This gig marks a first for me – I confess to having only recently discovered Scott Matthews when I heard, almost by accident, the track ‘Elusive’ (which has won an Ivor Novello songwriting award) from his debut album – which, as it turns out, was released some 12 years ago.  That’s correct – 12 years!! – and I’ve been blissfully unaware!  It turns out that Scott’s been pretty busy in the intervening period, having penned a further five albums, including his recently released ‘The Great Untold’, from which a number of tracks are included in tonight’s set.

Before Matthews, we hear a surprising and accomplished performance from support act Ady Johnson, whose collection of songs, including ‘New Year’s Day’, ‘Glass Tower’ (written about an ex-girlfriend who lives near The Shard in his native London who’d unceremoniously dumped him) and ‘Whale Song’ (about cloud formations), were met with universal praise from the audience.  Johnson has a wonderful command of both playing the guitar and also writing songs which resonate.  I hope he returns to Manchester soon.
Scott Matthews’, almost-silent, steps onto the stage initially catches most of the audience off-guard.  There is suddenly an abrupt applause as everybody realises that the headline act has just appeared.  A nod of the head and a few introductory words and we are off.  ‘Mona’, pulled from fourth album ‘Home Part 1’ kicks off the set and Matthews dedicates it to his little boy, just 9 weeks old.  A neat collection of different acoustic guitars (and one electric) means that there are constant changes of instrument and retuning, but Matthews talks and jokes with the crowd and there is an enjoyable, relaxed atmosphere.  Following the announcement “Does anybody have a spare E String?”, there is a brief period of near silence until Matthews exclaims that in London, the acts are “pretty much universally professional and consequently there are no delays between songs while guitars are retuned – however with me, what you see is what you get”, which meets with the complete approval of the crowd.
Shortly afterwards, Matthews introduces ‘Eyes Wider Than Before’ by asking the audience if they’ve seen “Ugly Betty – Episode 4, I think?”, to which there are a number of cheers.  Matthews is a seriously good guitarist and it’s fascinating watching him moving up and down the fretboard effortlessly while focusing his complete attention on the songs themselves.  His heartfelt stories of life, awkward situations and other people will resonate with all of us.  Musically, he’s sure to appeal to fans of Boo Hewerdine, John Martyn, Marc O’Reilly and Jeff Buckley.
The set covers a lot of ground, with a number of songs played on a Spanish guitar (‘Song To A Wallflower’) – and several others on electric.  Tracks are pulled from across the back catalogue – to the point where one guy in the audience requests “Don’t forget the new album, Scott” – and we are treated to a beautiful rendition of ‘Cinnamon’, the first single from the new album, at the end of which Matthews notes to his sound guy that they should have filmed it as it would make an excellent accompanying video.  One track which features on ‘The Great Untold’, entitled ‘As The Day Passes’, was, it turns out, written all the way back in 2001 but only had the lyrics added just before Christmas 2017.  “I’ll try to write songs with less than a 16 year gap in future”, he notes.
The set ends with the title track from the first album, ‘Passing Stranger’, which it has to be said has some beautiful imagery in its lyrics – “The coffee you poured me is cold, the paper I’m reading is old and that smile is not your own.  The clothes that I wear are soaked through, I’m all out of luck for you and there’s a million things I can do”.
The aforementioned ‘Elusive’ is delivered during the encore – and it sounds magical.  Given that it’s still fairly new to my ears, it actually sounds entirely timeless.  Finally, ‘Home and Dry’, which features some fiendishly difficult finger picking and has an almost Spanish feel to the track – is delivered with such an intensity, it’s hard not to be excited by his music.  Then, as quietly as his entrance, Matthews is gone.  The memory of this performance will stay with me though for many years.
Paul Lockett

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