Stan Webb is a unique individual and Chicken Shack has always been his band. Even though the band commemorated in these vintage tracks was essentially a cooperative, he was their focal point onstage. Both there and in the studio, Christine Perfect's songs created a calming counterpoint to his mercurial exhibitionism.
But for all the extravagant display, there's real substance to Stan's guitar playing. As these tracks attest, particularly the live version of 'Telling Your Fortune', he has always been one of British blues' few true stylists. Everyone, including Stan himself, acclaims the mesmeric poise of Peter Green's playing at its best but Stan's style, frenetic and melodic by turns and sometimes downright eccentric, is equally unique and rewarding, a musical fingerprint that could belong to no one else.
There's a reason for that, too. "l'm left-handed, even though I play guitar right-handed," he told me a while ago. "The way I construct solos, I put a lot of things together, if you like, backwards. I'm left-handed in my head so what I do comes out in a way that a right-handed player wouldn't think of. Eric Clapton said to me, 'I've played with everyone but I've never seen anyone play with the technique you've got. I can't follow it. I can't figure it out and I can't tell what you're doing.'"
Luckily, audiences don't need to understand what they instinctively enjoy and Stan Webb's Chicken Shack remain hugely popular throughout Britain and Europe where they sell out every venue at which they appear. That hasn't always been the case, though, and Stan still has vivid memories of the early days when some of the songs here were first composed.
"Christine, me and Andy lived in a squat on Loampit Hill, a house full of girls from Goldsmiths College. We had this room on the ground floor with no furniture in it, just one electric fire. Andy was good at electronics, so we used to diddle the meter. Hugh Price (later a Shack roadie) was doing sociology and geography and he ran a blues club at the college. He used to get us meal tickets and we'd go to the canteen for our meals. Peter Green used to come with us."
"The worst was just before we did 'Forty Blue Fingers', when the three of us were sleeping in the van in a square off the Kings Road. Christine was all right because she had a big old RAF sleeping bag. It was the middle of winter and I was crouched down in a T-shirt, Levis jacket and jeans - and I had ice on my jacket, I kid you not. Starving, literally. These two coppers kept coming by to see if we were all right. 'Gonna freeze to death in there, lad.' Then we gave in and went to stay with my grandparents in Fulham for a bit. At one point, we were sleeping in (producer) Mike Vernon's garage in Finchley"
Their fortunes took a dramatic change for the better after 'Forty Blue Fingers, Packed And Ready To Serve' was released and more so when 'I'd Rather Go Blind' became a hit. But for Stan it created one of the first of many problems that beset him over the next decade. "Everyone liked you because you had a hit record, nothing to do with whether they liked you personally. It was just that you were in the charts, so they'd come along and scream."
Always obsessed with his playing, he became dissatisfied: "For years I was never impressed and I didn't like what I was playing. I used to think, 'you're not doing this right', when other people were slapping me on the back.' He confided in his hero Freddie King (responsible for 'Side Tracked', 'Lonesome Whistle Blues' and 'San Ho Zay') about his growing frustration. "He said, 'You're too busy. You've got to put your notes in the right place.' Five years ago, I suddenly remembered what old Freddie'd said and it all slotted into piace. I found my direction."
There are many sides to Stan Webb's character. He can be bitter about bad management and lost opportunities. He can be proud of what he's achieved and full of self esteem for the maturity and understanding of his abilities as a musician. And he can be hilarious when he recounts stories from his cheque red past and from his friendships with some of Britain's funniest men, including Max Wall and Tommy Cooper. In a recent interview with Paul Lewis, he said,"I feel that, in a way, I've come the long way round. I've been right out there, all the way, and now I've come back. It's like a sort of poetic justice, if you like, it all comes back to you.'
Stick around, Stan.
Mastered from mono recordings
(P) (C) 1997 Indigo Records
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