The first time I saw Iain Matthews was in a small upstairs room in a pub in Brighton in the late 80’s. On the way up the stairs to that dingy room I met a man who claimed to have the most tenuous of connections to the singer. All I knew of Matthews was his work with Fairport Convention that spanned 2.5 albums and Woodstock by Matthews Southern Comfort.
On entry into the venue I was a little dismayed at the state of things. Spilled beer and empty crisp packets were the order of the day and a stage at one end with a brightly lit bar at the other. I picked my way to a table and sat down with my new friend. A pleasant man joined us for a few moment to say hi and shake hands. He then climbed onto the stage plugged a guitar in and along with another guitarist who to this day I have no memory of his name managed to hold the small audience in the palm of his hand. I have never been able to meet Iain again but if I did I would thank him for one of the concerts in my life that actually changed the way I listen to music.
The problem with recognizing Iain Matthews is that he may very well be the Dorian Grey of music, he then looked about the same as he did in 1967 on the back of the first Fairport Convention album, and the last time I saw him in 2007 he looked about the same still.
What I heard that night went on to direct most of my listening for a good while after. That night I discovered John Prine, Jesse Winchester and Townes Van Zandt, as well as rehearing many others such as Peter Gabriel, John Martyn and Richard Thompson. It was a concert of favorites and unknowns played with integrity and passion by one of the great lost voices of English music. He is also a damn fine songwriter in his own stead.
After the show the next day I bought a used cassette copy of If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes. It is one of those albums that could be considered perfect in many ways. It is strangely American album for being recorded by an Englishman. From the first notes of Desert Inn to the closing heartfelt prayerful notes of the title track there is nothing out of place on this album. Richard Thompson is heard throughout on guitar and Sandy Denny duets and plays piano on the soulful final track. It may be the best album that has been recorded by an ex-Fairporter as a whole album. and yes I include Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny in that statement.
Yes Iain Matthews went on to record many other fine albums and even though he tried to retire continues to release beautiful albums to this day but he has never again reached the pinnacle of this first solo album.