Time Past Time Passing is an album of all-new material from English guitar legend Michael Chapman one of the great innovators and heavyweights of the British music scene from the 1960’s onwards. It was self produced at Phoenix studio, a small studio in Northern England near the end of Hadrian’s Wall. Though largely unknown in the U.S. Chapman’s peers are the likes of Bert Jansch, Richard Thompson and the equally influential yet unsung Davy Graham and Wizz Jones and he’s released over 20 albums to date. Time Past Time Passing is being issued by Electric Ragtime Records, distributed by Ryko, later this year and he will be playing U.S. dates this Fall.
The guitar and voice of Michael Chapman first emerged on the folk-music circuits of Cornwall, then London in 1967, playing alongside the likes of Nick Drake, John Martyn and Roy Harper. Blending elements of folk, jazz and classical styles, he created his own unique ouevre of challenging, often autobiographical original compositions and established a formidable reputation as an intense live performer and musical innovator. Signed to EMI’s Harvest label he recorded a quartet of classic albums. Rainmaker and Wrecked Again defined the melancholic observer role Michael was to make his own, mixing intricate guitar instrumentals with a full band sound. Fully Qualified Survivor, featuring the guitar of Mick Ronson (later to become David Bowie’s sidekick) and the bass of Rick Kemp (Steeleye Span), was John Peel’s favorite album of 1970.
A label change occasioned a change in sound. Millstone Grit featured him playing electric guitar more prominently but still with his distinctive fluidity and showed this master guitarist exploring adventurous new sounds and textures. Michael continued to build his live repute, touring solo and with a variety of groups and his next release Pleasures of the Streets was a strong mix of live solo and band performances. Throughout this time he was a regular session contributor to Radio One. A lively and accomplished improviser, Michael made a practice of radically re-working his own songs, both before an audience and on record. The Don Nix-produced Savage Amusement featured impressive new readings of the Chapman back catalogue; different musicians and a fresh approach breathed new life into what had become standards for him.
1978 brought a new label and the release of Playing Guitar The Easy Way, a guitar tutorial record that explained in simple terms, methods of playing the guitar using 12 different instrumental pieces each with a different open tuning. The critically acclaimed Life On The Ceiling and Looking For Eleven both found Chapman synthesizing ingredients from folk, jazz phrasing, and progressive rock into a contemplative yet demanding new stylistic fusion. In response to public demand Michael recorded the solo Almost Alone presenting the relaxed, eclectic mix of sounds that styles heard at a typical Chapman gig of that era.
The ’80’s saw Michael back with Rick Kemp. Touring as a duo they released the live Original Owners. Anyone hearing the anger of the newer material, coupled with the volume and energy of the Chapman/Kemp band “Savage Amusement,” was left in no doubt that here was an elder statesman growing more acid, rather than mellower with age. After a period of reflection and lower profile releases, Michael recorded Heartbeat, a groundbreaking thematic album featuring an extended 38-minute piece, a long cherished ambition finally made possible by the advent of the CD.
Still Making Rain and ’95’s Navigation presented a man whose world-weary voice, given a patina by life and hard living, delivered sensitive, emotion-laden songs. The playing was more considered than ever before. Fewer notes and more space for music to breathe, gave songs like “The Mallard” and “It Ain’t So” a hymn-like intensity. 1995 also saw the publishing of Michael’s first novel ‘Firewater Dreams’, a thinly veiled autobiography, which fleshed out some of his highly personal songs and explored his themes of regret, travel and loneliness.
This self-styled old white blues guy from Yorkshire is one of the most under-rated musical heroes of our time. With his uniquely English melancholic perspective and emotive guitar style he deserves wider recognition.