CULT CLASSIC: MICHAEL CHAPMAN-PLAYING GUITAR THE EASY WAY.
dereksmusicblog ♦ October 10, 2020 ♦ Leave a comment
Cult Classic: Michael Chapman-Playing Guitar The Easy Way
Nine years after releasing his debut album Rainmaker on Harvest Records, Michael Chapman released Playing Guitar The Easy Way which was very a different album from his previous ten albums. Partly that was because of the title and the album cover. Some people who looked at the cover thought it was an album about how to play the guitar. It wasn’t. However, Playing Guitar The Easy Way had some secrets within its sleeve-notes.
The idea behind Playing Guitar The Easy Way was to make life easier for aspiring guitar players and in the sleeve-notes, Michael Chapman had included a series of practical tips. He makes it clear that this isn’t an instruction book just a series of handy hints that will make life easier for experienced guitar players. Each song has its own handy hint and they’re explained concisely. No matter whether the guitarists had been playing six weeks or six years it would help you. That’s not all.
For hardcore Michael Chapman fans, there’s even a list of tunings for many of his songs. If they wanted to cover Goodbye To Monday Night the tuning is DADGBE. If Wrecked Again is one of their favourites Michael Chapman songs then the tuning is also DADGBE. All this made Playing Guitar The Easy Way a unique album. It was also his tenth album since he released his debut in 1969. A lot had happened to Michael Chapman since then.
Before releasing his 1969 debut album Rainmaker, on Harvest Records, Michael Chapman taught art and photography and he was a part-time musician. However, he was a regular on the folk circuit and 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 Rainmaker. This was the first of four albums Michael Chapman released 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. The label’s newest signing was well thought of and executives at Harvest thought Michael Chapman had a big future. So much so, that they brought in Gus Dudgeon to produce Rainmaker, Michael’s 1969 album.
Rainmaker was released to widespread critical acclaim in 1969 and was hailed as a cut above mainstream British folk. The album showcased Michael Chapman’s skill as a songwriter, musician and singer. Sadly, Rainmaker which was a mixture of folk, blues and rock wasn’t a commercial success. Neither was his sophomore album Solo Guitar.
Solo Guitar was released later in 1969 and unlike Rainmaker, was released on the Standard Music Library label. It featured nine tracks written by Michael Chapman which showed that he was already starting to mature as a songwriter. However, this album of folk and blues failed to find an audience and commercial success continued to elude him. Despite this, Harvest decided to persist with Michael Chapman believing success wasn’t far away.
Fully Qualified Survivor.
After the release of Solo Guitar Michael Chapman continued to strengthen his songwriting skills. He seemed to be a perfectionist as he worked on new material for his third album. This was no bad thing and paid of.
For the recording of his third album Fully Qualified Survivor, Michael Chapman was reunited with producer Gus Dudgeon, and also brought a new lead guitarist onboard. This was Mick Ronson who later, made his name as David Bowie’s guitarist. However, before that the new addition played his part in transforming Michael Chapman’s fortunes.
A combination of some of Michael Chapman’s best songs, Gus Dudgeon’s production work and a guitar masterclass from Mick Ronson resulted in critics hailing Fully Qualified Survivor as a mini-masterpiece. It struck a nerve with music fans and reached 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.
Sadly, that wasn’t to be. For his third album Window, producer Gus Dudgeon seemed to allow Michael Chapman more freedom. He had written nine new songs for Window which lyrically, was a much more eclectic album. This wasn’t the only change, Mick Ronson didn’t feature on Window which was produced by Gus Dudgeon.
When Window was released the album divided opinion. Compared to Rainmaker and Fully Qualified Survivor, Window wasn’t perceive as Window as progression and Michael Chapman was treading water. Record buyers agreed and Window failed to chart on its release in 1970. Michael Chapman would later argue that that was no surprise.
After the release of Window, he disowned Window and alleged it comprised a series of unfinished demos which Harvest released when he was on tour. Ironically, Window, the album Michael Chapman disowned has been have reevaluated by critics and is now regarded as his most underrated album.
Back in 1971, after the release of Window, Michael Chapman’s career at a crossroads. He knew that he had to get his career back on track and managed to do this with his next album, Wrecked Again.
Wrecked Again features eleven songs written by Michael Chapman and saw him reinvent himslef musically. The album is often described as his “Memphis” album, but 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 and produced by Gus Dudgeon.
When Wrecked Again was released early in 1971, Michael Chapman’s fifth album failed to chart. Record buyers weren’t won over by the album’s eclectic, all encompassing sound. At least critics were and recognised 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.
After leaving Harvest, Michael Chapman signed to Decca which became his home for the next few years. His Decca debut was Millstone Grit which was released in 1973. It was much more eclectic than some of the albums he had previously released and featured everything from folk and folk rock to blues and country. However, Millstone Grit failed to find and commercial success continued to elude Michael Chapman.
He was down but not out and a year later, returned with one of his finest albums, the hugely underrated Deal Gone Down.
Deal Gone Down.
When Deal Gone Down was released in 1974 and was the followup to Millstone Grit. Critics on hearing the album hailed Deal Gone Down as one of Michael’s finest albums. Michael Chapman was back with an album that combined folk rock with a more traditional rocky sound. It was an album that should’ve appealed to a wide audience. Sadly, the album wasn’t a commercial success and it would be another two years before Michael Chapman released another studio album.
Pleasures Of The Streets.
In 1975 Michael Chapman decided to release his first live album, Pleasures Of The Streets. Playing live was what he liked doing best so he decided to record a live album during his European tour. The result was Pleasures Of The Streets, which was a tantalising taste of what Michael Chapman sounded like live. It was also an album that made commercial sense.
Live albums were growing in popularity during the mid-seventies, and the release of Pleasures Of The Streets saw Michael Chapman dip his toe into what was an expanding market. It was oped that this would help rejuvenate his recording career? After all, his last album to chart was 1970s Fully Qualified Survivor. However, despite the quality of Michael Chapman’s first live album, it failed to trouble the charts. It was a frustrating time for the Leeds-born troubadour.
The following year 1976, Michael Chapman released Savage Amusement which was his first studio album since 1974s Deal Gone Down. It was his seventh studio album and by then, Michael Chapman was talented songwriter. That was evident on the nine new songs he had written for Savage Amusement which was produced by Don Nix. He was backed by his usual band on what was a vastly underrated album of folk rock.
When it was released in 1976 on Decca, it was well received by critics but failed to chart despite its undoubted quality. It was now six years since Fully Qualified Survivor reached forty-five in the UK charts. Michael Chapman’s time at Decca wasn’t a successful one and was about to come to an end.
The Man Who Hated Mornings
Despite the disappointment of the commercial failure of Savage Amusement, Michael Chapman began work on the followup. Having written seven new songs that would feature on The Man Who Hated Mornings, he decided that he would produce the album himself.
The result was an album country rock, folk and folk rock that featured Michael Chapman at his mellowest. It was one of the finest albums of Michael Chapman’s career and he and executives at Decca hoped that this was the album that would kickstart his career.
Things were looking good for Michael Chapman when critics called The Man Who Hated Mornings one of his finest albums of recent years. It was an album that showed that he was capable of moments of genius. Sadly, the record failed to find an audience and never came close to troubling the charts. Worse was come, when it was announced that Michael Chapman and Decca were about to part company.
Playing Guitar The Easy Way.
Having left Decca, Michael Chapman signed to Criminal Records. His first release for the label was Playing Guitar The Easy Way which featured twelve tracks. Eleven were written byMichael Chapman. The exception was Rockport Sunday, which was penned by Tom Rush. They were recorded by Michael at Virgin Studios.
At Virgin Studios, in London, recording of Playing Guitar The Easy Way got underway. Michael Chapman played a selection of classic guitars including a Fylde, Martin D.16, Fender Stratocaster and Gibson 175. He also used some secret weapons during the sessions. This included a FOXX fuzz box, MXR phase shifter, H.H. tape delay, Korg synthesiser pedal and wah wah pedal. During the sessions, Keith Herd was the engineer and Michael Chapman took charge of production on Playing Guitar The Easy Way.
Normal Norman opens Playing Guitar The Easy Way and just like all the tracks on the album, it begins with an open tuning. Before long, Michael Chapman is unleashing waves of bluesy guitar. Seamlessly, his hands flit up and down the fretboard and his playing seem to have matured since his 1969 debut Rainmaker. That’s apparent on the album opener which showcases one of British music’s best kept secrets.
The bluesy sound continues on Revival Time where there’s similarities with the previous track. Again, it’s a reminder that Michael Chapman is one of British music’s most underrated guitarists. It doesn’t take long to realise this as he uses he makes good use of a phase shifter as the two guitars embark upon a spellbinding duel.
Understated and mellow describes Suite Mellow Dee. So does joyous. It’s two minutes of beautiful, meandering, music where Michael Chapman plays both acoustic and slide guitar. They’re a perfect foil for each other. Then towards the end of the track, the slide guitar drops out, as the lone acoustic guitar takes centre-stage on this mellow, laidback track.
On English Musick Michael Chapman deploys his fuzz box as he unleashed dramatic rocky licks on his electric guitar. Meanwhile, he also plays his trusty acoustic guitar and his playing is quick, intricate and folk-tinged. His hands fly up and down the fretboard and hear two sides to Michael Chapman.
After the usual open tuning Pipe Dreams unfolds and has a mellow, country blues’ sound. That’s thanks to brief bursts of slide guitar which is augmented by Michael Chapman’s trusty acoustic guitar. They work well together and before long, he ups the ante. At breakneck speed his hands fly up and down the fretboard never missing a note. As if by magic layers of music melt into one as Michael Chapman becomes a one man band and showcases his considerable skils.
Deliberate strums of guitar prove to be a curveball on High Wide and Handsome. Before long, Michael Chapman returns to his familiar country blues sound and then he plays some slide guitar. It’s no exaggeration to say that this is a glorious sound. It sounds as ifMichael Chapman was weaned on Mississippi Fred McDowell and Blind Willie Johnson and is paying homage to their memory.
Straight away, Michael Chapman deploys his box of tricks on A Scholarly Man. He uses it to briefly transform the sound. After that his guitar rings out and at breakneck speed he gives what can only be described as a guitar masterclass. He digs deep, drawing upon all the music that’s influenced him and what follows is best described joyous and dramatic and is one of the highlights of Playing Guitar the Easy Way.
Sometimes In The Night has a wistful sound. Having said that, there’s an ethereal beauty in the music which is simplicity itself. Essentially, it’s one man and his guitars, albeit, aided and abetted by his effect boxes. He uses them sparingly. At first it’s just Michael Chapman on his acoustic guitar, Before long, he’s playing a double and subtly uses effects to shape the sound. His fingers fly up and down the fretboard, twisting, shaping and honing the sound. Almost effortlessly he creates a track that’s melancholy, wistful and has an ethereal beauty.
Listening to Loop The Loop is reminiscent of the legendary country and western singer, songwriter and guitarist Merle Travis. He played a Gibson and sometimes so does Michael Chapman. On Playing Guitar The Easy Way he had a variety of guitars to call upon. Here he makes his guitar sing as he seamlessly combines elements of blues, country and western and folk.
Rockport Sunday sees Michael Chapma’s guitar ring out joyously. He’s a guitarist’s guitarists and technically, he’s up there with the best British guitarists of his generation. He’s a hugely talented, versatile and technically proficient guitarist and here he demonstrates what he’s capable of.
Envious Eyes allows Michael to show different sides to his music. One minute, the music is understated and thoughtful, the next it takes on a country hue. That’s because Michael deploys his wah-wah pedal and he also plays two different guitars. They sound very different and at one point, the second guitar is replying to the first guitar’s call. It wah wahs across the arrangement, as we hear yet another side to Michael Chapman’s music.
Steel Bonnets closes Playing Guitar the Easy Way. He strums the guitar and deploys the phaser making the music shimmer and quiver and reverberates into the distance. Effects aren’t overused and instead they’re used sparingly. This add to what’s a beautiful, mellow and melancholy track and the perfect way to close the album.
Playing Guitar The Easy Way was Michael Chapman’s eleventh album and very different to his previous albums. It was an album made up entirely of instrumentals. This was the perfect showcase for Michael Chapman who is without doubt, one of the best British guitarists of his generations.
That’s apparent from the first time you hear Playing Guitar the Easy Way. You’re spellbound by his playing as his hands fly up and down the fretboards. He draws inspirations from blues, country and western, country blues, folk and rock. Michael Chapman is just as happy playing acoustic guitar as he is unleashing some slide guitar and in his hands a guitar comes alive. He has the ability to make a guitar come to life and it sings. The music he creates veers between bluesy, hopeful, joyous, melancholy through to uplifting and wistful. Other times, it’s beautiful and ethereal. However, despite the undoubted quality of Michael Chapman’s music, he’s still one of British music’s best kept secrets and Playing Guitar the Easy Way is a cult classic that has still to find a wider audience. Sadly, so has most of his albums.
Only Michael Chapman’s 1970 album Fully Qualified Survivor charted and even then, it stalled at number forty-five in the UK. For the rest of his career it’s a case of what might have been? Commercial success and critical acclaim managed to elude Michael Chapman and that was the case with 1978s Playing Guitar the Easy Way. It showcases a man whose been described as a guitarist’s guitarist and one of British music’s best kept secrets who aged seventy-nine is still playing live and has released over forty albums. One of Michael Chapman’s finest albums is his cult classic Playing Guitar The Easy Way.
Cult Classic: Michael Chapman-Playing Guitar The Easy Way