THOMAS CURY reviews singer-songwriter Scott Matthews’ performance at the Union Chapel.

The term “singer-songwriter” is often quite liberally applied, and can mean quite a lot of different things. It’s simultaneously used to describe a genre, a style, a type of approach. Most of all, however, it seems to imply a kind of musician who has become increasingly rare in the music industry nowadays: one that is firmly in control of their musical output. In this sense, Scott Matthews, who performed at the stunningly beautiful Union Chapel last Friday, seems to be the consummate “singer-songwriter”, whatever it may mean: deeply involved and engaged in his craft. Hailing from the West Midlands, Scott Matthews has had a successful career, and earned the praise of notable figures such as Robert Plant. At his show at the Union Chapel, it was clear that the audience was mostly comprised of those who deeply appreciated his music. From the opening moments, the audience became enveloped in Matthew’s world, mostly guided by his passionate, yet soothing voice, and the gentle notes of his guitar.

Matthews’ formula throughout the night, and indeed for many of his songs, does not vary greatly. His compositions are mostly comprised of gentle guitar, a simple, percussive beat, and his potent voice. Occasionally, he would add a harmonica, increase the presence of the percussion, or take his voice to dizzying vocal highs, but these slight changes only served to provide dynamics to the performance, and did not break up the rhythm of the setlist. Songs from his new album, such as ‘As the Day Passes’, did not sound vastly different from songs belonging to his older material, but his craft seems to become increasingly more refined. The song featured stunning vocal harmonies which were layered wonderfully and created an ethereal atmosphere, each note crystal clear and defined. Older and better-known songs of his, such as ‘Eyes Wider than Before’, were warmly received, casting the audience under the spell of his delicate sound and lyricism.

It would be tempting to dismiss Matthews’ music as bordering on the corny and melodramatic, but his sense of humour and self-awareness makes these tendencies easier to swallow. He introduced ‘So Long My Moonlight’ by poking at fun at the song’s title, recognising the slightly grandiose quality of lyrics such as ‘So long false moonlight, I won’t lie, I have to confide in the haven and the comfort of my own mind’. Matthews engaged and joked with the audience throughout, making endearingly awkward references to the curry he had had before taking to the stage, as well as wondering whether critics would take well to his incorporation of comedy into the performance. Matthews is not a self-serious performer, instead letting the music and his personality shine through. 

Scott Matthew’s performance at the Union Chapel was refreshingly devoid of theatrics. There were no flashy gimmicks, nor were there overly bombastic instrumental climaxes. Instead, the performance felt remarkably stripped-back, as if Matthews was performing to a group huddled around a camp fire. Matthews came armed with just a few tools: his guitar, his voice, and a healthy dose of cheesy humour to lighten up the whole evening.

Featured image courtesy of quayarts.org