From shaping English folk and Bowie’s Spiders from Mars to playing at King Curtis’s funeral, he inspired me and so many others with his wisdom and soul
For those of us tuned to his frequency, guitarist and songwriter Michael Chapman’s origin story was a legend the likes of which don’t seem to be written much any more. As the tale goes, one rainy night in the late 1960s he went to a pub in Cornwall, but didn’t have the money to enter. “So I said, ‘I’ll tell you what, I don’t want to stand outside in the rain; I’ll play guitar for half an hour for you,’” he once wrote. “They offered me a job for the rest of the summer and I’ve been at it ever since.”
When I met Michael around 2013, I was well aware of, and quite awestruck by, his history – his years as a key figure orbiting the London folk scene alongside players including Bert Jansch, Bridget St John and John Martyn; his time playing with and shaping the musicians that became David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars; his studio work with producers and arrangers such as Gus Dudgeon, Paul Buckmaster and Don Nix – but I was unprepared for how wide open, approachable and loving he was. In his later years, Michael had become something of an elder statesman for music heads like myself with a deep appreciation for the type of bleary, autumnal songs that live in the grooves of records like Fully Qualified Survivor, Millstone Grit, Window, Deal Gone Down, and my favourite, Wrecked Again. For many musicians, including Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Jack Rose, William Tyler, Steve Gunn and myself, Michael was the connector between the big, wide world of English folk rock in the 70s – he once told me that he filled in at the last minute for Traffic at a massive festival because Steve Winwood wasn’t feeling well – and the marginal, underground musical universe that we then inhabited.