Sheer Weight of Traffic

This historic picture of Chris Payne interviewing the band Traffic, is from 23rd January 1968. The band were promoting their debut album Mr Fantasy, originally issued in December 1997.

Below, Dan Ropek tells of his love of Traffic's music has compelled him to write a biography of Chris Wood.

The story behind the picture is that Chris Payne was a founder member of Wycombe Hospital Broadcasting Association in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. The station was launched as Wycombe Radio on Monday October 2nd, within days of Radio One.

The local town hall was a regular venue for up-and-coming bands. The management was most co-operative and backstage visits interviews were frequently conducted by the Wycombe Radio team . A week after Traffic appeared, the station reporters were in the 'right place at the right time' to interview Love Affair on the very day their single Everlasting Love reached number 1!

Jim Capaldi has commandeered Chris's headphones, while Chris Wood makes a face. Posing as a young superstar in the making is Steve Winwood at the microphone. Dave Mason apparently split with the band for a few months around this time, so this may explain why he's not in the picture.

Unfortunately, the Traffic interview has been lost in the mists of time.

For anoraks: The tape recorder was an EMI reel-to-reel machine, model RE321. You had to use bulk-erased tape, as there was no erase facility, which would have needed a lot more power than the 14 (yes 14!) U2 batteries that were installed to drive it. Rewinding was by a crank handle on the lid that engaged with the flange of the feed-spool. The headphones always listened off-tape, so if you were conducting your own interview, you had to be careful not to hear yourself as your own voice would, of course, return to you delayed – very off-putting! The machine weighed a good bulky 20lb (40kg).

Photo by Paul Felix – as a freelance photographer, Paul took many historic pictures around Wycombe in the Sixties. He now runs the Paul Felix Picture Library, specialising in photographs of of all aspects of modern British county life.

Mr Fantasy was issued on CD in 2000 – Island IMCD 264 546 496-2. The CD comprised 22 tracks, the first ten being the UK stereo version of the album; the other twelve are of the mono version issued in the USA

Dan Ropek

"What Chris Wood did was to find the mystical heart of the music"
Dan Ropek explains why he is writing the musician's biography

Mention Chris Wood to most people (even music fans) these days, and most likely all you'll get is a quizzical look. If you include the name 'Traffic' as well, then you may hear: 'Oh yeah, he was good, whatever happened to him?' And that, in a nutshell, is why I am working on his biography. Chris was a great multi-instrumental musician, the co-writer of many of Traffic's best songs, and in the twenty years since his death he has never really gotten the recognition he deserved.

I got interested in his music the same way most of you probably did – through Traffic records. Although, a song like "Dear Mr. Fantasy", goes so far back in my consciousness that I could not tell you when I first heard it; I do know that over the years the music has held up extremely well. More than that, while some of what passed for popular music from the sixties era today sounds quite dated, Traffic's music has somehow kept pace with the changing world – the depth is still there. The obvious focal point is of course Steve Winwood – the voice that has been amazing people for nearly forty years! Add to that Jim Capaldi's fantastic lyrics and drumming, and you already have the elements of a great band. But where would it all be without that magical flute? What Chris Wood did was to find the mystical heart of the music, an ethereal and elusive talent often overlooked, but integral to the sound of 'Traffic'.

Wanting to know more about him, I found little to be had. A few devoted fans – especially Ellie and Alan Woontner shared what they knew with me, and the idea took root to tell his story. Ellie put me in contact with Stephanie Wood, Chris's sister, who warmed up to the idea of a biography. In the last year or so she has been putting me in contact with musicians and friends of Chris, and the project has snowballed from there. Also in the works is a possible release of Chris' solo album – 'Vulcan'. The album was started while he was still a member of Traffic, and although the work continued until the time of his death, it has so far been unissued. There is some beautiful music on the tapes, and it deserves to see the light of day – hopefully soon.

Although I live in the west coast USA (Oregon), I travelled to England in late August 2003 to interview people and collect more information. So far, this has been a great adventure, and I look forward to getting back to the U.K. I appeal to visitors to Radio London to help me contact anyone who has reliable, first hand knowledge about Chris Wood, so that his story can be accurately and thoroughly told.

Please contact me at: dropek@hoodriverelectric.net And thanks to Mary Payne for the opportunity to talk to you all!

Dan Ropek


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