Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Matt Schofield

Heads Tails & Aces


by Ian Mann

August 09, 2009


Matt Schofield is one of the outstanding blues artists of his generation

I’ve been fortunate enough to see two live performances by dynamic blues guitarist/vocalist Matt Schofield. The first at the 2007 Burnley Blues Festival featured his trio with Jonny Henderson on Hammond organ and New Zealand born Evan Jenkins on drums. The versatile Jenkins was at that time pursuing a simultaneous career as drummer with the more jazz centred Neil Cowley Trio. 

Thus constituted the Schofield trio cut a couple of live recordings plus the studio albums “Siftin’ Thru Ashes” and “Ear To The Ground”. With Jenkins now working with Cowley full time his place has been taken by new drummer Alain Baudry, with Schofield’s long term musical associate Jeff “The Funk” Walker also coming in on bass. It was this quartet line up I saw at the 2009 Lichfield Real Ale Jazz and Blues Festival, a show reviewed in our feature on the Saturday of the Festival.
At Lichfield as at Burnley the Schofield group delivered in an inspired display of fiery blues playing, the highlights being the good natured duelling between Schofield and Henderson. The quartet is a more solid unit than the more jazz orientated trio but there is still room for some great playing by the front-line instrumentalists. The new line up is also responsible for this latest album, a collection of eleven soulful and focussed blues performances. The bulk of the material is written by Schofield, often in collaboration with his muse and partner Dorothy Whittick.  The album’s two covers are inspired versions of Freddie King’s “Woman Across The River” and Elmore James’ “Stranger Blues”. 
Although Schofield’s main strength is his skill as a guitarist he is also a soulful vocalist and a talented songwriter in the blues idiom. In addition the thirty year old is a charismatic and exciting live performer who achieves a high standard of consistency in his live appearances. A Matt Schofield gig can be recommended to any discerning music fan, not just hard core blues buffs.
This latest album gets off to a flying start with “What I Wanna Hear”. Schofield’s confident vocal performance is enhanced further by his blistering guitar soloing ably supported by Henderson’s churning Hammond and the solid back beat provided by Baudry and Walker.

“Live Wire”, a tune which featured in Schofield’s Lichfield set is a fine example of blues funk and features Baudry’s “second line” drum intro and groove. The drummer was born in Bordeaux, France but spent some time in New Orleans before moving to the UK. Henderson solos here on the mighty Wurlitzer electric piano and leader Schofield naturally features too.
“War We Wage” is a classic slow blues with Henderson again on Wurlitzer. Schofield gives a particularly convincing vocal performance here and his slow burning guitar soloing is right on the money. Three tracks in and Schofield has already amply demonstrated the range of his abilities. All three tunes are irrefutably blues but each shows the genre in a different light. As Mojo magazine once observed “Schofield displays chops, range and taste”.
The dramatic “Betting Man”  is effectively the album’s title track, containing as it does the line “Heads, Tails and Aces”. The lyric tells of the gambler’s redemption by the love of a good woman. Schofield’s lyrics contain many stock blues images but still manage to sound uncliched and his scorching guitar here is right up to the mark. 

“Lay It Down” is a return to the slow blues format in epic form. At eight minutes plus this is the album’s longest track and allows Schofield to stretch out at length. 
“Can’t Put You Down” is brief, urgent, soulful and funky but lacks the melodic strength of the rest of the material. Despite some typically excellent guitar work from the leader in which he makes judicious use of his FX pedals this is probably the album’s weakest cut. Having said that this is a very classy album and the tune is far from being a clinker.

The Freddie King tribute “Woman Across The River” features a short, tasty solo from Henderson at the Hammond C3. If I have a criticism of this album it’s that we don’t hear enough from Henderson. In a live context he and Schofield trade solos in a manner that recalls Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore in the prime time Deep Purple. Despite Schofield’s outstanding abilities as a guitarist it’s Henderson’s keyboards that make the Schofield band sound different to all the other blues bands on the circuit. He and Schofield have been playing together since they were thirteen and live the musical chemistry between them is palpable as they vie to outdo each other in a spirit of friendly competition. Regrettably Henderson seems a little too reigned in on this recording, fine album as it is.
“Nothing Left” is another convincing piece of slow soul blues with a stunning guitar solo to close the piece. “I Told Ya” is a rousing funk blues strut featuring Schofield’s streetwise vocal and biting guitar plus the bonus of a roaring Hammond solo from Henderson.

“Stranger Blues” is Schofield’s tribute to Elmore James. Despite the fact that the Schofield group sometimes reminds listeners of a bluesier Deep Purple Blackmore and Co. weren’t really a big influence on the young Schofield. He was more impressed with authentic blues axe men such as the “Three Kings” (Freddie, Albert and BB), Elmore James,  Albert Collins and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Although Schofield eschews the slide or bottleneck style his clean lines display a real blues feeling and employ a good range of dynamics. This contemporary tribute is a fitting homage to one of Schofield’s blues heroes.

The lilting soul blues of “Not Raining Now” closes the album on an optimistic note.
“Heads, Tails & Aces” is an excellent example of contemporary British blues. The standard of writing is consistently high, the singing accomplished and the guitar playing outstanding. Schofield is very much the centre of attention but the solid, grooving support he gets from his colleagues is crucial to the album’s success. The relatively low profile of Henderson is almost certainly due to Schofield’s intention to give the album, a tight, focussed sound and there can be no doubt that he has achieved his intentions.
Minor quibbles aside “Heads, Tails And Aces” is as convincing a slice of contemporary blues as you’re likely to hear. Matt Schofield is one of the outstanding blues artists of his generation and fully deserves his burgeoning reputation. Check out for details of recordings and live dates.

blog comments powered by Disqus