Later That Same Year by Matthew’s Southern Comfort

1970

The Woodstock Music And Art Fair took place between August 15th and August 18th, 1969, in Bethel, New York, 60 miles from the town of Woodstock which had become a haven for musicians such as Bob Dylan, The Band and Van Morrison. The Festival came to symbolise everything that was good about the Sixties promoting civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights and demonstrating that half a million people could live together in peace and harmony, if only for a few days. Anti-war, pro-drug sentiments were given a voice like never before. The opening act, Richie Havens, improvised a song which consisted of repetition of the word “Freedom”. The hippie mantra, “Make love, not war” characterised the spirit of the festival and the state of mind of a generation who were not prepared to accept the mores of their parents. The generation gap was never wider.

Dick Cavett was 33 years old in 1969, who had got into TV work through writing jokes for Jack Paar, the host of the “Tonight” show, which has aired on NBC since 1954. This led to him being given his own chat show, The Dick Cavett Show, in 1968.

Joni Mitchell described why she never appeared at Woodstock in December 1969. “I started off to go there. I was playing in Chicago. My manager and my group were on their way to the festival and I was on my way with them, except I had to do The Dick Cavett Show the following Monday. So Sunday afternoon we arrived at the New York Airport and there were all sorts of hassles with helicopters and transportation into the festival and I got abandoned there; I got left behind, and I felt really terrible. I went back into New York City and turned on my television in my hotel room and watched the little bits of it that they put on the news and felt sorry for myself. When I saw the magazine articles and pictures of the festival, I really, really felt sorry for myself, because it’ll never happen again, of course. They’ll try and recapture it, you know, and it’ll just get worse and worse and worse. Well, maybe that’s a pessimistic way to look at it, but, I don’t know. It was really something, that people could be so good to each other. Even if it was only for three days. All those people being good to each other for three whole days. Fantastic. So I wrote a song for that group to sing. Actually I wrote it for myself to sing.

Joni MItchell on The Dick Cavett Show on August 19th, 1969

402 other artists have recorded “Woodstock” but, to my mind, there have been three significant recordings of this majestic song. They differ in musical style, emotional performance and lyrical emphasis.

Joni Mitchell first played “Woodstock” at The Big Sur Folk Festival on September 14th 1969. The melodic, lyrical and compositional sophistication of Joni Mitchell’s songwriting and her musical arrangements is the essential element that distinguishes her from her contemporaries. It’s too easy to assume that the words of our favourite songs are poetry, but in her case it’s true. She is a poet and a dreamer, and when she sings “I dreamed I saw the bombers riding shotgun in the sky and they were turning into butterflies above our nation”, the imagery is profound. Her soaring vocal style allows us to be carried along on a wave of fantasy where our dreams seem multi-coloured and real.

During 1969, Joni Mitchell was in a relationship with Graham Nash (“Willy”). Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young played their second ever gig at Woodstock and their first attempt to record the song was on 30th September 1969. According to Neil Young, a stunning live performance of the song was recorded but Stephen Stills’ perfectionism meant that over the course of the next few months, different takes of each instrument and all the vocals were substituted. Nevertheless, Neil Young’s guitar playing is out of this world. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were a great band but did not lack in ego and were the self-appointed leaders of the Woodstock generation. They liked to indicate that change was not only possible, but likely. The younger generation would ensure that the future would be different. The band gloried in the ideals of “Woodstock and the line “By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong and everywhere there was song and celebration,” sums up their beliefs and audacity.

Joni Mitchell’s version of “Woodstock” was released on “Ladies Of The Canyon” in April 1970. Two months later, Matthews Southern Comfort recorded a set of songs for a Radio 1 session. They were told that they needed one more song and Ian Matthews, having bought “Ladies Of The Canyon” a week before, decided to record “Woodstock”. Listener response was so positive that the band were encouraged to release the song as a single and the record company put pressure on the band to include it on their forthcoming album, “Later That Same Year”, which was to be released in November 1970. The single stayed at Number One on the U.K. Charts for three weeks in October/November 1970. Their version is slower than CSN&Y’s and more deadpan than Joni Mitchell’s. The musical style is “country-rock” and it’s too easy to dismiss their version as dull. To me, it’s sad, melancholic and resigned. Their version makes it sound like a song sung by someone leading a humdrum life, not in touch with their emotions, wandering directionless through the world. The way that Ian Matthews sings “I have come here to lose the smog and I feel just like a cog in something turning” is desperately sad and yet, simultaneously heartwarming.

Here’s my confession. Ian Matthews resisted the record company pressure to include “Woodstock” on “Later That Same Year” although it was included on the American version and is a bonus track on the CD re-issue. So I’ve been writing about a song that’s not, officially, on the album.

Ian Matthews MacDonald changed his name to Ian Matthews to avoid confusion with Ian MacDonald, the multi-instrumentalist for King Crimson. He joined Fairport Convention and sung lead vocals on their first two albums with Judy Dyble (whose boyfriend was Ian MacDonald) and Sandy Denny. When Fairport Convention changed direction to explore English folk music, he left the band and formed Matthews Southern Comfort who released an eponymous album in 1969, “Second Spring” in 1970 and later that same year, “Later That Same Year”. The pressure of a hit single was too much for Ian Matthews who left the band (who continued to record as Southern Comfort) to release two solo albums in 1971, before forming Plainsong. Moving to the USA, he has had a prolific career, releasing over 40 solo albums. A note for the pedant – he changed his name, again, to Iain Matthews in 1989.

I’ve written a lot about a song that doesn’t appear on the official release of this album. However, over the last few days, after Peter suggested that I listen to it, I have listened to the U.S. version of the album non-stop. It’s absolutely wonderful. Whereas, many acts over the last 20 years have adopted the label “Americana” to produce music that is faithful to the concept of music emanating from the country heartland of the USA, none have captured a sound so pure, effortless, relaxing, timeless and beautiful as Ian Matthews managed 52 years ago. “And Me” features gorgeous harmonies and sensational acoustic guitar playing. “Tell Me Why” is the opening track from “After The Goldrush”, released in September 1970, at the same time that “Later That Same Year” was recorded. “Brand New Tennessee Waltz” is a cover of a wonderful song by Jesse Winchester from his eponymous first album, released at around the same time as “After The Goldrush”. Best of all is “For Melanie“, a seven minute song that reminds me of Trees’ “On The Shore“, with a stunning instrumental coda.

The Road To Ronderlin” is the only Ian Matthews composition on the album. He performed this song in 2011 with a version of Matthews Southern Comfort which consisted of Dutch musicians.

Truly great songs, like “Woodstock”, are capable of being interpreted by different musicians in different ways.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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