Fully Qualified Survivor
(Light in the Attic)
(out of five)
Virtuoso British guitarist/singer/songwriter Michael Chapman somehow hasn’t attained the recognition of even cult-figure peers like Richard Thompson or Bert Jansch. Running in the same circles as John Martyn and Roy Harper, Chapman released Fully Qualified Survivor on art-rock bastion Harvest Records in 1970. BBC Radio tastemaker John Peel loved it, but you (and, until now, I, shamefully) probably haven’t heard Survivor. So kudos to A&R man Pat Thomas and Light in the Attic for lovingly restoring this lost classic.
Chapman had an incredible cast behind him: Mick Ronson (Bowie) on electric guitar, Rick Kemp (Steeleye Span) on bass, Paul Buckmaster (Bowie, Bee Gees) on string arrangements, and Gus Dudgeon (Bowie, the Zombies) on production. In fact, Ronson’s robust, rococo work on Survivor led to the Thin White Duke hiring him. He really struts on tracks like “Stranger in the Room,” “Soulful Lady,” and “Trinkets and Rings,” peeling off artfully coiled riffs that hint at glam-rock glories to come. But Chapman holds his own on acoustic with lines that unspool in glistening tendrils of guitar calligraphy. His best-known tune, “Postcards of Scarborough,” is swoony, grandiloquent orchestral songcraft that sounds drunk on its own beauty. Chapman’s voice possesses that stinging, Dylan-like sneer without the gratingly nasal quality. Its appealing world-weariness conveys Chapman’s withering, diaristic lyrics. The gorgeous, somber chamber folk of “March Rain” and “Kodak Ghosts” are almost Left Banke–esque in their blooming baroqueness, while “Trinkets and Rings” concludes Survivor with an epic ramble that recalls Tim Buckley’s “I Never Asked to Be Your Mountain”; its peppy congas, corkscrewing bass, and Chapman’s hard, twanging acoustic guitar magnificently ride toward the vanishing point. A note about the packaging: It’s spectacular—a reflective silver background with detailed black line drawings of a sunglasses-wearing Chapman heroically wielding an acoustic over mountains and waters. The thick booklet includes the original liners, rare photos, and an in-depth interview with Chapman.