INTERVIEW: MATT DEIGHTON “The music world is brilliant, but it’s hit and miss”

“I don’t get anxiety on stage but I do get it before and after,” says Matt, his last live outing in London’s Kings Place in February a triumphant return to live playing following the release of his biographical Sky Arts documentary.

The documentary Overshadowed came as a long overdue introduction of Matt Deighton’s vast talent to an unsuspecting but grateful television audience. Validation arrived and remains, and from his Welsh retreat today he is better able to survey the landscape and himself, far from the maddening effect of ‘the business’. 

“The documentary did help me get an overview of what I’ve been up to all these years. I found it quite an emotional watch, seeing people I know like my wife and brother and friends say what they thought of me. I got quite tearful. Although Kevin [Lee Brown, the director] couldn’t get rid of my gut…” 

The project was made with love, lending Matt a much needed pause for thought, one consequence being an emotional exhaustion arguably brought about by seeing his life flash before his eyes. But such a love letter can only heal and he has now returned refreshed and circumspect, with a clearer idea of his own place in the world as a recording artist.

As the autumn days shorten, he is taking to the road for an eleven-date tour of the UK. “Most of the venues I haven’t played before. My new booking agent, Midnight Mango… sounds a bit like a Captain Beefheart song, doesn’t it… has arranged something new this time. Ninety-five percent of the tour is going to be me with a guitar because I want to keep it subtle this time around. But for two of the nights Tom Mason will be on double bass and Steve White on drums.

“I think the scariest gig is going to be in Wrexham… because I know who will be coming. To be honest, I’m amazed that venues are still open after everything that’s happened. Things are back to normal, so it seems. Normality has resumed. At least that’s how it feels…”

His new album – which follows the incomparable Doubtless Dauntless of 2018 – is due for release next October and is entitled Today Become Forever and was recorded before the country’s dystopian hammer blow. Ken Scott (David Bowie, Supertramp, Devo) has produced three of the tracks, Snowlit Lovers being one. “On this new album I think Somewhere To Climb To is my favourite song to play. And I think I’ve invented a new open guitar tuning,” he laughs. “The tuning provided me with six songs. My wife is also singing Welsh on a song called Ruthless Grin,” which he says was inspired by our robber baron political class. “The album’s waiting on a remix which, as ever, relies on funding.”

It would be some sort of crime if Matt were to cease writing and recording. Tuned to a higher frequency, he belongs to a lost musical age when a softer plaintive beauty once reigned. “I’d tried stopping [making music] once… it was worth trying if only to find out I don’t actually want to stop. Perhaps it was my dramatic way of stepping away from the plate, as Gregg Wallace would say, and leaving it all alone for a bit.” Something that wiser creatives know how to do. “But for the first time, earlier this year, I found I had an urge not to be songwriting or playing anymore. And I took comfort in it, a relief almost.” This makes him chuckle. “But now I’m writing and co-writing again, so I’m back in it.”

He’s long been a devotee of recording artists from the more obscure side of things, with the 1971 debut studio album, Colour Green, by German actress and singer-songwriter Sibylle Baier these days rarely far from his turntable. “It’s the most natural record I’ve heard. She recorded it for her children as a sort of night time music. It’s unique, quite Syd Barretty, quite odd, but recorded for her own enjoyment.” Much in keeping with Matt’s own ethos. “I also like Vashti Bunyan. I struggled at first with her music then realised it was brilliant. Laura Nyro too. Wonderful, quiet stuff. I’m after quieter music to listen to these days, music I can light the candles to in the evening.” Then comes another chuckle. “But I also like Part Chimp, who are absolutely and violently loud.”

He talks about how Joni Mitchell uses painting as a way to protect and preserve her artistic well-being, a pastime he too once enjoyed and which he says “had a beneficial effect on my songwriting”. Similarly, he reveals that he’s taking up a pottery class – something he has long wanted to do – before Christmas. As an aside he mentions that both his children are now singing and recording. “They have a good eclectic ear between them. It’d be good if they ended up making music. The music world is brilliant, but it’s hit and miss. I mean, if they started making music that would mean I could just listen to them. I could get out of the way.”

The Sky Arts retrospective of Matt’s career has undoubtedly re-energised him, so much so that he has also finished an album with Dr Robert of The Blow Monkeys. “I’m not sure when that might come out but I’m also working with Gary Carpenter [composer of The Wicker Man (1973)] and I’m co-writing with Kathryn Williams. So collaborative work is also keeping me going. I’ve liked working with everyone I’ve ever collaborated with musically and I’d still work with them all, but one person I would’ve liked to have worked with was Clive Palmer [of The Incredible String Band]. He was never up for stardom and was only into the authenticity of music. You know, getting it right and for the right reasons.”

Which is what Matt Deighton will also be remembered for come judgment day, with his own high bar set exactly where he wants it. “Getting down to doing what we do and getting a tune going is what it’s all about. I’ve got busy again. It’s actually the very first solo tour I’ve ever done. It’s usually been me winging it, playing venues sporadically, here and there, as and when.” This gets him thinking. He strokes his chin. “But I can’t actually think about playing live. You know, until I’m actually playing live.” 

The stage is the thing, whereon he’ll catch the conscience of a king. It’s where he belongs, whether he likes it or not. 

Jason Holmes

Portrait by JAH

Visit Matt’s website for more information on the forthcoming UK tour