- Lee Southall
With SCOTT MATTHEWS watching keenly on from the back of the tightly packed and sold-out Leaf, LEE SOUTHALL takes his seat under the fairy lights. Relaxed and ready, he’s on the verge of releasing his much-anticipated debut solo album, Iron In The Fire, and is clearly happy bringing some teasers from the album to this warm and appreciative crowd. As with his music, there’s a relaxed intensity to the man, but he’s clearly content with his post-Coral role as a solo performer. His songs, flavored with hints of John Martyn, Bert Jansch and the contemporary folk of Chris Wood, are woven through his fluid, intuitive guitar work, while carrying the same lyrical magnetism as his old band. It’s all in the gentle rolls, and the instant melody. The climax of the set, In Accordance, is a dark, psych-folk, bluesy groove which leaps to double-speed towards the end. It’s like listening to a heavy storm slowly creeping in over the mountains, and as with the rest of his set, it’s a sure sign of a very special album coming our way.
The high-pitched piercing drone of guitar and falsetto slices through the silence in the room as Scott Matthews begins his set with Virginia, taken from his last album Home Pt 1. Spacious and haunting, it’s a beautifully pitched plaintive start to the set. It’s in that sonic space, in those almost silent moments, where Matthews’ writing finds its perfect place, and where his skill as a storyteller is given the opportunity to shine. Both rich and deep in character, his melodies stretch and shape themselves to deliver the story, bringing his characters vividly to life. Drifter, from the latest record Home Pt 2, is road-dusty and sun-scorched, featuring moments where his trademark falsetto vocals take on an instrumental quality, adding depth and a simple layer of harmony over the top of his guitar.
Much tuning takes place between songs giving him the chance to enjoy some banter with the crowd; Matthews joins in, in characteristic self-deprecating style. As he introduces So Long My Moonlight, he describes What The Night Delivers as the “most sedated album ever made”. He could be right there, though it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s songs such as this that show where some of his writing – in the polyphonic melodies and the chord progressions – feels born of the French chanson tradition; while in other moments there are hints of the mountain folk of the Appalachians, and even Duende, the spirit of Flamenco storytelling.
The Rush, taken from the new album, is another song that benefits with Matthews’ gift of melody. The introspection in the verses is held in a dynamic balance with the strong, bold chorus. A lucky volunteer is then selected from the audience by Matthews to join him on stage, and is anointed with the stage name Matty On Djembe. Matty, for that is all we know him by, shows a talent for rhythm and finds his moment in the spotlight accompanying the main man on Bad Apple. Released in 2011, Bad Apple is built around a lilting, jazz-tinged tune, laced with some more of those signature vocal falsetto drones.
Passing Stranger, from the 2006 album of the same name, brings the set to an all-too-sudden end: all slide guitar and roughhewn highway blues, it brings a perfect end to another truly magical night in Leaf. Let’s do it again sometime.