Some musicians crave fame and fortune, while others flirt with success before the white heat of commercialism kills the dream like a moth to a flame. Iain Matthews was on the threshold of stardom not once but twice in the early seventies. A fragile soul he’d been unable to cope with the arrival of Sandy Denny and her traditional folk muse in Fairport Convention and was soon asked to leave just when their star was ascending. A solo album then morphed into the Matthews’ Southern Comfort vehicle and astoundingly their cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’ topped the charts worldwide. But disillusion soon kicked in and the scared young boy from Scunthorpe shuffled off the unbearable load one rainy night in Birmingham and quit before pulling the metaphorical covers over his head.
A solo career beckoned and after a tour of the USA full of good vibes with guitarists Richard Thompson (Fairport Convention) and Andy Roberts (Liverpool Scene) Matthews formulated the idea of forming Plainsong. Thompson declined, but soon after the band emerged playing a brand of country and folk that was prevalent in the early seventies – kinda Flying Burrito Brothers meets CSN if you will. Now an acknowledged classic amongst country rock fans ‘In Search Of Amelia Earheart’ was competing with the likes of the Eagles, Jackson Brown and Joni Mitchell upon its release in 1972 and the album got lost in the shuffle somewhat. Glowing reviews did not turn into substantial sales but now thanks to this comprehensive 50th anniversary re-issue it’s a chance to have its moment in the sun.
An understated collection with no obvious hit single, the songs – amongst Matthews’ best – veer from sensitive ballads to bluegrass flavoured country and reward repeated plays, with Sandy Roberton’s sympathetic and crystal clear production highlighting the depth of the arrangements and vocal accompaniments perfectly. From the heart-breaking opener ‘For the Second Time’ – an underrated gem that shimmers with melancholy – to the eerie country folk rock of ‘Call The Tune’ it all has a quality that reminds you of the Flying Burritos at their finest – albeit with superior vocals.
This 6CD box set, not only contains the original debut album digitally remastered from the original tapes but also the ‘Now We Are 3’ second album, alongside a host of previously unissued tracks from Iain and Andy’s own archives and from the collections of fans worldwide. Plainsong’s 1972 BBC In Concert special for Bob Harris gets its first official airing on CD, as does the rare Sounds On Sunday radio broadcast, their very last recording together before the break-up.