On the day that the Rolling Stones had been forced to cancel their forthcoming North American tour due to Mick Jagger requiring medical treatment, Michael Chapman just keeps on going. At 78 years of age, the venerable Yorkshireman is three years the Stones’ singer’s senior. Yet despite this and his clearly suffering tonight from the debilitating effects of a heavy cold – an ailment that reduces his voice to an even more weather-beaten rasp, one that ends up sounding as if it lies somewhere between those of Mark Kozelek, JJ Cale, and Tom Waits – it does nothing whatsoever to stall his continuing progress or have any adverse impact upon this often quite brilliant performance.
Michael Chapman is in York as part of the launch tour for his latest album, True North. He is joined here by fellow British folk singer-songwriter icon Bridget St John, celebrated cellist Sarah Smout and pedal steel legend BJ Cole, all of whom played on the new record, the fifty-something long player of Chapman’s remarkable recording career which now stretches back for more than half a century.
The longevity of Michael Chapman’s career owes as much to his supreme talent as a songwriter and musician as it does to dogged determination and sheer bloody-mindedness all of which are in clear evidence in a packed Crescent tonight.
Though the tour is being held in honour of True North, Chapman largely eschews that record during the first half of this show, choosing instead to give us ‘The Mallard’ (a song he wrote a few years earlier only a few hundred yards away from here on platform 5 of York railway station), ‘That Time of Night’ (previously covered, to his clear amazement and immense pride, by American country singer Lucinda Williams) and ‘Just Another Story’ (about a truck-stop waitress). He does take us to the interval, though, with ‘It’s Too Late’, the opening song from True North and one that mines a familiar Chapman seam of longing and regret and to which Sarah Smout and BJ Cole add lingering psychedelic flourishes.
After the break, Michael Chapman transports us all back to 1970 and his second album Fully Qualified Survivor from which he plays ‘Rabbit Hills’. Bridget St John, who to this point had contributed the most haunting and powerful of counterpoint vocals, takes the lead on this quite beautiful ballad illustrating in the process that age has not diminished any of the clear reflective poignancy in her voice.
With the self-deprecating humour of his between-song anecdotes, Chapman routinely gives lie to any impression of him as some miserable old bugger. He introduces ‘Caddo Lake’ as “an instrumental with no singing; the ones my mother used to like the best”. Written in 100 degree heat at the side of this huge expanse of water that lies on the Texas/Louisiana border, Chapman’s guitar coalesces magically with Smout’s cello and Cole’s pedal steel to capture perfectly the sheer humidity and scale of that exact time and place.
‘Sometimes You Just Drive’ was inspired by the floods in Carlisle from a few years ago, and once more the musicians combine to recreate a memory, this time in a seamless swirl of apocalyptic imagery. Like the entire performance, it is simply quite stunning.
Photos: Simon Godley
More photos from this show can be found HERE