can’t quite place them. The tempo drops and Pat Crumley blows some soulful sax guiding the band toward ‘184.108.40.206’ Chappo front of the stage, arms aloft, towel over his shoulders, bathed in sweat. The crowd shouting back the chorus, now they have got the hang of it. Back into ‘Toucanplay’ and it’s all over.
Quite often the encore seems to be something of an afterthought having got the serious business regarding the promotion of the CD out of the way in the main set. Not tonight. ‘Shadow On The Wall’ is always a good bet with a German audience, drop the tempo and slip into ‘Shortlist’, crowd clapping, singing, smiles all-round, on-stage volume falling to hand-claps and vocals then Chappo hits them with that line ‘Shadow On The Wall!’, totally unexpected and right between the eyes it leaves them speechless.
So it’s on to the wild blue thing for the second encore. The sight of Steve Simpson on the fiddle really gets the audience dancing around the hall during ‘Jesus And The Devil’, solo after solo, Chappo altering the intensity and power of his vocal from the mellow accompaniment of the fiddle to a driving solo from Laurie Wisefield. Ending the show with ‘Who Pulled The Nite Down/How How How’, verses sung in the wrong order, shrug of the shoulders who cares. Laurie and Pat picking over the rhythm, trading licks, sparse bursts of music each one acting as a platform for the other musician, Chappo cutting the solo for the final vocal. The cowbell is no longer required and is unceremoniously thrown to the back of the stage, one last vocal and it’s all over.
Wien, Planet Music 04.05.99
Do I Leave A Stone Unturned? Wicked World Chicken Fingers
Lets Go/Kick It Back/Sat Night Hideaway Son Of Red Moon/Toenail Draggin’
16 Tons/Mango Crazy ‘X’-Town Habits Of A Lifetime
Kiss My Soul Midnite Child Jesus And The Devil
Shadow On The Wall Shortlist
This was my first visit to Austria and although I only had a short while to explore Vienna I did catch a glimpse of the outstanding architecture of this fine city and resolved to pay a return visit in the not too distant future. The downside to Vienna (as in most cities) is that not far from the historical and cultural heritage there are the usual areas of urban deprivation with its high-rise tower blocks, graffiti and disenchanted people. Situated somewhere between the people with little hope and the river Danube is Planet Music. Previously known as the Rockhaus this very large rock club is equipped with a large concert room and several bars. On the walk down the main road to the gig I passed a large public park with an advertising hoarding and there amongst the posters advertising recitals of the works of Mahler, Beethoven etc., was a Chappo poster for ‘In My Own Time’, recognition at last.
After enduring a support band who would have been better suited to a folk night at ‘The Dog and Duck’ and not as the support to Chappo the sparse crowd were restless and although I had expected more people to come through from the bars they failed to appear and the club was barely half-full when the band took the stage.
Again they opened with ‘Do I Leave A Stone Unturned’ and ‘Wicked World’ both were tight, fast paced versions, the audience response was polite. ‘Chicken Fingers’ complete with two excellent sax solos from Pat Crumley passed over the heads of the crowd who it seemed had come out for a pleasant chat with friends and the music was incidental to their latest gossip. Listen out for the new vocal line, ‘’she had a look like she could murder, but my ass was on a burner’’ this begs the question whatever happened to Kathy Turner?
After a good version of ‘Lets Go/Kick It Back/Sat Night’, an easy going almost swinging version of ‘Hideaway’ and a rousing rendition of ‘Son Of Red Moon/Toenail Draggin’ it was obvious that this was not going to be a great gig, the meagre audience were just not responding. To the band it must have felt as if they were drowning in a sea of apathy and all that was required of them was a perfunctory performance and a bus to the next gig. I would have been hard-pressed to come up with a valid argument to the contrary, but yet again The Shortlist were to prove that they were not here just to make up the numbers.
It was during ‘16 Tons/Mango Crazy’ that the crowd suddenly came alive, Chappo who had seemingly grown tired of trying to win over the crowd with the power of his vocals resorted to subtlety, this was matched by Helen Hardy who took a more relaxed vocal during ‘16 Tons’, the crowd stopped their idle chit-chat and started using their ears, Chappo with a big grin on his face, sensing the breakthrough had been made, sent in his secret weapon ‘’Steve Simpson on the dark brownies’’, that finished them off.
It was like starting a new gig. ‘Habits Of A Lifetime’ and ‘X’-Town’ rocked with great solos from Laurie and Steve. John Lingwood piling on the power, driving hard on the beat whilst appearing to play a completely different rhythm on the cymbals. Gary Twigg, head almost in his bass cabinet matching John note for beat. Chappo at the front of the stage making use of every inch, climbing over the monitors to get nearer the crowd, menacing with both body and voice. ‘Toucanplay/220.127.116.11’ highlight of the gig. Chappo, vocally going up a couple of gears then pounding the cowbell until the drumstick disintegrates, hurling the splintered remains into the crowd. It’s been a reasonably quiet night for Laurie up until now, then he solos in a style that can only be described as Dr Feelgood meets Bo Diddely, ending in a burst of sustain, his boss motioning that perhaps he should play Hendrix-style with his teeth.
Having now warmed them up the lads returned to encore with ‘Kiss My Soul’ another fine vocal performance from Chappo and Helen Hardy, and a powerful version of ‘Midnite Child’ with some good keyboard work from Paul Hirsch.
The second encore opening with a fast paced version of ‘Jesus And The Devil’, Chappo’s staccato vocal building on Steve Simpson’s fiddle playing, the audience dancing around the hall to its accompaniment, the gender of your partner being no barrier to enjoyment. I know this is supposed to be the city of the waltz but this is getting ridiculous. Chappo tries to engage the crowd in some community singing, no response, ‘hang on a minute; try this, Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey. Back come the crowd ‘Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey’. “There you go Steve, wrong body language”. Smiles all round. ‘Shadow On The Wall’ has the band in full force, Chappo front of the stage, fist punching the air, crowd yelling back, this is their song. ‘Shortlist’ what a number to finish the show, the crowd singing and clapping, Roger slowing the tempo down to a crawl, reducing the musical accompaniment until only the hand claps and inharmonious vocals of the crowd remain. Roger motions to the band that its time to go, they put down their instruments and leave the stage, the crowd still singing “everybody’s on the shortlist”, Roger turns away and heads for the exit and then almost as an afterthought returns and picks up the mic, “you bet your f***** life you are”, he throws the mic to the floor and its all over.
Shortlist 2 Apathetic Crowd 1, OK this wasn’t a great gig, they got there in the end but it was nearly a score draw. Maybe there are bigger attractions in Vienna on a Tuesday night, perhaps its Ostenders or Coronation Strasse I don’t know. Still better luck next time and it’s on to Zapfendorf.
Zapfendorf, Top Act 05.05.99
Do I Leave A Stone Unturned? Wicked World Chicken Fingers
Lets Go/Kick It Back/Saturday Night Hands Off Son Of Red Moon/Daddy Rollin’ Stone/Toenail Draggin’
16 Tons/How How How All Shook Up ‘X’-Town
Habits Of A Lifetime Toucanplay/18.104.22.168/Just Four Men
Kiss My Soul Midnite Child
Just how the band came to be playing a small club somewhere in the middle of Germany is a story in itself. This date was originally going to be in Schweinfurt but that had been cancelled and the promoter anxious to avoid an unpaid night off took this gig as a replacement. The journey from Vienna took me eleven hours by train and the band a similar amount of time by road. Upon arrival at Zapfendorf it was clear that this was not a bustling metropolis, it was in fact a small village, with the Top Club being a very small venue attached to a quiet pub. Still, the locals were determined to make a night of it and the club was comfortably full by the time The Shortlist took the stage.
Quite what was going through Roger’s mind having travelled eleven hours in a bus to take the stage in a small German village I couldn’t even guess, but after a rousing version of ‘Stone Unturned’ he looked out into the cheering crowd and with a look of bemusement said ‘’I don’t really know what to say, f*** it, wicked world it sure is’’, the band immediately launching into the number with extra punch, they are certainly up for it.
With the running order for the early part of the set now firmly established its ‘Chicken Fingers’ and it is improving by the day. Short, sharp and to the point nothing elaborate. Great slide playing from Steve.
It was apparent that tonight the band could get away with playing a more laid-back set. Add to this a friendly and appreciative audience which would enable Roger to lower the tempo and show that although he has one of the most powerful voices in rock, he also has one of the most sensitive. The band, revelling in the unusual surroundings set out to prove that volume does not necessarily equal power and this was most apparent on ‘Lets Go/Kick It Back/Saturday Night’ with Steve chopping away at the riff and Laurie Wisefield adding punctuation to Steve’s lines, no desire to impose himself, waiting patiently for that solo. No need for an avalanche of notes, just an extension of Steve’s riff played in a different style. Pat Crumley always economical, injecting short passages into any gaps left by Laurie.
‘Hands Off’ perhaps the closest to cabaret that the Shortlist will ever come, solos all round, Gary Twigg relaxed and untroubled. John Lingwood having a fag, laying down the beat, accentuating it with cymbal patterns, he just makes it look so easy. Roger engaging in good-natured banter with the crowd, ‘’got a problem need some advice? come up and see me never think twice.’’
The ability of Steve and Laurie to switch between lead and rhythm playing with apparent ease and without the desire to overshadow each other is one of the axis points of The Shortlist. How many times have you heard bands with guitar players who don’t know when to take a step back, listen and appreciate the other band members playing? It’s not a problem in this band as ‘Son Of Red Moon/Daddy Rollin’ Stone/Toenail Draggin’ proves. This time it’s Laurie on rhythm with Steve providing short bursts of lead before leaving the lead to Laurie. It’s just the platform Chappo needs, stage front, fist punching the air, verses tripping out in no particular order. Then without warning a drop in tempo and Chappo delves into the Sonny Boy Williamson back catalogue, solo from Laurie and into ‘Daddy Rollin’ Stone’. Just Gary and John keeping the beat, Chappo wringing emotion from every syllable, Pat Crumley filling the spaces, does live music get any better? Pick up the tempo and its full speed to the finishing line with a room full of Germans still hanging in there.
The return of ‘16 Tons’ to the set some months ago was most welcome, this fine song written by Tennessee Ernie Ford is ideally suited to the ‘riffburglar’ style of the band. Tonight it segued into ‘Mango Crazy’, a number always well received in Germany due to its single success. Tonight Chappo took the easy tempo in his stride and delivered vocals that were almost the spoken word, the crowd were silent, soaking up every nuance, they might not completely understand the lingo but they know talent when its in front of them. Even better when you give Steve and Helen the chance to take the vocals on ‘All Shook Up’. The return of Miss Hardy to the Shortlist was nothing short of inspired, whatever the country or language there is not a single audience that has failed to acknowledge the talents of this lady. Tonight is no exception. Starting off gently, carried along by the band, a vocal performance so powerful you can only follow it with one thing, saxophone, Chappo carrying the song to the end. Tennessee Ernie would have approved.
Perhaps Paul Hirsch had failed to catch Chappo’s eye or maybe he finds its nothing like the rehearsals, but he had been strangely quiet on the last few numbers. ‘X’-Town was to change all that, the opening bars providing a chance for Paul to get some nice touches in before a solo that built slowly and quietly before cutting short just when it was getting going. Again an excellent solo from Laurie, you can almost feel him goading Chappo into a vocal that he just can’t resist, ‘everybody talkin’ bout Crosstown’
Ending the set with ‘Toucanplay/22.214.171.124/Just Four Men’ Roger engaged in some of the antics that he has perfected over the years, the towel over the lighting rig, the cowbell, “here have a drink on me” as some poor unfortunate gets a soaking. Despite all that’s going on in front of them the band turn in a fine rendition of this crowd-pleaser, solos from all, riffs flowing from both sides of the stage and then the vocal highlight of the night as Chappo cuts the song dead, Pat Crumley fills the room with Sax and Chappo goes into ‘Just Four Men’. Silence reigns, the crowd hanging on every word, Chappo away in a world of his own with the band providing a wash of sound as a platform for his tortured vocal. Steve picks up the pieces and draws the band back to ‘Toucanplay’. Then “thank you very much and goodnight”.
The encore? What could follow such a set? A nice leisurely version of ‘Kiss My Soul’ followed by a rousing ‘Midnite Child’ and its time for a few beers and out into the night air for the citizens of Zapfendorf.
Of the three shows I attended the Zapfendorf show was the most enjoyable. If you bear in mind that the band had travelled some 600 km to make this gig, only to find that it was perhaps not what they had expected. Despite their tiredness and initial disappointment they never descended into apathy. They turned in a performance that musically was probably the best Shortlist gig I have attended for many years, there was a determination to entertain the fans who had taken the time to turn out. There were so many changes of tempo, so much improvisation and light and shade within the playing that even I was not sure what was going to happen next.
On closing this article I must thank Roger and the Band for the music and their hospitality, Frankie the tour manager, Ulli (monitors) and Uli (PA) for the excellent sound (not bad for a couple of Germans), Ray Smart and Roy (not bad for a couple of Brummies).