Stan Webb's Chicken Shack
Sunday 28th October 2018
The Half Moon, Putney, London
Chicken Shack are a British Blues band, founded in 1965 by Stan Webb (guitar and vocals), Andy Silvester (bass guitar) and Alan Morley (drums), later joined by Christine Perfect (McVie) (vocals and keyboards) in 1967. Stan Webb, lead vocalist, lead guitarist, principle writer and leader of Chicken Shack turned seventy two in February 2018 and is still doing it after fifty three years in the business! Stan is regarded by many as one of the great un-sung heroes of British Blues music, an exceptional Blues guitarist of the highest order who is up there with the likes of Clapton and Green. The name "Chicken Shack" came from an old Blues expression meaning "road house". Drummer Alan Morley soon left to be replaced by Dave Bidwell in 1967. The band were initially signed to Mike Vernon’s Blue Horizon label where they released four excellent albums including the vibrant debut ‘Forty Blue Fingers Freshly Packed And Ready To Serve’ in 1968, ‘OK Ken?’ in 1969, ‘100 Ton Chicken’ in 1969 and ‘Accept’ in 1970. The band had their biggest chart success with the release of the Etta James cover 'I'd Rather Go Blind' in May 1969, making it to number 14 in the British singles charts.
Christine Perfect left in 1969 to join Fleetwood Mac. Paul Raymond from the group Plastic Penny was chosen as Christine Perfect's replacement, appearing on their hit single ‘Tears In The Wind' which reached number 29 in the British singles charts, and the brilliant albums ‘100 Ton Chicken’ and ‘Accept’ before leaving to join Savoy Brown along with Dave Bidwell and Andy Silvester in 1971. Webb continued with a new Chicken Shack line-up that included bass guitarist John Glassock from Jethro Tull and Paul Hancox on drums. They released the much heavier and highly under-rated albums ‘Imagination Lady’ in 1972 and ‘Unlucky Boy’ in 1973 on the Deram label. Unfortunately due to poor album sales the band disbanded at the end of 1973.
Webb then went on to join Kim Simmonds and Miller Anderson in Savoy Brown releasing the fantastic ‘Boogie Brothers’ album in 1974. He then formed a new line-up called "Broken Glass" featuring Robbie Blunt, Miller Anderson, Mac Poole and Rob Rawlinson. They recorded an album for Capitol Records in 1975, before reviving the Chicken Shack name soon after and going on to record another couple of fine albums ‘That's the Way We Are’ and ‘The Creeper’ in 1978. By the early 80’s Webb decided to take time out from the music business for a few years before reviving the band yet again in the 90’s, releasing another couple of top quality albums ‘Changes’ in 1991 and ‘Plucking Good’ in 1993.
Webb continued to gig solidly throughout the 90’s and on into the 2000’s, going onto to release a fine solo album ‘Webb’ on the Indigo label in 2001. One of the more noticeable changes to occur with Stan’s live performances over the last twenty or so years is the development of his singing voice. Never really known for his stand out vocals in the past, these days Stan has developed an expansive vibrato, having honed his voice to not only reach extremely high and low notes, but also to sustain notes for long periods of time. Quite remarkable to witness. Another significant release in the 2000’s was the spellbinding live DVD and CD ‘I’d Rather Go Live’ filmed in Lyme Regis in 2004. This live documentary is quite thrilling and captures Stan at his best. Stan always raises his game when there is a good crowd in and especially when the cameras are rolling!
2018 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Chicken Shack’s debut album ‘Forty Blue Fingers Freshly Packed And Ready To Serve’. With approximately forty-one members passing through the Chicken Shack ranks over the last fifty three years, Webb has been the only constant throughout. Without Stan there would be no Chicken Shack! He remains a much-respected guitarist whose contribution to early British Blues music continues to gain recognition. In January of this year Webb went on to sell out the 100 Club in London during the annual Blues festival held there.
The current line-up consists of Webb on lead guitar and vocals, Neil Archer on rhythm guitar, Rob Newell on bass and Steve Atkins on drums. The gig at the Half Moon, Putney, was the band’s first visit to the venue since 2013. A good crowd of Chicken Shack enthusiasts gathered to witness 'Stan The Man' do his thing! The set kicked off in style with the beguiling ‘The Thrill Is Gone’, featured on the 1993 album ‘Plucking Good’, originally written by Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell in 1951, going on to be a huge hit for BB King in 1970. A mesmerising performance from Webb and band. Next up was the tasty shuffle of ‘Going Up, Going Down’, from the 2004 Castle Music compilation album ‘Going Up, Going Down... The Anthology 1968-2001’, originally written by Texan Blues songwriter Juke Boy Bonner. Stan's in-between song banter is always quite amusing with his deadpan dry humour coming to the fore. He is another of those musicians that could have been a successful stand up comic if the music thing hadn't work out!
‘Broken Hearted Melody’ from ‘Plucking Good’ greeted us with intense and chilling bottle neck slide guitar from Webb that cut straight down deep into our souls. Played with fountains of emotional intensity, and sang with much painful yearning and vulnerability! Magnificent stuff! The stellar ‘Tell Me', from the 1969 album ‘OK Ken’, originally written by Chester Arthur Burnett (better known as Howlin' Wolf) in 1960, showcased Webb's amazing vibrato vocals to great effect. The longing in his voice was emoted to perfection, truly awe-inspiring!
Next to overwhelm us was the haunting and epic ‘Sweetest Little Thing’ from the 1991 album ‘Changes’, written by Webb about his mother. A fantastic moody and dark song that builds in intensity and allows Webb to stretch out and show us what he can really do on his Les Paul guitar, which he executed with pure elegant style and the coolness of a true seasoned pro. Hypnotizing stuff! What a privilege it was to witness this virtuosity up close and personnel. The newest member of Chicken Shack, having only joined the band a few months ago, rhythm guitarist Neil Archer is clearly still finding his way around the song arrangements, occasionally over playing his rhythm guitar parts on certain songs, but we forgive him as he can obviously play guitar exceptionally well!
Onto the heavy section of the set with the towering ‘Poor Boy’ from the 1972 album ‘Imagination Lady’, a monumental riff with a catchy melody and energetic rhythm section. This is one of Webb's best-loved songs that goes down a storm with the attentive crowd. The inquisitive ‘Dr Brown’ from the 1978 album ‘The Creeper’, originally written by Buster Brown, is another heavy weight track that shuffles along nicely. The band were locked in, grooving and swinging! The main set concluded with the dark and wild ‘Daughter Of A Hillside’ from the ‘Imagination Lady’ album. A dirty and gritty riff that grumbled and snarled like a demon! Extremely loud and incredibly heavy, cracking stuff! A nice contrast to the shuffle Blues that came before.
You can tell Stan is having a good night when he finishes the set with spellbinding 1969 hit single ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, written by Ellington Jordan and Etta James in 1967. Christine McVie originally handled the vocals on the 1969 Chicken Shack version. These days Stan handles all the vocals, which he executes superlatively. You can also tell when Webb feels there is a good crowd in because he likes to go for a walk about through the audience with mic in hand serenading people on his journey, before snaking his way back to the stage to bring the song to a triumphant conclusion. Top quality gig!
Steven C. Gilbert