50 years...but no folk

Michael Chapman
Michael Chapman
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Michael Chapman’s colourful description of his first sight of Muddy Waters at the Leeds Jazz Festival, some 53 years ago, is another brilliant chapter from the bulging archives of a British blues guitarist who celebrates half a century on the road with a special show in the county on Thursday (April 21), writes TONY DEWHURST.

“That day changed my life and I still think about it; this tall, elegant, black guy wearing a fluorescent blue suit with red flashing lights on it, and sporting a pair of super cool crepes,” said Chapman.

“I’d never seen anything like it. This was Yorkshire, you know, and I thought, ‘Who is this cat?’”

Chapman recalled Waters wheeling ‘several, black cupboards’ on to the stage and on closer inspection he realised they were giant amplifiers.

He added: “When he came back on and plugged in his white Fender Showman Telecaster, there was a low rumble of thunder.

“I remember thinking blimey, that’s loud. But then he turned it up and you could have heard it in Doncaster.

“I was planted to the spot. Really, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was like an earthquake. Nothing was the same for me after that, seeing the father of modern Chicago Blues.”

Chapman may have celebrated his 75th birthday in January, but he insists that age is a state of mind and in the last decade he has connected with US artists, Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth and Jack Rose from the noise-drone band Pelt as he continues to bend the musical boundaries.

“Thurston Moore is a good friend and when we played a gig together at the Continental in Preston a few years ago, then that was a special one,” said Chapman.

“I’d bought myself a new £4,000 guitar for the gig and when we did our first number together I looked up and Thurston was playing it with an industrial screwdriver. Thurston believes in chaos and I believe in rhythm and melody, but somehow when we play together it works.”

But a word of warning: Don’t call one of the late John Peel’s favourite artists, who has 40 albums under his belt, a folk musician.

“I know nothing about folk music, I don’t play folk music and I never have,” he said. Before I started writing songs I’d go into a folk club and start playing Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane and anything that came into my head. People call me a folk singer because I like to play acoustic guitars, and that’s a cross I’ve had to bear all of my life.”

To coincide with the celebrations since he went on the road professionally in 1966, Chapman’s new instrumental album, Fish, has garnered plenty of praise.

“I look at this tour as a bit of a birthday present to myself,” he says.

Chapman will return to the county this summer to play Ribble Valley’s Music and Arts Festival Cloudspotting, July 29-31. Chapman will be accompanied at his concert in Blackburn by BJ Cole on pedal steel and Sarah Smout on cello with the trio playing material from Chapman’s back catalogue as well as some new and experimental music.

• Michael Chapman, 50 years on the road, Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, April 21, £14. Tickets Available from www.cloudspotting-festival.co.uk and King George’s Hall box office, 0844 847 1664