Iain Matthews

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Iain Matthews
Iain Matthews at Cropredy 2007.jpg
Background information
Birth name Iain Matthews McDonald
Also known as Ian McDonald, Ian Matthews, Iain Matthews
Born (1946-06-16) 16 June 1946 (age 71)
Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, England
Genres Folk, pop, rock[1]
Occupation(s) Musician, singer-songwriter
Instruments Vocals, guitar
Years active 1967–present
Labels Decca/Deram, Polydor, Vertigo, Elektra, Columbia, Mushroom, Windham Hill, Mooncrest, Brilliant, Watermelon
Associated acts Fairport Convention, Plainsong, Matthews Southern Comfort
Website iainmatthews.com

Iain Matthews (born Iain Matthew McDonald, 16 June 1946) is an English musician and songwriter. He was a singer with Fairport Convention before forming his own band, Matthews Southern Comfort, which had a UK number one in 1970 with a cover version of Joni Mitchell's song "Woodstock".

Born in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, England, Matthews was known in the 1960s as Ian McDonald, then 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 folk rock. He later had a solo career and led the bands Plainsong, Hi-Fi, No Grey Faith, More Than A Song, and Matthews Southern Comfort.[2]


Matthews grew up in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, England. He played football with Bradford Park Avenue. During the British pop music explosion of the mid-1960s, he sang with several bands 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[edit]

In the spring of 1967, Matthews was recruited by Ashley Hutchings as a male vocalist for Fairport Convention, where he sang 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 on a musical direction of his own.[2]

Matthews Southern Comfort[edit]

In 1969 Matthews recorded his debut solo album, Matthews' Southern Comfort, which was rooted in American country music and rockabilly. He made the album with Richard Thompson, Simon Nicol, Ashley Hutchings, guitarist Mark Griffiths, drummer Gerry Conway, pedal steel guitarist Gordon Huntley, and keyboardists Dolly Collins and Roger Coulam. This was his first significant experience as a songwriter, although the band also did cover versions of Neil Young and Ian and Sylvia. He followed it up by forming a working band using the name of his first album, Matthews Southern Comfort (without the apostrophe), then released albums Second Spring (1970 – UK #52)[3] and Later That Same Year (1970).

The band went through different line-ups and toured extensively for the next two years. They had one commercial success: a 1970 cover version of "Woodstock" by Joni Mitchell was a number one hit single in the UK Singles Chart.[3] It received heavy airplay in Canada, reaching No. 5, as well as peaking at No. 23 on the Billboard singles charts in the United States in 1971. Afterwards, Matthews left Southern Comfort, who went on to release three albums of their own on Harvest Records.


In 1971, Matthews recorded two solo albums (If You Saw Thro' My Eyes & Tigers Will Survive), on Vertigo Records. Under the sponsorship of former Yardbird Paul Samwell-Smith, and surrounded by likeminded British semi-folkies (notably another ex-Fairporter, Richard Thompson), he formed Plainsong, who signed to Elektra Records.

In 1972 Plainsong released In Search of Amelia Earhart. The album included a cover of Dave McEnery's "Amelia Earhart's Last Flight", plus a song by Matthews, "True Story of Amelia Earhart's Last Night". The song is based on research that suggests that Earhart may have been spying on Japanese bases in the Pacific islands. It also included "Even the Guiding Light", an answer to Thompson's "Meet on the Ledge".

Moving around[edit]

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: Journeys from Gospel Oak (1972); Valley Hi (1973), produced by Michael Nesmith, (formerly of the Monkees); Some Days You Eat The Bear (1974); Go For Broke (1976) and Hit and Run (1977). None of these met with commercial success. He went from Elektra to Columbia Records, to the small Rockburgh label, where he scored a hit single in 1978 with a cover of Terence Boylan's "Shake It", which reached No. 13 on the US charts. He had a moderately successful follow-up covering Robert Palmer's "Gimme an Inch". However, the North American rights for his album Stealin' Home and its followup Siamese Friends were held by the small Canadian label Mushroom. When label-owner Shelly Siegel died in 1979, Matthews' association with that label came to an end. 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."[4] He moved from Los Angeles to 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". He worked in an A&R capacity at Island Records and then Windham Hill Records.

Later career[edit]

Starting in 1977, Fairport Convention held the annual Cropredy Festival. In the mid-1980s, there was interest in reviving the band and recording new material. Matthews was invited to perform with them as a part of the band, and in their other projects, at the 1986 Cropredy Festival. This led to Walking a Changing Line (1988) on Windham Hill, a tribute to Jules Shear of Jules and the Polar Bears. This beautifully produced effort was the first vocal album ever released by Windham Hill. Matthews then moved to Austin, Texas and recorded several albums for a series of German independent labels. He appeared with Andy Roberts at the 1992 Cambridge Folk Festival, which led to the first of what became several changed versions of Plainsong.

In 2000 Matthews moved to Amsterdam, where he became involved in independent music projects and collaborations, including the Sandy Denny tribute band No Grey Faith and another revival of Plainsong. Moving to Horst in the south of the Netherlands, in 2008 he produced Joy Mining with the Dutch jazz Searing Quartet. In September 2010, he released the first Matthews Southern Comfort album in 40 years and returned to a major record label.

Since 2003 Matthews has worked with Dutch pianist and composer Egbert Derix. They met when Matthews, a jazz fan, came to a concert of Derix's Searing Quartet in Cambrinus (Horst, The Netherlands). Matthews asked Derix to join him in his 2003 tour of his 1970 album If You Saw Thro' My Eyes. They played a series of concerts with Eric Coenen (bass), Arthur Lijten (drums) and Ad Vanderveen (guitar). After the tour Matthews and Derix started writing together, resulting in the 2008 album Joy Mining Matthews & Derix started their own label: MATRIX. In 2012 the Iain Matthews/Egbert Derix album In the Now was released by Verve Records. Joy Mining and In the Now had separate releases in the United Kingdom and United States. In January–February 2015 Matthews and Derix toured in California to promote the US releases of their albums. Dutch filmmakers Peter Jong and Olivier Hamaker made a documentary about the making of In the Now. Matthews can also be heard on Egbert Derix' solo album Paintings in Minor Lila (2012) on which the music of British progressive rock band Marillion is featured. The album has contributions by Matthews, Marillion singers Fish and Steve Hogarth, and Supertramp saxophonist John Helliwell. Matthews was guest vocalist in 2011 on the Helliwell/Derix Quintet tour in The Netherlands. Matthews and Derix co-wrote eight songs for Matthews's solo album The Art of Obscurity (2013)

In December 2011 he performed as Matthews Southern Comfort with his Dutch band at the 2nd Great British Folk Festival at Butlins Skegness and performed a set of both old and new songs. In January 2014 Matthews toured as part of the Gene Clark No Other band, performing Gene Clark's album No Other with other singers such as Robin Pecknold of the Fleet Foxes

Matthews is a season-ticket holder at Scunthorpe United football club.

Partial discography[edit]


  • Pyramid, "The Summer of Last Year"/"Summer Evening" (1967) UK Derman; his first recording (single)
  • Matthews' Southern Comfort (see below)
  • If You Saw Thro' My Eyes (1971) UK and US Vertigo
  • Tigers Will Survive (1972) UK and US Vertigo
  • Valley Hi (1973) UK and US Elektra
  • Journeys from Gospel Oak (1974) UK Mooncrest
  • Some Days You Eat the Bear...Some Days the Bear Eats You (1974) UK and US Elektra
  • Go For Broke (1976) UK CBS/ US Columbia
  • Hit and Run (1977) UK CBS/ US Columbia
  • Stealin' Home (1978) UK Rockburgh/ US Mushroom
  • Siamese Friends (1979) Rockburgh/ US Mushroom
  • Discreet Repeat (1979) Rockburgh
  • Spot of Interference (1980) UK Rockburgh/US RSO
  • Shook (1984) Polydor
  • Walking a Changing Line (1988) Windham Hill
  • Pure and Crooked (1990) Gold Castle
  • Skeleton Keys (1992) Line
  • The Dark Ride (1994) Watermelon
  • God Looked Down (1996) Watermelon
  • The Seattle Years 1978–1984 (1996) Varèse Sarabande
  • Excerpts from Swine Lake (1998) Blue Rose
  • Orphans & Outcasts Volume 3
  • A Tiniest Wham
  • If You Saw thro' My Eyes – Live (2005) It's About Music
  • Zumbach's coat (2005) Blue Rose / Perfect Pitch / Eminent
  • Contact in Live (2008)
  • The Art of Obscurity (2013) Perfect Pitch / Omnivore Music / Fled'ling


Fairport Convention

Matthews Southern Comfort


  • In Search of Amelia Earhart (1972) UK and US Elektra
  • On Air (1992) Band of Joy (BBC Recordings from 1972)
  • Voices Electric (1994) Line
  • New Place Now (1999) Blue Rose
  • Pangolins (2003) Blue Rose
  • Reinventing Richard: The Songs of Richard Farina (2015) Fled'ling


  • Demonstration Record (1982) First American Records; live mini-album
  • Moods for Mallards (1982) First American Records

No Grey Faith

  • Secrets All Told – The Songs of Sandy Denny (2000) Perfect Pitch / Unique Gravity


With Julian Dawson

  • Songs from the Red Couch – Live (1996)

With Elliott Murphy

  • The Official Blue Rose Bootleg (2001) Blue Rose
  • La Terre Commune (2001) Blue Rose / Perfect Pitch / Eminent

With the Searing Quartet

  • Joy Mining (2008) Perfect Pitch (an easy listening/jazz oriented album)

With Nick Vernier Band

With Egbert Derix

  • Joy Mining (2008) Matrix
  • Afterwords (2010) Matrix
  • In the Now (2012) Verve, Fledg'ling(UK),Omnivore(US)
  • That is to Say (2012) DVD
  • The Making of in the Now (2013) Documentary

With Nick Vernier Band and Emitt Rhodes

With Ad van der Veen

Billboard charts[edit]

Hot 100 Singles

  • "Woodstock", Matthews' Southern Comfort (Band) (No. 23, 1971)
  • "Mare, Take Me Home", Matthews' Southern Comfort (Band) (No. 96, 1971)
  • "Tell Me Why", Matthews' Southern Comfort (Band) (No. 98, 1971)
  • "Da Doo Ron Ron (When He Walked Me Home)" (No. 96, 1972)
  • "Shake It" (US No. 13; Canada #6, 1979)
  • "Give Me An Inch" (No. 67, 1979)

Easy Listening (Adult Contemporary)

  • "Woodstock – Matthews' Southern Comfort (Band)" (No. 17, 1971)
  • "Shake It" (No. 21, 1979)
  • "Give Me an Inch" (No. 43, 1979)
  • "Don't Hang Up Your Dancing Shoes" (No. 42, 1979)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chris Woodstra (8 October 1996). "The Seattle Years 1978–1984 – Ian Matthews | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 5 May 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Unterberger, Richie. "Iain Matthews Interview". 
  3. ^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 355. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  4. ^ Iain Matthews website biography

External links[edit]