Michael ChapmanMichael Chapman
Album: Live At Folk Cottage, Cornwall, 1967
Label: Tree House44
Tracks: 18

A really valuable slice of folk history, preserved extremely well and here available for the first time. This CD really delivers with this intensely powerful full live set, recorded by the simple but highly effective expedient of merely hanging a microphone from a beam just over and in front of the stage! It all took place on 24th March 1967, around 15 months before the studio recording sessions for Rainmaker, Michael's storming debut album for Harvest. The venue - Folk Cottage, at Mitchell near Newquay -although a determinedly basic and unpretentious one, had by then become established as a seminal place on the circuit, and a proving ground for musicians both local-grown (John The Fish, Brenda Wootton) and from further afield (including Ralph McTell and the duo Wizz Jones and Pete Stanley).

"Exciting blues artiste" Mike (as he was then billed) Chapman was one of those who secured regular repeat bookings there. Much of his early repertoire centred around the blues, his acute feel for which idiom being brilliantly complemented by his emerging guitar style, which even at that time was dazzling (to put it mildly!).

Sure, Michael needed to "wallop" the instrument in order to he heard at the back of the room, there being no PA, but this force of attack was accompanied by a tremendous sensitivity as well as a proclivity for invention and extemporisation that even then was second to none amongst his peers - witness the jaw-dropping embellishments Michael managed on his unashamedly extended treatments of the likes of Baby Please Don't Go and Parchman Farm, and the lengthy preamble intro to Take Me Home Whiskey that opens the set. But the set is more eclectic and wide-ranging than blues covers: better-than-convincing versions of Kansas City, the Fats Domino number I've Been Around and even That'll Be The Day, as well as some lazy crooners (I Thought About You, When Did You Leave Heaven, The Prisoner's Song), and - right at the other end of the spectrum - three magnificent, suitably adventurous instrumentals that form audible precursors to notable early album cuts like Sunday Morning and the modal breaks in the likes of A Scholarly Man and Not So Much A Garden … Instrumental Number 2 morphs in and out of Davy Graham's Angi, but at quite a lick, and all over the shop (remember Michael's background was in jazz) he trades snatches of recognisable phrases from other tunes (Day Tripper, Jesu Joy Of Man's Desiring, and the riff from Paint It Black) along the way.

The sheer presence of this recording is remarkable, indeed one of the best-quality live recordings I've heard of this vintage; it really does convey the essence of a night in that cramped, out-in-the-sticks but convivial venue and so perfectly and vividly captures the artist's winning personality and professionalism. The only thing missing is a certain amount of necessary re-tuning of guitars - but that proves unavoidable in order to enable the disc to utilise its maximum-playing-time capability of close on 79 minutes! Stunning. And the digipack presentation is exemplary too.

David Kidman