Iain Matthews was born Ian Matthews McDonald on June 16th 1946 in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, into a family with two younger brothers. After leaving school he started working as an interior decorator / signwriter before moving to London in 1966. As one of the vocalists in a British surfing band Pyramid he recorded a single for Deram Records called The Summer of Last Year in 1967. Prior to joining the band, Iain worked in Ravel’s shoe shop in London’s famous Carnaby Street. Through producer Joe Boyd he learnt of a vacancy for a vocalist in Fairport Convention, which he joined in 1967 before they had recorded (and before Sandy Denny joined them). He appeared on the group’s first single If I Had A Ribbon Bow, released on the Track label and on their self-titled debut album for Polydor. Fairport Convention then moved to the hip Island Records label. With Judy Dyble replaced by Sandy Denny, the group released their early breakthrough album What We Did On Our Holidays. Matthews left the group during the recording of mid-1969’s Unhalfbricking, because it had become obvious to everyone that the group’s new-found traditional folk-rock direction would involve him far less than its previous contemporary “underground” work.
Matthews (who had changed his surname to avoid confusion with saxophonist Ian McDonald of King Crimson) then signed with starmakers Howard And Blaikley, who had been involved in the success story of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. He made a solo album Matthews Southern Comfort, for MCA in 1970. The next two years would yield two more critically acclaimed releases for his new band, Matthews Southern Comfort. Due to the fact he felt he wasn’t yet ready for a solo career along with his desire to pursue his love of American country music, MSC provided the perfect vehicle for Matthews’ musical growth. Some thirty years later, MSC’s music continues to be held in high regard. The band went on to chart a #1 UK single with their version of Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock. At the pinnacle of the bands’ rise to stardom, Matthews found this overwhelming success to be fulfilling, but restricting. He quit the band to pursue a solo career.
The 70’s, were extremely productive for Matthews, releasing 10 more albums as both solo artists and member of the band Plainsong. 1970’s If You Saw Thro My Eyes would reunite him with his ex-Fairport mates, Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny. Matthews toured the US for the first time in support of this record, the band featuring Richard Thompson, guitarist Andy Roberts and bassist Bob Ronga. Five records followed in the middle of the decade, three with Elektra (including one with Plainsong) and two with Columbia. 1978 brought us Stealin’ Home, thought by some as Matthews’ finest effort of all time. Stealin’ Home yielded the US Top 10 hit Shake It.
His loss of direction in the early eighties proved frustrating for Matthews, and he gave up making music, choosing rather to take up positions as A&R rep’s for Island Records and Windham Hill. In 1986, while appearing at the annual Fairport Convention reunion in England, Led Zeppelin,s Robert Plant took him aside and impressed upon him the need to once again, rediscover that direction and give the fans a fresh dose of re-inspired Matthews. The fire in his belly roared, giving him the mindset to jump back into it, proving yet again the old adage – you can’t keep a good man (dog) down. Case in point – 1988’s Walking A Changing Line, the critically acclaimed collection of Jules Shear compositions. Iain Matthews was back!
Having relocated to Austin Texas, 1990 kicked off the next chapter in Matthews’ career. Gold Castle released Pure & Crooked, which included the wonderful cover of Peter Gabriel’s Mercy Street. Group efforts soon followed, including several releases from a reformed Plainsong and Hamilton Pool (with Michael Fracasso). In 1994, Matthews signed with Austin label Watermelon, releasing the powerful The Dark Ride followed by God Looked Down (1996). While with Watermelon, he also produced Eric Taylor’s self-titled album.
Early spring 2000 saw Matthews back on European shores, temporarily rooting himself in the cosmopolitan city of Amsterdam, and bringing us what will most likely be considered one of his best recordings A Tiniest Wham. An introduction to Dutch singer/songwriter Ad Vanderveen resulted in an instant musical bond, with the pair deciding to join forces and work together for the immediate future. Throughout the year 2000 they toured Europe and together with California native Eliza Gilkyson they formed More Than a Song, a singer/songwriter project. The self-titled album was released in late 2001, followed by an extended European theatre tour in February 2002.
It was during the warm up dates for this tour that Matthews unexpectedly met and fell hopelessly in love with not one, but two southern belles, the beautiful Marly and her 2 year old daughter Madelief. Resulting in him taking his music and his heart to the small border town of Horst, in Limburg, or “Limbabwe” as he chooses to refer to it. “A year and a half in the big city was more than enough time for me to rediscover my Europeaness and dive headlong into it. Now I’m ready for the sticks again,” says Matthews.
Iain has been busier than ever since his move to Holland; a duet album with fellow artist Elliott Murphy, a tribute album to the late Sandy Denny. Both released on his own custom label Perfect Pitch. Late in 2003, under the umbrella of Perfect Pitch productions, was the launching of a new label, MK2 and the CD release of his 1970 folk/rock classic If you saw thro’ my eyes. To complete an extremely productive year, October/November 2003 saw a very successful “thirty three and a third tour”, celebrating the release of If you saw thro’ my eyes when Matthews and a band played a string of 18 Dutch theatre shows.
With a four and a half year gap since his last solo album A Tiniest Wham, Matthews released another remarkable solo recording, Zumbach’s Coat in August 2004. With tours in Scandinavia, Germany, the UK, the USA and Holland, it was an exhausting, but exhilerating year and maybe the end of an era, of sorts. With his 60th birthday fast approaching, Matthews decided to call a halt to touring in the traditional sense and with the birth of his daughter Luca-Mae, took a year off. But with the music still flowing through him, in September 2006, he began playing a select number of solo dates. Mostly in his adopted Netherlands and within driving distance of family and home.
2008 became a most special year for Iain in a very unexpected way. Another chapter of his writer series, Common Grounds took place in January, at The Beauforthuis, in Austerlitz. Iain’s guests were his old comrade Ad Vanderveen and a jazz combo, The Searing Quartet. As usual, it was policy for him to perform songs with each of his guests, but what transpired that night was beyond anyone’s expectations, setting a new musical tone for the rest of his already glittering career.
Iain and Egbert Derix, the leader and key composer for the Searing Quartet, decided to try out jazz versions of two of his older Plainsong compositions, Christoforo’s Eyes and Call the Tune The resulting twenty minutes was both magical and hair raising. Something almost epocalyptic and inexplicable happened on stage, for both artist and audience. From here on, performing as he’s known it will never again be the same. Fast forward nine months and a revolutionary new album, Joy Mining by Iain Matthews & Searing Quartet, released in November 2008. ‘The best work I have ever done, without a doubt’ says Iain. ‘It took me forty years to find this place and now I’m here, I wonder where the hell I’ve been looking all those years’. After a successful appearance on Dutch television this February, the quintet plan to dedicate the foreseeable future to playing live together and ‘just see where it takes us’. All in all, I think it’s safe to say that Iain Matthews, microphone & guitar at the ready, passion in tact and eyes fixed steady on the horizon, is still moving forward and at the top of his game.