HE would surely shrug off the suggestion, but Matt Sage is a genuine renaissance man.

The Oxford guitarist, singer and songwriter is a true poet, his lyrics shimmering with a warm, fuzzy beauty.

When not clutching a guitar, he is practising reflexology and, alongside his wife Jessica, running a yoga studio and their three Wild Honey health food shops in the city’s Magdalen Road, South Parade and Little Clarendon Street.

The guy behind the city’s much-missed Catweazle Club performance space – which gave a leg up to some of the city’s finest musicians, poets, singers, dancers, actors and comedians – also brought some phenomenal roots music acts to the city, and has led sessions as a creative practitioner everywhere from care homes to primary schools, homeless shelters to prisons,

He also helms his own band – Pearl Diver – who tonight (Friday) launch their debut EP with a gig at the quirky, friendly and cosy Isis Farmhouse pub – a passionate supporter of Oxford music set in splendid isolation beside the Thames towpath.

It will be followed tomorrow (Saturday) by a set at the wonderful community festival FloFest in Florence Park, Cowley.

“I love music, and have been lucky enough to make a living in and around it, if at times somewhat precariously, for most of my working life,” Matt says modestly.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and make music with all sorts of wonderful players through Catweazle, but it’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve really got my rock & roll chops on with my current trio.

“Josh Rigal (bass) and Joel Bassuk (drums) and I made music together as Art Theefe, but got a bit fed up of having to spell that to people all the time.

“Plus, having now put in some serious hours, we have become a much better band.

“And so last year, we threw out everything we had ever done, changed our name to Pearl Diver, and created a whole new sound and set of songs.

“To my ears, it’s far and away the best music I’ve ever made.”

I last caught up with Matt a year ago when Pearl Diver released their debut single, You Can Bring Your Darkness – an exploration of shadow and nuance in life. So how has the past year treated him and the band?

Oxford Mail: Pearl Diver, South Park, Oxford.
Picture by Ed Nix

Pearl Diver, South Park, Oxford. Picture by Ed Nix

“It has been a very productive time for us,” he says. “We’ve released three singles and videos, and now, this summer solstice, release our debut EP.”

The record is called Look For The Light, and was written by Matt while on retreat in a Cornish hut beside the sea.

“I was in a pretty deep and peaceful space within myself, in this beautiful setting,” he recalls.

“I wanted to try and capture something of that feeling, and to express the simple truth that we all come from, and return to, love.

“It’s a simple prayer to remember who and what we are, where we are from, and to where we shall return.

“It also draws on particularly English, lysergic influences, from The Beatles to Pink Floyd to Radiohead.

“The song feels to me to be a necessary antidote to all the pain and suffering and woes that we create in the world, out of our separation and forgetting what it is that we really are.

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“If we can connect to the peace that is our essential nature, we are more readily able to cherish that in ourselves, and in each other. I am hoping that this very simple song might serve as a healing reminder of that.”

It comes as no surprise that the influence of the pandemic and its lockdowns weigh heavily on the project.

“I filmed the video on my phone in Headington Hill Park, which was something of a discovery for me during lockdown,” he says.

“None of us have ever known our urban spaces to be so still as they were during that period. In all the chaos and fear, there was also so much magic.

“It was like the birds got their sky back, and everything was just more alive.

“With the humans, and all of their noise, removed for a while, nature was able to take a deep breath. So I had to go out and capture some of that as it seemed to fit the song so well.”

The music reflects some of his favourite influences, with proper songwriting at its heart,

“I am interested in melody,” he says.

“I love a tune you can hum – and it’s also got to have soul. I guess my songs are in a pretty classic vein, reflecting all of those timeless influences with which I grew up, from The Beatles to Nina Simone to Dylan and Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison and Marvin Gaye.

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“I am really not trying to reinvent anything, although we do draw our influences from pretty much everywhere, and have in the process created our own original sound. A sort of jazz-folk-rock-soul synthesis.”

It has a wholesome, uplifting vibe which radiates positivity and love; a rare and welcome quality.

“I think that if we are able to engage with the parts of us that have been hurt, spend some time trying to integrate them, then we are more readily able to access love,” he goes on.

“It’s not easy to be with that stuff, but in my experience it’s always worthwhile. It is the duty of the artist to do this work, to go into the mine and bring back the gold.

“I also happen to believe that gratitude and grace are one in the same: that if we can access a state of gratitude, then grace follows.

“It is a self-fulfilling loop. Basic physics. This of course takes work: to take responsibility for our projections, to know something of ourselves, to clear the inner debris, and to be aware of our impact in the world.

“I’ve spent a long time sitting in my own shadow, which I think gives me a capacity to be with that in others, and also a degree of empathy, which is useful if you want to write songs.

“My biggest influence in this regard, however, was having died as a baby.

“At 18 months old, I was accidentally dropped on my head into an empty bath and was in a coma for a week.

“I vividly remember everything that happened during that time, and have carried with me a sort of cosmic cognisance ever since. That the realm of the senses isn’t the whole of reality: that we are much more than our identities, than this illusion of separateness, which creates so much suffering.

“I spend most of my time forgetting all this of course, but occasionally I’ll catch a glimpse.

“Song writing, like all art forms and creative expression, is a kind of hotline to the divine, where you get to drift away from the usual day to day limitations, expand your horizons a bit and connect to something deeper within yourself.”

Pearl Diver tonight (Friday, June 17) launch Look For The Light at the Isis Farmhouse on the Thames towpath near Donnington Bridge, Oxford.

They also play FloFest in Florence Park, Oxford on Saturday, June 18.

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