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Imaginational Anthem vol. XII: I Thought I Told You – A Yorkshire Tribute to Michael Chapman – a review

I Thought I Told You pays homage to Michael Chapman's diverse music with mesmerizing performances from Yorkshire's artists.

Release Date
20 October 2023
I Thought I Told You - A Yorkshire Tribute to Michael Chapman
Michael Chapman's prolific career spanned 50 albums of exceptional guitar work and diverse songwriting. Henry Parker curated a remarkable tribute in I Thought I Told You, showcasing eight artists from Yorkshire who deliver sensitive, creative performances. The album captures Chapman's eclectic musical range, from folk to experimental. It's a timeless journey worth immersing in, led by Parker's enchanting 'In The Valley' and featuring gems like Dean McPhee's 'Caddo Lake.' Katie Spencer and Holly Blackshaw offer hauntingly beautiful renditions, while 'Heat Index' and 'Kodak Ghosts' add cosmic and eerie dimensions. Chris Brain's 'Among the Trees' concludes with pure Yorkshire joy. A sublime tribute to Michael Chapman's legacy.

To say that Michael Chapman was prolific is one hell of an understatement. 50 albums of remarkable guitar playing and eclectic songwriting over a career is a spectacular achievement but it must have caused a serious headache for Henry Parker, who curated this brilliant tribute. Parker is a progressive psych folk guitarist and songwriter, influenced by Nick Drake and Bert Jansch whose last album, Lammas Fair, was lyrical and lovely.

I Thought I Told You is the twelfth of Tompkins Square’s Imaginational Anthem series; this one features eight tracks performed by eight artists from Chapman’s beloved Yorkshire. None of them are especially big names but the sensitivity, intelligence and creativity shown makes this the sort of album to get, simply, lost within. If Chapman’s repertoire ranged across musical styles, from folk to Americana, jazz to experimental jams, so the magpie variations of I Thought I Told You are intensely rewarding. 

Parker himself starts things off with ‘In The Valley’, the original of which can be found on the 1970 album Window. Written by Chapman during his days as a woodsman in the Mexborough Estate near Hawnby in North Yorks, this is the first of a couple of “woodsman” songs here. Parker’s guitar is suitably late 60s, a sound verging on an acoustic psychedelia that is delightfully otherworldly. It’s the sort of track that would sit, very happily, on the acid-folk compilation Gather In The Mushrooms – it’s a fine and dusty gem. Coupled with his wonderfully expressive voice, this will sit beautifully with anyone with a fondness for Chapman’s contemporaries, John Martyn and Roy Harper. 

It’s not just Parker that looks back toward Chapman’s sense of the timeless, though. Dean McPhee played with Chapman in 2012, so has a very clear understanding as to how to make ‘Caddo Lake’ as sparse and glittery as water itself. Composed on the shore of the 40-square-mile lake in Texas, this is absolutely lovely stuff; shimmering, gorgeous, delicate electric guitar playing of the very highest quality. Close your eyes and drift decades, thousands of miles away. It’s Americana in the same way that John Fahey is Americana: meditative and transportive. Along similar lines is Andrew DR Abbot’s ‘(Some) Trains’, a deep, baritone guitar instrumental that often featured in Chapman’s later sets. It starts slowly but, by the end, reaches an almost express pace, the sound of two, three, four trains racing to their destinations.

Perhaps it’s fair to say that you know how great a songwriter is when it is of no consequence whether the songs are sung by a male or female voice. Katie Spencer supported Chapman at his last ever show (in 2020). When she sings, “and so I’m saying goodbye/although god knows I don’t want to”, there’s no doubt that this one comes from the heart. Spencer’s voice is lovely, wracked with sadness but celebrating the positive. Brushed drums and a gentle acoustic guitar are the sound of Yorkshire rain, of distant sea-shores. Crooked Weather’s Holly Blackshaw is another female voice doing wonderful things to a beautiful song. ‘March Rain’ is taken from the Fully Qualified Survivor album, released on Harvest in 1970, and Blackshaw makes it icy, ethereal, and incredibly elegant, a slow-motion cello and shimmery electric guitar casting it across the deepest, darkest, most still of oceans. 

As much as the folkie songs are glorious, it is a couple of things that wander from the path that make you want to hit repeat. ‘Heat Index’ is a more recent Chapman tune, and in the hands of Bobby Lee, is a cosmic country groover. A spoken word lyric – “I thought I told you/I’m from Yorkshire” – lends itself to some banjo-led psych stomping, building to something euphoric; something wickedly gleeful. On the other hand, ‘Kodak Ghosts’, by Leeds experimental duo, Hawthonn, is a stark and radical re-imaging of another Fully Qualified Survivor. Creaks and wails, dreaded knocking and vapour-trail guitars add to a creepy and isolated tale of loneliness. There are shadows and echoes, blasting away the sunny Americana and arboreal folk splendour of the preceding tracks.

It is left to Chris Brain‘s ‘Among the Trees’ to reinstate the carefree joy found elsewhere on I Thought I Told You – the sound of a man, entirely content to be under a leaf canopy, humming delightedly to himself. It is both incredibly uplifting and curiously very ‘Yorkshire’ indeed. It is utterly lovely.

Taking eight tracks from 50 albums was always going to be tough. There were always going to be favourites missed, but I Thought I Told You is sublime. Henry Parker, Imaginational Anthems and the whole of Yorkshire have done the great man proud. 

I Thought I Told You – A Yorkshire Tribute to Michael Chapman is out on October 20th and can be bought from Tompkin’s Square Bandcamp.