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The Resurrection of Matt Deighton

23/01/2014 17:48 GMT | Updated 24/03/2014 09:59 GMT

"There are woodpeckers in the garden," Matt Deighton tells me from his Welsh retreat. "No one's about here. It's the back of beyond and right up my street."

Age has become him, his eyes holding the horizon as if discerning there ideas already heading his way. He waits, a singer-songwriter whose records, listened to afresh and from the remove of many years, come to the listener like treasure unearthed. He's a man who for too long has remained undercover, turned in on himself, gone missing. But he's back.

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As one of this country's best-kept secrets, Deighton was once a leading light of the acid jazz movement that helped re-energise the rudderless world of British music as the 1980s had sputtered to a close. 

Blending the sounds of The Byrds and Hendrix with funk and rare groove (and a dash of The Small Faces), the resultant fusion of Deighton, and his band Mother Earth, was enough to usher him into the top rank of songwriters and guitarists. With Mother Earth he enjoyed success with the release of a clutch of albums that included The People Tree (Acid Jazz Records, 1993).

With the release of the classic single Jesse from that same album, his reputation as a serious new voice had been established. Then, after Mother Earth's disbandment in 1996, Deighton joined Paul Weller's band on lead guitar and temporarily replaced Noel Gallagher in Oasis when Gallagher quit in the middle of touring in 2000.

Originally from the environs of Woodford in Essex, Deighton became something of an enigma following collaborations with Chris Sheehan for The Bench Connection, Chris Difford of Squeeze and a link up with the keyboard master Brian Auger in the mid-1990s.

"I played with Brian Auger and the Oblivion Express in 1995, which was one of the highlights of ever having picked up a guitar. It remains a great memory because I was pushed to the limit. Part of me thinks it was a couple of weeks ago, while another part feels it was a century ago. It's a funny thing, the past."

Like a true seeker, Deighton's muse then led him to folk, whereby he quietly stepped away from the limelight and, with no small amount of brilliance, wrote a little-known chapter of British musical history. 

As a solo artist, Deighton distilled his art into four soulful folk-tinged albums of quiet beauty and power (Villager, 1995; You Are The Healer, 2000; The Common Good, 2002; and Wake Up The Moths, 2004) and in doing so was compared with the late Nick Drake, another songwriter of singular aloofness. 

To this day, a sense of timelessness enshrouds Deighton, and as the world has tilted on its axis, so has his muse returned. "I'm proud of everything I've made, but I really like Wake Up The Moths, which was recorded all over the place, in front rooms and studios over a number of years. 

"But now I've written sixteen new songs which are so good that, if I heard someone else playing them, I'd be pissed off that they weren't mine. They're very moving, which is problematic if you're shedding a tear when playing them on stage. I don't go out to get recognition, I just go out to play live and then get in the studio, and whatever else happens after that has nothing to do with me."

Deighton's old confidant, Acid Jazz Records boss Eddie Piller, today describes him as "a true talent, a wonderful songwriter, full of agrarian angst and dappled summer days".

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But is Deighton surprised by his own career? "I'm surprised I'm still alive. I feel like I'm always trying to restart my career, like an old Morris Minor. There are even days I forget I am a songwriter. But playing is what I do best. It's my living."

The charge of hiding his light under a bushel can be levelled at Deighton, a talent as great as his having lain for too long like a seam of gold, out of sight and untouched.

"At the moment, I'm looking at record deals for the new album. I'll also be co-writing with Kathryn Williams so I'm going to be busy again." And not a moment too soon. "Life begins at 47. It does up here anyway. I didn't know what I was doing at 26...in fact, I didn't know what I was doing at 44!"

Neither does he grasp the purpose of digital bootlegging. "It's got worse. I could have done with paying my phone bill rather than have my records heard for free. Access to music has improved, but trawling the internet for the next great band is like looking for your favourite number in the phone book."

Today, Deighton is shorn of the luxuriant moustache that once graced the covers of Mother Earth LPs. "My moustache is in the loft. I was going to get it out for a Mother Earth reunion, but since we're not together right now I've had to put it back up there."

With impeccable timing, therefore, Matt Deighton has risen phoenix-like from the ashes of a bonfire of vanities better known as the music business. It remains only for us to embrace the return of his unique talent.

Matt (@deighton_matt) will appear with Folk Newington on 7 March at Mama Liz's Voodoo Lounge, Stamford, Lincolnshire, and will be supporting Kathryn Williams at LEAF on Bold St, Liverpool on 19 March

Listen to Matt here

Photograph 1 by Clare Deighton/photo 2 courtesy of Matt Deighton & Acid Jazz Records