Iain Matthews – I Can’t Fade AwayIain Matthews: I Can’t Fade Away – album review

Lemon

6CD/DL

Released 25 March 2022

The albums that ex-Fairport Convention man Iain Matthews recorded for the Rockburgh label between 1978 to 1984, with two bonus live discs taken from concerts in 1978, 1979 and 1984 plus demos from 1982. There are also further live offerings and outtakes spaced throughout the set. Included is his big hit single Shake It, which reached the American Top 20. Ian Canty stubbornly refuses to disappear…

By the time that Iain Matthews recorded the first of the albums in this set Stealin’ Home in 1978, he already had enjoyed quite a musical career. Iain was a founder member of folk rockers Fairport Convention, a band he left early on. But his next outfit Matthews Southern Comfort hit the top of the single charts in the UK during 1970 with a cover of the Joni Mitchell song Woodstock. From there he joined Plainsong. This act also included Andy Roberts from The Liverpool Scene and the upshot was the In Search Of Amelia Earhart album in 1972.

But by 1978 Matthews was a good way into a solo career. Stealin’ Home was his ninth album and the first on his friend Sandy Robertson’s imprint Rockburgh Records. At this stage Iain was playing a brand of pop/rock that wasn’t quite tough enough to be considered new wave or even power pop. Some people might term it soft rock, but that’s not quite right to my failing ears as Stealin’ Home occasionally has a touch more bite than that. Balsa wood rock anyone? No? Anyway, this LP included his big US hit, a version of the Terence Boylan song Shake It.

A synthesised introduction to Gimme An Inch Girl gives way to a music that is pretty downbeat in its approach. A similarly tasteful sound Don’t Hang Up Your Dancing Shoes follows, setting things on the course of a less punchy early Dire Straits. Unfortunately slowie King Of The Night is pretty drippy, but a jazz and folk-flecked Let There Be Blues a few tracks later does make a rather better fist of being at a reduced tempo.

Among the musicians on this record are ex-Les Fleur De Lys guitarist Bryn Haworth and Inmates drummer Jim Russell. Their talent and guile helps to ensure things are kept musically tight enough. The title track benefits from some well-applied keyboards by Pete Wingfield and Shake It’s easy charm makes it plain just why it prospered stateside. Slip Away picks up the pace nicely after a couple of very sleepy sounding tracks, but it’s back on with the nightcap for final item Sail My Soul. Stealin’ Home runs out of steam after a relatively lively start.

The bonus tracks appended to this disc are a mix of an outtake, a couple of demos and six live offerings from a BBC In Concert radio show. A jaunty Sing Senorita is the outtake and would haven’t have disgraced the LP proper and demo Let Me Live Until I See You Again isn’t bad either. The live selection has Matthews and his oppos shaping up not unlike a lively pub rock outfit, which I don’t mean as an insult at all. The rhythmic pop of Just One Look And a bluesy Payday are the only numbers here not on the album itself, on what is very much an appealing live showing.

The second Rockburgh collection Siamese Friends arrived in 1979. After Mick Weaver’s organ intro we go into the up-tempo near-power pop of You Don’t See Me. Survival has a funky swing to it and Heatwave boogies into earshot with even a slight swagger. Crying In The Night continues the more upbeat feel to this record and it’s always good to hear some Jona Lewie, with Iain’s version of his The Baby She’s On The Street being a snappy little thing. Lies is the toughest nugget so far, street/hard rock even and closing itself down with Runaway, Siamese Friends is a much improved effort.

Five live tracks from an energetic US radio programme are the bonuses here, with The Beatles’ No Reply receiving a concise update. This section shows Matthews and the band flying as a live entity, with the album material being given an extra shot of vim on stage.

Keeping up the one one LP a year standard Matthews had set, in 1980 Spot Of Interference emerged. The onset of the fast, catchy and witty I Survived The 70’s finds Iain embracing a new wave sound. A cover of the 1967 single from The Left Banke She May Call You Up Tonight is next and makes the most of the alternately restrained and chiming guitars. It’s a really good opening to the record and I Can’t Fade Away contributes well to the upward curve of the LP as well. A snappy Driftwood From Disaster is another speedy delight and and then the feisty For The Lonely Hunter is propelled by some good bass work.

See Me’s combo of a tight rhythm and jangle really works well and the high energy Civilisation and What Can I Do? make for a bracing and refreshing close to the record. I would say that found Spot Of Interference my favourite album of this set, it’s a real breeze. Iain Matthews may not have been a true new waver, but the vivacity and ingenuity involved makes it an impressive effort to compete in the brave new world of 1980.

The extras on this disc are two early acoustic demos of The Hurt and No Time At All (See How They Run), with their original titles The Hurt Stayed and In No Time At All respectively. Also there are eight live tracks with material drawn mainly from Spot Of Interference, coming from a gig in France in 1980. This finds Matthews and band in a no-nonsense mood. Though we can’t hear much out of the audience, what I can pick out points to them enjoying the show. The bit where a fine take of The Hurt and is followed by the headlong rush of Driftwood From Disaster is for me a highlight and this selection finishes with another go at Jesse Winchester’s Payday.

After this burst of intense activity, it wouldn’t be until 1984 that Iain Matthews released a new solo album. Shook arrived four years after its predecessor and is the last studio collection of this set. From the very start we’re confronted with a very 80s soundscape. Matthews had moved with the times and you can’t fault him for that, with synths heavily making their presence felt on taut LP opener Shorting Out. There’s a good version of Wild Places, originally recorded by the very talented Duncan Browne (and the title track of his 1978 album) and Indiscreet is pure electropop bar the guitar on the chorus.

Wish continues in the same vein and whilst it is decent, it doesn’t really do enough to stand out. Tomorrow Falls On Saturday has guitar darting in and out of a staccato beat and an eerie whistling effect of Fear Strikes Out contributes to what is a memorable piece. The Yardbirds’ Over Under Sideways Down gets driving synth makeover at odds with psychedelic source material and a low-key Room Service ends Shook. A real headscratcher for anyone only familiar with Matthews through his earlier folky material, but it isn’t without its own charm. Again one cannot fault Iain in his efforts to keep his music fresh.

Bonuses here are drawn from early 80s demos and outtakes. This commences with the demo and wildly different completed version of Work On All This aka Why Don’t We Work On All This. The robotic moves of the finished track when it was included on the cassette edition of Shook are in marked contrast with the early acoustic attempt. With Better Not Stay we’re into band demos as opposed to solo acoustic ones and the guitar noise here appears to hark back to the previous album’s sound, not a bad thing. Perfect Timing works well as a fully electronic item and Action is a neat piece of post-new wave pop. This disc ends with an oddball, clanking synth rendition of Cliff & The Shadows’ On The Beach.

The final two disc of this sets are in the main from live shows from 1978, 1979 and 1984. The first of these two platters starts with twelve tunes from a gig in Brussels played during 1979, with the songs mainly taken from Stealin’ Home. This well recorded, easy-going fare, with the funky pulse of Just One Look being really good. (For The) Lonely Hunter shows the real sense of purpose of his third LP and Man In The Station is imbued with a nicely atmospheric treatment. It does come over that perhaps Iain isn’t quite a natural frontman here, as the between songs patter is slightly stilted. He touches on his Plainsong past with Call The Tune, which is a nice diversion from the Stealin’ Home stuff with a heartiness to the delivery. After the crowd-pleasing Shake It and of course Payday, a reasonably rockin’ version of Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl ends this live set.

The final four tracks on disc five are demos that date from 1982. Views (Dance Goes On) and Indiscreet found their way onto Shook as we have already seen. However, Sights In Manhattan wouldn’t crop up on record until 1990 and then under the name This Town’s No Lady. It is a spirited pop rock number in this nascent form and is one that pleases. The other unheard up to this point item is the jolly pop/rock of Out Of My Range, which didn’t appear on CD until near the end of the 1990s.

As we reach the last disc of I Can’t Hide, we have more live work from 1978 and 1979. The fresh and punchy versions of Shake It and Gimme An Inch aside, this is very much for the Iain Matthews uber-fan as it isn’t anything we haven’t heard before on this set, bar the Drive My Car quote in Man In The Station. More interesting for me is the ultimate part of this disc and the boxset, seven songs from a Milan concert Iain performed in May 1984. I Can’t Fade Away kicks this section into gear with brio and Indiscreet works very well in a live setting, as does an edgy Work On All This. Iain and Co finish things off with a cover of Neil Young’s Mr. Soul.

Though Stealin’ Home was his US breakthrough, for me it is the least intriguing one of the quartet of studio albums. I thoroughly enjoyed Spot Of Interference though and both Siamese Friends and Shook are interesting works too. The plethora of live material will definitely please the completist, who lets face it this box is really aimed at. But not much of it is essential, with the In Concert section on disc one, disc three’s 1980 set and the final 1984 tracks being my picks.

I think that Iain Matthews deserves a good deal of credit for his work in the timeframe documented by I Can’t Fade Away. For one, he stuck with his mate’s independent record label even after his US chart success. Also, he didn’t endlessly milk the same style of Shake It to pursue further hit singles, instead he tried to move with the changing times. In doing so, he produced some diverse and entertaining material, which is complied here with much love for the artist and his work.

Ian Matthews official website is here

All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here

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