(I Don’t Want to Be With) Nobody But You (E Floyd) – Absent Friends 1990 and The Day You Went Away – (Male/Batson) 1992 and Friday’s Child (S Stewart/D Munday) 1993 – Wendy Mathews
Canadian-born Wendy Matthews came to Australia in 1983 at the invitation of Glen Shorrock, her crystal-clear vocals displayed a soulfulness that marked her as a truly gifted singer with a range that embraced torch songs, soul, pop and ballads, she quickly emerged as one of the most sought-after session singers in the country.
She stayed in Sydney and sang with Jimmy Barnes, the Models, Tim Finn and Richard Clapton, and by 1988 her soundtrack album with Kate Ceberano, You’ve Always Got the Blues, was a Top 5 hit. The next year she was recording with Absent Friends, a shifting ensemble of performers recruited from several bands including The Models (Sean Kelly who would become her partner, James Valentine and Andrew Duffield), INXS (Garry Gary Beers), as well as Peter Blakely, who scored a #4 hit in 1990 with Eddy Floyd’s (I Don’t want to Be With) Nobody But You, and took out the ARIA Award for Single of the Year with that song in 1991. Her stunning vocals were again showcased on the Absent Friends only album, Here’s Looking Up Your Address which was a top 20 hit in 1990, thereafter she scored a solo deal with rooArt Records and her 1990 debut Emigre was home to the hits Token Angels and Let’s Kiss (Like Angels Do), both top twenty charters.
For her third solo album, Lily, Matthews was sent a song called The Day You Went Away which had been recorded by British electronic act Soul Family Sensation, she shared a publisher, Mushroom’s Jackie Dennis, with the UK act. Soul Family Sensation — Johnny Male, Guy Batson, Pete Z and singer Jhelisa — had scored a minor hit with the song I Don’t’ Even Know If I Should Call You Baby and recorded The Day You Went Away on their 1991 album New Wave— it was released as a single in the UK in 1992 but did not chart.
Male had actually written the song in the late ‘80s during his university days in Manchester, first playing it live with his indie rock band Metro Trinity before recording it with Soul Family Sensation “I wrote it on a piano, which I hadn’t done before,” Male noted, “I guess it was an attempt to write something that sounded important, something that sounded like a real record rather than just me strumming away on a guitar. Something classic. The themes in the lyric are mixed up from things in my life, but they’re the themes that classic records tend to deal with.”
Male admits it’s a breakup song, but that it’s not about a particular person, “I knew it was going to be a sad song. I had the title, I had the “clouds in the sky” line, I liked the theme that it’s a beautiful day but I’m sad.” Ironically Jackie Dennis sent Matthews a dance remix of the song which Soul Family Sensation had originally recorded as a ballad.
“It was this really fast jungle remix,” Matthews recalled, “T Bone Burnett was producing my album, so we were in the studio in Sydney and I was trying to learn the words and the melodies, he was learning the chords. We slowed it right down, T Bone thought we had something, so we decided to keep working on it, the words were not really clear, but when we slowed it down the words took on a whole different meaning, you could base the whole thing around the story, not the doof doof thing.”
The original song ends with the footnote “he’s on the buses and the aeroplane, with some groceries and a sleeping bag.” Male was shocked that Matthews kept that part in the finale, “That part comes from me being at college and at the time people were going away on gap years, backpacking around the world,” he says. “So it’s about people travelling around Europe, I met some Australian people a few years ago and we were talking about the song and the first thing they said was ‘What’s that bit on the end with the groceries and sleeping bags about?’
Matthews instantly gravitated to that part of the song, “That line culminates the whole story for me. I love that line. Sometimes I change it to ‘with a xylophone’ or whatever live, it ends the whole story in one sentence, it doesn’t explain a damn thing, it just says there he is.”
Once Matthews finished the song, she didn’t expect it would be a single, “It was most terrifying, it was way too simple at the time. It was just a piano and vocal, I wanted the heartbeat through the whole thing, that was about it as far as the sonics and production went.”
“It was a risk to release a ballad like that at the time, Australia’s always been particularly rock-based and male-based, Chrissy Amphlett (of Divinyls), Suze DeMarchi (of Baby Animals) had a very male energy about them, but there was nothing testosterone-fueled or male- based about The Day You Went Away whatsoever.”
“I loved it, because the words were so simple and direct. I remember listening to one of those rock radio stations when we were about to release it and thought ‘What have we done? Why am I letting them put this out as a big hello from me? This is nothing like anything else on the radio’. But I also thought there might be a miracle and there might be other people like me ready for something besides non-stop rock …”
Matthew’s sensitive reading of this bittersweet song entered the Australian charts at #43, and helped by exposure including airing on TV hit E Street, it swiftly climbed the charts, peaking at No. 2 for two weeks from December 6, 1992, kept from #1 by the Boyz 11 Men weepie The End of the Road, yet it still went on to be the highest selling Australian single of the year, and win the ARIA Song of the Year award a second time for Matthews in 1993. Male heard Matthews’ version when a “hard copy CD” was sent to his house — he’d later be flown to Australia (twice) to write with artists including Tina Arena and Cleopatra Wong. “I thought it was beautiful,” he says. “The first I heard was it was recorded by someone in Australia, then it was going up the chart, then it was # 2. Wendy and I were supposed to meet in London, but it didn’t happen, but we spoke on the phone, it was the first time I’d had a song covered. It was successful financially, as they say if it gets played, you get paid. I didn’t quite get the video, I thought it was a bit odd, but apparently people really liked it in Australia.”
Matthews based the video (in which she only features for about half of the shoot) around a short film she’d seen in London while listening to a rough mix of The Day You Went Away, “We recreated the film, went to the same fishing village in Hull, used the same kids and elaborated on the ideas that became the video,” like the song it too captures the emotions of love, loss and longing in a sensitive and touching way. The album Lily was a #2 hit for Mathews in ’93 and coincided with her support act slot to UK visitors Simply Red, the album also produced two other hits for Wendy, If Only I Could (#40) and the wistful ballad Friday’s Child which charted top 40 in December of 1993.
Friday’s Child had been written by Sandy Stewart and David Munday who had previously written hits for Kim Wilde, Stevie Nicks and notably the song Seven Wonders for Fleetwood Mac. Matthews would have her last top 40 hit in 1994 with Standing Strong which she co-composed and was lifted from her The Witness Tree album for a #38 hit nationally, until a Best of Wendy Matthews album emerged in 1999 which climbed to #8 on the charts, Wendy continues to record and tour both locally and internationally