Comfort & Joy

The Sunday Street Acoustic Series, which has been running for several years at Stony Brook University in the intimate confines of the University Café, has been very successful. Charlie Backfish, whose radio show, Sunday Street, can be heard every Sunday morning from 9am to 11:30am on WUSB, 90.1 FM, hosts the acoustic series. On September 18th, at 7pm, a musical legend, Iain Matthews, returns to the Café stage for a rare solo performance.

Matthews was a founding member of Fairport Convention, as seminal an English group in exploring folk-rock as American groups The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield were in the 1960s. He also was, of course, the guiding force behind Matthews’ Southern Comfort, which, like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, scored a hit with Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” and became one of the progenitors of country-rock, even though the group was English. Matthews also appeared in such bands as Plainsong and made albums with many collaborators, Elliott Murphy, for one.

Matthews is currently involved in many different projects, including Joy Mining, a jazz album from Iain Matthews & Searing Quartet. And after many years, he has a new version of Matthews Southern Comfort, which includes Terri Binion; the group’s newest studio album is entitled Kind Of New.

Matthews lives in Holland, but while vacationing in the states, he took time out to talk about his new projects and his days with Fairport Convention. He began with discussing why he relaunched Matthews’ Southern Comfort, after leaving the group more than 40 years ago. “I wondered, if I hadn’t left so hastily, if I’d kind of stuck with it and become a taskmaster, who would have left and who would have joined and how would the sound have changed?” Matthews talked about how the idea of reforming the band began six years ago. “I had this sound in my head using basically the same kind of material we would do but using a sound that I’m kind of into now.”

The other major band Matthews was part of was Fairport Convention. He was recruited as a singer for the group, appearing on its self-titled debut, then on their second album What We Did On Our Holidays and also on the beginning stages of Unhalfbricking. He also appeared on the reissue Heyday, originally released in 1987, which includes live BBC recordings. When Matthews joined the band in 1968, the female lead singer was Judy Dyble. “Judy and I were really pawns in the game,” he stated. “A lot of the songs were set in keys that were convenient for instrumentation rather than vocals. It was as if the vocals were an afterthought.” Dyble left and briefly there was no female singer in the group. Ultimately, Sandy Denny joined the group, which hastened Matthew’s departure due to a change in musical direction. “They wanted to electrify English folk, but it wasn’t something I was into. I was already off listening to Tim Hardin, Tim Buckley, Tom Rush, and all the contemporary stuff.”

After leaving Fairport Convention and “deciding to get serious about songwriting,” Matthews started his solo career and formed Matthews Southern Comfort. Matthews said that at that time, “songs really began flowing and really came out.”
Through the years, Matthews has recorded many solo albums and collaborated on various projects. There have been solo hits and a stint working as a record executive for Windham Hill.

While Matthews has a new Matthews Southern Comfort and may occasionally play “Meet on the Ledge,” from his days with Fairport Convention, he’s really excited about all his future projects. “I have no interest in being stuck in the past. I feel I have so much more in me and so much more to explore.”