Small Town Romance’s Michael Chapman Celebration Extravaganza!

Milestone Treat - A Michael Chapman Celebration

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With the folk and folk-rock boom of the mid-late sixties in England and the US, there were so many young musicians who gained a big publicity overnight, that it looks like it was a generation of musicians who suddenly appeared with an acoustic guitar in his hands, ready to march (if he/her are political), tell ancient folky ballads, write songs about misery and loss, or just plain songs without a significant statement, that manages to stay classic throughout the years.
Little did you find a real unique voice that sounded different, played different and present the songs different.

Sure, even among this selected group of musicians, you had so many that you cannot count.
But even this little elite unit, had its own heroes. If it was Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, CSN or Fred Neil, Bert Jansch, Wizz Jones,Ralph McTell or John Martyn.  In this group, hides a real English treasure, that is often overlooked when people review the jiving sixties. His name is Michael Chapman.

Michael Chapman

Michael Chapman was a guitarist in northern England, played in skiffle groups (like everyone in those days), and was influenced by
Jimmy Giuffre
and Jimmy Smith, Big Bill Broonzy and other bluesy mates. He was a student in an art college and
later taught photography, before embarking a professional solo career as a musician.

Chapman’s uniqueness comes in three shapes. First, most notably, his singing style is a bit strange. Allmusic.com described it as ‘chewing the words and spitting them’ which is a pretty good description of his style.
He sounds like a rougher, edgier version of John Martyn in a way (or the other way around, because back in 69 when Chapman released his first solo album, Martyn was still singing like a cute troubadour).
His uniqueness is also present in his unusual songwriting, he’s based on blues but doesn’t sound like one. Much like his peer Bert Jansch, he has his own way in the blues. His lyrics are touching and beautiful and the melodies are often slippery in first listen.

Third, he’s an amazing guitar player. He controls his guitar like no other, throwing heavy energies on the strings in a funky, Wizz Jones-like style, and can strum gently in the way the classic troubadour would. His technique sounds like a combination of Bert Jansch’s power, and Davy Graham‘s chords and harmonies.

Chapman had released more then thirty albums, and has one consensus masterpiece – his second album from 1970 – Fully Qualified Survivor (due to be reissued with Light In The Attic next month), and was chosen by John Peel as the best album of 1970. However, over the years and though he was signed in big labels like Harvest and Decca, his name managed to stay under the radar, comparing to the other guys from the folk and folk rock scene. He constantly evolved, left the acoustic folk rock to play electric, went back, did some really beautiful albums – and still.

After discovering Survivor back in 2002 while I was living in London and tried to dig out every piece of a singer/songwriter/acoustic guitar maestro album that I could find, I couldn’t understand how come this record isn’t better known as a classic 70’s album and a monumental album in that style. I was left unanswered. I just wished that some day more people will be introduced to his music.

As internet spread, more people were naturally exposed to his music. He also became friends with the late Jack Rose and toured with him.  Because of it or not, teaming up with the current folk/psych/blues star of the indie scene, was a smart move as
more people began to talk about Michael Chapman. Also, an unknown fan in the name of Thurston Moore, had an interview with Chapman in Fret magazine last year and Chapman also took a part in the Imaginational Anthem III guitar compilation.

The latest news regarding Chapman, are that the fabulous label of Tompkins Square (who also released the Imaginational Anthem series) is about to release a new 2cd collection of 26 re-recorded guitar tracks from Chapman’s long career, titled ‘Trainsong : Guitar Compositions 1967-2010 . This compilation will be out in 25th of January, a day after his 70’s birthday, and I think it’s a cause for a celebration.
So, in honor of Chapman’s 70’s birthday, the new compilation and the Survival reissue, Small Town Romance dedicates the next ten days until the release date of Trainsong, to Michael Chapman. See it as Yair’s debt to his hero.

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