Ado Matheson

30 Oct 2008 in Music, Outer Hebrides

An Lanntair, Stornoway, 28 October 2008

Ado Matheson

THE ISLE OF LEWIS claimed ownership of its arts centre the other night. The events programme is normally a well-balanced but reactive selection of touring music, theatre and dance events. There are a few sad omissions. Birds of Paradise theatre company are usually well worth catching, but Lewis audiences have been deprived of that chance for the last two tours.

And I found the travel off the island to see V-amps production of Fleeto (reviewed on Northings by Mark Fisher) well worth the miles. That’s two companies who should be booked next opportunity. But the Ado Matheson gig shows that an Lanntair is open to suggestions in its programming. A near full-house on a dirty October Tuesday proves that local people will turn out for one of their boys.

The performer in question would be past the boy stage if it weren’t for the fact that a resident of Stornoway can carry that description well into the four score and ten. So he’s a fair bit to go. Ado was the local guitar and song legend when I were a lad. He disappeared to London. You heard things from time to time. He played on a tour with Iggy Pop.

He surfaced at an early Theatre Hebrides do, mid-to-late 90s. There was a tarpaulin over scaffolding and you worried about the relationship between electricity and driving rain. It was the cellar of the Lewis Hotel and the cabaret prepared the way for Ado on lead. He recruited the back-up and gave the crowd the rock and roll they had not even known they needed. I remember the guitar playing was better than ever, quiet virtuoso touches but within tight frameworks.

This time we were in a comfortable venue with a good steep rake to the seats and beers and drams in plastic. The banter was going long before the performance began. It was interesting to compare the bald patches. You realise the ageing process could have left you slightly worse off. But there was no mistaking the period influence once the first acoustic chords rang. It is of course Van the Man, and that was made explicit with a nice jazzy ‘Moondance’ and a later request.

Romance was in the air without shame. Two bonny guitars were caught by the spot and the centre’s well-miked baby grand. The solo performer has hung on to his own hair very well. He’s now father of the more famous Hans – the offspring who played Dr Zhivago in the last TV version – and indeed who plays percussion on Matheson’s new CD, Out On The Islands.

I felt the performance was missing an element and soon the soloist did ask the audience to create their own clapping and stomping. Which they did with no further persuasion. Everyone was out for a good time. And we got our money’s worth from a commited performance. Album samples on the web show simple, bold backings.

On the night, guitar, and in one song, piano, were solid but held in check to allow the self-penned songs their scope. Mood was good with a Country-flavoured whine that suits the Stornoway voice very well. Matheson was clearly moved by the support and by the merry banter coming from the community seated before him. He responded with the passion they sought and the deal was done.

Don’t throw me out of town fellow Lewis folk, but there are buts. The tone was that bit too elegiac. Inclusion of a Lonnie Donegon version of ‘It Takes a Worried Man’ was a masterstroke, but for me revealed what would make this return of the local hero a show that could well travel elsewhere. We simply needed a bit more variety in the tone.

And OK, I’m a poet by trade and too fussy about lyrics. My singer-songwriter cousin keeps telling me that songs are different. But I’ve been looking at different lyrics lately, including Proclaimer songs. And I think songs that ring best have a quirky memorable twist in the language – defeating expectations of which word comes next.

I think some of Ado’s lyrics lull too much – they are a contemporary exile’s songs after all. Next album, I’d ban two words, cove – “ancient” and “ocean”. And let the guitar do a bit more of the talking.

But the melody lines and guitar picking were real strengths and I kept feeling that this was so nearly there. A jam session would be good. What about an Lanntair trying to get this man to work with some local young musicians and throwing the doors open again to let us hear the results?

© Ian Stephen, 2008