The Strange Brew Podcast with Iain Matthews and Ian Clayton

Iain Matthews and Ian Clayton join Jason Barnard to talk about Iain’s memoir Thro’ My Eyes for The Strange Brew Podcast, illustrated by 13 songs drawn from across Iain’s career. Running time 1hr 41 mins. Click play above to listen.

Jason at The Strange Brew has a fine collection of podcasts. You can find them on the website or subscribe to The Strange Brew Podcast on iTunes or your favourite podcast provider.

Click here for more in Iain Matthews memoir Thro’ My Eyes

Thro My Eyes | Words and Music Tour

Thro’ My Eyes Words and Music Tour

25th September Lamproom Theatre, Barnsley (Tickets)
26th September Grateful Fred House Concert, Birkdale (Email for tickets)
27th September The Red Shed, Wakefield (Tickets)
29th September Tap & Barrel, Pontefract (Tickets)
30th September The Doublet, Glasgow (Tickets)
1st October Borderlines Festival, Carlisle (Tickets)
2nd October Backstage @ Green Hotel, Kinross (Tickets)
6th October The Courthouse, Otley (Tickets)
8th October The Greys, Brighton (Tickets)
9th October Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath (Tickets)
10th October Black Swan Folk Club, York (Tickets)
11th October Malvern Cube, Malvern (Cancelled)

Iain Matthews’s critically acclaimed memoir Thro’ My Eyes was written in collaboration with author Ian Clayton. The book is structured around a series of Matthews’s songs and illustrated by the stories that inspired them. This words and music show brings the book to life: Ian Clayton will read stories from the book interspersed with live songs from Iain Matthews, presenting an intimate and highly entertaining evening that tells the story of an artistic life through the eyes of one of our most enduring singer-songwriters.

The show will follow the story of Iain’s life, from a Scunthorpe childhood obsessed with football and music, to thrusting himself into the heart of Carnaby Street in the swinging-sixties. In 1967, he was recruited as lead vocalist for folk-rock pioneers Fairport Convention before embarking on a hugely successful and prolific career as a solo artist and in the groups Matthews Southern Comfort and Plainsong, including a No. 1 ht single with ‘Woodstock’. In 1973, when an invitation was extended to record in LA with ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith, Iain took it with open arms. The opportunity to work with musicians and songwriters he had admired from afar led him to stay; he lived and worked in the USA for the next 27 years, through highs and lows, with extended stints in Los Angeles, Seattle and Austin. In 2000, in an an act of personal and professional renewal, he moved to the Netherlands, where he still lives and works to this day. Throughout those fifty years, Iain has never stopped working, with music driving him forward every step of the way. The show will be a highly entertaining and intimate occasion, rich in stories and wonderful live music, presenting the story of an artistic life through the eyes of one of our most enduring singer-songwriters.

‘If there was an award for the role of Godfather of Americana in the UK, serious consideration would have to go to Iain Matthews. It’s all there in his excellent autobiography.’ Americana UK

‘Thro’ My Eyes is the best music read I’ve come across in a very long time.’ fRoots

‘Highly recommended both for its historical value and as a quick-paced, absorbing reading experience.’ Richie Unterberger’s Top Twenty Rock Books of 2018

Click here for more on Thro’ My Eyes: A Memoir

The Story Behind The Music | Iain Matthews Busby Babes

Iain Matthews is a lifelong Manchester United supporter. Football was his life as a boy. He was 11 years old in 1958. The news his mother gave him when he came home from school one February afternoon had a profound effect on him. This from his memoir Thro’ My Eyes:

I came home from school one February afternoon in 1958 and Mom had just got in with her shopping. ‘Have you heard about the crash?’ she asked. I hadn’t. ‘Sit down,’ she said and then told me that there had been a plane crash in the ice and snow at Munich airport and Manchester United was involved. I turned on our tiny black and white television with the magnifier on the front. The news came screaming at me. The Busby Babes, my Babes; David Pegg, Roger Byrne, Mark Jones, Billy Whelan, Tommy Taylor and Frank Swift, the guru of all sports writers, were all dead. Duncan Edwards was clinging to life and Matt Busby was on a respirator. They’d been returning from a European Cup match against Red Star Belgrade and had stopped to refuel at Munich. The plane crashed into a bank at the end of the runway following a third attempt to take off with ice forming on the wings. My tiny fragile world came crashing down. I couldn’t believe it, didn’t want to believe it. I ran out of our house up to Martin Carnaby’s about a half mile away. Had he seen it? Was it true? He had and it was. We shed a tear.

For the rest of the term I couldn’t concentrate at school. I paid little attention to what the teachers were saying and became quarrelsome with friends. This got me in hot water with my teachers and some of them I’m sure were unable to forgive me for the rest of my time there. I became more withdrawn and moody at home. No one seemed to notice and that only served to make things worse. Didn’t they realise what it meant? The Babes were the single most important thing in my life. Why was I the only one feeling this way?

Thrirty-four years later, the impact of the tragedy still lingered in him and came out in song. This led to a spooky encounter whilst on a European tour with Al Stewart.

Thanks to Al, I played before some big crowds on that tour and his fans loved to see us come out together to sing ‘Meet on the Ledge’ as an encore. I was a good opener for Al and later that same year he took me on his German tour. One of the shows was in Munich. By then they had built a brand-spanking-new airport and the venue for the night was the old abandoned airport. After the soundcheck, one of the promoters walked up beside me.

‘I’ve been looking for you,’ he said and took me by the arm. ‘Come with me, I want to show you something.’

He walked me away from the terminal, out into the darkness, until we were away from all the commotion going on inside. Looking back, I could see large chunks of stonework missing from the walls of the old building.

‘Okay, stop here’, he said, ‘this is it. This is the spot. This is where it happened.’

As if I’d been hit in the back of the head with a brick it dawned on me what he was talking about. I was standing on the very spot I’d seen so vividly in those old black and white television images. This is where my heroes died. For a moment I was that distraught eleven-year-old kid again. I re-experienced the sheer hopelessness I’d felt all those years before, the absolute irreplaceable sense of loss. I turned and walked back towards the terminal, forcing myself into a workable reality. I had once thought I was over it, but now I don’t know if it will ever leave me.

On my album Pure and Crooked I wrote eight of the songs. One of them, ‘The Rains of ’62’, was about leaving home for the bright lights of London. Another was a tribute to my boyhood heroes and called ‘Busby’s Babes’. This was the song my German guide had heard.

 

Thro My Eyes Deluxe Iain Matthews

Click here to order a signed copy of Iain’s memoir.

 

 

 

The Story Behind The Music | Seven Bridges Road

Iain Matthews, Steve Young, Bob Neuwirth.

Iain Matthews, Steve Young, Bob Neuwirth.

In January 1973, Iain Matthews moved from London to Los Angeles after being given the chance to work with Michael Nesmith on a new album for Elektra. He’d left a lot behind and was excited about a new start. The album, Valley Hi, didn’t quite turn out as he wanted it to, despite it becoming perhaps his most popular album. One song he recorded for the album was Steve Young’s ‘Seven Bridges Road’, the arrangement of which was controversially lifted by the Eagles, without credit. In this short extract from his memoir Thro’ My Eyes, Iain picks up the story.


One song we recorded for the album was a rearrangement of Steve Young’s ‘Seven Bridges Road’, which inadvertently created folklore history. A few years later I found myself at Don Henley’s house. In his sparsely furnished living room he had a simple, unassuming sound system with a stack of LPs leaning against the wall next to it. At the front of the stack was a copy of Valley Hi. In 1980, the Eagles released a live album and on it was an almost note for note version of my arrangement of the song, but the sleeve notes claimed that it had been ‘learned from their friend Steve Young in San Diego’. I knew that they hadn’t and they knew it too. None of the band ever acknowledged their sourcing of the song until twenty years later on a greatest hits package where in the sleeve notes Glenn Frey talks about how they took the arrangement from me. In a way they did, but let it go on record that up until now I’ve all too easily taken credit for that arrangement, when in fact, had it not been for Michael Nesmith’s acoustic flatpicking skills, it could have been a completely different kettle of fish. Michael was equally responsible for birthing that version of the song. Possibly a different version wouldn’t have appealed to Don Henley the way it did and the ensuing controversy may never have happened. Steve Young later confided in me that of all the numerous covers of his song, mine was always his favourite.


An article on the Alabama origins of the song can be read here

Here’s Iain’s version from Valley Hi

Here’s the Eagles version

And here’s the original Steve Young version from his 1969 album Rock Salt & Nails.

Thro My Eyes Deluxe Iain Matthews

Click here for more on Iain Matthews’s memoir Thro’ My Eyes

Iain Matthews Radio Interview With Jonti Willis

Iain Matthews in an hour long interview with Jonti Willis on the Sine FM Roots & Acoustic show recorded in October 2018. Iain talks about his life, music and book in between the playing of selected songs. Click play above to listen.

Click here for more detail on Iain’s memoir Thro’ My Eyes.

Thro My Eyes: A Memoir by Iain Matthews

Thro My Eyes Deluxe Iain Matthews

Thro’ My Eyes – A Memoir
Iain Matthews
with Ian Clayton
Published by Route
Pre-order here

It’s the swinging sixties and a young man leaves behind a humdrum Northern life and heads for London. He lands smack dab in the middle of Carnaby Street. Within months he is in a band and a year later he’s invited to audition for Fairport Convention. He shares lead vocal duties first with Judy Dyble and then with Sandy Denny in perhaps the greatest line-up of that much loved band of folk-rock pioneers.

In 1970, he forms Matthews Southern Comfort and has an international hit with an arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s counter-culture classic ‘Woodstock’. With the ultimate earworm still high in the charts, Iain walks out on the band and after just a few months of reflection, releases the classic album If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes. Then with Andy Roberts, he puts together the highly revered Plainsong. They make just one LP, the critically acclaimed In Search of Amelia Earhart. Iain then takes the opportunity to move to California to pursue an interest in the emerging West Coast singer-songwriter movement. He criss-crosses the States for the next thirty years, first as a major label artist, initially with Elektra and then Columbia, and eventually as a latter day troubadour with a guitar and a pickup truck.

Back in Europe since the turn of the millennium, Iain finally settles down with a wife and family but continues to pursue the muse. Still possessed of one of the greatest male singing voices Britain ever produced, Matthews is now in his sixth decade as a professional musician. He has written a compelling memoir of a life on the road, in the studio and at home. It’s a story of music, journeys, life and what it does to us, through the eyes of one of our most enduring singer-songwriters.

I value the times Iain has been my fellow traveller in music. He is one of the great folk/rock/pop singers and writers, and his life and music trajectory have both been extraordinary … and he keeps getting better. Richard Thompson. OBE – Recording artist, Fairport Convention founding member

They say if you remember the sixties, you probably weren’t there. Iain Matthews was there and he remembers most of it. It’s wonderful to hear about it through his eyes. Better yet, he’s still around, writing and singing as well as he ever did. Cerys Matthews – Broadcaster and recording artist

Iain Matthews’s career has been a remarkable adventure, from Scunthorpe to Muswell Hill to ‘Woodstock’ to Texas to the Netherlands, making wonderful music at every stop. Joe Boyd – Author and record producer

Iain Matthews has been many things during his long and distinguished career; folk-rock pioneer, hitmaker, folk artist and songwriter among them. It has been my pleasure to have known and worked with him for half a century, and he’s still going strong. Long may he continue! Al Stewart – Songwriter and recording artist

 

Iain Matthews first gained public attention in 1967 as a founding member and vocalist for the innovative music group Fairport Convention. In 1970 he created his own band Matthews Southern Comfort and had a worldwide hit with Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’. During the 1980s Matthews turned his attention to the business of music as an A&R person for both Island and Windham Hill Records, but was encouraged by Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin to rekindle his creative flame. In 2000, Matthews moved to the Netherlands where he currently lives and works.

Ian Clayton is an author, broadcaster and storyteller from Featherstone, West Yorkshire. His stories are about making sense of where we come from. His books include Bringing It All Back Home, a bestselling book about music; Song For My Father about his lifelong search for a father figure; Our Billie about loss; and most recently It’s The Beer Talking about a life in public houses and ale.

 

Order Details

Thro’ My Eyes: A Memoir by Iain Matthews with Ian Clayton will be unveiled at Cropredy Festival in August this year. The book will be for sale at the Fairport Merchandise Tent on site and there is a series of organised signings with Iain. If you are at Cropredy, this is the place to get the book. If not, you can pre-order direct from Route. We will begin despatch after the Cropredy Festival.

First Edition Hardback: £20
Deluxe Edition: First Edition Hardback + Accompanying Double CD £30

Click here to pre-order

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Prelude | A Coat Of Many Colours

Clinton Heylin’s prelude to What We Did Instead of Holidays: A History of Fairport Convention and It’s Extended Folk-Rock Family

As every self-respecting folk-rock fan knows, each and every Fairport Convention incarnation has burned bright but ne’er long. Between June 1968 and June 1974, England’s premier folk-rock band would release no less than ten albums, while passing through just as many line-up changes. Only one line-up – 1971’s – would manage two consecutive albums, Angel Delight and Babbacombe Lee, before it was also rent apart by inevitable divisions.

Their most acclaimed configuration – the line-up responsible for the groundbreaking Liege & Lief (1969) – lasted barely four months, playing only a handful of gigs before losing singer Sandy Denny and founding father-figure, bassist Ashley ‘Tyger’ Hutchings, to aftershocks from a twice-fatal motorway crash. No wonder the band at times preferred to call itself Fotheringport Confusion (a reference to the number of members from Sandy’s post-Fairport combo who later joined her parent band).

But it would be the alumni from the era of the four consecutive classic Fairport albums, What We Did On Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking, Liege & Lief and Full House – recorded between June 1968 and April 1970 – who would challenge even their parent band’s prodigious output.

Ian Matthews, who would leave Fairport halfway through Unhalfbricking, went on to record an astonishing ten albums between 1969 and 1973, three of them with the chart-topping Matthews Southern Comfort. Ashley Hutchings, who quit less than a year later, would be responsible for eight projects between 1970 and 1973, three with Steeleye Span, his first reconfiguration of the English folk-rock sound and ultimately its most successful exponent.

As for Richard Thompson, after his own January 1971 departure he would record three era-defining albums over three-and-a-half years: Henry The Human Fly, I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight and Hokey Pokey – the latter two with new singing partner, Linda.

Such an outpouring of product was possible because of a unique confluence of Circumstance: a commercial climate which abounded in the British MusicBiz for the first and last time, collectively brought about by a handful of young ambitious producer-managers, astute independent label-owners who catered entirely to the new ‘prog’ audience (and ceding artistic control to the bands themselves), complementing a family of musicians constantly pushing each other to define their place in the ever-changing panoply of popular song.

’Twas a time when Fairport were spoken of in the same breath as Led Zeppelin, with whom they famously jammed at LA’s Troubadour in September 1970, and Pink Floyd, with whom they shared a legendary show at the UFO the night Syd lost his mind and Richard Thompson blew a fair few minds – George Harrison’s included – with a thirty-minute reinterpretation of Paul Butterfield’s ‘East/West’. ’Twas also a time when Hutchings’s Steeleye Span not only toured with the Aqualung-era Jethro Tull, but enjoyed a Top Ten album in the wake of that nationwide jaunt.

Sympathetic to this synergy of style and English content, the producers and label-heads behind the proscenium gave the various Fairporters enough rope to play the jolly hangman. Which is why manager-producers Joe Boyd and Sandy Roberton and Island boss Chris Blackwell loom almost as large in this history of English folk-rock as many a fairweather Fairporter. This trio oversaw and/or rubber-stamped most of the albums that spouted from the folk-rock faucet during this six-year window of opportunity.

And what artifacts poured forth. If Fairport would never again scale the heights achieved between June 1968 and December 1970 – a period which didn’t just produce four classic LPs, but also a series of endlessly inventive BBC sessions and landmark gigs no one who witnessed them ever forgot – the members they shed more than took up the slack.

For Ashley Hutchings, the band’s founder and erstwhile leader, there would be ever-varying calibrations of English folk-rock, each more challenging than the last. Steeleye’s debut, Hark! The Village Wait, the Albion Country Band’s No Roses and the dance-rock experiment Morris On, were just three of the works he conceptualised in the two years after Liege & Lief’s December 1969 release.

Not content with that blistering burst, over the next eighteen months he threatened to make the Albion Country Band a more authentic version of Fairport folk-rock than Fairport itself, before the psychological scars of a 1969 road crash caught up, driving him to the wiles of Sussex where the healing could begin.

When it came to the star-crossed Sandy Denny, there would be the brave new world of Fotheringay, whose eponymous debut caused almost as many ripples in 1970’s rocky estuary as her Fairport parting glass, Liege & Lief. That band, though, foundered on the rocks of band-finances and irresolvable arguments about who should be the sea captain. Three promising solo albums followed before Fairport again clutched her to their bosoms for one more sea voyage in 1974-75.

Richard Thompson, the guitar wizard who co-founded Fairport with Ashley Hutchings and Simon Nicol back in July 1966, when barely out of school, came to the realisation no single band could house him or hold him down late. The second of that triumvirate to fly the coop, Thompson would carve his name into the very fabric of folk-rock with his first solo effort, Henry The Human Fly (1972), perhaps English folk-rock’s finest moment.

When that album crashed and burned, critically and commercially, he simply rebooted the brand and bounced back with I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, the first of six albums with the angel-voiced Linda Thompson (aka Peters). This duo would carry the folk-rock brand into the eighties, making music as vital and enduring as any British singer-songwriters in those halcyon days.

But having failed to dent the charts with any of the cult classics which made them critical darlings, the couple parted not as friends. Their bitter musical divorce came in May 1982, documented nightly on a fateful American tour promoting their swansong, Shoot Out The Lights, shows which have become steeped in rocklore for reasons only partially rooted in the musical cliff edge they skirted.

Ian Matthews’ once promising post-Fairport career hit the buffers Stateside after he took Jac Holzman’s Elektra shilling at the end of 1972. Thankfully, the albums he made in 1971-72 – If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes, Tigers Will Survive, Journeys From Gospel Oak and the two Plainsong albums – continue to reward repeated listens.

Unfortunately, the deal he made with the devilish Holzman required him to disband Plainsong, rather than release their second attempt at a post-Fairport sound worthy of the original. Like Ashley, the singer would never again find the drive and determination to make five quality albums in two years. Like his fellow Fairporters, Matthews would plough on regardless, trading on the faint name-recognition his early output still accords him.

When it came to Fairport itself – left rudderless by the departures of Denny and Hutchings in November 1969 and cut creatively adrift when Thompson quit in January 1971 – Island Records continued picking up the tab as it toyed with projects suggested in turn by Simon Nicol (Angel Delight), and furious folk fiddler, Dave Swarbrick (the folk-rock opera Babbacombe Lee and Rosie).

After finally they chanced on a quasi-folk, quasi-soft-rock niche – part-Fotheringay, part-Fairport – in time to produce the eclectic Nine (1973) and a patchy reunion album with Sandy Denny, Rising For The Moon (1975), put the original English folk-rock vehicle in reverse for good.

Though the band, in name only, would bounce from pillar to post for another four years, lasting till August 1979, the brand name had been irredeemably tainted by too many mediocre albums since their late sixties heyday.

By then, the cold wind of social and political change had blown in a new business-first spirit, at odds with the creative free-for-all that had afforded so many talented musicians the opportunity to put the Great back in British pop music; for a while, a fair few innovators had snuck under the radar and into the shops and hearts of its many music fans. The land where Henry the Human Fly, Poor Will and the Jolly Hangman, the Poor Ditching Boy, Matty Groves and the Blackleg Miner could roam free was no more.

Thankfully, a whole lot of folk-rock is their enduring legacy. The substantial soundtrack to their own wacky story is an impressive body of music this single band of brothers and sisters produced over a decade and a half; each and every note inspired by that folk-rock codex first formulated in a house in Muswell Hill that the Nicol family rented out to pay the bills. Which is where our story begins, on a day in 1965, when a certain potential tenant, a working stiff his friends called ‘Tyger’, descends on a house called Fairport, hoping to rent a room above a converted doctor’s surgery…

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