(4 / 5)
If your parents christen you Forster and your dream is to write songs and travel the world with a band to play guitar and sing for people…Might be best to change your name.
As did young Forster Chapin, who went on to become legendary singer-songwriter and performer Harry Chapin – notching up timeless global classic songs such as “W.O.L.D.” and “Cat’s In The Cradle”.
Sadly, Harry died at the age of just 38-years-old after a horrific car v truck smash in the US in July 1981. But his musical legacy lives on and his music also continues to influence many artists across several decades.
His fans crave newly unearthed recordings and their luck is well and truly in with the newly released live album, which captures Harry at his best with an intimate concert in Germany in front of 400 people in the spring of 1977.
These 15 tracks were committed to tape by a German radio station at the end of Harry and his band’s first overseas tour, at a small auditorium in Bremen.
The gig followed two consecutive arena shows in Munich and Dortmund, where Harry and his band opened for an array of rock, blues and heavy metal bands. Acts such as The Scorpions, Status Quo, The Small Faces and John Mayall.
A real miss-match for Harry’s gentle singer-songwriter material, trying to hold the attention of thousands of drunk, raucous rock and metal fans who showed no interest in listening to this unknown US support band – and this incredibly gifted singer and songwriter fronting this band.
So, this show in a theatre with 400 attentive music lovers who loved his songs and his voice and on-stage warmth, was “the calm after the storm” and the perfect antidote to the sting of those arena shows, for Harry and his brothers in arms.
Harry Chapin was a born storyteller. He was so delighted he was back in his comfort zone and had drawn an audience who were respectful and loving his songs, he spoke a lot that night. But this was a German audience and some may not have understood any of it! No matter – music is THE universal language, after all.
The cello in his band that night was an integral part of the ambience and revered atmosphere created in that venue, especially with the historic link to classical music that Germany has.
Harry, who went on to win two of his four Grammy nominations and release 11 studio albums between 1972 and 1980, 14 singles which all became hits in various charts and 17 posthumous albums between 1985 and 2019 – was barely known in Europe at that time.
Yet he pulled in 400 people and their reported smiles and fervent applause was self-evident that they were really digging what he did and how he did, it big time.
The audio quality of live concert recordings can often be patchy, but this is top notch. Opening with “Shooting Star”, then his hit track “W.O.L.D.”, the story of an ageing radio DJ. That song still elicits a smile and an increase in volume whenever I hear it played on the radio.
Harry then talks to the audience and introduces the band before “Blues Man”, “Corey’s Coming” and “Dance Band On The Titanic”. Then we get “Tanner”, before two songs on one track, “Taxi” and “Six-String Orchestra”.
Next up: “Dirty Old Man”, “If My Mary Were Here”, “Dreams Go By”, “Mail Order Annie”, “Let Time Go Lightly”, the fab “30,000 Pounds Of Bananas and the closer, the classic “Cat’s In The Cradle”. Just under 80 minutes running time in total.
There are bootlegs of Chapin concerts out there, and I think that some of this recording exists in an unofficial capacity and is in the hands of some avid Chapin bootleg collectors! But this is the first time the full concert has been heard since it was broadcast in the 70s in Germany. Some fans are ecstatic about this….
“Amazing CD. As an avid Chapin bootleg collector, I’ve never heard the FULL version of this concert. This is definitely a rare, uncut gem that you must pick up. The quality and songs do not disappoint in anyway”, says one such fan on one internet post.
Harry live was different to Harry’s studio work, in as much as this natural story teller loved to chat to his audience between songs about the backstory to the songs he penned, and about the causes he deeply believed in.
He was a committed humanitarian and raised millions of dollars – about half his total income – for the causes he supported, and he played about 1000 free benefit concerts. He sold maybe 20 million records and is an inductee to the Grammy Hall of Fame.
He worked to help end world hunger and in 1987, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his humanitarian work. In his words: ““My commitment to end hunger and my music and story songs, are ways of dealing with the world as I see it. There only was one choice”.
This album comes as a digi-pack, which includes a booklet with a biography written by band drummer Howie Fields and brother/producer Steve Chapin.
This recording conveys an intimacy that almost places the listener in the room on that evening in 1977. Yes, this album does repeat some songs from other live recordings, but in slightly changed versions and you get songs that are not already out there on other official live recordings.
Last word on this lovely album goes to another Chapin fan, who posts this message: “If you are a Harry Chapin fan, this is really a must have”. Enough said…
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’