Iain Matthews (born 16 June 1946) is an English musician and songwriter. He was born Iain Matthew McDonald, in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, England. He was known in the 1960s first as Ian McDonald, then as the 1960s progressed, as Ian Matthews. In 1989, he reverted to the original spelling of his first name.
Influenced by both rock and roll and folk music, he has performed mainly as a solo act, although he was a member of Fairport Convention during the early period when they were heavily influenced by American West Coast folk rock. He later had a solo career and fronted the bands Plainsong, Hi-Fi, No Grey Faith, More Than A Song and Matthews' own Southern Comfort.
Matthews grew up in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, England. He played football with English team Bradford Park Avenue. During the British pop music explosion of the mid-1960s, he sang with several minor bands and moved to London in 1966, taking a job in a Carnaby Street shoe shop. That year he formed a trio, The Pyramid, an English short-lived surf music band, which recorded one single, "Summer Of Last Year" in January 1967, on Deram Records. A remaining song, "Me About You," surfaced on Matthews' Orphans & Outcasts Volume 3 in 1999.
In the Spring of 1967, Matthews was recruited by Ashley Hutchings as a male vocalist for Fairport Convention, where he duetted first with Judy Dyble, and then with Sandy Denny. In 1969, as Fairport drew increasingly from a British traditional folk repertoire, Matthews found out he had not been invited to a recording session and, after a short discussion with Ashley Hutchings, departed toward a musical direction of his own.
Matthews Southern Comfort:
With Richard Thompson, Simon Nicol, and Ashley Hutchings from Fairport Convention, guitarist Mark Griffiths, drummer Gerry Conway, pedal steel player Gordon Huntley, and keyboardists Dolly Collins and Roger Coulam, Matthews recorded his debut solo album, Matthews' Southern Comfort, whose sound was rooted in American country music and rockabilly, in 1969. This was his first significant experience as a songwriter, although the band also covered the likes of Neil Young and Ian and Sylvia. He followed it up by forming a working band using the name of his first album, Matthews Southern Comfort (without the apostrophe), then released subsequent albums Second Spring (1969 - UK #52) and Later That Same Year (1970).
The band went through several different lineups and toured extensively for the next two years, to general critical acclaim. They had one commercial success: a 1970 cover version of "Woodstock" (written by Joni Mitchell) was a number one hit single in the UK Singles Chart. It experienced heavy airplay in Canada reaching #5, as well as peaking at #23 on the Billboard singles charts in the United States in 1971. Afterwards, Matthews split with Southern Comfort, who went on to release three albums of their own on Harvest Records.
In 1971, Matthews recorded two acclaimed solo albums (If You Saw Thro' My Eyes & Tigers Will Survive), on Vertigo Records. Under the sponsorship of former Yardbird Paul Samwell-Smith, and surrounded by a who's who of likeminded British semi-folkies (notably another ex-Fairporter, Richard Thompson), he formed Plainsong, who signed to Elektra Records.
In 1972 Plainsong released In Search of Amelia Earhart, which solidified Matthews' songwriting reputation with the critics, if not with the general public. The album included a cover of Dave McEnery's "Amelia Earhart's Last Flight", plus a song of Matthews' own, "True Story of Amelia Earhart's Last Night", based on research that suggests that Earhart on her round-the-world flight may have been spying on Japanese bases in the Pacific islands. It also included "Even the Guiding Light", a spiritually positive answer to Thompson's powerful but bleak "Meet on the Ledge".
After Plainsong collapsed due to a bandmate's alcohol problem, and with his career now based in Los Angeles, Matthews released several more albums with ad hoc bands: Journeys from Gospel Oak (1972); Valley Hi (1973), produced by Michael Nesmith, (formerly of the Monkees); Some Days You Eat The Bear (1974); Go For Broke (1975). None of these met with commercial success. He bounced from Elektra to Columbia Records, to the small Rockburgh label, where he finally scored a hit single in 1978 with a cover of Terence Boylan's "Shake It", which reached #13 on the U.S. charts. He had a moderately successful follow-up covering Robert Palmer's "Gimme an Inch". However, the North American rights for his album "Stealin' Home" were held by the small Canadian label Mushroom. Label-owner Shelly Siegel died suddenly in 1979, leaving the label rudderless. The song "Shake It" is heard at the beginning of the 1980 movie Little Darlings. It can also be heard on the radio in the game The Warriors from Rockstar games.
Matthews' official web site states that at this point he "had been struggling for nearly 15 years now and was still living hand to mouth, with nothing to show for his efforts but a string of out-of-print albums, and the loyalty of those musicians and fans who shared his vision." He moved from Los Angeles to then-inexpensive Seattle, where he teamed up with David Surkamp, formerly of the St. Louis band Pavlov's Dog, to form the power pop band Hi-Fi, whose repertoire included Matthews originals, but also covers of Neil Young's "Mr. Soul" and Prince's "When You Were Mine". Neither this nor a return to solo recording in England turned his luck. He worked for a while in an A&R capacity at Island Records and then New Age Windham Hill Records.
Since 1974, Fairport Convention had been staging the annual Cropredy Festival; since 1979, this annual reunion had represented the height of their activity in that period as a band, but in the mid-1980s several members became interested in reviving the band more fully, stimulating creativity as a group and in recording new material. Matthews was invited to perform with them as a part of the band, and in their other side-projects, at the 1986 Cropredy Festival. This led to Walking a Changing Line (1988) on Windham Hill Records, an unlikely album-length tribute to Jules Shear of Jules and the Polar Bears. Matthews found himself moving to Austin, Texas, and recording several albums for a series of German independent labels. It also led to his first truly solo performances: his previous "solo" outings had always been as a frontman for a one-shot band. He appeared with Andy Roberts at the 1992 Cambridge Folk Festival, which led to the first of what became several changed versions of Plainsong.
Since that time, Matthews has had a moderately successful career, releasing records on a number of small labels in Germany, the UK, and the US, before moving to Amsterdam in 2000, where he continues to be involved in various indy projects and collaborations, including the Sandy Denny tribute band "No Grey Faith" and another revival of Plainsong. Moving to Horst in the south of Holland, in 2008 he produced a new album, Joy Mining, in collaboration with the Dutch jazz combo Searing Quartet. In this album he could work with his lifelong love for jazz. September 2010 saw the first Matthews Southern Comfort album in 40 years, and Matthews' return to a major label. Matthews is a season ticket holder at Scunthorpe United.
In December 2011 he performed as Matthews Southern Comfort with his Dutch band at the 2nd Great British Folk Fesival at Butlins Skegness and performed a set of both old and new songs.