Around May 2001 The Times ran a competition for young music journalists. At that particular time I was twenty years old and finally coming out of a bout of depression and ill health that had wrecked my teenage years and left me with few qualifications and even fewer prospects. So when I read about the competition I thought, `I’ll have some of that.`
So I had to write an article about something music related. My gig going years were still slightly ahead of me so my only option was to write a review. My thought process was that there was no point in writing about a record everybody was buying. I needed something unknown. So I scoured the then current issue of Q Magazine for a suitable candidate.
I didn’t win the competition. However I did end up with a copy of Draw by Matthew Jay.
Matthew Jay was a twenty three year old singer/ songwriter and Draw was his first album. At the time singer/ songwriters were very much in vogue. The biggest success story of the moment was David Gray and the re-issue sections were finally taking notice of Nick Drake. Indeed I believe Matthew Jay only narrowly got the nod over another singer/ songwriter who had his debut out that month.
It was ironic because calling Matthew Jay a singer/ songwriter in the David Gray/ Nick Drake mode would have been unfair in the extreme. Many of the songs on Draw were backed by a full band and only a few (inevitably the ones that got highlighted) had the earnest soul searching streak that was the fashion of the time.
Opening song Four Minute Rebellion features the f word repeatedly. It gives way after a minute to the fantastic Beatlesesque (a word I remember using in that overwise forgotten review) pop of Let Your Shoulder Fall. Three more fine songs follow which see a gradual wind down to the album’s centrepiece Meteorology; a song which baffles me to this day but still moves me the same way it did in 2001. Meteorology is Jay’s finest achievement rivalled only by the track that follows – Call My Name Out shows that Britpop was his mother tongue and he spoke the pop as much as the Brit. The second half of Draw isn’t quite in the same class but has its moments, not least the cheery singalong of The Clearing and Become Yourself which had the album’s defining lyric. `Become yourself my boy, you’re only halfway there.` Hold on to that thought.
In short Draw held its own in the pantheon of 2001 which would prove an extraordinary year for music (REM’s Reveal, Dylan’s Love & Theft, Elton’s Songs From The West Coast, Ryan Adams’ Gold, Everything I Need by Aynsley Lister – at the time the guy who beat Matthew Jay to be my find of the year). It’s still a fine listen today. For two years I awaited the follow up.
On September 25th 2003, ten years to this day, Matthew Jay died, in circumstances that remain slightly unclear. I will not detail these here. Suffice to say his family bravely kept his spirit alive with a rarities album (Too Soon) and Further Than Tomorrow which determined as closely as possible what the follow up to Draw might have been. Neither quite rivalled Draw but have plenty of fine moments.
One of the few things that is clear is that Matthew Jay was moving away from pop/ rock and incorporating dance influences into his music. The full reconciliation between the two genres arguably wouldn’t happen until the new decade and the question of what music Matthew Jay might have been making in 2013 (in his mid thirties) will be forever answered.
And the introverted 20 year who entered a Times competition? He evolved of course. Music remains my passions and I’ve been privileged to actually meet some of the artists whose music I now champion. Other idols I wouldn’t want to meet (I mean what would I say to Bruce Springsteen if I ever met him). But there are a small number who I’ll never get to meet. But in a way I know all of them through their music – let’s face it, they do it to share their dream with anyone who’ll listen.
Matthew Jay – I miss you, ten years on. I still listen to Draw from time to time and it makes me smile.
For those who haven’t heard of him, here’s a link. Meteorology is the track you should download but I’d like to think he’d prefer me to choose something more upbeat.