Matt is widely regarded as one of his generation’s leading melodeon players of the English style. He’s also a strong singer, and furthermore boasts an enviable level of prowess on the duet concertina and – interestingly – mandolin. And somehow he finds time to play in no fewer than three ceilidh bands! Although latterly Matt’s perhaps best known as one-third of The Dovetail Trio (with Rosie Hood and Jamie Roberts), it’s as a proud solo performer that we encounter him on The Brighton Line – and a most charismatic and knowledgeable one he proves too, on a hand-picked selection of favourite songs.
No doubt it helps that Matt comes from a family of folk performers and enthusiasts; indeed, from an early age he’s made a speciality of researching and performing the songs and tunes collected in his native Sussex; all the material on The Brighton Line is drawn from this repertoire. Matt has learnt much from detailed study of the region’s singing styles, and he clearly delights in recalling (with all due respect, and not in any sense aping) the Sussex source singers, masters such as Pop Maynard, Harry Upton, Gordon Hall and Johnny Doughty and of course, The Copper Family. All these sources, and more, are duly properly credited in the CD booklet – which helpfully and honestly sets out its stall thus: “on this album, there will be versions of songs that you will know, some with which you might only be familiar, and hopefully some you might not have come across before”. And this statement holds true for all aficionados of the traditional folk repertoire, of whatever level of knowledge or attainment.
The first category provides arguably the greatest revelations: for instance, the Leslie Johnson-sourced version of Butter And Cheese And All will prove a discovery for many (being so accustomed to the Harry Cox/Sam Larner/Peter Bellamy version), and the rarely-collected Canadee-I-O (from the singing of Harry Upton) is leagues away from the now-familiar Nic Jones treatment, Matt’s concertina-accompanied rendition of Sweep Chimney Sweep takes the ditty out of the realms of chummy Copperdom and lusty Wilsonian gestures and instead accentuates its curiously quirky nature, while The Poor Weaver’s Daughter here surfaces far from its normal Yorkshire milieu, with a melody which to my ears partly recalls that commonly used for Barbara Allen. Matt’s chosen version of The Lakes Of Coalfin, which comes from the singing of Scan Tester, is tunefully and responsively accompanied on mandolin (as is also The Golden Vanity, which closes the disc). Into the second category falls the epic ballad The Plains Of Waterloo, which Matt learnt from the imperious, “peculiar” but highly enjoyable singing of the mighty Gordon Hall – and full marks to Matt for turning in a performance that’s every bit as commanding in its own way. This is one of the album’s five a cappella tracks; on Down By The Seaside, Matt sings the “full” version with the extended chorus, while the other songs – A Bricklayer Bold, Deep In Love (a version of Must I Be Bound?) and Riding Down To Portsmouth – lose nothing in impact through their comparative brevity.
Matt’s own singing style is distinctive, refreshingly unfussy and directly communicative, with minimal use of decoration. This very quality of straightforwardness can occasionally seem a mite deliberate, even while Matt adjusts his phrasing to cohere with the flow of the narrative or argument, but the real gain with this approach is that there’s no sense of an artificially imposed, acted-out “personality” getting in the way of putting across the song’s message, whether or not his skilled instrumental accompaniment is utilised. And these backings, while a model of taste and necessary restraint, nevertheless invariably display an abundance of life and sympathetic commitment.
The accompanying booklet is enthusiastically written and compiled, and it contains notes on both the songs (conveniently referenced by Roud number) and the source singers from which Matt’s chosen versions have been drawn. Presentation of this disc, like the recording and performances therein, cannot be faulted.
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