U.S. music label showcase sheds light on a great Yorkshire talent

Singer-songwriter Michael Chapman in the early 1970s
Singer-songwriter Michael Chapman in the early 1970s
Share this article

When music reissue label Light In The Attic decided to organise their first promotional event out of North America, they decided to do it in idiosyncratic style.

Not for them a big city showcase, as London and Manchester have been passed over in favour of the Unitarian Church, Todmorden, where the Seattle-based label host a gig on Sunday (Aug 24).

Michael Chapman - Wrecked Again album sleeve

Michael Chapman - Wrecked Again album sleeve

And the tasteful surroundings - it is a beautiful, Grade I listed building that has been referred to as the cathedral of Unitarianism, selected as the label owners have friends in Todmorden and saw it - are matched by the peerless performer who is topping the bill.

Todmorden is just about in Michael Chapman’s home county of Yorkshire, and for the last 18 months the Hunslet-born singer, songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire has seen his back catalogue become the focus of a high quality reissue programme. Four and five star reviews have resulted.

Long-time followers of Chapman’s 45-year career know you can often get stunningly good guitarists who can’t write songs, or good singer-songwriters whose fretwork is adequate but not out of the ordinary. In Michael Chapman, you get brilliant guitar work and smoky, sardonic, wistful, high quality songs of life, such as Postcards Of Scarborough, Rabbit Hills and Kodak Ghosts.

He’s great on acoustic but can whack an electric when his taste requires, and his reputation among younger musicians is high. A couple of years ago, he performed several dates with Thurston Moore of American experimenters Sonic Youth. Moore’s label has released some of Chapman’s more experimental recent work, extended guitar fantasias on Pachyderm and, a tribute to the late American guitar wizard John Fahey, The Death Of The Clayton Peacock.

Michael Chapman - for Trades preview

Michael Chapman - for Trades preview

For the best part of a decade in the late 60s and 70s, Michael shifted sizeable quantities of vinyl on the EMI/Harvest, Decca and Deram labels.

LITA’s reissue and repromotion of his early work - three of the Harvest albums are already out on CD and vinyl, his debut set Rainmaker, the excellent follow-up Fully Qualified Survivor and his last for the label, Wrecked Again - has given his music a real renaissance, leading to more touring and promotion at showcases attending by 3,500 fans a time in the States, not bad for a 73-year-old.

And, as often is not the case with record labels, they are a pleasure to work with, he says.

“Light In The Attic are a re-release company, that’s all they do, and an old friend of mine introduced me to them and they started to trawl through my stuff.

“I’m glad they did. They’re magic people to deal with. They do everything properly and take care of buisness,” he said.

Good sound and beautiful packaging on the reissues has even impressed Michael enough to allow the label to reissue the third of the Harvest quartet, Window.

Infamously, having got down on tape sections of that 1971 album and sketched out guide parts to complete it properly later, he went away on tour and returned to find, to his horror, that EMI had released the unfinished record as it was. At one point he even considered putting the guitar parts on 30 years later.

“I have always been set against anybody releasing the thing but LITA do such a good job and the first four albums are kind of a collection. I remixed it and was going to put the parts on but I don’t play like that after 30 years and gave it up,” he said.

A busy performer on the live circuit - Hebden Bridge Trades Club is a favourite venue of his - he turns in performances that can be mesmerising, newer material often matching the old classics in quality. Suprisingly, the content of live shows is all unplanned.

“I never practice - I can’t be bothered! I never have a set list which I work on, I like to take people by surprise. I get bored easily and gave up making plans years ago! I have put the handbrake on touring this year a bit - I’ll never be 30 again. The last couple of years, come mid-December I’ve found out the true meaning of exhausted, so I’ve been cruising through this year,” he said.

He is looking forward to the gig, at which support comes from upcoming acid folk performer Julie Byrne, plus Light In The Attic DJs. He still loves playing live - hence why his chops are still top notch despite the non-practising routine - it’s the travelling it neccessarily entails that sap the strength, like a recent tour of the States.

“One of the problems with touring is that it’s so mundane. I had to be out of the hotel by 3am as all the business flights go at 6am. After three weeks of that I was a shadow of my former self! The playing’s never been any bother. Live, it’s like putting a fish in water, I love it,” he said.

The Todmorden venue too, appeals. “I’ve played quite a few Unitarian churches and the like, including one in Massachussets, and the Union Chapel in London is lovely. I’m looking forward to it, it should be good.”

Tickets for Light In The Attic Presents...Michael Chapman and Julie Byrne at the Unitarian Church, Honey Hole Road, off Rochdale Road, Todmorden town centre, are £8 and can be booked by logging on to http://www.wegottickets.com/event/282715 - the gig will run from 6pm - sharp! - to 10pm, and there is an after show party for ticketholders at the nearby 3 Wise Monkeys bar in Water Street. DJs at the gig include the label’s head honcho Matt Sullivan. Any unsold tickets may be available on the door.