When asked about his forthcoming appearance at the Lunar Festival, Black Country singer-songwriter Scott Matthews responds with clear enthusiasm.
“I’m excited about that!” he gushes. “Me and the missus went to Tanworth-in-Arden recently just to hang out. It’s such an important place to go for me. It was very much a spiritual pilgrimage, and there was something quite special, quite fitting, about going.”
Situated in rural Warwickshire, Tanworth-in-Arden is the childhood home of troubadour Nick Drake. A troubled soul, Drake released three largely ignored albums before his death in 1974, yet his songs have since had a huge impact on younger generations of musicians, among them Scott (who recently worked with Drake’s producer Joe Boyd, arranger Robert Kirby and bass player Danny Thompson on the Way To Blue: The Songs Of Nick Drake touring show).
“[In my 20s] I heard John Martyn, and thought, ‘Oh, wow, who’s this guy?’ and that got me thinking about how this one guy, with this amazing drunken sound, could be saying so much. That got me working backwards through people like Nick Drake, Bert Jansch, Paul Simon ... and these guys are just on another level,” he says.
The influence of Drake, Martyn, and their generation can be heard across Scott’s fourth album, Home Part One. It’s a quietly introspective collection that, despite the influences, never sounds retro, with the tone of the album set on track one: Virginia.
“There’s a line in Virginia: ‘home is where the heart is’. There’s references to [artist] JMW Turner and the Black Country, a reference to firmness, your roots ... a lot of songs come back to that stability,” says the songwriter. “Those roots, beliefs, family, can get you over the next hurdle. What matters is the need to belong.”
In addition to those core themes, another reason for the album’s title is the fact that it was recorded at Scott’s own home, with the songwriter turning producer, and calling on a small group of close musician associates for additional input.
“It’s just myself, with Danny Keane (cello), Sam Martin (drums/percussion), and a couple of other friends like Matt Taylor, my brother Darren on piano, Ray Butcher... real people you can rely on,” he states.
On the decision to record at home, rather than a studio, he says: “Since What The Night Delivers was released [in 2011] there’s been a few turning points. The music took a back seat for a bit, but I needed to be delivering a new album. I wanted a different approach. The practicalities of going to a studio every day, driving there, the road rage ... I didn’t want that. I wanted to make music when I wanted to make it, not in a concentrated, forced period. I wanted that sense of spontaneity. Over the last 12 months the album came together in terms of creativity, and over the last six months really came together.”
With the album now available on limited release (with a full release to follow), Scott has been road-testing the material live, reconnecting with fans, and discovering what his songs mean to them.
“After one [recent] gig a bloke and his missus came over and said they’d been together for years, but then got married and decided to walk down the aisle to Ballerina Lake [from What The Night Delivers] which made me very proud,” he says. “Although I’m not sure if it’s really a walk-down-the-aisle kind of song. But when songs are penetrating like that ... it fills you with optimism.
“I have this sense of purpose now,” he continues. “I was 29 when I made my first album, so I’m getting on, and you get your purpose on the journey.
After a gig, coming back home, sitting there with a cuppa, or a hot chocolate, or a brandy, it hits home – ‘that’s why I’m doing it!’ Why you do it is to get that connection with people. I’m getting such a reaction to somethings ... it really gives you a sense of worth, I still feel as if I have something to offer.”
* Lunar Festival takes place June 6-8 at Umberslade Estate, Tanworth-in-Arden. Scott Matthews appears on Sunday. Tickets £35-£37 per day or £85 for the weekend.