Review from At The Barrier.com

Matthews Southern Comfort – The New Mine

By John Barlass on 27th February 2020

Released: 27th March 2020

Iain Matthews is probably the finest British exponent of the ‘Americana’ musical genre.  Ever since his departure from Fairport Convention in 1969, it is an avenue that he has explored to great effect if, perhaps, only sporadically achieving the success and recognition that his talent and perseverance so richly deserves.  Of course, from the early 1970s until the dawn of the current millennium, Iain was based in the US, where he was able to hone his songwriting and interpretational skills, catching the attention of such influential figure as Michael Nesmith and The Eagles.

Those readers familiar with the name Matthews Southern Comfort will no doubt recall that the band’s most high-profile moment occurred when they occupied the Number One position in the UK singles chart for a period of 3 weeks in October 1970 with their version of Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock. Although fairly typical of the band’s country-flavoured, pedal-steel driven melodic rock music, Woodstock was by no means the only outstanding example of the band’s repertoire and they were responsible for two excellent albums, Second Spring and Later That Same Year, both released in 1970, and both well worth a listen (neither have aged a day!)

Iain left Matthews Southern Comfort in 1971 and the name of the band lay dormant until it was revived in 2010 when Iain, backed by a group of top-notch Dutch musicians (he relocated from the US to The Netherlands in 2000) released the Kind Of New album under the old name.  The New Mine is the fourth Matthews Southern Comfort album since the name was revived and Iain has enlisted the services of Bart Jan Baartmans (acoustic, electric and resonator guitars, mandolin, sitar, bass and banjo), Bart de Win (acoustic and electric pianos, accordion and backing vocals) and Eric De Vries (acoustic guitar and vocals) to deliver an album which expertly and entertainingly travels the path from British Folk Rock to full-blown Americana.

The choice of musicians and instruments is inspired.  The band gel perfectly together, both in the construction and delivery of the songs and in the compositional collaborations that dominate the album.  Compositional credits cover several combinations of the band’s personnel, with Iain Matthews linking with each in turn to produce some excellent songs.  Notable amongst these collaborations are C’mon Amigo, a song by Iain and Eric which contains some marvellous vocal harmonies and would be worthy of inclusion on any Eagles album; The Hole is a Matthews/de Win effort that makes scary references to the destruction of the ozone layer and its growing consequences for the planet and In My Next Life, composed by Bart Jan Baartmans and Iain, offers shrewd philosophical tips to anyone fortunate enough to relive their life applying the experiences that they have gathered.

The album opens with a version of the Joni Mitchell song, “Ethiopia” (from her 1985 Dog Eat Dog album).  This is, perhaps, appropriate, given the long association in the minds of many people between Joni and Matthews Southern Comfort.  The version on this album is sublime with sprinklings of piano and some tasteful guitar work which both set the tone for the musical treats to come.  Sadly, the subject matter of the song – the plight of the people in the African deserts and the indifference of the West, remains as current as it was when the song was written, which provides all the justification necessary for reviving the song.

Of Iain’s solo compositions, my highlight is Starvation Box; a story of an itinerant musician which builds excitingly and which contains some wonderful slide guitar work.

Some may question the relevance of crediting this, albeit tremendous, album to Matthews Southern Comfort; after all, the only constant thread between the outfit that operated in the early 1970s and the band on The New Mine is Iain Matthews.  I would, however, strongly challenge this view.  The personnel may be different but the sound and intent of the band pick up precisely where the original band left off, even to the extent that Gordon Huntley’s missing pedal steel licks that were so much a feature of the 1970 incarnation are precisely replicated by Bart Jan Baartman’s guitar.  Happily, also, Iain’s melodic voice is not only as good as ever, it is enhanced by the vocal support of Bart de Win and Eric De Vries.  The New Mine is very definitely a Matthews Southern Comfort masterpiece.

Matthews Southern Comfort will be appearing at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention during the afternoon of Saturday 15 August.  I, for one, can’t wait!

Book review Northern Sky

Thro’ My Eyes: A Memoir – Iain Matthews 

Star rating: 4****

Thro’ My Eyes

I picked up Iain Matthews’ autobiography during the break between two sets at an intimate Matthews’ Southern Comfort gig in an unassuming Pontefract pub, having just witnessed a rather fine opening set from the vantage point of a front row seat. I don’t think I had any intention of buying this book or any book for that matter, having far too many piled up on the arm of my sofa at home awaiting attention, yet there was something that drew me to this book. Perhaps it was due to the fact that both Iain Matthews and his ghost writer/helper Ian Clayton were present at the pub on this particular night; it could have had something to do with the sudden realisation half way through the band’s opening set that I knew little about its subject, other than the fact that he was in an early incarnation of Fairport Convention, that his was the first voice to be heard on the band’s torchlight song Meet on the Ledge, that his next band had a smash hit with Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, that his other band Plainsong appeared on the Old Grey Whistle Test one evening just as I was preparing books for school the next morning. Added to these hazy recollections was the memory of seeing a later incarnation of Matthews’ Southern Comfort more recently at a winter festival in Skeggy of all places and that I actually got to speak to him backstage for a good half hour. What else did I need to know? Well lots apparently.

The title of Thro’ My Eyes is taken from an early song on Iain’s debut solo record If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes, the LP with the swirling Vertigo label that’s currently on the player as I write, and suggests the book’s intention from the start, to explore a life very much lived from the author’s personal perspective. It’s pretty much a warts and all memoir, which takes us on a journey from an early Northern childhood in both Scunthorpe and Barton-upon-Humber, through to the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus and Carnaby Street in the ‘Swinging Sixties’, and on through his earliest involvement in music, to his middle years in the States and more recently that of mainland Europe. One or two loose ends are neatly tied up for us, such as the question of the McDonald/Matthews, Ian/Iain confusion, which is all explained here and is notably far less pretentious than initially imagined.

Though the story takes us from one exciting episode to another, where we see evidence of Iain’s brushes with a veritable list of high profile musicians (Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Richard Thompson, Eric Taylor), there’s also an inherent sadness that looms in the shadows, occasionally present on the songwriter’s furrowed brow in some of the pictures included and sometimes in the words of his songs. Songs are an important part of Iain Matthews’ story and each chapter here is prefaced by lyrics from his prolific back catalogue. If like me, you have the rare ability to multi-task and are not particularly fazed by listening to music as you read, having a handful of Iain’s records by the player can be useful.   

Iain can be candid in his revelations and refuses to shy away from his own insecurities, his open confessions of possible family neglect whilst in search of his own muse, his disappointments, his distrust in others, his episodic relationships and his mistakes and miscalculations along the way. This is an honourable quality throughout the book although occasionally you want to shake him. Through the decades though, we see a singular artistic bent and a desire to make good music and write great songs, both alone and in the company of others, a pursuit that continues to this day and that will no doubt go on until mortality becomes a tangible issue.

Allan Wilkinson

Northern Sky

Iain will be playing 4 shows in Norway between August 17/20th.  Most of the shows will be with members of the famous Norwegien band The Salmon Smokers.

The dates are.

17th.  Rod Herregard festival. Halden. 18th. Private party. Oslo. 19th. Duo in Halden. Venue TBA. 20th. Roverstaden. Oslo

Thro’ my eyes. A memoir

Scary moment. Scary, but exciting too.
Together with Route Books I am announcing the hardback and special edition hardback ( see photo) release of my memoirs, “ Thro’ my eyes”.
Please follow the link and all will be revealed.
I will also have sale copies with me at all of my shows after Cropredy.
For information on the book go to:

Thro’ My Eyes – A Memoir

 

MEMOIRS

THRO’ MY EYES
Iain has completed writing his memoirs “Thro’my eyes”
The book will be published by Route and a signing launch will be held in the Fairport T-shirt tent at the Cropredy Festival August 9-11th.

New CD

The new MSC album ” Like a radio ” is almost ready. To be released worldwide in January 2018 through M.I.G. Germany. The recording is finished. Likewise sequencing and mastering. Artwork needs doing. Should be complete in the next month. Excited.

 

So stay tuned, more news to follow…