Virtuoso guitarist and critically-acclaimed songwriter, championed by John Peel and later Charles Shaar Murray, Michael Chapman recorded a quartet of classic LPs for EMI’s progressive Harvest label during the 1970s. He releases albums to this day and continues to perform live.
Michael’s extensive touring fast won him a passionate following, evidenced on this until-now unreleased live set.
Recorded at Nottingham’s Playhouse Theatre on July 23rd 1977 by Michael and a power house rhythm section in Lindisfarne bassist Rod Clements and former John Mayall drummer Keef Hartley, it includes some of his best-loved songs in “And There Were Three” (MSMCD151) – a jocular reference to Chapman’s shrinking band, described nonetheless by note writer Marc Higgins as a ‘beast with three heads’.
On ‘In The Valley’, Michael’s guitar, dexterous and assured, instantly recognizable, and new and strange, shimmers around the snapping beat. Chapman called them a nods ‘n winks band and telepathy is evident in the tempo shift from the frenetic ‘Rock ‘n Roll Jigley’ into ‘Party Pieces’ as his effected vocal and a treacherous rhythm evoke inebriation.
The anthems continue with ‘Kodak Ghosts’ and ‘Among The Trees’ as Chapman picks apart his regrets to find small crumbs of comfort. From ‘The Man Who Hated Mornings’, the album they were touring, comes ‘Dogs Got More Sense’, another exercise in simple truth through excess. This track sees Michael’s guitar solo and Clements’ on a very ‘lead’ sounding bass, blow apart any vestiges of folk.
‘How Can A Poor Man’, an oldie even then, documents the US dust bowl depression. Michael makes it relevant in the power starved, strike ridden ‘70s and it’s cuttingly current now.
The concert opener ‘In The Valley’ appears as a glorious flowing acoustic version on 2009’s “Time Past And Time Passing”
‘Sea of Wine’ charted waters that Chapman, living the romantic ‘road weary musician’ lifestyle, knew like the back of his hand. Unfazed by the audience, the band push the song almost to breaking point, with a real sense in the middle, that even they haven’t decided where they’re going next.
Michael recalls concerts when he and Keef vacated the stand for the bar, leaving Rod to solo to the edge and beyond, just to see what would happen. Clements would, Chapman somewhat surreally claims, end up filling time by playing hymns.
‘It Didn’t Work Out’, a tight roaring tale of a failure to write a song, rises from the shards via a drum solo and some solo bass that stops just short of being ecclesiastical.
The set ends with Booker T’s ‘Time Is Tight’ and Chapman, rapping with the audience in Duke Ellington mode, an MC in every sense.