MICHAEL CHAPMAN-WRECKED AGAIN.
MICHAEL CHAPMAN-WRECKED AGAIN.
Before releasing his 1969 debut album Rainmaker, on Harvest Records, Michael Chapman taught art and photography. Music was something he did in his spare time. Despite being a part time musician, Michael was a regular on the folk circuit. He traveled from his home county of Yorkshire down to London and Cornwall. It wasn’t until 1967, that Michael Chapman was “discovered.” Two years later, he released his debut album. This was the first of four albums Michael Chapman released on Harvest. His final album on Harvest was Wrecked Again, which was recently rereleased by Light In The Attic Records.
Harvest Records, a subsidiary of Capitol Records, was home to Pink Floyd, Kevin Ayers, Third Ear Band and Deep Purple. Michael Chapman found himself in illustrious company. Here were some of the most progressive musicians of the late-sixties. Michael was well thought of. Executives at Harvest thought Michael had a big future. They brought in Gus Dudgeon to produce Rainmaker, Michael’s 1969 album. On its release, Rainmaker was released to critical acclaim. A cut above mainstream British folk, Rainmaker showcased Michael’s skill as a songwriter, musician and singer. Sadly, the fusion of folk, blues and rock that was Rainmaker, wasn’t a commercial success. Harvest persisted with Michael Chapman, believing success wasn’t far away.
Fully Qualified Survivor was Michael’s sophomore album. Released in early 1970, Fully Qualified Survivor saw Michael focusing on strengthening his songwriting skills. He seemed to be a perfectionist. That’s no bad thing and paid off. For Fully Qualified Survivor, which like his debut album, was produced by Gus Dudgeon, Michael brought a new lead guitarist onboard. This was Mick Ronson, who’d later, make his name as David Bowie’s guitarist. A combination of some of Michael’s best songs, Gus’ production work and a guitar masterclass, resulted in critics hailing Fully Qualified Survivor as a mini-masterpiece. It struck a nerve with music fans, reaching number forty-five in the UK. After the commercial success and critical acclaim Fully Qualified Survivor enjoyed, it looked like Michael Chapman was about to become one of the most successful artists of the early seventies.
That wasn’t to be. For his third album Window, producer Gus Dudgeon seemed to allow Michael more freedom. Window lyrically, was a much more eclectic album. Featuring nine songs written by Michael, Gus Dudgeon produced Window. Critically, Window divided opinion. Compared to Rainmaker and Fully Qualified Survivor, Window critics didn’t perceive as Window as progression. Neither did music fans. Window failed to chart on its release in 1970. Michael Chapman would argue that that’s no surprise.
After the release of Window, Michael disowned Window. He alleged it comprised a series of unfinished demos, which Harvest released whilst Michael was on tour. Ironically, Window, the album Michael disowned, has been have reevaluated by critics. Now it’s seen as Michael’s most underrated album. Back in 1971, after Window, Michael Chapman’s career at a crossroads. He had to get his career back on track. Would that be the case with his next album, Wrecked Again.
Wrecked Again, which features eleven songs written by Michael Chapman, saw a change in style. Often described as Michael’s “Memphis” album, the best way to describe Wrecked Again is eclectic. Everything from folk, blues, rock, country and jazz can be found within Wrecked Again, which was recorded at Rockfield Studios.
Producing Wrecked Again was Gus Dudgeon, who produced Michael’s three previous albums. Michael’s band included a rhythm section of bassist and cello bassist Rick Kemp, drummer Pique Withers and guitarist Ray Martinez. They were joined by accordionist Jack Emblow, while horns and strings were over-dubbed by Paul Buckmaster. Another addition was backing vocals which played an important part in Wrecked Again, an album that could make or break Michael Chapman’s career at Harvest Records.
When Wrecked Again was released early in 1971, it failed to chart. Despite its eclectic, all encompassing sound, music fans weren’t won over by Wrecked Again. At least critics were. They recognized Wrecked Again as a return to form from the Leeds’ born troubadour. Sadly, Harvest decided Wrecked Again would be Michael Chapman’s final album for Harvest. At least Wrecked Again, which I’ll tell you about, saw Michael say farewell to Harvest with one of his finest albums.
Polar Bear Fandango, an instrumental opens Wrecked again. It’s as if Michael and his band are just playing themselves into the album. Country, folk and rock melts seamlessly into one, as the bass marches the arrangement along. There’s even a ragtime sound to the guitars. Filters and panning are used effectively. The panning especially, adds a trippy feel to this joyous instrumental, where Michael and his band showcase their talent.
Indian Queens is much more what we’d expect from Michael. He’s transformed into a storyteller, painting pictures, of a woman whose a shadow her former self. Her hurt and heartbreak comes out in Michael’s soul-baring vocal. Around him, the arrangement frames his vocal. Folk, blues and rock combine, as acoustic guitars, rhythm section and harmonies accompany his vocal on this dramatic, tale of hurt, heartbreak and love lost.
Swathes of strings sweep and swirl, as the title-track Wrecked Again unfolds. There’s a sense of resignation in Michael’s throaty vocal. It’s as if the songs a cathartic confession. He’s confessing his sins, seeking forgiveness…until the next time. Then all of a sudden, strings swirl and horns growl. The horns almost seem out of place and unnecessary. Joining the horns and strings are pounding drums and guitars that scream and chime, veering between blues and rock. The result is a track that sounds midway between Memphis and Yorkshire. That’s thanks to the horns, which sound more Brighouse than Memphis. Apart from that, I wonder whether this warts and all confession of hell-raising and carousing is autobiographical?
All In All has a real country sound. Having said that, it’s almost bubblegum country. That’s no bad things. Slick poppy hooks and country-tinged guitars combine to accompany Michael’s drawling vocal. The arrangement is marched along by the bass,with Michael painting pictures that are more Nashville than Leeds. Especially with guitarist Ray Martinez and the piano contributing some country-tinged licks. As for Michael, “All In All..he’s doing fine.”
Pensive guitars open Back On Your Own Again. There’s a sense of sadness and melancholia in Michael’s vocal, which sounds like Bob Dylan. Behind him, the band play around his vocal, allowing its melancholy sound to be the focus of your attention. That’s no bad thing. Michael’s vocal is emotive, full of sadness at a women whose “troubles never end” and whose “Back On Your Own Again.” Beautiful, melancholy and with a strong narrative, the song includes some of Michael’s best lyrics and one of his most effective and emotive vocals.
Deliberate, strummed guitars are joined by a meandering bass as The First Leaf Of Autumn unfolds. Michael’s vocal is laden with emotion and sadness, as he describes the ship leaving the harbour. So vivid are the pictures he paints, you can see them unfold before your eyes. Just acoustic guitar, wandering bass and haunting strings accompany him on this old style folk ballad. Adding the finishing touches and a moderne twist, is the crystalline, scorching guitar solo. That’s a fitting finale to this
Fennario sees another change in style. There’s a more folk-rock sound, on a track where Richard Thompson and Bob Dylan’s influences can be heard. As guitars riff and harmonies singalong sweep in, it’s as if you’re listening to a track from Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes. Impassioned and powerful describes Michael’s emotive, heartfelt delivery. Providing a contrast, are swathes of strings. They sweep in, adding to the emotion and drama. As for the horns, again, they seem almost unnecessary. Proof of this comes later in the song, when the searing guitars fulfill the same role, on this seven minute opus.
Time Enough To Spare sees Wrecked Again head in the direction of Memphis. Country, blues, folk and rock are all combined in just under three minutes. It’s a joyous love song, where Michael sings call and response with his backing vocalists. Behind him country-tinged guitars are joined by a strident bass and drums. Again, the band showcase their inconsiderable skills, on this authentic example of Americana.
Night Drive meanders into being, chiming, crystalline guitars, percussion and the rhythm section create an understated, melancholy backdrop. It’s reminiscent of a journey, a journey through the night, destination unknown. When Michael’s vocal enters, it has a languid, laid-back sound. He describes the “driving through the night, with my lady by my side.” He paints an idealistic picture, as guitars wah-wah and chime, portraying the sound of an engine heading into the distance. Beautiful, languid, mesmeric, melancholy and mysterious, this songs all this and more, much more.
Mozart Lives Upstairs is a tale of love gone wrong and obsession. Opening with a harpsichord accompanying Michael’s heartfelt vocal, soon Michael and his band kick loose. The track takes on a raucous, rocky sound. Drums pound and guitars scream as Michael’s vocal sounds as if he’s auditioning for a heavy metal band. From there, the song veers between the two sides of this compelling track, which again, demonstrates just how versatile the band are.
Shuffleboat River Farewell closes Wrecked Again. From an understated, melancholy introduction, where acoustic guitar, keyboards and drums combine with an accordion, Michael’s vocal reminds me of Bob Dylan, Steve Miller and later, Mark Knopfler. His vocal is full of emotion and sadness as he sings the lyric “say farewell to a few old friends.” Although it’s in the context of the song, I wonder if realized Wrecked Again could be the end of an era? As the band create a heartbreaking backdrop, strings add to the sadness and emotion. Their addition is a masterstroke. Even the brass band style horns work. That little bit of Yorkshire adds something to what is a potent, moving and melancholy way to close Wrecked Again, Michael’s Harvest Records’ swan-song.
Following Wrecked Again, Michael Chapman left Harvest Records and signed to Deram, a subsidiary of Decca. That was where Michael called home until 1978. His first home was Harvest, where he released four albums, the last of which was Wrecked Again. It to me, is Michael Chapman at his very best. Wrecked Again, which was recently rereleased by Light In The Attic Records, saw Michael leave Harvest on a high.
An eclectic, genre-sprawling album, everything from Americana, blues, country, folk, jazz, pop and rock were thrown into the musical mixing bowl by Michael. After Gus Dudgeon worked his magic. With a sound that was somewhere between Memphis, Nashville and Leeds, it was as if Wrecked Again reflected the music that had influenced Michael. That includes horns that sound not unlike a Yorkshire brass band. They work, but just. A much more authentic Memphis sound would’ve been the finishing touch. Despite that, Wrecked Again is the best album of Michael’s time at Harvest.
Despite the indisputable quality of Rainmaker and Fully Qualified Survivor, Wrecked Again is the best album Michael Chapman released for Harvest Records. Between 1969 and 1971, Michael Chapman released a quartet of albums. Of this quartet, the genre-melting Wrecked Again, Michael Chapman’s “Memphis album” and homage to Americana, is the highlight of his time at Harvest Records. Standout Tracks: Indian Queens, Wrecked Again, Back On Your Own Again and Night Drive.
MICHAEL CHAPMAN-WRECKED AGAIN.