Iain Matthews (known in the 1960s first as Ian McDonald, and from the late 1960s until 1989 as Ian Matthews) is an English musician and songwriter.
He was born Iain Matthew McDonald, 16 June 1946, Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, England. Influenced by both rock and roll and folk music, he has performed mainly as a solo act, although he was a member of Fairport Convention during the early period when they were heavily influenced by American West Coast folk rock. He later had a solo career and fronted the bands Plainsong, Hi-Fi, No Grey Faith and Matthews Southern Comfort.
Working class roots
Matthews grew up in a working-class family in Scunthorpe. He sang with several minor bands during the British pop music
explosion of the mid-1960s. He moved to London
in 1966, taking a job in a Carnaby Street
shoe shop. He recorded a couple of singles
there in 1967 with a pop band called Pyramid.
Not long afterwards, he was recruited by Ashley Hutchings
as a male vocalist
for Fairport Convention, where he duetted
first with Judy Dyble
, but more famously with Sandy Denny
. In 1969, as Fairport's music veered much more toward British traditional influences, Matthews found out he had not been invited to a recording session and, after a short discussion with Ashley Hutchings, he headed off in his own musical direction.
Matthews' Southern Comfort
With Thompson, Nicol, and Hutchings from Fairport Convention, plus drummer
Gerry Conway (of Fotheringay
, and later to join Fairport) and pedal steel
player Gordon Huntley, he recorded his first solo album, Matthews' Southern Comfort, whose sound was rooted in American country music
; this was his first significant experience as a songwriter, although the band also covered the likes of Neil Young
and Ian and Sylvia
. He then formed a working band using the name of his first album and recorded Second Spring
and Later That Same Year
. The band went through several different lineups and toured extensively for the next two years, to general critical acclaim. They had one commercial success: a cover version
(written by Joni Mitchell
) was a number one hit single in the UK and saw heavy airplay in Canada, as well as reaching #23 in the US. After this, Matthews split with Southern Comfort, who went on to release three albums of their own on Harvest Records
After recording two acclaimed solo albums on Vertigo Records
, under the sponsorship of former Yardbird Paul Samwell-Smith
and surrounded by a who's who of likeminded British semi-folkies (notably another ex-Fairporter, Richard Thompson
), he formed Plainsong
, who signed to Elektra Records
and in 1972 produced In Search of Amelia Earhart
, which solidified Matthews' songwriting reputation with the critics, if not with the general public. The album included a cover of Dave McEnery's "Amelia Earhart's Last Flight", plus a song of Matthews' own, "True Story of Amelia Earhart's Last Night" based on the research that suggest that Earhart on her round-the-world flight may have been spying on Japanese
bases in the Pacific
islands. It also included "Even the Guiding Light", a spiritually positive answer to Thompson’s powerful but bleak "Meet on the Ledge".
After Plainsong collapsed due to a bandmate's alcohol problem, and with his career now based in Los Angeles
, he released several more albums with ad hoc
bands, including one produced by ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith
), but none met with commercial success. He bounced from Elektra to Columbia Records
, to the small Rockburgh label, where he finally scored a hit single in 1978 with a cover of Terence Boylan
's "Shake It", which reached #13 in the U.S.
charts, and a moderately successful follow-up covering Robert Palmer
's "Gimme an Inch". However, the North American rights for his album were held by the small Canadian
. Label-owner Shelly Siegel, died suddenly in 1979, leaving the label rudderless.
As Matthews' official web site wrote, at this point he "had been struggling for nearly 15 years now and was still living hand to mouth, with nothing to show for his efforts but a string of out-of-print albums, and the loyalty of those musicians and fans who shared his vision." He moved from Los Angeles to then-inexpensive Seattle, where he teamed up with David Surkamp, formerly of the St. Louis band Pavlov's Dog, to form the power-pop band Hi-Fi, whose repertoire included Matthews originals, but also covers of Neil Young's "Mr. Soul" and Prince's "When U Were Mine". Neither this nor a return to solo recording in England turned his luck. He worked for a while in an A&R capacity at Island Records and then new-agey Windham Hill Records.
Since 1974, Fairport Convention had been staging the annual Cropredy Festival
; since 1979, this annual reunion had been pretty much their only activity as a band, but in the mid-1980s several of them were interested in reviving the band and had done some recording. Matthews was invited to join them to perform, both with them and in other configurations, at the 1986 Cropredy Festival. This led to Walking a Changing Line
(1988) on Windham Hill, an unlikely album-length tribute to Jules Shear
of Jules and the Polar Bears
. It led, however, to hooking up with producer Mark Hallman — a longtime fan — moving to Austin, Texas
, and recording several albums for a series of German independent labels. It also led to his first truly solo performances: his previous "solo" outings had always been as a front man for a one-shot band. He also appeared with Andy Roberts at the 1992 Cambridge Folk Festival
, which led to the first of what were to be several reformed versions of Plainsong.
Since that time, Matthews has had a moderately successful career, releasing records on a number of small labels in Germany, the UK, and the U.S., before moving to Amsterdam in 2000, where he continues to be involved in various indy projects and collaborations, including the Sandy Denny tribute band No Grey Faith and yet another revival of Plainsong.
The following is a partial discography; a comprehensive discography is available on Matthews' personal website.
- Pyramid, "The Summer of Last Year"/"Summer Evening" (1967) UK Deram Records; his first recording
- Fairport Convention, Fairport Convention (1968) UK Polydor/ US Cotillion
- Fairport Convention, What We Did On Our Holidays (1968) UK Island/ US A&M
- Fairport Convention, Heyday(1986) BBC - a release of recordings from 1968/1969 UK Island/ US Hannibal
- Matthews' Southern Comfort, The Essential Collection (1997) Half Moon (a retrospective of 1970s recordings)
- Matthews' Southern Comfort, Matthews' Southern Comfort (1969) UK Uni/ US Decca (actually his first solo album)
- Matthews' Southern Comfort, Second Spring (1969) UK Uni/ US Decca
- Matthews' Southern Comfort, Later That Same Year (1970) UK Uni / US Decca
- Ian Matthews, If You Saw Thro' My Eyes (1971) UK and US Vertigo (2nd solo album)
- Ian Matthews, Tigers Will Survive (1971) UK and US Vertigo (3rd solo album)
- Plainsong, In Search of Amelia Earhart (1972) UK and US Elektra
- Ian Matthews, Journeys from Gospel Oak (1972) UK Mooncrest
- Ian Matthews, Valley Hi (1973) UK and US Elektra
- Ian Matthews, Some Days You Eat the Bear...Some Days the Bear Eats You (1974) UK and US Elektra
- Ian Matthews, Go For Broke (1975) UK CBS/ US Columbia
- Ian Matthews, Hit and Run (1976) UK CBS/ US Columbia
- Ian Matthews, Stealin' Home (1978) UK Rockburgh/ US Mushroom
- Ian Matthews, Siamese Friends (1979) Rockburgh
- Ian Matthews, Discreet Repeat (1979) Rockburgh
- Ian Matthews, Spot Of Interference (1980) Rockburgh
- Hi-Fi, Demonstration Record (1982) First American Records; live mini-album
- Hi-Fi, Moods for Mallards (1982) First American Records
- Ian Matthews, Shook (1984) Polydor
- Ian Matthews, Walking a Changing Line (1986) Windham Hill
- Iain Matthews, Pure and Crooked (1990) Gold Castle Records
- Iain Matthews, Skeleton Keys (1992) Line
- Iain Matthews, The Dark Ride (1994) Watermelon
- Iain Matthews, God Looked Down (1996) Watermelon
- Iain Matthews, The Seattle Years 1978-1984 (1996) Varese Sarabande
- Iain Matthews, Excerpts from Swine Lake (1998) Blue Rose
- No Grey Faith, Secrets All Told — The Songs of Sandy Denny (2000) Perfect Pitch / Unique Gravity
- Iain Matthews and Elliott Murphy, The Official Blue Rose Bootleg (2001) Blue Rose
- Iain Matthews and Elliott Murphy, La Terre Commune (2001) Blue Rose / Perfect Pitch / Eminent
- Plainsong, Pangolins (2003) Blue Rose
- Iain Matthews, Zumbach's coat (2005) Blue Rose / Perfect Pitch / Eminent
- iain matthews , Contact in live 2008