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

Review on MSC concert in Robin2 in Bilston UK.

Matthews Southern Comfort did a show with Magna Carta in the Robin2 on October 30th. For the full review visit: Midlandmania.wordpress

“…More to the point, his shimmering alto vocals have remained undimmed by the passing of the years: the only slight change is in the addition of an oak-aged gravitas and venom (especially on newer, more lyrically bitter compositions like Bits And Pieces or Age Of Isolation) that was sometimes absent from his earlier work, and it’s no bad thing. Moreover, in structuring the set so that new songs rub shoulders with old classics like And Me (Say A Prayer), Darcy Farrow or Mimi & Richard Farina’s Blood Red Roses, Matthews- these days a Dutch resident, surrounded by an entirely Dutch lineup who undoubtedly bring a flavour of that country’s ownpop heritage to the group’s already potent blend of English folk and Americana- deftly highlights the continuity between both eras, thus also drawing attention to their finest elements….”

“…Of course, even back in ‘69, MSC were never a one-man show: indeed, by way of demonstration that this is and has always been a band (with, might I add, six fine studio albums in total under its belt) and even within the group itself, the emphasis (though its past should never be ignored) is very much on presenting the band as it exists now, both as composers and interpreters of others’ material (a balance Matthews has repeatedly favoured since the 60s) Thusly, acoustic six-stringer Eric Devries- in addition to his contributions to the ensemble’s already exceptional four-part harmonies – also asserts himself with a fine lead vocal on Mare, Take Me Home: meanwhile, electric guitarist/mandolinist/ all-rounder Bart Baartmans (leave your tedious Simpsons jokes at the door please) is a revelation, letting rip with several tasteful solos throughout that call to mind both his fellow countryman Chris Koerts (Earth & Fire) and a more restrained version of Matthews’ former bandmate Richard Thompson….”

“…Sadly, there’s nothing in the set tonight from the original band’s much-underrated eponymous third album, but further “golden greats” surface late on in the shape of To Love and (obviously) Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, the sole UK no 1 hit ever enjoyed by any former Fairport Convention member (now there’s a top music quiz trivia fact for you) Recognised as radically different from its creator’s original version even at the time of its release, it’s since been reworked yet again, its new vocal refrain and tempo showcasing yet another unexpected development in the fascinating history of this most iconic “hippie dream” composition: if anything, it actually now resembles its writer’s Miles Of Aisles version more than anything else, albeit with the funky backbeat replaced by the thrumming piano and Rhodes sounds of keyboardist Bart De Win. Yet another concealed weapon in the band’s already resplendent armoury, he also excels on further newies Like A Radio and (by way of unexpected encore) Crystals On The Glass: so much so, in fact, it almost seems a shame to cut him off in his prime….”

Forever destined to remain two of this country’s best-kept insider secrets, both Matthews and Simpson are gracefully gliding through their 70s with all the poise and invention of the true artists they are: though outwardly different, both are capable of stealing the listener away from the mundanity of everyday life and into a mystical fireside land of song, and for my own part, I’m overjoyed that glad this gig- allegedly cancelled and rebooked about five times- finally went ahead. And, from the 300-plus turnout tonight, it would seem the West Midlands’ folk-rock fanbase in general shares my enthusiasm. Verily and indeed, and with a hey nonny nonny tooralay.

By Darius Drewe

First book review…

.. If there was an award for the role of Godfather of Americana in the UK, serious consideration would have to go to Iain Matthews as a deserving nominee… read here what Rick Bayles writes about ‘Thro’ my Eyes’.

Review on All About Jazz.com

Matthews Southern Comfort: Like A Radio

By DOUG COLLETTE

It’s been nearly half a century since the initial Matthews Southern Comfort album, and Like A Radio is the first in nearly a decade, a bonafide testament to the timeless quality of its namesake’s best work (not mention how it predated today’s Americana). Since his days in Fairport Convention, continuing into solo work that carried him to collaborations with Michael Nesmith and more pop-oriented work into the Nineties, Iain, nee Ian, Matthews has charted his own course as an artist, sufficiently self-motivated to know when pursue his own independent course, yet equally willing and able to collaborate as he does here.

On a dozen artfully-sequenced tracks, multi-instrumentalist Bart Jan Baartmans, keyboardist Bart de Win and singer/songwriter Eric Devries coalesce with the leader to replicate the sound of the original band, encapsulated by their famed rendition of Joni Mitchell’s 1970 tuned, “Woodstock.” This stylistic resemblance further reaffirmed with three additional remakes from earlier MSC releases (including James Taylor’s “Something in the Way She Moves”) on an expanded CD that runs over sixty-minutes , this folk-rooted, vocal harmony-laden approach is a far cry from the jazz-oriented, often baroque leanings of Matthews’ most recent solo endeavors.

The photo of the group’s musical instruments on the front cover of this LP may signal the irony of its title, yet in keeping with Iain’s down-to-earth demeanor, it is far more apropos of the natural affinity for each other these four core musicians display in writing, singing and playing here. Produced by Baartmans, this album is no exercise in nostalgia, as evinced by the way Matthews and company touch upon aspects of modern global culture on “The Thought Police:” they couch this topicality in a sparkling but soft mix of delicate singing and the twinkling of acoustic guitars that offer the barest hint of country music.

The glowing electric piano very effectively contrasts those textures, an effect continued in the sly titlesong; here is where it becomes apparent Like A Radio is an album in which to become deeply immersed for the sound quality alone, despite the fact there are no solos much longer than the acoustic piano there. Matthews Southern Comfort circa 2018 takes a nuanced, insinuating approach, and the bandleader’s own voice is fundamental to that inviting air, even when the material at hand is as potentially off-putting as “The Age of Isolation.”

Yet the dispassionate thinking at the root of that song, like the bulk of this collaboratively-composed material, signals the maturity of a group convinced that the passage of time has its advantages. As captured on this recording, the sound a is naturally warm, at once spare and lush (somehow) and those virtues, for some listeners, may camouflage an unflagging certainty of purpose evident within originals such as “Bits and Pieces.” Precious little here offers direct obeisance to roots as does the semi-reel “Crystals On the Glass,” but here as elsewhere, the comparative brevity of the track works in its favor.

And the wry sense of humor Matthews Southern Comfort displays during “Jive Pajamas” reaffirms the wisdom of this grouping, not mention its timely release. Over the course of time, Like A Radio should demonstrate a durability comparable to its predecessors (and so many of Mathew’s other work). But early listens to the record illuminate how gracefully its leader has aged; no longer the waif with the boyish countenance, there remains a dignity in Iain Matthews’ greying visage corresponding to the burnished instrumental and vocal strains that populate this record and render it so affecting.


Track Listing: The Thought Police; Like A Radio; The Age Of Isolation; Bits And Pieces; Darcy Farrow; Crystals On The Glass; Been Down So Long; Jive Pajamas; Phoenix Rising; To Love; Right As Rain; Chasing Rainbows; Bonus tracks: Something In The Way She Moves; A Heartless Night; Your Cake And Eat It.

Personnel: Iain Matthews: vocals, guitar; Bart Jan Baartmans: vocals, guitar, bass, drums: Bart de Win: vocals, keyboards; Eric De Vries: vocals, guitar, mandolin.

Title: Like A Radio | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Made In Germany Records

R&R review UK

And another review  ‘Like a Radio’ in UK Magazine R&R  Oz Hardwick writes:

“.. Though Iain Matthews is the only constant in this new line-up, his revival of the name signals a return, not some retro retread! The all Dutch band displays tasteful virtuosity throughout.. as with the first version of the band though ‘Like a Radio is all about the voices.. the material too is first rate.. these are songs to hold the listener with both lyrics and arrangements and with choruses that you find yourself humming days later..

Read more here: MSC-RnR review

Review! Pete Sargeant wrote @ Just listen to this..

Out of the blue and with a band of Dutch musicians whose grip on this artist’s feel for roots and folk music and vintage and modern Americana is eminently displayed here…a new album from Iain Matthews and the new Matthews Southern Comfort!
Fifteen new recordings, sounding fresh and well-realised. The group members are Bart Jan Baartmans on various guitars and related, keyboard man Bart De Win and Eric de Vries on acoustic guitar and singing. On the sleeve their portraits suggest they could play an artful pack of Amsterdam jewel thieves film if this doesn’t work out..just kidding, gentlemen…there’s a real folk craftsmen look about them. read more here.. Just Listen to this

Sjoerd Punter for Altcountryforum.nl

Wederopstanding Iain Matthews op zijn nieuwe album ‘Like A Radio’

In  1967 was Iain Matthews medeoprichter van Fairport Convention, een Britse band die het fletse folkgenre een update zou geven. Op de hitlijsten domineerden in die tijd flutartiesten zoals Engelbert Humperdinck, die in 1967 maar liefst drie keer een toptienhit had. De best verkochte plaat van dat jaar in Nederland was er een van de Heikrekels met als titel ‘Waarom heb je mij laten staan?’ Dat waren nog eens tijden. Gelukkig was er ook andere muziek, onder meer van Iain Matthews, die in 1969 Matthews Southern Comfort oprichtte en met deze band een wereldhit scoorde met ‘Woodstock’, een nummer van Joni Mitchell. Licht te verteren, mooi gezongen muziek met een fluwelen bodem. In 1970 kwam er eind aan Matthews Southern Comfort. Dertig jaar later verhuisde Matthews, inmiddels low profile, naar Limburg. Hij trouwde met een Limburgse en kreeg een prachtige dochter, Luca-Mae, die nu twaalf is. In 2010 was er een doorstart van Matthews Southern Comfort met een Brits-Nederlandse bezetting. Dat leidde niet meteen tot commercieel succes, maar er was wel weer beweging in het muzikale leven van Matthews. Net als in 1984 besloot Matthews in 2014 dat de koek definitief op was, en net als in 1984 besloot hij daarna toch maar weer door te gaan. Met dit jaar als resultaat een prima nieuw album waar zo te zien flink in is geïnvesteerd door het Duitse label MIG. “Like a radio’, zoals het nieuwe album heet, is voorbeeldig geproduceerd en wordt uitgegeven met een fraai tekstboekje waar je geen vergrootglas voor nodig hebt. De release is op 23 februari.

Iain Matthews werkte al langer samen met de twee Brabantse allrounders BJ Baartmans (snaren) en Bart de Win (toetsen).  Op het nieuwe album is daar singer-songwriter Eric Devries erbij gekomen en dat is een duidelijke verbetering op vocaal gebied.  Heerlijke harmonieën wisselen elkaar af. Zo’n goede band had Matthews niet eerder. Op ‘Like a radio’ staan twaalf eigen nummers en drie covers. ‘Bits and pieces’ is tevens als single uitgebracht. Het is een nummer over het gevoel dat je er niet bij hoort en dus displaced bent. Het nummer werd vijftien jaar geleden geboren als ‘A Fool For You’ en belandde daarna op een EP van Plainsong, een van de andere projecten van Iain Matthews. “Ik had altijd al het gevoel dat dit nummer onvoltooid was”, licht Matthews toe. “Daarom heb ik de tekst flink bewerkt en het nummer een andere titel gegeven.” Ook ‘Darcy Farrow’, een nummer dat voorkomt op ‘Second Spring’ uit 1970, kreeg een nieuwe aanpak. ‘Like A Radio’ is tot stand gekomen in een democratisch proces met veel ruimte voor individuele inbreng. Het resultaat is een magnifieke plaat die je een paar keer moet beluisteren, om door de schoonheid heen te boren naar de diepere lagen. Het indrukwekkende openingsnummer ‘The Thought Police’ en ‘A Fearless Night’ schreef Matthews samen met het snarenwonder BJ Baartmans, tevens de producer van deze plaat. ‘Chasing Windows’ kwam tot stand in samenwerking met Bart de Win en ‘The Age Of Isolation’ was een coproductie met Eric Devries. Een hoogtepunt op deze plaat is het indringend gezongen ‘Right As Rain’ met een  tekst van Michael Fracasso.

Read here: www.altcountryforum.nl

Dai Jeffries wrote review for Folking.com..

Matthews Southern Comfort – that’s a name we haven’t heard for a while and, to be honest, I’m not sure why we’re hearing it now. If you remember the MSC that had their greatest hit with ‘Woodstock’ featuring Gordon Huntley’s pedal steel – this isn’t them. If you remember Iain’s first solo album featuring Britain’s folk-rock illuminati – no not them, either. Like A Radio is a damn good Iain Matthews solo album with three old tracks revisited – Second Spring’s sublime ‘Darcy Farrow’ (on piano this time) and ‘Something In The Way She Moves’ (a superb reinterpretation)  and Carole King’s ‘To Love’ which originally opened Later That Same Year. Plus a good band.

Iain certainly isn’t looking back here. He’s supported by three Dutch musicians: multi-instrumentalist Bart Jan Baartmans, who also co-produced, Bart de Win on keys and acoustic guitarist Eric Devries. There is a resonator guitar but not a pedal steel in sight. These are new Matthews song, often written with recent collaborators, Clive Gregson, Egbert Derix, and his three bandmates.

There are knowing touches like the quote from ‘Good Vibrations’ in ‘Chasing Rainbows’, an anthem to California co-written with de Win but for the most part these songs concern modern issues and are written in modern terms. The line “working the room like a bitch in heat” in ‘A Heartless Night’ certainly attracted my attention. The opener, ‘The Thought Police’, built on a simple acoustic guitar with a plethora of strange things, is a defiant individual’s stance in the post-truth surveillance society and Iain returns to the vicissitudes of modern life in ‘The Age Of Isolation’.

There seems to be a number of toxic relationships beginning with the title track but Iain has lost none of his melodic and lyrical skill. ‘Bits And Pieces’ matches a confoundedly catchy melody to clever words and ‘Been Down So Long’ begins with the effect of Cortez’ arrival on the indigenous people: “we’ve been down so long it looks like up to me”.

As I said, Like A Radio is a good damn Iain Matthews album and Baartmans’ electric guitar does echo the band of the 70s while de Win’s keyboards bring a new sound. While Iain looks a touch haggard in his cover photo his voice has lost none of its power, just matured like a fine wine and those harmonies are as sweet as ever.

Dai Jeffries

Review on ctrl.Alt.Country..

MATTHEWS SOUTHERN COMFORT “Like A Radio” (MIG-Music)

(4****)

Met hun weergaloze cover van Joni Mitchells “Woodstock” scoorden Iain Matthews en zijn maats van Southern Comfort in 1970 een wereldwijde hit. Meteen ook hun enige, want korte tijd later verliet Matthews het schip. Met Plainsong en diverse andere groepen en vooral ook solo toonde hij zich in de jaren daarna bijzonder actief. En in onze platenkast is dan ook zo menig een Matthews-werkstuk terug te vinden. Zo ook “Kind Of New”, het album waarmee hij in 2010 Matthews Southern Comfort nieuw leven inblies. In een andere bezetting als weleer wou hij komaf maken met “some unfinished business”. Iets wat zo goed uitpakte, dat er nu met “Like A Radio” ook al een vervolgstuk is.

Met z’n Nederlandse collega’s Bart Jan Baartmans (diverse gitaren, mandoline, sitar, bouzouki, bas en banjo), Bart de Win (toetsen, accordeon en backing vocals) en Eric Devries (akoestische gitaar en backing vocals) brengt Matthews op die nieuwe in totaal vijftien nummers. Het gros daarvan schreef hij zelf, al dan niet samen met anderen. Tussendoor is er echter ook ruimte voor een stel welgemikte covers. Van het bij het legendarische Canadese folkduo Ian & Sylvia geleende “Darcy Farrow” bijvoorbeeld, van “To Love” van Carole King ook, van Michael Fracasso’s “Right As Rain” en van James Taylors “Something In The Way She Moves”.

De echte krenten in de pap zijn echter vooral een aantal eigen originelen. Openingsnummer “The Thought Police” is er gelijk zo eentje. Dat op beklemmende wijze de confrontatie met het thema geleefd en voortdurend gecontroleerd worden aangaande kleinood is wat ons betreft een echt toppertje. En dat geldt al helemaal voor “The Age Of Desolation”. Dat ook muzikaal aardig desolaat aandoende juweeltje is een onverholen uithaal naar een tijd waarin “nothing seems to matter but that telephone’s vibration”. Een waarschuwing waar we met z’n allen gewoonweg niet omheen kunnen.

Ook héél erg mooi: de zachte folkrocker “Bits And Pieces”, die met name opvalt door zijn oog voor het schrille contrast tussen de drukte van de grote stad en de eigen (ziels)rust. En dan hadden we het nog niet over het misschien wel allermooiste nummer van allemaal. Dat is wat ons betreft zonder ook maar de minste twijfel het op speelse wijze op de daarbij voortdurend vervagende scheidingslijn tussen pop en folk openlijk aan ons aller toekomst twijfelende “Crystals On The Glass”.

Matthews had als u het ons vraagt dik gelijk, toen hij voor z’n Matthews Southern Comfort revival zijn heil zocht in z’n Wahlheimat Nederland. Veel beter gezelschap dan dat van gelijkgestemde geesten Baartmans, de Win en Devries had hij zich daarbij immers niet kunnen wensen. Dat mogen we na twee platen van dit kaliber wel stellen, toch?

And another review on Fatea Magazine

Here’s what Rory Stanbridge wrote for Fatea Magazine: “.. “Chasing The Rainbows” is an ideal that Iain has been trying to accomplish musically for many years and on the basis of this new offering, I think it is fair to say he has found his rainbow. This is a beautifully crafted album from a superb musician and songwriter! Long may he continue to make his music…” read more here