Rodney Matthews‘ graphics has long become part of rock visual landscape. The British artist’s exquisite and richly detailed, easily recognizable and often vainly imitated illustrations grace the covers of records by MAGNUM, NAZARETH and other acts of heavy – and sometime progressive, as it was in the case of Rick Wakeman – stripe. What your average Matthews admirer doesn’t know, though, is that visual arts are but part of Rodney’s artistry, and that the man is actually a no mean drummer. And now the date is nearing when the Englishman is ready to present the audience with an album of his own – not a book type of album but a musical one – which Matthews has been working on, quite actively as of late, for some time, in a good company, with a certain ASIA alumnus and a former member of YES involved.
“This is one of those jobs that – typically in my case – has had a very long gestation period… I first met Jeff Scheetz at a three day Christian heavy rock gig in the UK. Jeff had travelled from Kansas City, USA, to lecture and demonstrate his considerable talent on the electric guitar. I happened to have my artwork on display. It was not long before Jeff and I became good friends, ultimately deciding that it would be a great idea to do an album of ‘prog-ish’ styled rock inspired by my various images. Over the following twenty years or so, we bumped into each other several times and always brought up the album idea, until finally I took a flight to Kansas City – ‘Kansas City Here I Come’ – and in Jeff’s studio we cobbled together some rough ideas and put them on a CD. I was due to return a few months later to continue the work, which had included sitting on Jeff’s veranda watching the hummingbirds and reading my copy of John Cleese’s biography, and write some more tunes.
Sadly, my wife Karin, who was already unwell, became much more ill, with the result that my attention was diverted away from the album. In 2009 Karin passed away, and for three years I struggled to do my artwork, let alone revive the music. My drum kit gathered much dust! One day my daughter Elin announced that her mum had said to her before she went: ‘If it comes to the worst, make sure Dad gets back on his drums and finishes that album with Jeff.’
A while later I called Jeff to find out if he was still interested. Of course he was, and so was my friend John Payne, bassist and vocalist of ASIA. Dusting off the old demo CD, I discovered that we had rough ideas to match my illustrations ‘Mirador,’ ‘The Heavy Metal Hero,’ ‘Rivendell,’ ‘The Hop,’ ‘The Granite Curtain,’ ‘Drum Tower,’ ‘Stop The Slaughter’ and ‘Trinity.’ The ‘Trinity’ image was something I had salvaged from an earlier sketch presented to Geoff Downes and John Payne for the ‘Aqua’ album cover, but not used. There is an interesting story associated with the ‘Trinity’ image, which I will keep for the album sleeve notes!
To date, we have about half the album completed, having enlisted Oliver Wakeman on keyboards and multi-instrumentalist Pete Coleman, with hopefully some other names to join us. Although we all have other commitments, which has slowed our progress, I believe the album can be finished sometime in 2016.
In the meantime, I have just released a single CD with Christmas card, titled ‘I Saw Three Ships’, featuring the above musicians, plus MAGNUM’s Bob Catley on vocals. This Christmas-themed package can now be purchased here.”