In a career that has spanned 45 years, Iain Matthews has distinguished himself as an artist who straddles the worlds of rock, folk (especially British folk) and jazz with dexterity. After a stint in the early years of Fairport Convention, he formed Matthews' Southern Comfort, which was heavily influenced by country music.
Over the years, he has mainly played as a solo artist, crafting original songs and covering the likes of Tom Waits and Robert Palmer. Matthews, who now lives in Amsterdam, will be playing at the Ukrainian-American Cultural Center in Whippany as part of the Splatter Concert Series on October 3. Following is a brief interview with this landmark musician.
What's your memory of how Fairport Convention came together? Did you realize at the time that you were doing something that would have a huge impact among musicians of many stripes? Do you hear Fairport's influence on other, more recent bands?
Well, first off, I'm not one to dwell on the past. This is a privileged existence, and one never knows how long it will last (I've been luckier than most) and I want to get as much as possible out of it and myself. This can only be achieved by focusing straight ahead and challenging ones self, to the limit.
But in answer to your questions, I joined the band, not looking at it as a goal, but as a stepping stone into the unknown. A learning process, if you like.
No, I didn't realize what an impact we'd have on others. Again, I don't think in those terms. And no, I don't really hear the similarity in other bands. To me, no one has ever come close to emulating the Fairport sound or direction.
Your solo career seems to have been marked by a keen interest and appreciation for American country music and folk music - and, lately, jazz. What is it about American music that speaks to you?
I'm basically interested in the song. If it's a quality song, then genre is irrelevant. I began by listening to early 60's R&B. Curtis Mayfield, Otis Redding, Joe Tex, etc and then discovered the new wave (1960's) of American singer/songwriters. This took me deep into songwriting. In the late '60's I was introduced to the music of Miles Davis and Chico Hamilton. This also required further listening, and I'm still, to this day, discovering that genre. So…it's not necessarily that it's American music, more that it's unique and touches my soul.
Who were the songwriters who made you want to be a songwriter? You've covered a number of people over the years, but was there anyone you consciously had as a role model?
No, not really. I guess it all began with early Ray Davies, and one thing lead to another. I basically wanted to learn to write to challenge myself and see how far I could take it.
What have you been able to do as a solo artist that you could not have done with Fairport or even with Matthews' Southern Comfort?
It'a not about compartmentalizing the music; it's more about the flow and where it takes one. I suppose there's more freedom in being solo, but then I also had that with MSC, too. My role in Fairport was minor, and my decision-making was extremely limited. I was more a watcher in that band, than a doer.
What is an Iain Matthews concert in 2012 like? How far back do you delve into your catalog?
Ha….well….I dig back as far as it feels good. I might play a Fairport song, or an MSC song. Mostly, I concentrate on the past 15-20 years and particularly on the last 10, when I feel I finally began to have a handle on songwriting.
This music business has, of course, changed in the past couple of decades, but do you find that music itself and the audience for music have changed?
I pay very little attention to the "business" of music, but only a blind man would deny that the business of music has changed. Never have put much credence in it really. I think, if anything, pop music is cyclical and constantly evolving, yet standing still.
But, it's somewhat different for me than for most, because I do have quite a long musical trail. An audience will probably come to see me to see if I can still ring their bell. The curious element has long since disappeared.
You've worked with some many musicians over the years. Was there any one or two with whom you were particularly simpatico?
My current musical partner, Egbert Derix, challenges me more than anyone I've ever worked with, and we have an indefinable connection on stage. Unfortunately, he has other commitments and cannot be with me this trip.
Is there anything else you'd like your fans in New Jersey to know about your appearance in October?
I'm very much looking forward to this trip, seeing all those familiar faces one more time… and playing with my good friend Jim Fogarty again. He's a very special guitar player. I would simply ask that you don't come with any preconceptions as to how I should sound, or what I should play. Just come to see what,(if any) lessons I've learned along the way.
Iain Matthews will play the Ukrainian American Cultural Center, 60 N. Jefferson St., Whippany on Wednesday, October 3. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets: $23 in advance, $25 day of show. $5 for ages 13 to 17, free for ages 12 and under. Call (973) 585-7175 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.