AN MP AMERICANA EXCLUSIVE
Sometimes, strange — even grim — times throw up unexpected bright gems. That happened to Matt Pearce during the weeks of lockdown brought in here in the UK to flatten the COVID-19 curve. Matt rediscovered a musical heirloom, became inspired by it and we’re delighted to say that MP Americana fans can exclusively reap the benefit!
London-based, Glasgow-born, Matt Pearce is a talented songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist, known as an original — and still highly active — member of the successful British rhythmic hard rock band Voodoo Six (formed back in 2003).
What’s more, over the past couple of years, Matt has also built up a rep for his smokin’ hot solo project Matt Pearce and the Mutiny (aided and abetted by some top-tier, London blues scene talent like Joe Lazarus (drums), Jon Moody (keys), Kez Gunes (bass), and female vocalist Acantha Lang). Matt Pearce and the Mutiny has toured to much acclaim and released the 9-track, Amazon Blues Chart-topping ‘Gotta Get Home’: an album full of real deal gospel anthems, blues-based ballads, and a kickass ZZ Top-like shuffle and swagger.
Imagine funk played by the best blues jam band around,” said Tom Dixon, for RAMzine, “’Set Me Free’ is a classic in waiting. It is sublime blues that very few can create these days.
Matt Pearce has recorded an EXCLUSIVE new version of this very track for MP Americana, which we’re proud to present for your listening pleasure.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcVHWgsmAwg&w=560&h=315]
We caught up with Matt to find out about why this much-respected, high-calibre guitarist decided to turn to the ukulele as his instrument of choice for this recording, and why one particular ukulele matters so much to him.
Thanks for recording ’Set Me Free’ for us, Matt. It’s a classic in the making, as Tom Dixon said. Can we ask what gave you the idea of playing it on the ukulele this time round?
“While I’ve been in lockdown the last couple of months, I’ve had the time to reconnect with this wonderful object I own: a 1930s’ Martin ukulele. It originally belonged to my Granddad on my Mum’s side: the one-time very famous crooner Donald Peers.
In the late 40s/early 50s, he was like the UK equivalent to a Sinatra or Crosby, selling out the Royal Albert Hall and the London Palladium with his one-man show, playing the Royal Variety Performance and so forth. He made a movie, had a radio show that drew 18 million listeners, and had a TV show on which Tom Jones made his TV debut!
He also had a massive comeback hit in 1969 that actually outsold such artists as Lennon and Fleetwood Mac and landed him amongst all the groovers on Top of The Pops. Amazingly, footage still exists of this! Talk about a blast from the past!”
Matt has uploaded a clip of his Granddad’s appearance on TOTP on 27th February, 1969, on his YouTube Channel.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpfyh0i0A1g&w=560&h=315]
The song is called ‘Please Don’t Go’. It reached #3 in the UK Singles Chart and Matt proudly points out that his Grandad’s single ranked #8 as in the Hits of the Year (alongside the likes of Frank Sinatra’s ’My Way’ at #1, Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus’ at #2 and just behind The Beatles’ ‘Get Back’ at #7.
It’s also touching to see comments posted on the video on Matt’s channel from people who have happy memories of his grandfather, his music, and of that particular song.
That’s quite some company your Grandad was rubbing shoulders with in the charts, back in 1969! Did you feel any impulse to follow in his footsteps? Or connection with him as a performer?
He was kind enough to leave me some money and it was this that allowed me to get my first ‘proper’ guitar: an Ibanez Destroyer. As the only musical person in my family, I always felt a connection to him, and it was lovely to have that connection continue.
I remember it was a huge thrill to play the Shepherds Bush Empire and to be on the same stage that he’d sang on, many years earlier. My Grandad also made his London debut at a theatre in Camden — now the site of a Job Centre that I signed on at briefly! There was even a poster of the gig I played at the Empire just outside that very Job Centre, just to complete the circle of synchronicity.
So it has been such a pleasure to become the keeper of this beautiful instrument and I thought it was about time I did something with it, and it seemed fitting to do a version of ‘Set Me Free’: the first song written for my first solo album.
That’s extraordinary! And playing your song on your Grandad’s own instrument must have a lot of meaning and feeling for you. What’s the difference playing the uke and playing the guitar?
Well, obviously it’s a lot smaller! I’m more into fingerpicking it, like it’s a mini guitar or a lute or something rather than the strummy Formby-type thing. And it’s such a lovely instrument that when you play it very delicately, the sound is just amazing. Tuning-wise it’s like the top 4 strings of a guitar, except the lowest string is actually an octave higher so you play all the same chords as you would on a guitar, but it then gives you all these very different chord voicings, which is really interesting. Apologies for the technical talk!”
Gotta Get Home’ was your first solo album, and your first released album with you as lead singer. Why did it take so long to get out front and on the mic?
Well… I’d flirted with singing for ages, did a bunch of it in various bands and gigs over the years, and always had fun with it, but when you’re in a band like Voodoo Six with a very strong lead singer, it gets put on the back burner ‘cos it’s not needed. Same as being a ‘songwriter’: you contribute ideas, but sitting there on your own and coming up with the whole thing is a very different world. When the songs started appearing, though, I knew I had to do something with them.
Weirdly, the last band I’d done some recordings with (and been lead singer in) was called Superstition. It was a funky bluesy band with a very similar line-up to the Mutiny stuff. This was quite a few years ago, but the first day I was in Soup Studios doing my album I was thinking about this. Then I looked round and they had this massive poster for Damien Hirst’s Superstition on the wall. It was one of those auspicious signs that happened a lot while doing this.
Where do you go next with your music? Is there a ukulele album in the works?
Ha, I don’t think so, but I do need to get a bit of it on the next album somewhere! I’ve spent a lot of the lockdown time working on new songs. We recorded four new ones last year, just to make a start, and I think I have more than an album’s worth ready to go now.
It’s a nice big mixture of all the music I love: there’s a big gospel-type ballad, a heavy funk one that turns into a Floyd-type jam, some Stonesy soul numbers with horns on there. I’m really happy with it all so far and can’t wait to get into a proper studio with actual real musicians and get working on it.
What’s been your stand-out memory from the first year of doing The Mutiny?
Ahh… Not sure I could narrow it down to just one. Hearing ‘Set Me Free’ on the radio that first time — that was a special moment, thinking it might just sneak into the Amazon Blues Charts. Then seeing it at #1 was another one. The HRH CROWS gig was a great one to: it really felt like we were getting somewhere and people were getting it. Playing with V6 one day, then the Mutiny the next was super-cool.
Having done the recordings with no expectations, the response was so much more than I could’ve hoped for. When someone makes your album their Album of The Year, that’s such a huge honour.
Also, ending up in Russia playing my music. That’s the thing I love about this musical adventure: the thought that some little idea I came up with, sitting on my bed playing guitar while watching TV, can then — sometime in the future — get me on a plane flying across the planet to play it to people. That’s the magic for me: anything can happen, so why not dream big and see where we get to.
Thank-you, Matt. Thanks for the exclusive recording, for giving us a fascinating glimpse into your family’s musical heritage and for giving that exquisite vintage ukulele an outing! Not to mention answering our other questions.
Best wishes from all here at MPM