Michael Chapman never set out to be a make a living as a musician. No. Originally, he was a teacher. By day, Michael Chapman taught art and photography. Music was something he did in his spare time. However, there was a sense of inevitability that one day soon, Michael Chapman would leave the classroom behind.
Although Michael Chapman was a part time musician, he travelled the length and breadth of England. He was a regular on the folk circuit. Often, Michael traveled from his home county of Yorkshire, as far afield as London and Cornwall. Maybe in the back of his mind, Michael was hoping to make a living from music? If that was the case, eventually, his persistence paid off, and in 1967.
For Michael, 1967 was the year zero. That was the year that Michael Chapman was “discovered.” By then, Michael was already twenty-six. However, it was another two years before Michael released his debut album Rainmaker on Harvest.
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. So, a year later, in early 1970, Michael released his sophomore album, Fully Qualified Survivor.
Fully Qualified Survivor.
Fully Qualified Survivor, Michael Chapman’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. However, that wasn’t to be. Window, Michael Chapman’s third album, which was recently rereleased by Light In The Attic Records, proved the most controversial album of his short career.
Over the last few years, Michael Chapman had been constantly touring. Taking time off to record an album was almost an inconvenience. Michael was a realist. If he wasn’t touring, he wasn’t making money. That meant Michael couldn’t pay his three piece band. They weren’t going to be happy. After all, “man cannot live by bread alone.” Michael had realised this the hard way. So, with Harvest Records wanting Michael to record his third album, Window, he decided he would do so, as quickly as possible.
For some time, Harvest Records had been wanting Michael to record the followup to Fully Qualified Survivor. He wasn’t keen, and had managed to stall them. However, eventually, their patience ran out. So, faced with no alternative, Michael was told to record his third album.
Michael had already written the nine songs that became Window. All he needed was a studio. Harvest Records told him to book a studio. So, Michael chose Trident Studios, in London, which in 1971, was one of the most expensive studios in Britain. However, it was one of the best sounding rooms in London. What’s more, it was full of the latest equipment. That’s why it was home to some of the top musicians, including Michael Chapman.
When recording began at Trident Studios, Michael’s usual band accompanied him. This included drummer and tambourinist Richie Dharma and bassist Rick Kemp who also played maracas. They were joined by various guest artists. Among them, were lead guitarist Phil Greenberg. He adopted the alias P. Harold Fatt, so as not to attract the attention of the British immigration department. Along with violinist Johnny Van Derek and pianist Alex Atterson. Producing Window, was Gus Dudgeon, who was now, making a name for himself with Elton John.
When work began on Window, Gus Dudgeon decided to take a different approach with Michael. Gus Dudgeon seemed to allow Michael more freedom. After all, Window was Michael’s third album. He knew how things worked by now. The result was a much more eclectic album than Rainmaker or Fully Qualified Surveyor, Window.
As soon as Window was completed, Michael and his band got back on the road. He was keen to make some money. The time he’d spent in the studio meant no money was coming in. Deep down, Michael had his doubts about Window. Forever the realist, Michael realised Window wasn’t going to make him rich. So, he headed back out on tour, which didn’t please Michael’s wife. However, the rest of the band liked life on the road. It was a form of escapism from the drudgery of daily life.
With Michael on tour, he wasn’t around to handle the fallout from Window. When critics heard Window, Michael Chapman’s third album divided opinion. Compared to Rainmaker and Fully Qualified Survivor, Window critics didn’t perceive as Window as progression. Michael Chapman’s music seemed to have stood still. Maybe Gus Dudgeon’s decision to give Michael more freedom had backfired? Either that, or Michael’s decision to record Window as quickly as possible had backfired on him? That seemed to be the case.
When Window was released in 1970, it failed to chart on its release in 1970. Record buyers turned their back on Window. So did Michael Chapman.
Following 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, which I’ll tell you about.
Opening Window is Lady On The Rocks/Song For September. A firmly strummed guitar is soon joined by the rhythm section. It’s propelled along by Rick Kemp’s pounding bass and dramatic rolls of drums. They set the scene for Michael’s despairing, hurt-filled vocal. He’s hurt at what he sees as his partner’s betrayal. Later, when the vocal drops out, Michael and his band showcase their combined talents. Especially, Phil Greenberg’s bristling, searing guitar licks and Rick’s strident bass. When Michael returns, he’s made his mind up. This is the end of the affair. There’s no going back. With harmonies for company, a despairing Michael shares his frustration and hurt. Then the track reaches its crescendo, Michael throws another curveball. Congas help drive the arrangement along to its dramatic ending.
Last Lady Song is another relationship song. This time, however, they’re ships that pass in the night. Michael’s guitar is panned right, and drives the arrangement along. Then when his band enter, they decide to get funky. This shows another side to Michael Chapman. Against this backdrop, Michael delivers a hopeful, needy vocal, asking: “will you stay another day?” He knows that’s unlikely. They’re ships that pass in the night. As he realises this, Paul Greenberg delivers a show stealing solo. Aided and abetted by Michael’s tight, talented band they seamlessly combine elements of folk, folk, funk and rock, showing another side of Michael’s music.
The slow, melancholy and thoughtful Among The Trees, sees Michael return to his folk roots. As Michael delivers a lived-in vocal, he strums his trusty acoustic guitar. Along with Rick Kemp’s bass, they play leading roles in framing Michael’s reflective vocal. It’s accompanied by harmonies, as Michael remembers times gone by. They were it seems better times, and maybe, “the best of times.”
Urgently Michael’s fingers flit up and down the fretboard as An Old Man Remembers unfolds. Soon, he’s joined by the rhythm section. This signals the entrance of Michael’s vocal. Again he’s reflecting, this times on an old relationship. With harmonies for company, a melancholy Michael remembers days gone by, when he was young, carefree and in love.
A hesitant, crystalline acoustic guitar opens In The Valley. It’s a scene setter for Michael’s Dylan-esque vocal. Against this understated arrangement, Michael’s vocal enters. Again, there’s a sense of melancholia in Michael’s vocal. That’s apparent when he sings: “days pass so slowly In The Valley of my mind,” and how far is it down, why must a fall?” Accompanying his vocal, are chiming, crystalline guitars and washes of percussion that add to an almost ominous sounding arrangement. This reflects the darkness and despair in Michael’s vocal.
First Lady Song is less than a minute long. Michael’s worldweary vocal is accompanied by just his acoustic guitar, as he remembers a femme fatale from his past. However, before long, First Lady Song is over. With a flourish of guitar, Michael bids farewell, on what’s a tantalising taste of what might have been.
Just like many of the tracks on Window, Michael’s acoustic guitar opens Landships. It sets the scene for Michael’s Bowie-esque vocal. He’s accompanied by harmonies, as he accentuates, and highlights, words and phrases. Meanwhile, rolls of drums, acoustic guitars and percussion accompany Michael. They all add to the drama, as we hear another side to Michael Chapman. It’s very different to what’s gone before. No wonder, with elements of country, folk, pop and rock shining through.
Having previously been inspired by Bob Dylan and David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and inspire Michael on A Scholarly Man. That only becomes apparent later. As the song opens, it’s Michael’s guitar that sets the scene. Soon, Michael delivers a tormented vocal, while frantically strumming his guitar. It’s akin to a cry for help, from a man on the edge. Later, there’s an Eastern influence as the arrangement glistens and shimmers. Sometimes, his guitar playing is reminiscent of Jimmy Page. However, Michael’s vocal is unique and unmistakable, as he delivers a despairing vocal, as the lyrics come to life.
Closing She Came In Like The “6.15” And Made A Hole In The Wall. From the get-go, it has a loose, sloppy sound. That’s not surprising. It’s just Michael and some of his musician friends having what’s best described as a singalong. Michael plays guitar and Rick Kemp bass. They’re joined by pianist Alex Atterson and violinist Johnny Van Derek. Before long, it becomes apparent that a good night has been had by all. That’s why it might have been better if She Came In Like The “6.15” And Made A Hole In The Wall. Its sloppy, loose sound is a disappointing way to close Window.
Forty-five years have passed since Michael Chapman released Window. Back in 1970, it was an album that divided the opinion of critics. Window was Marmite music, you either loved or loathed it. Michael Chapman fell into the latter category. He disliked Window so much, that after the release of Window, Michael Chapman disowned what was his third album. This was hugely controversial.
Record buyers were hardly inclined to buy an album the artist has disowned. However, that’s what Michael Chapman did. He alleged it comprised a series of unfinished demos, which Harvest released whilst Michael was on tour. Listening back to Window forty-five years later, Window doesn’t sound like an album of demos. That is, apart from a couple of tracks.
First Lady Song, which is only fifty-nine seconds long, is best described as a tantalising taste of this track might have become. With some work, it could’ve become one of the highlights of Window. However, the most disappointing song on Window was She Came In Like The “6.15” And Made A Hole In The Wall. With its sloppy, loose sound it’s a really disappointing way to close Window. However, the rest of Window features Michael Chapman stretching his legs musically.
On the other seven tracks on Window, Michael Chapman flits between musical genres. Country, folk, folk rock, funk, pop and rock can be heard on Window. It’s was, without doubt, the most eclectic album of Michael’s three album career. That’s not surprising.
Producer Gus Dudgeon gave Michael much more freedom on Window. Michael repaid him with Window, an eclectic album, where we hear various sides of Michael Chapman. Sadly, neither the critics, nor his fans, who were won over by Window. However, forty-five years later, and critics have reappraised Window.
Nowadays, Window, which was recently reissued by Light In The Attic Records, is seen as one of the most underrated albums in Michael Chapman’s discography. It features Michael Chapman at his cerebral and reflective best, as he paints pictures of love, love lost and times gone by. That’s why Window is certainly one of Michael Chapman’s most eclectic albums, and showcases a talented singer, songwriter and storyteller on the most underrated album of his career, Window.