The Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath, Birmingham.
Well, I didn’t think I’d get to this, having had a throat op on saturday, but so glad I did, Chapman being an undoubted bucket list artist of mine, especially given his astonishing renaissance of the past few years. Kitchen Garden Cafe is small, nay, tiny: I counted the tightly crammed chairs as containing perhaps 80 grizzled souls. Chapman is 76 and so seemed many of his audience, creeping out from their Moseley boho attics under cover of dusk. And me. A gushing fanboy came on first, having twisted the promoters arm to play and was politely indulged. The contrast between his fresh face and designer haircut could not have been more extreme, Chapman ambling on in a tyre shop, sorry, “tire” shop, T shirt and baseball cap. First job was to ask the soundman to turn up his guitar, a battered looking acoustic six-string: “I like the sound of my guitar, I’m greedy”, he explained, “but my voice is shit.” The audience dissented, but slightly. Banging straight in with his trademark percussive and rolling picking, sort of John Fahey with tunes, it was a full five minutes, audience entranced, before he revealed said voice. It is true, it is a limited instrument, perhaps a range of maybe 4 or 5 cracked lower tones, near a whisper, but enormously right for the material, apocalyptic sounding songs of old testament figures of an old american west, yet, he assured us, based on his rural community near Carlisle. And trains. He likes train songs, as he told us, a sea of stories coming out between each miniature epic. Like when Lucinda Williams summonsed him to play on stage with her and he was late, as, without a computer, he hadn’t got the e-mail, he revealing, shock and surprise, that she might like a drink or two. Genuinely coming over as a man unable to quite believe he had spent the last 50 years on the road, having, he said, great fun, much of the material came from 50, the recent album commemorating just that, one I heartily commend. But he also played Postcards of Scarborough, from his 1970 breakthrough album, Fully Qualified Survivor, when, briefly, he was famous, ahead of obscurity then beckoning him back, as well as the heart attack that nearly killed him at the end of the 80s.
I have never quite understood why this style of guitar playing gets called american primitive, even with his distinctly yorkshire bias thereto. It seems to me immeasurably complex. Over 2 sets he captivated me and this audience, his songs and tunes near hypnotic, seldom straying far from a template as comfortable as the cap always on his head. The only, for me, slight disappointment came at the encore, a long instrumental, overly heavy on the reverby echo that has endeared him to Thurston Moore and others.But it clearly demarcated the end of the show. But what do I know, I’m just an old folkie. That apart, a fabulous evening. An overused cliche is national treasure, but he is. See him when you can, while you can.
As stated, grey haired hippy schoolteachers from south Birmingham, the odd youngster, all avidly watching his fingers over the strings.
It made me think..
Bloody hell, maybe that T-shirt company was right, I am increasingly thinking old guys rule……