30 seconds with... Patsy Matheson

M chats to Patsy Matheson about her inspirations and songwriting processes.

Paul Nichols
  • By Paul Nichols
  • 23 Nov 2011
  • min read
Former, and founding member of Waking the Witch, Patsy Matheson has a new album Stories of Angels & Guitars (released 16 January Tomorrow Records) .  The album features ten new songs on guitar and mandolin, with guest appearances from Hugh Whitaker (The Housemartins) on drums, and Jon Short on double bass. Patsy  will be touring with Becky Mills throughout the UK in February and March to support the release. She took some time out to answer some questions and share some insight on her approach to songwriting.

M : How long have you been making music?
Blimey! That’s a question! I have now reached the grand old age of 47, and I suppose it’s fair to say that I have been singing all of my life! My sister is 2 years older than me, and when we were quite little girls, we used to work out all of the harmonies to Simon & Garfunkel songs and sing them while we were doing the washing up. Even before then, I remember as a toddler learning all the words for  ‘These Boots were made for Walking’ and singing it over and over again! I never had proper music lessons (a fact that I now deeply regret), but first picked up a guitar when I was fifteen, because all the boys I knew could play one and I wanted to join in. A massive turning point for me was when I arrived in Leeds as a student in 1982. Someone took me to an Irish session in a fantastic old pub called the White Stag (which sadly is no more) and for the first time, I saw people sat around a table playing jigs and reels just for the pleasure of it. I bought a mandolin and never really looked back from there. I ran the University Folk Club for a while, and started performing my own songs there. I used to write a new one every Wednesday afternoon so I could try it out that evening! Needless to say, I didn’t get a great degree! I was involved in setting up the world famous Duchess as a music venue in Leeds in the mid eighties, which gave me a great platform to perform myself – one of my first ‘proper’ gigs was opening up for the legendary Nico when she played there not long before she died. From there, I just carried on and got invited to support some truly fantastic people here in Leeds – John Martyn, Roy Harper, Dick Gaughan etc, all of whom influenced me hugely. I released my first collection of songs on cassette (!)  in 1992 and first CD, With My Boots On in 1996 which led to me playing solo at Glastonbury in the acoustic tent the following year. I formed Waking the Witch, a four piece acoustic girl band in 2002 and we spent the next 5 years touring all over the UK and having loads of fun! For the last three years, I’ve either been playing solo, or accompanied by my dear friend, Clive Gregson. Becky Mills, another member of Waking the Witch is coming with me on this next tour. So yes, a long time! Ages!
M : What inspired Stories of Angels & Guitars?
Difficult to say exactly what inspires the songs. As a writer, I draw on lots of things – personal experiences as well as the experiences of other people. I try to always be on the look out for things and situations to write about, and new perspectives on old subjects. The title came about by accident really. It just so happened that when I looked at the collection of songs that I had written, there seemed to be quite a few references to either angels, or guitars, or things that are losely related! It hadn’t been a conscious thing! As far as vocal arrangements go, I’d been listening to some old eighties layered vocal stuff – Judie Tzuke in particular, who I’ve always found inspiring – and wanted to have a go at doing something similar. But not in a rock context. Combined with folk based stuff. And I am lucky enough to have  lots of wonderful talented friends who I play with regularly who are a constant source of inspiration. I always draw on things from the musicians around me.

M : What process do you go through to create your music?
I don’t have a set process for songwriting really. Different songs pop out in different ways. Sometimes it’s the music that comes first, and sometimes it’s the lyrics. Also, I think it’s fair to say that some songs I write very quickly and others take a lot longer. Not sure why really. I do find though that if I spend an hour or so completely alone at home playing my guitar then part of a new tune will materialise – and that music tends to suggest an idea for a lyric. The trouble is, I have probably forgotten more of these ideas than I have remembered, so lately I have started recording them on a little Zoom machine that I keep in my kitchen and that way I remember more! That’s the problem with not being a trained musician – I never know what chords I’m playing (which isn’t helped by the fact that I use several different tunings) – and therefore I have to remember the music by finger shapes rather than the musical notes. It’s a bit of a handicap. When I’m working out harmonies, I just shut my eyes and start singing along and wait and see what happens! Usually it works! I just seem to feel them I suppose. That’s probably from lots of practice.

M : How would you describe your sound?
The sound on this new album is something quite new for me. I set out with the intention of playing all the instruments myself, mainly because I wanted to record it in a very relaxed way – just one evening a week – so it’s difficult asking other musicians to keep coming backwards and forwards. I’m always available! I ended up sacking myself as drummer and bass player in the end though, as I really wasn’t up to the job – so the record is made up of me on vocals, guitars, mandolins and various bits of percussion, and Hugh Whitaker on drums and Jon Short on double bass on some of the tracks. I’ve layered up a lot of the vocals, so the effect at times is quite ethereal I suppose. I’ve written all of the songs, but I wouldn’t say they fall tightly into one particular genre – some of them are quite folky, but there’s a bit of jazz and blues in there too. It’s a very ‘acoustic’ album. Singer/Songwritery. Pretty.

M : What would your dream collaboration be?
As far as writing goes, I mainly write on my own, but when I have written with other people I really enjoy it. There are so many writers who I admire that it’s difficult to choose, but Neil Young would probably be there on the list, after John Martyn if he was still with us. And Paul Brady. I love his songs. He’d be fun to write with. Though probably a bit scarey.

M : Where can we catch you performing next?
I am playing all over the UK from the beginning of February through until Easter 2012 to support the release of the album.

For a preview of some tracks from the album visit: www.myspace.com/patsmatheson

Dates for Patsy's early 2012 tour can be found on www.patsymatheson.co.uk

Photos: Ani McNeice