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Michael Chapman in his own words

When was the first album Rainmaker recorded?

"Everyone would go down to Cornwall for the summer: they'd be Ralph McTell, Pete Stanley, me and various other people and we'd down for the entire summer to play these two clubs as residents. Someone walked in (to a show) who acted as a talent scout for Essex Music, who were big publishers and I talked to them about doing a guitar album. I wasn't writing songs, but I'd play anything on the guitar... just before I was supposed to do it, I suddenly started writing songs and turned the whole thing around by convincing them I should just do my songs. When you do your first album you're still wet behind the ears.I had no idea how studios worked and I had no idea what I was capable of or what any of the other musicians were capable of, either. But by the second album I had more ideas about what I wanted and everything and also the songs were better because I'd got my act together because I could see a direction that I wanted to be going in. I started using different tunings too..."

How did that come about?

"From Ralph McTell really. One soggy afternoon, outside The Folk Cottage - I think we were going to do some duets that night - he dropped his E string down to a D and, coming up through jazz, it was a thing that I hadn't ever seen. I mean, I was the guy who tried to play 'Sleepwalk' in a regular tuning on an acoustic without a bottleneck! So Ralph showed me drop D tuning and I thought, Aaaah! All of a sudden things began to make sense and I took it on from there. What I wanted to find was better bass lines that the ones I could play in normal tuning. Drop D seems to enlarge the bottom end of the guitar because if you want to play a D without dropping the E string, you're ten notes short of the octave - you can't get another D at the bottom. So, by dropping the D, you've almost given yourself another octave. I know it's only a tone down, but it sort of blossoms at the bottom, I think. One pet theory is that that is where guitars are meant to be anyway. Whoever discovered standard tuning did a great job but it's not as precious as a lot of people think it is.

The vibe behind the new album is obviously America...

"Especially the Deep South, below the Mason/Dixon Line. I wound up spending a lot of time there, either gigging or just going over to see friends or driving around. I just like the whole place - small town America, the kind of thing you see in old Jimmy Stewart films when people had the time of day for each other. It's still there, although a lot of them are dying on their arses. It's the lack of hustle that I like, they love to cook for you and sit down and eat with you. Also my missus was with me on a couple of trips and she just fell in love with the swamps. They do have an atmosphere of their own and that whole track on the album called 'Swamp' is exactly that."


Related Links

Americana 2000

Ralph McTell

Did you get into the music culture in the swamps?

"I knew about it, but it's getting harder and harder to find. There aren't the gigs there any more, they've dried up. Whereas every small town would have had a coffee bar or a small place to play, they're just not there anymore. The bars don't have live band in them anymore - it's all disappearing, the dance culture has done it one. If you go to Austin in Texas, you'll find the small gigs - Austin's a wonderful gig town. But it's not like you can just roll into town and go see someone play every night, you've got to pick and choose."

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page updated 06/06/02

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