Sitting in a satin, sapphire blue robe is Newcastle’s very own Bob Dylan. He rolls a cigarette, sets it alight, and tells the tale of his musical endeavours.
Matty Oliver may well be responsible for keeping the folk scene alive in years to come, with his witty lyrics, acoustic guitar and Geordie charm.
As well as paving the way for singer-songwriters, this lad is also injecting life into the gargantuan Northern indie scene, with his four-piece outfit The Phosphenes.
Having grown up in the mining village of Stanley in County Durham, Matty has recently decided to move to the “rough and ready” Gateshead. Now on the opposing side of the River Tyne to the heart of the North East, Newcastle.
Rather than being inspired by the stunning structures of the city, Matty pays homage to the people who live there. “There’s nothing really here,” explains Matty. “But if I didn’t live here, I would never have been inspired to write those songs.” He could make the most ordinary of people sound riveting. This is especially evident in his songs ‘This Working Man’ and the beloved ‘Talkin’ Old Man’s Blues’.
Matty offers up the story behind the latter. In a cosy pub in Whickham, a semi-rural town just five miles south-west of Newcastle and home to a population of 16,000, is where it all began. “I just met this fella outside of the bar and we got talking. We’re actually really good friends now,” says Matty. The song is an ode to the life of his now close friend. “Literally, pick any lyric in the song and it’s true, I just wrote exactly what he told me.”
‘I met an old man outside a bar one night, we got talkin’ he told me his life. He said back in the 60s I had hair like you, what will happen to me will happen to you’ – ‘Talkin’old Man’s Blues’
It’s clear to see that he is a lyrical genius. However, when it comes to love and heartbreak, this isn’t Matty’s cup of tea. With the band, there are “hints of punk”, according to Matty, “so the songs can’t be about love. They are about society and people instead”. Which is unsurprising – who wants to hear an indie-punk band sing soppy love songs?
At the young age of 18, it may be understandable that, just maybe, he hasn’t had enough romantic experience to write of it. On the contrary, Matty cackles, “Oh! I’m definitely experienced,” then pauses and admits whilst tearing up a bit, “and yes, I’ve had my heartbroken.” Despite his defences, Matty has crafted two love songs that go by the titles ‘Over You’ and ‘All Night’. The first a moody ballad with sorrow deep at its core, the other a cheeky and chirpy tune with a spring in its step.
Mid-conversation, Matty quickly leaps from his bed and zips out of the room into the kitchen. He had left the hob on prior to making himself and egg and bacon sarnie, bawling, “I’VE LEFT THE STOVE ON!”
It’s almost impossible to miss who this maestro’s principle influence is. Robert Zimmerman a.k.a. Bob Dylan. Moved by the lyrics, Matty decided to pick up a guitar and follow in the firmly formed footsteps of Dylan. “I listened to ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ and fell in love with it. From there, I decided that’s what I wanted to do,” Matty discloses. “All of his songs are stories, and you can relate to a lot of his songs. Even if you can’t relate to his songs, I love how good and true his words are,” he adds.
But, where do you begin as a songwriter? Matty shares the secret. “I started busking. I’d be out every day singing. When I first started I couldn’t even sing very well,” he states, “You wouldn’t believe how many people would approach me. Especially the drunks on a Saturday night asking me to play their weddings.”
So, there you have it, the key to success – target the engaged drunks at the weekend.
Although Dylan may be at the top of Matty’s influences, other important faces made it to the list: The Who, The Kinks, The Beatles, The Libertines and Johnny Cash. “Everybody loves a bit of Johnny Cash,” Matty affirms.
It’s hard to stay out of the spotlight when you were born to be under it.
For the exuberant Matty, this couldn’t be more true. Now he’s moved off the streets and into acclaimed venues, such as Newcastle’s O2 Academy, Think Tank! and Head Of Steam, his inner performer is becoming more revealing. “I quite fancy prancing round the stage like Jim Morrison or Mick Jagger,” Matty chuckles.
The Phosphenes headlined the O2 Academy back in September, drawing in a massive crowd of young people. Matty recounts the memory, the audience was full of colour and energy, “The turnout was amazing. People were going crazy, jumping around for the heavy songs and listening intently to the slower songs.” According to Matty, the crowd were “like-minded”. Matty and The Phosphenes are creating music for the people.
The only way is up for this gifted gentleman.
Words by Megan Berridge