The Independent London Newspaper
25th March 2017

Charity gig: Britpop singer John Chapman tells how one in a million genetic eye disorder left him blind

    John Chapman's band were familiar faces on Camden Town's Britpop music scene

    Published: 12 February, 2015

    BACK in the 1990s, John Chapman was living the dream as the frontman of a popular rock ’n’ roll band.

    The Voice, and later The Tally (named after the now closed Tally Ho Pub in Kentish Town), staged regular gigs in Camden’s most prestigious venues including the Roundhouse, Barfly, Monarch, Underworld and Dublin Castle.

    The group of William Ellis School teenagers, who grew up in Kentish Town, were compared to a young Oasis in the pages of this newspaper.

    But four years ago, 33-year-old John was diagnosed with an eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) and is now registered blind. 

    “They told me what happened to me was a one in a million,” he said. “Because mum had one bad eye gene and one good one. Dad also had one bad eye gene and one good one. They gave me the bad gene. Moorfields [hospital] said basically that doesn’t ever happen. But I’m glad what happened to me happened later in life because I wouldn’t have had half of the experiences I had if I hadn’t had my eyes.”

    He added: “Now I can go out on my own, but if I’m walking towards a set of people I can only sort of make them out. Even if I knew them, I would still walk past them. Even if they had an Arsenal shirt on I probably wouldn’t realise it.”

    John, who grew up and lives in Ingestre Road, has organised a fundraising gig in aid of the RP Fighting Blindness charity on February 23.

    He will be performing with some of his old bandmates who went their separate ways after leaving William Ellis. John, who kept his music career going, worked as a van driver for UPS in Kentish Town until his eyesight began to fail.

    He said: “I started noticing I couldn’t see so well at night. I found myself ducking out of the overtime when it was offered, and when they asked why, in the end I had to tell them because I was having problems seeing things at night. They told me to see an optician and when I did they thought I had RP. Then it was Moorfields and everything.”

    Despite his condition, John still performs live and has recently released a new track about when he was diagnosed with the condition, called Black Blanket. 

    Last month, he performed in Denmark Street on the day of the last major protest against developers’ threats to Soho’s music heritage.

    He said: “When I was 15 or 16, I used to go down to Denmark Street and be in awe of all the guitars in the shop windows. There was also a place called Herbie Flowers Rock Shop – it was down somewhere near Drummond Street – that I’d go to get my stuff. I don’t know where the music industry is going to turn to now. There’s no Top of the Pops anymore. Getting a number 1 single for a rock and roll, guitar-based band is unheard of. People are losing interest, they like processed beats.”

    The Voice aim to match Oasis

    Recalling how he was inspired into making music, John said: “There’s this football pitch where we live, and I remember walking into it and my mate John Jones and his mate had changed their haircuts to Liam Gallagher haircuts. They were constantly playing Roll With It by Oasis and Parklike from Blur on the pitch. That was it for me. I liked singing so I joined a choir. I told everyone I joined the choir for a girl – but it was because I liked to sing. That escalates into endless music obsession.” 

    Arsenal and Tottenham football clubs are among those donating top prizes to the raffle for the event, in Old Street, which is being compered by actress Casandra French and is headlined by a group called the Carnations.

    John said: “Growing up here you’ve got to be one of the two, so we thought we’d ask both clubs. The guys playing at the charity bash are all friends from Camden.”

    The One in a Million charity bash takes place on February 23, from 7pm, at the Workshop at Roadtrip in Old Street.  

    Entry is £5 with all of the proceeds going to RP Fighting Blindness, which hopes to one day find a cure. 

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