|Genres||Country rock, Folk rock|
|Past members||Iain Matthews|
Plainsong was originally a British country rock/folk rock band, formed in early 1972 by Ian (later Iain) Matthews, formerly of Fairport Convention, and Andy Roberts, previously of The Liverpool Scene. The band's line-up consisted of Matthews, Roberts, guitarist Dave Richards (died January 2019) and American bassist Bob Ronga (died November 2012). The original group split up before the end of 1972 but, since the early 1990s, Matthews and Roberts have intermittently performed and recorded together as Plainsong, either as a duo or with other musicians. Their most recent performance was as a trio with Mark Griffiths in August 2017 at the Cropredy Festival.
Matthews had been a member of Fairport Convention between 1967 and 1969, singing vocals on the band's first two albums, the self-titled Fairport Convention and What We Did On Our Holidays, initially singing alongside Judy Dyble and then later Sandy Denny. By the time of the recording of band's third album Unhalfbricking, Fairport, under Denny's influence, had largely abandoned their original American singer-songwriter material and were moving towards what would become known as English folk rock. The genre was somewhat alien to Matthews' tastes leading to a discontent within Fairport that saw him essentially fired from the band after a meeting with producer Joe Boyd in February 1969.
He then left to work solo, soon afterwards forming his own band, Matthews Southern Comfort whose greatest success was topping the UK singles chart with their version of Joni Mitchell's ' Woodstock' in late October 1970. After that band split up, he recorded two solo albums, If You Saw Thro' My Eyes and Tigers Will Survive in 1971, on both of which Andy Roberts had played guitar.
Matthews and Roberts formed Plainsong with Richards and Ronga in early 1972, after a meeting at Matthews' Highgate flat in December 1971 where they tried out the song 'Along Comes Mary' and agreed that if it worked they would go ahead and form a band. The band's name was picked on a whim when they randomly opened a copy of 'The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music' to find Plainsong at pages 450-451.
After a month of rehearsals, Plainsong hit the road at the beginning of February, touring both the UK and Holland in their early months. The band signed to Elektra Records and recorded their debut album, In Search of Amelia Earhart, which was released in October 1972. The album mixed songs by both Matthews and Roberts with several covers, including versions of 'Red River Dave' McEnery's song 'Amelia Earhart's Last Flight', Paul Siebel's 'Louise' and Jerry Yester and Judy Henske's 'Raider'. The album also included 'True Story Of Amelia Earhart's Last Flight', a Matthews song based on research that suggests that Amelia Earhart on her round-the-world flight in 1937 may have been spying on Japanese bases in the Pacific islands; and 'Even the Guiding Light', a response to Richard Thompson's 'Meet on the Ledge'.
Now viewed as somewhat of a classic album, 'In Search Of Amelia Earhart' was critically well-received on its release but was not a commercial success. The group toured extensively throughout 1972 (with the addition of drummer Roger Swallow) and began recording a second album, initially titled 'Plainsong III' to reflect the fact that they were by now a trio, Ronga having left the band due to a drinking problem. However, Matthews and Richards disagreed on the direction the album should take, and the band broke up in December 1972. With no band to promote the album, ‘Plainsong III’ remained unreleased and Matthews and Roberts moved on to begin recording again as solo artists. Several tracks from that intended album subsequently appeared on their solo albums.
'In Search of Amelia Earhart' in its original form was unavailable on CD for many years, being issued as a Japanese-only CD by Warner-Elektra in 1991 and then reissued by Matthews' own label Perfect Pitch in 2001, and more recently by Man In The Moon Records in 2016. The unissued 'Plainsong III', now entitled 'Now We Are 3', finally saw the light of day as the second disc of a 2CD re-issue in 2005 by Water Records just entitled 'Plainsong' where both Plainsong albums featured along with radio recordings, demos and singles, including 'Along Comes Mary'.
Three albums of archive recordings by Plainsong have also been released on CD since the 1990s, including And That's That - The Demos, comprising recordings made for the band's unreleased second album, and two versions of On Air containing tracks recorded at the BBC studios in several sessions throughout 1972. Plainsong also recorded two television sessions for the BBC2 music programme 'The Old Grey Whistle Test', appearing on 7 March and 17 October respectively. Introduced by presenter Bob Harris, Plainsong's performance of 'Even The Guiding Light' from the October OGWT show can be viewed on YouTube.
In 1991, some eighteen years after the original band broke up, Roberts encountered Matthews again when he was performing in a pub in Brighton, and the two decided to revive Plainsong. Adding Mark Griffiths and Julian Dawson, they reformed the band in 1992 and recorded three albums - Dark Side of the Room (1992), Voices Electric (1994), and Sister Flute (1996) - before Dawson left to pursue a solo career. His replacement was Clive Gregson, once of Any Trouble and later Gregson & Collister. The new line-up then recorded New Place Now in 1999, before Matthews and Roberts recorded a 6-track mini-album in 2001, A To B, as a duo under the Plainsong name. For the next Plainsong album, Pangolins in 2003, Dawson rejoined the band replacing Gregson.
In its various line-ups, Plainsong performed and toured throughout the 1990s and 2000s. What was planned to be their final album, Fat Lady Singing (recorded live in the studio during their last tour in 2004) was released in 2012, that year marking the 40th anniversary of the formation of the band. Plainsong promoted the album by undertaking a 40th Anniversary Farewell tour of Europe covering Germany, Austria, Holland, Denmark and the UK before disbanding as a quartet. Their performance at Norderstedt in Germany on 4 September 2012 was recorded live and broadcast on NDR Radio. The 'final tour' culminated with two dates in Japan in October 2012.
However, final album and tour it turned out not to be. In 2014 Matthews and Roberts decided to record some of the songs of Richard Fariña, to mark the approaching 50th anniversary of his death. With Mark Griffiths back on board playing guitar and bass, the decision to use the Plainsong name made sense, and the group was again re-activated. The album Reinventing Richard: The Songs Of Richard Fariña was released in 2015. In July 2016 the trio played a handful of UK shows to promote the album, beginning at Whitstable in Kent, with US and European dates following later in September and October.
The same Plainsong line-up came back together again for the Cropredy Festival in August 2017, celebrating Fairport Convention's 50th anniversary. The reformed band played a 12-song set featuring mostly songs from the 'Reinventing Richard' and 'Amelia Earhart' albums. Iain Matthews also rejoined Fairport Convention later that evening during their headlining set, singing vocals on several songs including 'Reno Nevada' and 'Meet On The Ledge'. The concert was later released as the Fairport Convention 2CD 'What We Did On Our Saturday.
- In Search of Amelia Earhart (1972 vinyl) UK and US Elektra Records
- First issued on CD in Japan, 1991, Elektra / Warner-Pioneer Corporation
- Reissued on CD, 2001, Perfect Pitch
- Reissued on CD, 2016, Man In The Moon
- On Air - Original BBC Recordings (recorded 1972, released 1992, Band Of Joy Records)
- Plainsong On Air (expanded version with 2 extra tracks released 1997, Strange Fruit Records)
- And That's That - The Demos (recorded 1972, released 1992, Taxim Records)
- Plainsong 2CD (2005) Water Records
- CD1 features In Search Of Amelia Earhart, plus 7 tracks of radio sessions and one demo
- CD2 features Now We Are 3 (previously unreleased second album), plus 7 live tracks and two singles
- Dark Side Of The Room (1992) Line Records
- Voices Electric (1994) Line Records
- Sister Flute (1996) Line Records
- New Place Now (1999) Blue Rose Records
- Live In Austria (1999) Plainsong (4-track mini-CD, live in Thalgäu)
- A To B (2001) Spinalong Records (6-track mini-CD)
- Pangolins (2003) Blue Rose Records
- Fat Lady Singing (2012) Blue Rose Records
- Reinventing Richard: The Songs Of Richard Fariña (2015) Fledg’ling Records
Blue Rose Records Compilations
Plainsong tracks appear on various Blue Rose compilation CDs:
- Blue Rose Collection Vol.6 (1999) : Plainsong "Following Amelia"
- Blue Rose Collection Vol.10 (2003) : Plainsong "Barbed Wire Fence"
- Blue Rose Nuggets 3 (2003) : Plainsong "Needle In The Hay".
- Blue Rose Nuggets 11 (2005) : Plainsong "Even The Guiding Light" recorded live at the Hospitalkirche in Schwäbisch Hall, Germany, 8 May 2003
- Blue Rose Nuggets 27 (2007) : Plainsong "Footsteps Fall".
- Blue Rose Nuggets 46 (2010) : Plainsong "Here Comes The Rain".
- Blue Rose Nuggets 57 (2012) : Plainsong "Sloth".
- Various Artists – 20 Years Blue Rose Records – Best Of Americana Rock Music Vol. 2 Past and Present (2CD) (2015) :
- Plainsong "Barbed Wire Fence"
- Blue Rose Nuggets 95 (2019) : Plainsong "I Can't Let Go".
Other Compilation albums
Plainsong tracks can also be found on two compilation albums released under Iain Matthews' name.
- The Soul Of Many Places - The Elektra Years 1972-1974 (1993) Elektra Records
- Orphans And Outcasts (2019) Cherry Red Records
- 4CD box set containing remastered versions of Orphans And Outcasts Volumes 1-3, plus a fourth CD of newly curated outtakes and demo recordings.
Plainsong tracks from both the original band and the revival bands can also be found on numerous other compilation albums. A listing can be found on the Discogs website.
- Often as 'Plainsong Lite'
- Mark Griffiths, Julian Dawson, Clive Gregson
- Thro' My Eyes: A Memoir, Iain Matthews' biography co-written with Ian Clayton, Route Publishing 2018, pp.113-114
- "In Search of Amelia Earhart — Plainsong". Elektra Records Master Discography. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
- Biography by Chris Woodstra at Allmusic.com
- Andy Roberts website: Plainsong
- Recording dates can be found on the rear cover of 'On Air
- Amsterdam to Brighton where Matthews and Roberts lived at that time
- Plainsong discography at Andy Roberts website
- Recorded at Leon's Farm Studio in Boekend, Holland in front of a selected Dutch audience of 15-20 people: Iain Matthews notes in the CD booklet