Iain Matthews

Iain Matthews
Iain Matthews
Background information
Birth name Iain Matthew McDonald
Also known as Ian McDonald, Ian Matthews, Iain Matthews
Born 16 June 1946 (1946-06-16) (age 65)
Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire,
Genres Folk rock, rockabilly, Country music, Alternative rock, surf music, jazz, folk
Occupations Musician, Songwriter
Instruments Vocals, Guitar
Years active 1967–present
Labels Decca/Deram, Polydor, Vertigo, Elektra, Columbia, Mushroom, Windham Hill, Mooncrest, Brilliant
Associated acts Fairport Convention, Plainsong, Matthews Southern Comfort
Website iainmatthews.com
Notable instruments

Iain Matthews (born 16 June 1946) is an English musician and songwriter. He was born Iain Matthew McDonald, in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, England. He was known in the 1960s first as Ian McDonald, then as the 1960s progressed, as Ian Matthews. In 1989 he reverted to the original spelling of his first name.

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, More Than A Song and Matthews' own Southern Comfort.[1]



Matthews grew up in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, England. He sang with several minor bands during the British pop music explosion of the mid-1960s and moved to London in 1966, taking a job in a Carnaby Street shoe shop. That year he formed a trio, The Pyramid, an English short-lived surf music band, which recorded one single, "Summer Of Last Year" in January 1967, on Deram Records. A remaining song, "Me About You," surfaced on Matthews' Orphans & Outcasts Volume 3 in 1999.

Fairport Convention

In the Spring of 1967, Matthews was recruited by Ashley Hutchings as a male vocalist for Fairport Convention, where he duetted first with Judy Dyble, and then with Sandy Denny. In 1969, as Fairport drew increasingly from a British traditional folk repertoire, Matthews found out he had not been invited to a recording session and, after a short discussion with Ashley Hutchings, departed toward a musical direction of his own.[1]

With Thompson, Simon Nicol, and Hutchings from Fairport Convention, guitarist Mark Griffiths, drummer Gerry Conway (of Fotheringay; later to join first the Cat Stevens, backing band, Jethro Tull and then Fairport Convention from the 1990s on) and pedal steel player Gordon Huntley, and drummer Ray Duffy, Matthews recorded his debut solo album, Matthews' Southern Comfort, whose sound was rooted in American country music and rockabilly. This was his first significant experience as a songwriter, although the band also covered the likes of Neil Young and Ian and Sylvia. He followed it up by forming a working band using the name of his first album and Second Spring (UK #52)[2] and Later That Same Year followed. 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 1970 cover version of "Woodstock" (written by Joni Mitchell) was a number one hit single in the UK Singles Chart.[2] It experienced heavy airplay in Canada reaching #5, as well as peaking at #23 on the Billboard singles charts in the United States in 1971. Afterwards, 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 suggests 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".

"Bouncing around"

After Plainsong collapsed due to a bandmate's alcohol problem, and with his career now based in Los Angeles, Matthews released several more albums with ad hoc bands, including one produced by Michael Nesmith, formerly of the Monkees; Valley Hi, 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.A 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 Mushroom. Label-owner Shelly Siegel, died suddenly in 1979, leaving the label rudderless. The song "Shake It" is heard at the beginning of the 1980 movie Little Darlings. It can also be heard on the radio in the game The Warriors from Rockstar games.

Matthews' official web site states that 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." [3] 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 You 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 Age Windham Hill Records.

Later career

Since 1974, Fairport Convention had been staging the annual Cropredy Festival; since 1979, this annual reunion had primarily the height of their activity at that period in time as a band, but in the mid-1980s several members became interested in reviving the band, stimulating creativity as a group and in recording new material. Matthews was invited to perform with them as a part of the band, and in their other side-projects, at the 1986 Cropredy Festival. This led to Walking a Changing Line (1988) on Windham Hill Records, an unlikely album-length tribute to Jules Shear of Jules and the Polar Bears. Matthews found himself 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 frontman for a one-shot band. He appeared with Andy Roberts at the 1992 Cambridge Folk Festival, which led to the first of what became several changed 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 US, 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 another revival of Plainsong. Moving to Horst in the south of Holland, in 2008 he produced a new album, Joy Mining, in collaboration with the Dutch jazz combo Searing Quartet. In this album he could work with his lifelong love for jazz. September sees the first Matthews Southern Comfort album in 40 years, and Matthews return to a major label. Matthews is a season ticket holder at Scunthorpe United.


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
  • Ian Matthews, 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
  • Matthews' Southern Comfort, The Essential Collection (1997) Half Moon (a retrospective of 1970s recordings)
  • 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 Records]]
  • 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 (1988) Windham Hill Records
  • 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
  • Iain Matthews, Orphans & Outcasts Volume 3
  • Iain Matthews, A Tiniest Wham
  • No Grey Faith, Secrets All Told — The Songs of Sandy Denny (2000) Perfect Pitch / Unique Gravity
  • Iain Matthews & Elliott Murphy, The Official Blue Rose Bootleg (2001) Blue Rose
  • Iain Matthews & 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)
  • Iain Matthews & Searing Quartet, Joy Mining (2008) Perfect Pitch (an easy listening/jazz oriented album)
  • Iain Matthews & Nick Vernier Band, Woodstock (2009) Brinker Media
  • Iain Matthews & Egbert Derix, Afterwords (2010) Matrix
  • Iain Matthews & Nick Vernier Band with Emitt Rhodes, Time Will Show The Wiser (2010) Brinker Media
  • Iain Matthews & Ad van der Veen, Ride the times (2010) Turtle Records
  • Matthews Southern Comfort, Kind of New (album) Brilliant/Genepool BMCD1010 (2010)

1996 Songs From The Red Couch - Live ( Iain Matthews & Julian Dawson)

Billboard Hot 100 Singles

  • "Da Doo Ron Ron" (#96, 1972)
  • "Shake It" (#13, 1979)
  • "Give Me an Inch" (#67, 1979)


  1. ^ a b Richie Unterberger interview
  2. ^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 355. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  3. ^ Iain Matthews website biography

External links

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