How I wish I could return to those summers once again
How I wish I could just sit in the presence of a friend
Making music or just listening to the birds so far from sight
Watching as the dark shades of evening turn to night
Gone the sun...
I was away in Wales the other week when the sudden, unexpected, news of Michael Chapman's death came through. Okay, he was 80 and that's not a bad innings.
Whilst Michael wasn't a household name, and his passing was fairly ignored by much of the media, I feel I need to comment. I have written before about him both in relation to the passing of Derek Brimstone and in my re-review of his album Deal Gone Down. The fact that he has been a major influence on me means I want to note his passing but, also, I think it's important to remind anyone with even a vague interest in music how influential he had been.
You can, of course, look up the obvious biographical details on Wikipedia and I do not want to reiterate that here. What I'm interested in noting is a few points about his influence and maybe an anecdote or two.
I became aware of Michael initially through Derek Brimstone who had recorded March Rain on one of his albums (and he later recorded Michael's Shuffleboat River Farewell on another album with Mr Chapman himself on lead guitar) and whilst not thinking too much of it at the time, I came haphazardly on an MC album. During a wander through Soho in 1972, at the tender age of 16, I saw a Cube Records display in Berwick Street, the albums were the first T. Rex album and a few compilations such as Procul Harum and an interesting looking one called Michael Chapman Lived Here 1968-1972. For some unknown reason, I was quite taken with it. And not long afterwards, I bought it.
I have no intention to say too much about it but the point is made that musically I loved his stuff. What I really want to mention is how influential he was. And I don't mean on me. His first two albums were produced by Gus Dudgeon and strings were arranged by Paul Buckmaster. The fact that Elton John and David Bowie were both heavily influenced by those two albums alone suggests that the mid-1970s owed much to our intrepid hero. Elton John asked him to become his guitarist (Chapman suggested Davey Johnstone instead) and the future Thin White Duke ripped him off Lock, Stock and Barrel.
Because both Elton John and Bowie were enamoured with Chapman's first two albums they both decided to utilise a similar modus operandi: they both used Gus Dudgeon as Producer, Paul Buckmaster as orchestral arranger and the former Mr Jones even took Chapman's guitarist. Yes, it was MC who introduced the World to Mick Ronson's guitar playing on record. Bowie took Ronson and his band the Rats and turned them into the Spiders From Mars. The rest is history.
Over the years I managed to see Michael Chapman in various guises. I remember a ridiculous gig in London where he played a gig in some god-awful disco with a keyboard player with an occasional extra musician, none other than Phil Palmer who is best known for being a) Ray & Dave Davis of the Kinks' nephew or b) a Pink Floyd guitarist. Also, he played late last Century at a tiny pub in Woodbridge in Suffolk. I went up to see that one Sunday before work on the Monday. Fabulous: a lone long distance guitarist at the height of his powers. He played a gig (can't remember the band - do forgive me Mr Clements if you were the bassist in Suffolk called the Suffolk'n'Good Festival (read it again, slowly). But best of all was in 1977 at the Chorley Festival where Chapman played in a three piece with Keith Hartley on drums and the wonderful Rod Clements (Lindisfarne) on bass. That was one of those gigs I will put as one of the most memorable ever. Not least because my girlfriend and I hitched up to it and were given a lift in a refrigerated lorry - guess where the driver put our tent. Yep, it didn't thaw out until we got home the following week. . . anyway, it was well worth the agony & angst. Having a lot of friends in those days helped!
In more recent years, he has been influential on many young American guitar slingers - I have been introduced to the music of Steve Gunn because of this.
Anyway, I just wanted to mark the passing of an important artist because he has been important to me. Just one more thing: you will read of his dour personality. A gruff Yorkshire man who didn't suffer fools gladly, or waste money*. However . . . however, one last story. I went to see him appear at a tiny pub in Manningtree where he was appearing on the same bill as the aforementioned Derek Brimstone. Evidently they had never actually appeared on the same bill despite being great friends. I still maintain that Michael had borrowed the "banjo from a friend" from Derek. It was a great gig and I got to have quite a long chat with the great man himself. I mentioned that I had seen him many years before on BBC 2's Sight and Sound concert on a Saturday evening around 7 pm. I said I would love to have had a recording of that programme. Do you know what? He gave me his address and said send me an sae (cf the point about being a tight Yorkshire man*) which I did, of course. A week or so later, a cassette of the gig, recorded through the mixer so not a crap off-tv recording turned up. I've still got it. Okay, I haven't got a cassette player anymore but the point still stands.
I sincerely hope that Michael and Derek have met up again and that Mr C has had the banjo fixed and was able to hand it back.
|Michael Chapman 1941-2021 R.I.P.|