|Genres||Country rock, Folk rock|
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 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.
The original band
Matthews had been a member of Fairport Convention between 1967 and 1969, and then left to work solo, soon afterwards forming his own band, Matthews Southern Comfort. After that band split up, he recorded two solo albums, If You Saw Thro' My Eyes and Tigers Will Survive in 1971, before forming Plainsong, with Roberts, Richards and Ronga, in early 1972. The band were signed by Elektra Records, and recorded an album, In Search of Amelia Earhart. The album mixed songs by both Matthews and Roberts with 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".
The album was critically well-received but was not a commercial success. The group toured extensively with drummer Roger Swallow and began recording a second album, but Matthews and Richards disagreed on the direction the album should take, Ronga left before the sessions were completed, and the band broke up. Matthews and Roberts each then began recording again as solo artists.
Apart from in Japan, In Search of Amelia Earhart was unavailable on CD until its reissue in 2001. Several albums of archive recordings of 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 BBC recordings from 1972.
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 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. Their final album, Fat Lady Singing, recorded live in the studio, was released in 2012, that year marking the 40th anniversary of the formation of the band. Plainsong undertook a 40th Anniversary Farewell tour of Germany, Holland and the UK before disbanding as a quartet. Their performance at Norderstedt in Germany on 4th September 2012 was recorded live and broadcast on NDR Radio. The tour culminated with two dates in Japan in October 2012.
In 2014 Matthews and Roberts decided to record some of the songs of Richard Farina, to mark the approaching 50th anniversary of his death. With Griffiths back on board as well, the decision to use the Plainsong name made sense, and the group was again re-activated. The album Reinventing Richard: The Songs Of Richard Farina was released in 2015. In July 2016 the trio played a handful of UK shows 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".
- 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 Farina (2015) Fledg’ling Records