Review: Michael Chapman and others Folk on the Pier, Cromer

Michael Chapman.

Michael Chapman. - Credit: Archant

Powerhouse singer-guitarist Michael Chapman has been a firm favourite with festival audiences in Norfolk for more than 40 years.

Joe Broughton's Conservatoire Folk Ensemble.

Joe Broughton's Conservatoire Folk Ensemble. - Credit: Archant

He was a regular guest at the UEA Norwich Folk Festival in the early 1970s when his exciting, adventurous and always innovative playing won me and many others over as committed fans.

Four decades on he proved he is still the master of his game with a festival fringe concert at the Cliftonville Hotel lasting well over 80 minutes.

Starting with his early classic In the Valley, performed this time with verses spoken rather than sung, I was immediately transported back to those magic music moments of my youth.

Chapman's extended workouts on amplified acoustic guitar, subtly using a few electronic tricks, are his real trademark. Like Neil Young his musical accompaniments, to sometimes simple songs, take on a life of their own.

Kodak Ghosts remained a magnificent triumph, Shuffleboat River Farewell was a welcome revival and his John Fahey tribute, Fahey's Flag, retained its quirky humour and infectious appeal.

Chapman's gravelly Yorkshire tones work equally well on his 'homeland' songs as well as his Americana compositions.

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Winter in Memphis included some graphic images of the seamier side of the city and his portrait of a lowly desert truckstop waitress was a sensitive and moving piece of work.

As always Chapman's instrumentals were mighty with Caddo Lake, inspired by a visit to Texas, a wonderful atmospheric composition.

Support came from hardworking festival blues duo Fran McGillivray and Mike Burke who turned in fine interpretations of numbers by Bessie Smith, Buddy Holly and Little Walter as well as an impressive original Researching the blues.

An evening highlight for many in the pier theatre was Joe Broughton's Conservatoire Folk Ensemble – now in its 16th year.

This 40-strong band – featuring many teenage players – filled the stage and gave a thoroughly entertaining performance of traditional tunes mixed with reggae, jazz, hip-hop and more, led by Joe on fiddle.

Welcome bonuses were a Bulgarian folksong by a trio of the ensemble female musicians and members' energetic dancing across the theatre.

No wonder that the ensemble received a standing ovation.

Brian Gaudet