At last, Ian Matthews has found the band he has been looking for all this time. I mean no disrespect to his ex-colleagues of Southern Comfort when I say that, at the first gig on Saturday night at Croydon Tech of the new band he has formed with Andy Roberts, I suddenly realised what he has been striving for, and why hitherto I have found him in states of such deep depression after what had been, on the face of it, more than satisfactory performances.
What he has got together now is, quite simply and without any hype, a supergroup. I know that despite Ian’s chart success neither he nor any of the other three guys are all that well known outside the ranks of their fellow musicians, who hold them in deep respect. But I’m not using the word in that sense. The band is acoustic in its emphasis, even when Bob Ronga plays electric guitar so tastily. But both he and bassist Dave Richards are no mean practitioners on the acoustic guitar.
Vocally, the band is very strong, for not only are Ian and Andy sole singers in their own right, but the two other musicians join them to give their four-part harmonies a punch.
Their programming could be improved, I think, and the addition of one or two real stompers would have given their set a climax to work towards. As it was, though, each individual song was perfection.
Supporting them, Carol Grimes’ Uncle Dog boogled along quite nicely as if to prove that somewhere, there, there’s quite a good rock and roll band straining, rather too hard, to get out. – KARL DALLAS
“In search of Amelia Earhart” (Elektra).
Why are Plainsong so concerned with the true facts behind Amelia Earhart, first lady of the air, it might be asked. Why indeed. Whatever the reason the result is that two songs, the sleeve design and a quantity of additional leaflets are devoted to the controversial fate of Amelia Earhart. Was she really on a circumnavigating flight with Captain Frederick Noonan when she disappeared in July 1937, or is the truth that Amelia and Fred were captured by the Japs while on a secret mission for the U.S. Government? As the first album from Plainsong – Ian Matthews, Andy Roberts, Dave Richards and Bobby Ronga – it conforms to expectations. The musicianship is precise and sensitive, and the sound quality crisp. A similar dose of perfection accompanies the vocal harmonies. It would be extraordinary if any project associated with Ian Matthews wasn’t strong vocally. Since his Fairport Convention days he’s been renowned for just that. The style of playing – the harmonies linked with tight rhythm and almost country guitar breaks – gives an American flavour to the album, and it’s not hard to see why Elektra became interested in them. – A.M.
Live gig at QEH: 29 October 1972
Undoubtedly, it was Plainsong’s night. So much so that a large proportion of the audience didn’t bother to arrive at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last Friday until after the interval, a practice that I notice is growing gradually as a reaction to so many promoters who fill up the first half of concert bills with makeweight unknowns.
But in this case, the latecomers really missed out for though Plainsong’s set was truly superb, Harry Chapin and Mickey Newbury in the first half were really too good to have been missed.
Chapin has serious balance problems so that not all the words of his “story songs” could be heard, which was a pity. Despite these hang-ups, which also prevented the all-important cello in his band from making as big a contribution as it should, the songs made considerable impact, notably “Taxi,” which was a hit for him in America, and the spine-chilling “Sniper.”
Newbury, for his part, flouted convention by establishing contact right away with his hit “American Trilogy,” instead of saving it up, say, for an encore, but his set seemed to lack variety. Nevertheless, individual songs stay in the memory – for instance, a wry lament of a squirrel-hunting man whose wife has run away with another man, taking his pick-up and his best dog with her, tapping the rich vein of realistic humour that runs right through country music.
What can one say about Plainsong that hasn’t been said before? Have there ever been four voices to blend so perfectly together, coupled with so much instrumental expertise? In Andy Roberts and Ian Matthews the group has two very individual singers with distinct talents that almost exactly complement each other. Andy’s voice wry and slightly acid, Ian’s voice soft and sweet.
It was nice, too, to hear Dave Richards taking a brief solo vocal spot.
Most of their songs were from their most recent album, though I spotted a couple of older items. But, for me, the real hit of the evening was the old Jimmie Rodgers number they did as an encore, in which they combined exactly the right proportions of sincerity and affectionate humour, even extending to a sweet ensemble yodel at the end of a lovely but insufficiently promoted and attended concert – KARL DALLAS
Karl Dallas wrote for the Melody Maker and also The Times and The Independent. My guess is that, judging by the colour of the paper, these two reviews are from Melody Maker, but I can't be sure. With Thanks to Barry Eaton who provided these cut-out copies of print.