It’s been a while Scott. For one reason and another, although in reality simply circumstantial, I haven’t seen Scott Matthews play for quite some time. I followed him closely around the release of his debut album Passing Strangers, even flitting between London and the Midlands to see him live at every given opportunity.
That debut album still holds up and not just for the Ivor Novello winning single Elusive, but as a set of songs that announced the arrival of a serious new talent. Island Records were certainly persuaded, but having scooped him up, somehow allowed him to fall between the cracks and what was probably mutual frustration led to both diminishing effort and returns. Yet he’s one of those songwriters that when he does connect leaves a mark on the heart that is there for good. So, on the run up to the official release of his fourth studio album, Home Part 1, the chance to see him play, not once but twice, in the course of an evening was something to be leapt at.
The evening serves two purposes and the Heavenly Social has been booked out for an early showcase, it’s proximity to BBC radio making it a prime choice, but there’s also an intimate gig to follow a couple of hours later. While the invite only showcase is well attended, the venue is anything but full and it quickly transpires that the location may be ideal, but the Social is anything but heavenly. In fact it’s hotter than hell. The brutalist, concrete bunker simply radiates body heat back into the room and whether the air conditioning interferes with the sound, or someone has just forgotten to flip the switch, it’s proper sweaty.
Thankfully that sound is excellent and although it’s obviously the new record that is the focus of this showcase set, as soon as he starts to sing and play, discomfort is put on hold, as formerly familiar neural highways spark to life and the first frisson of bliss follows Scott’s voice as it glides over Virginia, the opener from the forthcoming CD. A beautiful melancholy fills the room and you are immediately struck by what a fine guitarist he is while his voice plots a graceful course through the melody. Scott is accompanied by cellist Danny Keane and their combination is sublime, with the bowed instrument adding a surprising range of textures and satisfyingly resonant depth to the sound.
Both shows, as the latter one follows form if not set list, feature numerous guitar changes. In fact almost every song sees him switch, but this reflects different tunings used and also the different sounds of electric, six string, twelve string an nylon strung acoustics add to the songs. He has a man at the side helping out, but even so the humidity necessitates an adjustment here and there, sometimes in mid song.
Scott still retains that laid back persona, he was never slick not that it has ever mattered, yet equally always appears unruffled. Even when the wrong harmonica comes out of the box, he deals with it with a snap of somewhat self deprecating yet tinder dry wit, promising a boot sale and inviting us for a rummage as he sorts out the stray correct key for his case full of mouth harp variations. Still the 40 minutes fly by and the guitar tech has certainly earned his keep and five songs including Mona and the first single, Sunlight, prove the new album is a real return to form. He finishes with Passing Strangers, a spine tingling reminder of that debut.
Surfacing for air between shows, I get caught as the skies above London open up, although it’s all strangely refreshing. After a breather I return to find the venue markedly busier and with more bodies and even hotter. Scott even starts by saying, “This set will last 10 minutes, because were all ******* roasting.” He then enquires of his manager who’s at the side of the stage, “Have I ever passed out at a gig before?”
Thankfully the same magic happens and the heat haze fades from the mind and the set opens again with Virginia, which is even more languorously lovely second time around. It’s also very well received. Mona follows and I can’t tell whether it’s simply an extra dose of familiarity, but this opening pair certainly have an extra potency second time around and Scott and Danny seem to have relaxed into the job in hand. Of course they recorded Scott’s Live In London album some five years ago, so clearly have a good musical understanding. More than that though, Danny just seems to fit into Scott’s unique blend of the leisurely and laconic.
This being a proper show, the new material is mingled with a liberal dose of classic and classy numbers from his back catalogue. The first is Dream Song, which Scott informs us is “11 years old,” he continues the first time I played this to an audience I was supporting my friend’s band, The Other Smiths, at the Brieley Hill Robin club.” In some ways it’s a telling remark as it probably signals the time, when Scott, always a very good guitar player, got off the rock and indie band wagon and struck out as a songwriter in his own right.”
The set maintains a good blend of new and old and much as it started in the same way as the showcase, it finishes on the same song, Passing Strangers. Someone to my right is singing along, he knows all of the words and any irritation is tempered by the fact that he’s also in tune. I glance up and I swear I am looking at Jim Moray, or his doppelganger. He joins in equally enthusiastically with the encore Elusive, as an overall misty reverence descends on those of us who can’t carry a tune, but still know every word.
Like I said, it’s been a while Scott. Too damn long in fact, and I won’t be letting that happen again.
Review by: Simon Holland
Home Part 1 is released 6 Oct 2014
Pre-Order via: Amazon