Sometimes You Just Drive

philip driving

Prince Philip, 97, at the wheel

Time is relative. We don’t need Einstein to tell us that. Sometimes time drags; sometimes it flies by. For Michael Chapman, although his face and guitar picking fingers have aged, his music remains as fresh today as it did 50 and more years ago. The English folk singer-songwriter released another album a few days ago to add to his collection of more than 40 previous discs and, if you don’t know his catalogue, you’d find it impossible to put them in order just by listening.

I first heard Michael Chapman’s name on the John Peel show back in 1970 when his second album, Fully Qualified Survivor, was released. A gentle, melancholy song called Postcards of Scarborough drifted lazily from the radio and deeply touched the owner of a lonely teenage heart. Young Crotchety had never been to Scarborough then and when he did visit that seaside holiday resort on the North East coast of England many years later Michael Chapman’s Postcards filtered the experience through bleak memories. The Grand Hotel on the clifftop loomed starkly over the town and the castle gazed out ominously from the headland beyond. It was a place of cold winds and lowering skies.

Most of the songs on the Fully Qualified Survivor album are immersed in that same chilly atmosphere. As one YouTuber put it:

… what unifies all the songs and makes the album special is a shared theme of regret. His lyrics persistently refer to the passing of time, and various forms of decay and failure.

Comment on YouTube video of Kodak Ghosts

Michael Chapman started to make a name for himself on the London and Cornwall folk music circuits back in 1967. A full 50 years later he gave this solo live performance of Sometimes You Just Drive, a song from an album he made with Ehud Banai called EB=MC².

The reference to Einstein’s famous equation in the album title reminds us that nothing fundamental has changed throughout Michael Chapman’s long career. He still writes piquant folk songs and that persistent theme of regret is still there in the lyrics.

Sometimes you live. Sometimes you just drive.

Perhaps that’s what Prince Philip was doing when he took the wheel of his Land Rover Freelander recently – escaping from a sterile life at Sandringham. Perhaps his mind was on a simple folk song and that is why he failed to see the on-coming car. Perhaps the accident was partly Michael Chapman’s fault for writing such a compelling piece of music. Or perhaps time just marches inexorably on for the Queen’s husband as it does for all of us.

Michael Chapman

One day, even Michael Chapman will stop performing. But not just yet. He starts a 14 date UK tour in a few days. He may be 78 now but time has treated him kindly. If he is coming to your town he will be well worth seeing. That’s a Crotchety promise.

Two postcards of Scarborough … help me remind
myself of time passed and time passing.


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