Monday, November 26, 2018


Curiously, this has almost the same title as the last song I wrote about in this theme, albeit in translation, confirming, if ever needed, that March is one wet mother. It is also my birthday month and my unreliable and unravelling neurones told me I had celebrated last year by attending one Michael Chapman in concert. O, so wrong, it was 5 months later, but it is raining today so that's as much link as I need.

Michael Chapman is a remarkable fella, and one who is experiencing a bit of a late bloom, courtesy some heavy duty patronage from americans half and less his age. The fact that his style of guitar play is back in vogue hinders no little, the likes of (the late) Jack Rose and William Tyler taking the template and twisting it both back and forward. OK, it was earlier visionaries like John Fahey who first feted this structure, the confusingly to me entitled American Primitive, but it took, IMHO, bluff yorkshireman Chapman to give it song. Literally.

He has been around and on the road forever. Like so many musicians from the 60s UK, he was a product of Art School, actually teaching for a while before the lure of a penurious existence on the fringes of popular culture became too strong. The story goes that he was too broke to pay the entrance fee into a Cornwall Folk Club, offering instead to play, staying then for the entire season. A record contract materialised and he came to the ear of the iconic John Peel, tastemaker DJ to decades of pale young men. His first records were produced by Elton John producer, Gus Dudgeon, with the exquisite  orchestral arrangements, as here above, of Paul Buckmaster, who perhaps deserves a leftover himself.  
Early records tended toward the pastoral, primarily acoustic guitar to the forefront, with his never more z sibilant style of singing s's, as here on his 'greatest hit', 1970s Postcards of Scarborough.

Like the electric guitar? Sort of familiar? It's Mick Ronson, prior to Bowie, with erstwhile Steeleye Span stalwart Rick Kemp on bass. Following this early taste of success, he later pursued a rockier road, albeit often revisiting his earlier material, like Wrecked Again. Less satisfactory to my ears than the earlier studio version, he was nonetheless popular on the college gig circuit until a massive heart attack in 1990 seemed to beckon the end of his career. Having continued to be a guitar tutor alongside his playing, it was to this he retreated. His catalogue contains a number of discs for the budding virtuoso to brush up their licks, but he was also slowly, very slowly, climbing back onto the performance ladder.

It was probably galling to have Sonic Youth turn up at one such low-key performance, especially as they credited him with having inspired their own ouevre of feedback frenzy. Millstone Grit, from 1971, particularly inspired Thurston Moore, with the middle and last sections of New York Ladies giving the clue, say from about 4.50 onward, and again, more powerfully, at 7.49. Here's an interview between the two of them.

Now, as an elder statesman of guitar music, connecting John Fahey, with whom he has played and Steve Gunn, who has played with him, he has had the accolade of all-star tribute album, featuring both old friends from his past like Kemp and Kemp's ex, Maddy Prior, to Lucinda Williams, by way of the aforementioned Moore and Tyler, and the mercurial talent of Hiss Golden Messenger. I commend it. But even more I commend 50, his last release. A mix of new and of re-interpretations, this is a staggering piece of work. And no, no link, you can find the songs yourself. But I will leave you with an instrumental version of March Rain from 2015's Fish, together with his own version of many of the events skimmed over above.

March Rain 1970 and 2015

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