Venues and artists don’t always make happy bedfellows, but the combination of Michael Chapman and Julie Byrne playing at London’s Union Chapel on Monday 13th November was a rare occasion of an acoustic match made in heaven.
Billed as a ‘special guest’, legendary guitarist Chapman took to the stage under the church’s rose-tinted windows, appearing in his trademark baseball cap, illuminated by a spotlight, through occasional billows of dry smoke. Delivering a mesmerising performance to a hushed audience, his finger-picking playing style and stony voice cut through the room, while occasionally interspersing his set with tales of more than 50 years of life on the road.
Aptly enough, he soon launches into the haunting Just Another Story, an epic narrative that conjures pictures in the mind as only the best folk artists can achieve with ease. His songwriting recently revived by a liaison with American folk grunge artist Steve Gunn allowing him to perform several songs from the new album, 50 which was produced by Gunn.
“I wrote this song for Bert Jansch,” he says introducing It Ain’t So, before adding, “he didn’t want it.” Self parody, maybe, but Chapman was a friend and contemporary of Jansch, and his musical equal. The fact that the 76-year-old is still touring is a pleasure to cherish.
Julie Byrne took headline billing for the night, but there’s an obvious connection between the musicians, and not just their finger-picking styles. “I’d love his life,” Byrne says of Chapman, and it’s clear this New Yorker, although relatively young and new to touring, would embrace a life on the road.
“This feels like a second home,” she tells the audience, and her delight at performing live is contagious. Accompanied by a background track of crashing waves and grand soundscapes, plus a brilliant violinist who held the room in awe, Byrne showcases her critically acclaimed album Not Even Happiness. Songs such as Follow My Voice, already firm favourites with her enraptured crowd, are eagerly lapped up like a nourishing meal.
Like Chapman, she sings about the places she’s been and the feelings inspired; like Chapman, she has an uncanny ability to transport you right there with her, in spirit if not physically. If the original purpose of this chapel was to lift the soul, then the music played tonight under the preacher’s pulpit was a fitting tribute.
Live Review by Craig Scott & Photography by Paul Lyme of Michael Chapman & Julie Byrne at Union Chapel, London on 13th November 2017