Tracks: Matthew Barton – Queen Of England

Further. favourite Matthew Barton, a singer-songwriter originally from Rugby, released his debut EP Queen Of England yesterday.

Containing introspective, tender reflections on masculinity, isolation and a diaristic paean to the passing of his hero Prince, Queen Of England acts like a fully-realised window into Matthew’s vivid songwriting style. Stripped back, for the most part, to his voice and guitar, the tracks here are fragile yet evocative story-like vignettes.

We spoke to Matthew about the seven tracks on the EP and the different ideas and personal inspirations that they individually represent.

CRUISING

In the spring I was thinking about playing live, and I wanted a rhythmic, fun, rocking song to play. That was when ‘Cruising’ began. But then of course we went into lockdown and all live shows were cancelled.

As with many of my songs, it started on acoustic and then I recorded it on electric. It’s got a tiny bit of harmonica in there and a bit of slide and harmonium. I did the vocals in the garage and a plane flew overhead during the take, but I kept it in. I hope I do get to play it live one day.

QUEEN OF ENGLAND

‘Queen of England’ was written before 2020 happened, but it seems like it was a harbinger of things to come. It is a bleak picture, but we are living in these times for real. The harmonium playing ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ as the coda is, in my mind’s eye, a Salvation Army band at the end of the world. It’s like my song version of the This Is Fine meme.

An early version, without the guitar and autoharp, appeared on Z Tapes’ Covid compilation Hope For European Bedrooms in the Spring.

LADY JANE DAYS

During lockdown, Knifepunch Records, who are putting out the cassette version of Queen Of England, assembled a compilation of new songs – Songs To Stay Home To – the challenge being that each song had to be 100% written and recorded in quarantine. I was drawn to the autoharp and ‘Lady Jane Days’ emerged.

I was thinking about Lady Jane Grey in the Tower Of London and the nature of isolation. I recorded the vocals in my car, trying to avoid the sounds of dogs barking leaking into the recording.

BARB

The seeds of ‘Barb’ came when I was travelling in Hong Kong. I was walking along and some of the lyrics began to form; these are the moments I’m thankful to have a phone that I can just sing into, or write a note.

I was thinking about self-image, identity, ideals of masculinity… what is with the phrase “man up”” What about “woman up”?

ALCATRAZ

I was in San Francisco on the day Prince died, with my friend Michael. Prince’s music filled the streets that day. ‘Alcatraz’ was the last song to come together for this EP, and the missing piece of the puzzle that I didn’t know was missing.

Another song, ‘Mamie’, was originally in its place, which you can find that on the cassette version, but there was something in ‘Alcatraz’ that demanded it be included. Just like ‘Lady Jane Days’ didn’t need to be longer, it never occurred to me to edit ‘Alcatraz’ from its seven minutes. I just let it be what it is.

JUDY GARLAND

Some of my favourite music has that Phil Spector sound – all 60s girl groups, Brill Building pop. I love the simplicity and the directness. ‘Judy Garland’ is my tip of the hat to that; it’s got my version of the Ronettes triple drum beat and a deconstructed surf guitar. It’s also my friend Alice’s favourite, and a fun one to play. The kitchen wall is often my Carnegie Hall, when I’m drying the dishes.

WHEN I WAS YOUNG

‘When I Was Young’ the oldest of these seven songs, and it resurfaced for me in the past year. It felt like there was something about the passing of time and this kind of nostalgic, wistful feeling. It was also the first one I finished.

I had a lot of fun layering the guitars and harmonies. I learned harmonies from listening to Fleetwood Mac records and Laura Nyro. If you haven’t got a harmony group, be your own, I say.

Queen Of England by Matthew Barton was released August 28 2020. A special cassette version is available through Knifepunch Records.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

First Play: Matthew Barton – Christie Christie

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Today, Further. presents the first play of Matthew Barton’s new single ‘Christie Christie’, due for release tomorrow. Barton first hit our radar with the mesmerising ‘Orchid’, a sensitive slice of avant pop released earlier this year.

‘Christie Christie’ finds Barton in rockier territory while still showcasing a personal lyrical and compositional style that defies categorisation. “It’s a song about escape,” he explains, “whether that’s fleeing from a situation, another person – or yourself. Is the lyric an internal monologue, or an address from a lover? What has Christie done that means they must flee so rapidly? Or what has been done to them? Caught doing what? I wanted to explore in the song the meaning of loyalty (“the ties won’t sever but the will just might“), identity (“a misfit no more in a foreign land“), and memory (“inside I store the silhouette of your head in the light“) in the face of a seemingly urgent situation.”

Reflecting the inner anguish in the song, Barton’s evolving arrangement of keyboard, banjo and layered process is designed to augment the song’s themes of confusion, tension, conflict and paranoia while never letting his singular vocal style be subsumed. “I guess at its heart the song is about the ‘fight or flight’ impulse,” he says.

With dream-like artwork by the Dutch Expressionist artist Tinus van Doorn, ‘Christie Christie’ is another strange trip into Barton’s subconscious. Listen to ‘Christie Christie’ below.

Matthew Barton is currently working on his debut EP, which will be released by Knife Punch Records later this year. Barton has also contributed songs to some benefit compilations – Z-Tapes’ Hope For European Bedrooms to benefit DIY artists hit by COVID-19, and two compilations benefiting healthcare and community services in the wake of COVID-19: Brace Cove Records’ Quarantine Comp and Under The Counter Tapes’ Banders.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

3 Questions: Matthew Barton

No matter how hard I try, no description of Rugby multi-instrumentalist Matthew Barton’s latest single ‘Orchid’ is going to get anywhere close to his own: “‘Orchid’ was inspired by Prince minimalism and the Casio organ sound of the Young Marble Giants,” he advises. “I wanted to write something simple and direct. I think of it as like Prince having a baby with a Georgia O’Keeffe painting at a video game arcade. Or something.”

If that sounds brilliantly odd, it’s because it is. Driven by layered, sparse preset rhythms and a shimmering keyboard melody as hypnotic as it is absent, the vast empty spaces of the music act as the perfect setting for Barton’s distinctively impassioned, soulful vocal. There is tender anguish writ large here, spliced together with a vulnerability heralding the arrival of a singular musical talent.

Matthew Barton is working on a cassette release for Knife Punch Records that is due for release in the Spring. In the meantime, Barton talks to Further. about almost drowning and getting stuff done. Listen to ‘Orchid’ below.

What is your earliest memory?

Probably being fished out of a swimming pool by my dad, having fallen in, unable to swim. That wasn’t the last time that happened either. Maybe I can trace my fascination with water back to that moment.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

As a serial procrastinator, “You will never feel like you are ready – so just do it,” is useful and motivating. I’m trying to get better at that this year. Isn’t adulthood all about just pretending you know what you’re doing anyway?

Where are you most productive or inspired?

I find that new places, and new instruments, tend to spark ideas.

I have a lot of random voice memos on my phone recorded in weird places, usually while I’m just walking down streets, probably looking a bit bonkers.

New instruments too – my brother bought me a kalimba for my birthday and I’ve been writing some different stuff on that. You’ve just got to be open to everything around you.

Orchid by Matthew Barton was released January 21 2020.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.