West Hill Hall, Brighton
23 February 2013
"I'm going to be playing the guitar tonight," announced Michael Chapman to a rightly packed West Hill Hall yesterday. "I've just been touring with Thurston Moore and we've been torturing the things..."
He is a man of several parts and the improv which has informed his last two albums, Clayton Peacock and Pachyderm, is on hold, in favour of more structured songs and tunes from his wonderful back catalogue.
That said, it is his virtuso instrumental chops which are to the fore, with the lyrics largely spoken now. And his playing is freewheeling and expansive, with several extended medleys exploring the sonic possibilities of his trusty guitar, which is 'nearly as old as me' and 'doesn't like the cold', as frequent tunings testify.
He plays the gruff, no nonsense Yorkshireman to a tee in his between-songs patter, skirting the non-PC with relish. A recollection of a dinner with John Fahey, which ended with his 20 stone touring partner naked except for a strategically-placed flag from the Nuremberg Rallies, leads into a beautiful pastiche ('that's French for piss-take') of the great man, all bottleneck and handbrake turns.
Other highlights include 'That Time Of Night', which Lucinda Williams covered memorably on last year's Oh Michael, Look What You've Done compilation (which I will continue to plug at every opportunity: it's great, if you haven't heard it yet...). It's a lovely summation of the tenderness behind the tough coating of the Chapman persona:
I love it when you want me
I love it when you care
You know I don't scare easy
But I do get scared.
He is one of the great guitarists. Full stop.
It's amazing we can see him in small halls like this, so catch him when you can.