Scott Matthews at Guildhall, Winchester, UK
Guildhall in Winchester was built at the height of the Victorian obsession with Gothic architecture, a feature of which is to draw the eye upwards. That made for an ideal venue for Scott Matthews, whose music, and particularly whose voice, takes the ear in a similar direction.
This show came toward the end of an extensive spring tour that followed the release of his sixth album, The Great Untold. There is a purity to this record; Matthews seems to have returned to his roots, having stripped out the bigger band sound of intervening releases. All the same, performing solo Matthews doesn’t travel light. His battery of guitars were stacked neatly in a row opposite his amp. Matthews looked like a contemporary John Martyn as he plugged in and tapped one of his various pedals. He returned his warm welcome then went straight into the new record’s title track.
That’s when aurally the direction went vertical. Matthews has a completely unique voice that dips and soars over a prodigious range. “The Great Untold” is about his feelings before the birth of his son, a muse about all that lies in store for the unborn child. He sings to a delicate guitar run with a sparkling lightness that immediately captivated his audience. “Mona” continued this relatively unassuming opening, a bit more Martyn in the use of pedals and looper.
The audience applauded the opening of “Sunlight” from the Home album as Matthews, now armed with harmonica, ramped up the sound a little more. Then it was back to two from the new record that were modified versions of songs written some time ago: “Lawless Stars” and “As the Day Passes.” Both had a trancelike quality, the latter about not ruminating over what might have been but to look forward, “as life passes by your eyes there’s nowhere else to look/to forgive is not a crime.”
By now Matthews was chatting away between songs as he changed and tuned his instruments. His between-song persona was amusing, more like the guy playing in a pub or club rather than this chorister whose voice was ascending to the roof of this impressive building. Introducing “So Long My Moonlight,” Matthews said how much in awe he had been when recording the song with legendary double bassist Danny Thompson. He was particularly captivated by Thompson’s facial contortions while playing, thinking this was a great artist deep into his work only to find out it was all done just for effect. Matthews put it in rather more colourful terms.
Before “City Headache,” Matthews explained that it had been a very late addition to the Passing Strangers album, but some months later he found out its opening had featured in a French aftershave commercial. However, he never got the handsome royalties he felt were his due but, “who gives a shit, it’s still my song.” Matthews did the song great justice in creating such a sound for a solo artist by working all he had — voice, guitar, pedals — to their limit.
Singles aren’t perhaps what you’d immediately associate with such an intense artist, but from The Great Untold Matthews introduced “Cinnamon” as his new single. A song of pure love, it was the best so far, sounding almost hymnal. Soon after, in his deadpan delivery, Matthews asked, “hope you’ve had a good night” to signal he had only one more. He certainly saved the best for last, as he nailed “Passing Strangers” firmly to that hardy old stage.
Since he hadn’t played the song for which he won an Ivor Novello Award, “Elusive” was the second of his two encores, again performed with an incredible intensity.
And intense is the word that best describes Scott Matthews, the artist. He writes songs of such deepness to music that bewitches. That the applause got more animated as the set progressed felt like a collective letting off steam after the concentration required just to listen. In marked contrast, Matthews between songs is a laid back, amiable guy you’d love to share a beer with and hear a few more yarns. It makes for an unusual mix but a highly satisfying evening. Give The Great Untold a listen.