I’ve been in bands and into music since my teens, writes musician Matt Sage

Despite learning the recorder at school – like every other wretched child of the 1970s (torture for all concerned) – it wasn’t until the age of 11 that I got my first real initiation into music.

One evening, at my grandma’s house, I chanced upon an original copy of the Beatles’ White Album that had previously belonged to my Dad. I took it home, wired together an old record player that was gathering dust in a cupboard, plugged in some headphones and that was it for me.

I was up until dawn, utterly transfixed, awe-struck, terrified, elated. This incredible music filling every recess of my young, open mind. That night absolutely changed my life - I became completely obsessed: I had to find out for myself how to make music, and I’m still trying to figure it out.

I spent my twenties as a guitar slinger in a band, playing every student union and festival in the land several times over (our manager was a well established London booking agent). I/It was a well-spent youth.

When that band came to an end, in the Autumn of 1994, my bandmates went on to form Faithless, and I moved onto a boat on the Oxford Canal, just north of Jericho, began writing songs on an acoustic guitar, and started looking for somewhere creative to call home.

When I was living in London, in between tours, we all used to hang out at a weekly, unplugged session at the Troubadour in Earl’s court, run by the band Miro. It was a fantastic atmosphere amid a thriving, vibrant, creative community.

Upon arriving in Oxford, I immediately went in search of something similar, but, unable to find it, I hired the snug of the Vicky Arms in Jericho, put a few posters up around the place, told my neighbours on the boats, and the Catweazle Club was born.

It was a great vibe from that very first session: just a handful of poets and players, passing a guitar around and taking turns to share their wares with the room. No mic. All ears.

Pearl Diver, South Park, Oxford. 06/03/2021 Picture by Ed Nix

Pearl Diver, South Park, Oxford. 06/03/2021 Picture by Ed Nix

Within a few weeks, the room was so packed, we had to take the bigger room upstairs. And on and on and on we went, until Covid came to call. 2020 would have been our 26th year.

Over the intervening years I made my living mostly by offering song-writing workshops with varying groups, in a huge variety of settings: from primary schools to prisons to residential care homes. This was always hugely rewarding work. I also ran Big Village, putting on some incredible ‘world music’ artists – such as Thomas Mapfumo and Tinariwen – in Oxford and in venues throughout the county.

As well as music, I’ve always been really into food and into health (alongside my music career, I had also been a yoga teacher and reflexologist).

In 2014, after years of being quietly exasperated by the lack of a vibrant health food shop in Oxford, my wife Jessica and I decided to open Wild Honey, in Magdalen Road. It soon proved a hit with our local community in east Oxford, many of whom are also dedicated to organic, ethical produce. After 18 months, we opened our second shop in Summertown.

Jessica and I are both deeply committed to helping create thriving community, and we are delighted that both shops have become real resources for the people they serve. This has become especially apparent during the past 12 months.

Despite being busy with the two shops (and four kids), I have managed to keep making music: writing, recording, and, until recently, performing, just as much as I ever did. I find that the nature of our business is perfectly aligned with my being a musician. My wife has dubbed me ‘The Rock ‘n’ Roll Greengrocer’, which is fine by me!

My new band, Pearl Diver, has the same personnel as our previous incarnation, Art Theefe: Josh Rigal on bass, Joel Bassuk on drums, with myself on guitar and vocals. With a whole bunch of new songs, a new album to release and a new era upon us, we decided it was time for a name change, and so, at the beginning of 2021, Pearl Diver was born.

I feel pretty damn lucky getting to play music with these guys. Chemistry is everything in a creative collaboration, and we have had that, in greedy, drunken doses, from day one.

Pearl Diver, South Park, Oxford. 06/03/2021 Picture by Ed Nix

Pearl Diver, South Park, Oxford. 06/03/2021 Picture by Ed Nix

One of the things the three of us have all missed most during the past year, is simply getting into a room together, plugging in, and taking off. Playing together in a room, just the three of us, is our medicine: it’s how we get to feel free.

The subject matter for Pearl Diver’s debut single, You Can Bring Your Darkness, came about after talking with my wife about the importance of allowing all the shameful, difficult aspects of ourselves into a relationship.

She was having a tough time and wasn’t sure if it was ok to share it with me, while I happened to be starting to write this song. We both just got into it after that, riffing on ideas and lines.

Trusting the other to be able to hold all of whoever you are, rather than having to hide any ‘unlovable’ aspects of ourselves as we maybe had been raised to do, is the cornerstone of any deep and loving relationship. You Can Bring Your Darkness is about welcoming the shadow in the other.

This is the first of our new songs, with hopefully an album to follow down the line. Covid has been a very creative time for us.

  • Listen to Pearl Diver’s You Can Bring Your Darkness and find out more at pearldiverband.bandcamp.com/releases