Michael Chapman
By: Brian Berger | Categories: HiLo Heroes

Among the happiest events of the 21st century has been the rediscovery of the brilliant English guitarist and songwriter MICHAEL CHAPMAN (born 1941). Born and raised in Yorkshire, Chapman was musically self-taught; skiffle was a way in and learning Big Bill Broonzy and Django Reinhardt solos gave him chops enough for anything, his Leeds School of Art tuition included. In 1966, Chapman quit his job teaching photography and drawing in Bolton for a folk club residency in Cornwall; later London gigs led to Chapman’s 1969 signing to EMI’s newly launched Harvest Records label. Four superb albums — each full of twisting, wry and dolorous laments enfolding raga, ragtime and all manner of hyphenated “rock” — followed but of these, only the second, Fully Qualified Survivor (John Peel’s favorite album of 1970), found belated American release. “Falls into currently trendy soft rock,” observed Billboard, rather misleadingly, in September 1971. “Progressive markets should latch on to these cuts.” They didn’t, and no other Chapman album — not even 1974’s amazing Millstone Grit — had an American release until 1980, when Michael Nesmith’s Pacific Arts label issued Life On The Ceiling (“a collection of quality rock tunes with touches of R&B, jazz and folk” Billboard opined). Chapman’s next decade was quieter — sometimes mute — as the occupational hazard of alcoholism took its toll. What a thrill it was to find that, when he reemerged in the mid-1990s, Chapman’s talent was wholly intact, where it remains. As for America today, having Lucinda Williams cover your song ain’t nothing.

AMONG THE TREES, 1975

LIVE AT OLD STYLE GUITAR SHOP, 2011

THAT TIME OF NIGHT, Michael 2012

THAT TIME OF NIGHT, Lucinda 2012

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Robert Motherwell, John Romita, and Vito Acconci.

READ MORE about members of the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation (1934-43).

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Historian, journalist, and poet Brian Berger is coeditor of New York Calling. He has written for many publications, a few of which even still exist.