www.michaelchapman.co.uk live reviews
Troubadour Coffee House, Earl’s Court, 15 November 2002 (2 views)
Sometimes you wonder what a man has to do to be appreciated.
Michael Chapman is acknowledged to be one of the finest guitarists and songwriters around. He has released more than twenty albums over the past three and half decades, most of which are pretty damn fine. His new release, Americana 2, a varied assortment of atmospheric, moving and downright life-affirming guitar pieces, is as good an instrumental album as you’ll hear this year. Yet here he is, on a cold Friday night in November, playing a support slot in a cramped Earl’s Court basement.
It doesn’t help that one half of the room is given over to a birthday party, or that the occupants of a table next to the stage are only interested in the other act and have no compunction about talking loudly throughout Chapman’s set. Yet, there’s no escaping the fact that there is something special happening on stage.
Kicking off with a three-song medley, starting with the instrumental Looking for Charlie in Nogales (the title refers to Charles Mingus, rather than narcotics), it is immediately apparent that Chapman is an extraordinarily accomplished guitarist. The playing is intricate, yet imbued with an exuberance which is utterly infectious. The man has a god-like status amongst guitar aficionados, but even those like me, who wouldn’t know one end of the instrument from another, are whooping with delight by the climax of the gorgeous Sensimilia. By this time, all of the annoying distractions have been forgotten and performer and audience are in the mood for an hour or so of quality entertainment.
Although his last two albums have been wholly instrumental, Chapman’s lived-in voice has always been a major part of his appeal and he doesn’t shirk from vocal numbers tonight. His singing has never been pretty and the ravages of time have done nothing to soften his gruff tones, but maybe more than ever, his vocals neatly complement his playing by adding a layer of character and authenticity to his songs. The likes of Wrecked Again just wouldn’t sound right delivered by the likes of Will Young!
Over the last decade, Chapman has released a series of fine, if understated, albums which easily stand comparison with his major label releases of the 70s. Naturally, in these cynical days where hype is everything, each of them has sunk without trace, but each is represented tonight and songs like That Time of Night and Memphis In Winter demonstrate that the passing of the years has done nothing to diminish his abilities as a songwriter. Even so, the inclusion of old favourites like the rocking Soulful Lady and Shuffleboat River Farewell, provides some of the evening’s many highlights.
Too soon, Chapman’s slot is over and the audience gives him the ovation he deserves - unlike the show’s organizers, most of those present understand who is the real star of the evening. If the long-merited Michael Chapman revival ever occurs (and it needs to happen soon as he will be 62 in a few weeks) we may look back fondly at the days when he could be seen in such an intimate venue, but for now it’s hard to escape a sense of injustice that such a talent is restricted to such low key exposure.
© Steve Lyell 2002
I went to see Michael at the Troubadour on 15th November, with my friend Ruth. Arriving early, we had to adjust to the shock of the Troubadour having a completely new identity. It's been modernised with a bar and waitress service, and now draws many of the crowd that you would previously see upstairs. We were greeted by Michael, who was surrounded by young guys, who were presumably in the band who were sharing the bill. If these guys had any doubts about whether the "old troubadour" could still cut it, then just a few minutes tuning from Michael was enough to shut them up!
Ruth and I had a couple of bottles of lager, accompanied by the sounds of Dire Straits and Van Morrison, and were joined at our table by another loyal supporter of Michael. In this setting, our hero took to the stage. The new set-up is somewhat unusual, as the place is L-shaped with the stage in the middle. On one side, a 21 year-olds birthday celebrations were taking place and on on our side were a more conventional audience. Michael put it succinctly, when he said words to the effect of "It's f---ing schizophrenia up here...I'm singing to a pillar"!
Undettered by the distractions, Michael gave an astoundingly good performance. His set included most of the songs featured on his excellent new live CD...including Looking for Charlie, It Ain't So, Sensimila, The Mallard, That Time of Night, Anniversary, Shuffleboat River Farewell, and Bon Ton Roolay. Introducing One Time Thing, Michael said that some of his songs made Leonard Cohen sound positively cheerful (don't worry Michael...that's what endeared you to us in the first place!) The treat of the evening for me was hearing Michael sing Wrecked Again (let's have Rabbit Hills too, please, next time). I believe that Michael closed with Memphis in Winter.
I must say it was odd to be viewing Michael between the heads of people who were also having dinner and trying to socialise at the same time (but it was a good exercise in keeping focused). I found it impressive that Michael gave such an uncompromising and lengthy set. His usual wit and guitar skills undoubtedly won the appreciation of people who clearly had no idea who he was.
I came away thinking that we may have experienced a historic gig. The Troubadour is clearly going through a metamorphosis...will we see Michael play there again I wonder, or have we "left behind places others will never get too".
I was lucky enough to catch an excellent Michael Chapman gig at the Tithe Barn in Bardwell on Saturday Night. It fully justified the trip from London, and an overnight stay at a B & B in Cambridge. We arrived at Bardwell early, where we managed to get central seats, and had a choice of beer before the options diminished. The gig was a benefit for ME sufferers, and Michael played, with no support, to a packed and appreciative audience. I'm not one to scribble down set-lists, but the songs that Michael sang included Shuffleboat River Farewell, One Time Thing, After All This Time, The Mallard, Memphis in Winter and Bon Ton Roolay. Four songs from Fully Qualified Survivor were included - Kodak Hosts, Soulful Lady, one of my all-time favourites - Rabbit Hills (it was the first time that I had heard this live, and it still sends tingles down my spine), and the seldom-played Postcards of Scarborough. Michael gave the audience some insights into this classic song, when he told us the "The Harbour" in the song was a cafe, and that "Paradise" was a street. He said that the houses there don't have numbers, and you either live there or you don't!
As ever, Michael played some great instrumentals including one, that I hadn't heard before, that slows down periodiacally as he moves his left hand up to the neck of the guitar.(Fahey's Flag dedicated to John Fahey-Marc) He later told me that this track is from the soon to be re-released Almost Alone album. Introducing Caddo Lake from Americana, Michael said this this was one of his favourite and most peaceful places in the world. He described it as a huge lake, which has lily-pads the size of the Isle of Wight! Spending a day by the lake, with his back to a tree, he gradually plucked the tune from his guitar. To conclude the set, Michael linked together three numbers - Looking for Charlie (Mingus), It Ain't So and Sensimilia. We also got an extended encore, with a great improvisation of She Moved Though the Fair (similar to the version on the superb Live and Unhinged CD). Nigel, who arranges the shows at The Tithe Barn, almost took things too far by trying to get Michael to come on again. However, after this outstanding, and lengthy set, it seems that Michael had retired to have a well-deserved glass of red wine.
Michael @ Fox & Hounds Stony Stratford 23/04/03
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