Sunday, December 5

Michael Chapman’s Obituary | Music

Michael Chapman, who died of a heart attack in his 80s, was a singer-songwriter and guitarist who became a cult hero in the late 60s and early 70s thanks to his original fusion of jazz, rock, Indian styles and ragtime. , and thoughtful. , often gloomy lyrics. Praised by DJ John Peel as “one of the most interesting and inventive guitarists in the world”, he was best known for the album Fully Qualified Survivor (1970), on which he teamed up with Mick Ronson, who would later work with David. Bowie and Rick Kemp, who became a member of the Steeleye Span.

He was prolific, recording 58 albums, and although his popularity waned in the 1980s and 1990s, he gained new, younger fans starting in the late 1990s, particularly in the US, where his following included Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore. . Moore appeared on the 2012 tribute album Oh Michael, Look What You’ve Done: Friends Play Michael Chapman, along with Lucinda Williams and Hiss Golden Messenger, and British musicians such as Kemp and Maddy Prior.

Chapman hated being called a folk singer, but he began his career on the folk circuit, at a time when many of the clubs were cheering on a wildly eclectic range of performers. In the summer of 1966, while on vacation after lecturing at Bolton Art College, I was in Cornwall, then something of a folkie (and hippie) mecca. He didn’t have the entry fee for the Count House folk club in Botallack, so he offered to play some decidedly non-folk tunes, including Thelonious Monk’s Round Midnight and Booker T’s Green Onions. He was offered a paid residency and never came back. to give lectures.

Playing on the Cornish folk circuit he met Wizz Jones and Ralph McTell, who taught him to play the guitar with his fingers. Returning north, he left Bolton for Hull and, as his reputation grew on the folk scene, he played at the celebrated Les Cousins ​​club in Soho and moved on to college and university shows.

In Hull, he met Kemp, who was then playing in local bands and managing the musical instrument section of a department store. Kemp was asked to play bass on Chapman’s first album, Rainmaker, the first of 16 albums they would record together. Produced by Gus Dudgeon (later famous for his work with Elton John), Rainmaker was released on EMI’s “underground” label Harvest, home to artists like Syd Barrett and Shirley and Dolly Collins.

His second Harvest album, Fully Qualified Survivor, featured some of his best and most varied songs, from the jazzy and atmospheric Aviator to the haunting Postcards of Scarborough. The electric guitar was added by Ronson, who had played in bands with Kemp, was working as a gardener for the Hull city council and would soon be recruited by Bowie as one of the Spiders From Mars.

After the album was released, Chapman decided to form a band, with Kemp on bass and Ritchie Dharma on drums. Their first performance together was on March 18, 1970, when they appeared on the BBC television comedy show Not Only But Also alongside Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. “Chapman was a man of few words,” Kemp recalls. “He didn’t tell us where we were playing until the day.” The following year, the duo of Chapman and Kemp were on tour in the United States, as an act of support for jazz saxophonist Cannonball Adderley.

After releasing four albums for Harvest, Chapman moved on, first to Decca’s Deram, and then to many other labels. He continued recording and performing when his music went out of style in the post-punk era, and for a time supplemented his income by delivering cars.

All that changed when he was invited to play on the East Coast of the United States in 1998, he met Moore and discovered that he had the reputation of a guitar hero, often compared to the great John Fahey. He recorded two albums inspired by American blues and ragtime (Americana and Americana II) and toured with American musicians, including Jack Rose.

Michael Chapman's 1978 recording studio (Photo by Estate Of Keith Morris / Redferns)
Recording by Michael Chapman in 1978. Photograph: Estate of Keith Morris / Redferns

Another American fan was indie rock guitarist Steve Gunn, who produced and performed on his highly acclaimed album 50, released in 2017 on the American Paradise of Bachelors label. The same team released Chapman’s latest album, True North, in 2019.

Born in the Hunslet area of ​​Leeds, Michael was the son of James Chapman, a steel worker, and Jane (née Wheelan), who worked for a mail order company. He attended Cockburn Elementary School, where he played in a skiffle group, and then Leeds College of Art, by which time his taste for music had shifted to jazz, from New Orleans styles to Django Reinhardt and Jimmy Giuffre. He also occasionally played in rock bands.

He left music to focus on teaching, heading up the photography department at Bolton Art College, but it didn’t work out. He was married to Margaret Fox, but began a relationship with one of his students, Andru Makin, who accompanied him to Cornwall when he began his musical career. She remained his companion for the rest of his life. They never married, but entered civil society in 2020.

For nearly 50 years they lived in a country house in Northumbria, south of Hadrian’s Wall, where Chapman developed a passion for chainsaws and logging. A more predictable passion was guitars: He had recently acquired a 12-string electric. By the time of his death he had written enough songs for a new album, which he planned to record at home.

It was the godfather of Kemp and Prior’s daughter, Rose-Ellen, also a musician, who said that Chapman had “enormous integrity and great taste.” Kemp remembers him as “a wonderful writer, who didn’t say much until he had some red wine”, whereas to Prior he was “very Yorkshire. If he said something, it was pointed out. And he wrote great and distinctive songs. “

He is survived by Andru and his sister, Margaret.

Michael Chapman, singer-songwriter and guitarist, born January 24, 1941; died on September 10, 2021

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