MICHAEL CHAPMAN – Growing Pains Volume 1 & 2 (Mooncrest CRESTCD105)

Growing PainsIt would appear that this set was released as two separate albums some twenty years ago. I missed them then so they come as a real treat now. Growing Pains brings together a number of “off the record” recordings over two decades from 1966 – 1986.

The first four tracks on the first disc are studio recordings from 1966, thus predating Michael’s Harvest debut, Rainmaker, by three years. The songs are standards from the folk-blues repertoire of the time beginning with Big Bill Broonzy’s ‘Key To The Highway’. Here Chapman, perhaps unwisely, adopts a voice rather older than his years but the standout track here is ‘Let Me Go Home Whiskey’ on which he plays a seemingly impossible combination of notes.

The next three tracks come from a folk club performance in 1969. All come from Rainmaker and without any on-stage chat Chapman comes over as subdued and serious. Not so with the next batch which come from a 1971 concert performance – what a difference two years makes. Chapman begins taking the mickey out of himself by pairing Harry Dacre’s ‘Daisy Bell’ – something to do with tandems – complete with some deliberately iffy notes with ‘Naked Ladies & Electric Ragtime’. What a scamp! Next comes Tim Hardin’s ‘Reason To Believe’ and now we’re into the serious business with ‘Wrecked Again’, ‘Rabbit Hills’ and ‘A Scholarly Man’ which he expands to a near fifteen minute workout.

Finally in the first set we have four tracks recorded in 1980 including the wonderful ‘Dangerous When Sober’ which see Chapman in full rock-star mode. These tracks have appeared on various anthologies but I haven’t found them on any original albums – there are a lot to look through.

Volume 2 opens with four more tracks from that 1969 folk club gig. I say four but Chapman is really motoring and the tracks merge into one another beginning with the guitar workouts of Tom Rush’s ‘Rockport Sunday’ and his own ‘Andru’s Easy Rider’.  The delightful ‘Indian Queens’ from Wrecked Again leads into Rainmaker’s ‘Not So Much A Garden (More Like A Maze) into which he introduces bits of ‘Norwegian Wood’.

There is some confusion about the next five tracks. The listing implies that they are studio demos but they are clearly live and the notes suggest that they come from a Cambridge Folk Festival gig with his band which included Rick Kemp and Keef Hartley. Given that Cambridge had imposed a no-drums policy that year, Chapman apparently wasn’t invited back. These are some of the best tracks in the set all originally from Wrecked Again and Savage Amusement and include ‘Devastation Hotel’ and Alfred Reed’s ‘How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live’.

Finally we have ‘Catwalk 2’, a six-part, thirty minute instrumental suite written for Chapman’s partner Andru for her fashion business. Chapman plays guitar, bass and drums to produce the sort of mesmerising music needed for a catwalk show. It demonstrates his versatility and self-discipline and unless you own the very rare 1987 cassette release you probably won’t have heard it before.

Growing Pains is a very good album for all sorts of reasons and I’ve enjoyed hearing some Michael Chapman music that I hadn’t heard of, let along heard before.

Dai Jeffries

Label website: www.secretrecordslimited.com

Here’s Michael performing live on Austrian TV in 1975 – more or less contemporaneous with some of Growing Pains.

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