In 2016 Chapman celebrated 50 years as a professional musician. He still plays professionally and regularly tours in the UK, Europe and USA.
Chapman attended art college in Leeds and then worked as an art and photography teacher in Lancashire. At the time he was playing mostly jazz guitar standards as he was heavily influenced by American jazz performers. Listening to other English guitar players such as Ralph McTell, Chapman evolved his own distinctive style of playing incorporating jazz, folk & ragtime stylings.
He first appeared on the London and Cornwall folk music circuits in 1967, including the Piper's Folk Club in Penzance, alongside John Martyn and Roy Harper. His first album was Rainmaker in 1969. The producer was Gus Dudgeon who also produced records by Elton John, David Bowie, Steeleye Span and many others. Rainmaker was released on the EMI progressive label Harvest and Chapman played the folk and progressive circuits during the festivals of the early 1970s, with Mick Ronson, Rick Kemp and Keef Hartley.
While living in Kingston upon Hull, Chapman recorded a further three albums for Harvest. Fully Qualified Survivor again produced by Gus Dudgeon with lush strings arranged by Paul Buckmaster which received much critical acclaim from the likes of BBC Radio 1 DJ, John Peel, and contained his best-known track, "Postcards of Scarborough". Window and Wrecked Again followed, the latter being Chapman's attempt at a Memphis, Tennessee album. Brass arrangements featured on biographical tracks like "Shuffleboat River Farewell" and the title track. After a tour of the United States with Rick Kemp, Chapman signed to Decca's subsidiary, Deram, recording an increasingly rockier set of albums. Championed by Charles Shaar Murray and John Peel he retained a high profile, a lively draw on the college circuit in the UK and across mainland Europe.
The record producer Don Nix worked on the album Savage Amusement, which included several songs from the past. Chapman and Kemp used the album's title for a band in the mid 1980s. 1977 saw the end of Chapman's Decca deal, and the beginning of an association with Criminal Records in 1978 and the two labels produced versions of The Man Who Hated Mornings. Chapman released a record of guitar instruction, and continued giving concerts and recording in a variety of styles and with varying formations.
Chapman then started a period prolific recording activity, recording for numerous smaller record labels, and playing the folk and club circuits. The 1980s was a quieter time for Chapman. He continued to make recordings that straddled musical genres and pushed his guitar playing to the fore, but had neither the profile nor sales of the previous decade.
The late 1990s onwards represented a period of continued rebirth for Chapman. He embraced the "elder statesman" role and enjoyed critical acclaim for albums like Navigation, Dreaming Out Loud and Still Making Rain (a wry pun title that looked back to his debut album). Chapman released albums about every two years, receiving praise but without great sales, ending with the 1997 release Dreaming Out Loud. Bands like Supergrass acknowledged Chapman's material and playing as a formative influence.
The new century saw Chapman exploring his guitar player roots and releasing instrumental albums alongside his song based sets. Americana and Words Fail Me feature soundscapes that recalled travels in America, and featured a dexterity and inventiveness on the guitar equal to the classic Harvest and Decca periods.
In February 2008 he hosted a charity dinner/auction where a limited edition Vanity and Pride was released featuring Ursa who added her own contribution to Chapman's music.
A tribute album titled Oh Michael, Look What You've Done: Friends Play Michael Chapman was released in 2012 on Tompkins Square Records. It includes contributions from Lucinda Williams, Maddy Prior, William Tyler, Hiss Golden Messenger and Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore.
Now into his 70s, all of Chapman's back catalogue for Harvest has been re-released by USA based label Light in the Attic in both heavyweight vinyl and CD formats. He has also recorded several instrumental albums for Tompkins Square records, including Fish in 2015.
His website states:
"I had an art college education and on a rainy night in 1966 I went into a pub in Cornwall, but I couldn't afford to pay to go in. So I said, I'll tell you what, I don't want to stay outside in the rain, I'll play guitar for half an hour for you. They offered me a job for the rest of the summer and I've been at it ever since."Rainmaker (1969) – Harvest
Fully Qualified Survivor (1970) – Harvest – UK No. 45
Window (1970) – Harvest
Wrecked Again (1971) – Harvest
Millstone Grit (1973) – Deram / Decca
Deal Gone Down (1974) – Deram / Decca
Pleasures of the Street (1975) – Nova
Savage Amusement (1976) – Deram / Decca
The Man Who Hated Mornings (1977) – Deram
Play Guitar The Easy Way (1978) – Criminal Records
Life on the Ceiling (1979) – Criminal Records
Looking For Eleven (1980) – Criminal Records
Almost Alone (1981) – Black Crow Records
Original Owners (1983) – Konnexion
Heartbeat (1987) – Coda
Still Making Rain (1991/3) – Self Release 1991 / Making Waves 1993
Navigation (1995) – Planet Records
Dreaming Out Loud (1997) – Demon Records
Michael Chapman Black And White (1998) – Rural Retreat Records
BBC Sessions 69–75 (1998) Strange Fruit Records
The Twisted Road (1999) – Mystic UK
Growing Pains (2000) – Mooncrest Records
Growing Pains 2 (2001) – Mooncrest Records
Americana (2001) – Apropos / reissued on Blueprint
Live And Unhinged (2001) – Rural Retreat Records
Kule 2 B Blue with Alamo Leal (2001) – Rural Retreat Records
Americana 2 (2002)
Dogs Got More Sense (2004) – Secret Records
Journeyman Live DVD (2004) – Secret Records
27 06 05 Live in Brighton (2005) – Rural Retreat Records
Plaindealer (2005) – Rural Retreat Records
Lost (2005) – Rural Retreat Records
Words Fail Me (2007)
Vanity and Pride (2008) – self release – limited edition – Michael Chapman and Ursa
Sweet Powder (2008) – Rural Retreat Records
Time Past & Time Passing (2008) – Electric Ragtime
And Then There Were Three Live in Nottingham 1977 (2010) – Market Square Records
Wrytree Drift (2010) – Rural Retreat Records
Trainsong: Guitar Compositions, 1967-2010 (2011) – Tompkins Square Records
Fully Qualified Survivor (Reissue) (2011) – Light in the Attic Records
Rainmaker (Reissue) (2012) – Light in the Attic Records
Wrecked Again (Reissue) (2013) – Light in the Attic Records
Window (Reissue) (2014) – Light in the Attic Records
The Resurrection and Revenge of The Clayton Peacock (2011) - Blastfirst Petite
Pachyderm (2012) - Blastfirst Petite
The Polar Bear (2014) - Blastfirst Petite
Fish (2015) - Tompkins Square Records
50 (2017) - Paradise of Bachelors