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The passing of Paul ‘Tonka’ Chapman this week was a shock. Here was a man who got his nickname because he seemed to be so robust and indestructible.
A wonderful guitarist and by all accounts a modest and self-effacing fella, he laid down some amazing classic rock music.
In late 1971 he actually replaced Gary Moore in Skid Row, for about six months. But it was to be UFO who put his talents on a bigger stage. Interestingly, he became a kind of ghost member of the band in 1974 when they had released Phenomenon and had to tour to promote it. They put an ad in Melody Maker for a second guitarist to give their live sound some added beef. So he played on that tour and on some BBC radio sessions too, which were released later.
But, as ever with UFO, there were tensions and he left in early 1975 and put together the magnificent band Lone Star who were to record two albums, both of which made the lower reaches of the UK charts. This was where I first heard how great he was on tracks like their amazing reworking of She Said She Said and the rampaging Bells Of Berlin.
But he wasn’t done with UFO, not by a long way. When Michael Schenker left a USA tour in support of Rush, it was to Tonka they turned to fill his not inconsiderable boots. Lone Star fell apart in 1978 just as Schenker was offski again just prior the release of their brilliant Strangers In The Night live album. Tonka joined once more, this time on a permanent basis.
He recorded his first album with UFO – No Place To Run - with ex-Beatles producer George Martin; which was released in January 1980. They toured it including a five night sell out at London’s Hammersmith Odeon.
He played on The Wild, The Willing And The Innocent (1981); Mechanix (1982); and Making Contact. In 1983 they did a Farewell tour but obviously, they played on in one line up or another for about 35 years and only now has Phil Mogg decided to retire.
Paul went on to play in Waysted with Pete Way out of UFO and they had some stateside success. He made The Good the Bad the Waysted and Save your Prayers with them. Strong albums.
After that he was involved in a lot of projects and tours, as well as teaching music from his home in Florida. He’d come a long way from Cardiff. He passed away on his 66th birthday, leaving a legacy of wonderful, life-affirming rock music behind. Cheers, Tonka. Thanks for all the rock and roll.