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Dangerous When Sober
Fully Qualified Survivor
Dreaming Out Loud
Time Past & Time Passing
Pleasures Of The Street
The Twisted Road
Trainsong Guitar Compositions
The Man Who Hated Mornings
Growing Pains
Almost Alone
Americana 2
Still Making Rain

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Pleasures takes us back to the live album of that name culled from two evenings of concerts in Hamburg in August 1975, and is a reissue of that album together with five extra cuts from the same sets (three of which duplicate songs featured earlier in alternate performances). This is definitive mid-70s Chapman, here featured first in solo acoustic mode then from track five onwards with a band (Keef Hartley, Steffi Stephen and Achim Reichel), arguably at the zenith of the soulful-rockin' phase of his career.

David Kidman
(published in Traditional Music Maker, Feb 2001)


Traditional Music Maker


Our Rating

Although he's creatively active to these days and has quietly enjoyed a decent size cult following for over 35 years now, Leeds-born, Hull-based MICHAEL CHAPMAN has had a frustrating relationship with fatal fame. He's a hardened troubadour who's often been seen as too folky for the rock crowd, while the rock crowd have stayed away from him en masse because of his folk roots. Even worse, he made superb albums like "Rainmaker" and "Fully Qualified Survivor" ( one of John Peel's favourite albums) as the Sixties collided with the Seventies, but all too often these days those records are viewed as important purely because David Bowie heard Mick Ronson weaving his six-string spells all over them, rather than because of Chapman's songs per se.

So, while much of Chapman's career is still available, it's about time a younger public were introduced to this bluff, grizzled Northern geezer who deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of John Martyn and Nick Drake and has gone on to embrace electric rock and a host of stylistic deviations since those heady 1960s troubadour days.

Enter Castle Music's magnificent new double CD anthology "Dangerous When Sober": a typically self-deprecatorily-titled collection featuring over 2 and a half hours of music, much of which is utterly breathtaking and makes abundantly clear how adroitly Chapman moved forward during his halcyon years 1966 - 1980.

CD1 plots a course through Chapman's years as an acoustic troubadour, playing every cellar, folk club and dungeon that would have him. Brilliantly, it opens with a quartet of tunes recorded at Chapman's very first solo acoustic demo at Fairview Studios in Hull during 1966. Featured are gritty, uncompromising takes of Big Bill Broonzy's "Key To The Highway" and the sparser, humbucking version of the trad "Easy Rider", not to mention a spellbinding run through Mose Allison's classic murder ballad "Parchman Farm". This is a tune Nick Drake would also take under his wing, but it's Chapman's melancholy delivery that really suits the penitential subject matter ("I'm on this farm for the rest of my life and all I did was shoot my wife") and to hear these tunes is to uncover a valuable heirloom from the British blues boom era.

Aftre these songs were laid down, Chapman began to come to public attention playing the Cornish folk circuit during 1967's Summer Of Love, and the remainder of CD1 is culled from Chapman's live solo/ duo club sets (with Rick Kemp) which were his bread and butter during his early career in the late 1960s/ early 1970s. Starting with Chapman's version of Otis Rush's "Rockport Sunday", these tracks are a lengthy and fascinating trawl through Michael's ever-changing moods and highlight his skilful guitar picking style, melancholic lyrical style and sozzled vocal delivery. Like John Martyn and Richard Thompson, Chapman's voice can initially be an acquired taste, but one that becomes addictive after a while.

Highlights abound. Try the venom with a spiritualistic twist he injects into "Not So Much A Garden (More Like A Maze)" with its' sitar-like tunings and brief snatch of "Norwegian Wood" or the deceptively pretty "It Didn't Work Out". Then there's "Wrecked Again":perhaps the very essence of Chapman and introduced here in a typically self-deprecating fashion by our man as "my autobiography in two words." That description cloaks a tangibly honest self-portrait with the enduring "I've been falling so long I've forgotten how to stand" chorus.

CD2 flings us forward to the mid-70s. It opens with a killer triumvirate of solo acoustic numbers from Chapman's fruitful Deram Records period (of which a wired "In The Valley" probably shades top marks), but mostly concentrates on Chapman's more rock-oriented material.

The first half of these songs were recorded live in '75 at a sweaty Hamburg club with a band including skinsman-about-town Keef Hartley. Chapman recalls in the sleevenotes that the songs were recorded in uncomfortable conditions with instruments going out of tune and unforgiving promoters overselling tickets. No matter: the end results are excellent, with Chapman and co kicking up a tense, but slack bluesy rock sound with nods to the Stones and early, listenable Dire Straits. Chapman's everyman persona and gritty delivery is ideal for bitten-off rockers like "Sea Of Wine" and "Shuffleboat River Farewell", while an amped-up "Wrecked Again" is livid and vital.

The anthology continues with a further brace of live recordings from 1976, as keyboards enter the equation, the band get loucher and funkier than ever on "Time Enough To Spare" and Chapman revisits his blues roots on the laid-back, Dylan-ish "Devastastion Hotel" . To conclude, we come full circle with Chapman back at Fairview making electric demos in 1980. He embraces rugged rock on "Running For Cover" and even reggae on "Lonely By The Mile" and the closing title track. This sounds unlikely, but Chapman pulls it off with his usual dry aplomb, tailoring the skanky lope to his own ends and once again looking to both the present and the future.

There are a few blndspots. "Thank You P.K 1944" may well be a heartfelt tribute to the painter Paul Klee, but its' heaviosity is laboured, while - even allowing for Chapman's dexterity - "A Scholarly Man" is too much to take at a gargantuan 15 minutes. Like the Velvets' "Sister Ray", this one sent your reviewer into the kitchen to do that long-overdue washing up.

The uninitiated may also be disappointed to discover there's nothing here that features Mick Ronson, but all credit to Castle Music as Michael Chapman deserves to step out of that particular shadow at long last.

Besides, surrounded by this generous quality, quibbling about a few blemishes is like discovering Aladdin's cave and moaning that it's lit by a 100 watt bulb instead of a chandelier. Instead, simply dive in and marvel at this veritable cache of jewels.

Tim Peacock

whisperingandhollerin September 2004

reproduced with permission




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