MICHAEL CHAPMAN

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  • Nick Ellis
Mellowtone @ Philharmonic Music Room 20/11/16

An all too short set from NICK ELLIS kicks things off, the Scouse troubadour bringing his own brand of blues-soul musings on life, love and light to a new audience with a natural ease. A Grand Illusion, Lovers In July, and A Walk Through The City, from Ellis’ new Daylight Ghosts album, form the backbone of a set that is rich in character, delivered with Ellis’s trademark grace, poise and an understated determination. With each performance he grows, giving more of himself, and, as he finishes with My Old Flame, the coup that Mellowtone have pulled off with this most perfect pairing of unique and individual performers becomes clear.

The MICHAEL CHAPMAN fans who are packed shoulder-to-shoulder in seated rows in the Music Room, reflect this incredible artist’s 50-year career in their spread of ages. Anticipating greatness, they sit in reverent silence with bated breath and widened eyes, as the opening strokes of Chapman’s guitar start us on a masterclass of acoustic blues that comes so naturally from this instinctive and expressive player.

Chapman’s part folk, part blues style of intricately finger-picked melodies, dancing up and down the neck, is as enigmatic and evocative as his deep, dusty voice. And that voice; tired, scratched and worn from decades on the road, with lyrics part spoken, Lee Hazlewood-style, over the hypnotic spell of his guitar work. You can hear the dusts of time in these tunings, these lilting and attractive riffs.

The simple, warm beauty of songs like The Twisted Road, played here as the opener, pulls us in and holds us close, each section ringing out in the still of the Sunday night air. Reflective, intimate and personal, it’s a lyric that feels as though it was written for any one of us. Maybe it was.

He is warm and personable as he recounts his traveller’s tales and details his influences, the places in his mind, and the people in his mind’s eye, gracing us with stories of all those years travelling all those roads. He introduces us, in his Yorkshire drawl, to Caddo Lake, with a story of a journey along the Louisiana/Texas border in search of a town called Uncertain. He pulled into some other dusty town to ask for directions, but could only find one person to ask. Predictably, he didn’t know. So, Chapman sat down at the side of the lake and wrote. The song itself, is a standalone testament to Chapman’s innate skill, starting with a rhythmic harmonic pattern played high up the neck, before breaking into descending waves of country blues picking. It’s a sound as high and as wide as the Texan sky, and again, it comes expertly presented by the stunning sound in the Music Room. A most special Mellowtone moment.

That Time Of Night, taken from the new album 50, is another haunting highlight, a lyrical picture of love and a simple fireside country blues melody, painted over another classic fluid Chapman six string serenade. The gift in Michael Chapman’s writing is the real sense of ease, the feeling that he doesn’t have to try too hard. His vast body of work is the very definition of instinctive and intuitive musicianship, it is as though he can’t help himself. For him, this is not second nature, it’s just nature. This is simply what he’s always been here for, he does it because he must. As he finishes the set with another beautiful picked-blues symphony, La Madrugada, from his Americana 2 album, he explains that he’d been told the title means “somewhere between the darkness and the dawn” And in that one description we find the perfect metaphor for Michael Chapman’s music. The blue grey light and the stillness of those moments before the brightness of the day. In this music, we find and we feel both sides of that moment.

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