Matthew and Son

Up at eight, you can’t be late

You lucky, lucky bastard. I used to set my alarm for quarter to six when I commuted to London. I’ve always imagined Matthew and Son as a mucky old factory, probably in the north of England, one that L S Lowry might have painted. Cat took the name from his tailor, Henry Matthews, but the lyric goes on to mention “the files in your head”. Perhaps it’s an office where accountants or lawyers toil. Or maybe a hand tool factory.

In fairness, Steven Demetre Georgiou, known to the world as Cat Stevens – later as Yusuf Islam – was only 18 in 1967 when this song was a big hit in the UK. Perhaps he didn’t experience work drudgery himself before he became a pop star. Although his girlfriend did, according to his later comment:

“I had a girlfriend, and she was working for this big firm, and I didn’t like the way that she had to spend so much of her time working… There was a bit of social comment there about people being slaves to other people.” So this shot across the bows of capitalism was inspired primarily by resentment of his girlfriend’s employer – and only incidentally by a sense of injustice. It is not recorded whether this is the same girlfriend whom he loved no more than his dog.

For Matthew and Son,

Matthew hasn’t called his company Aviva plc or G4S: no, he’s happy to put his name above the door, and be judged on his record by customers and employees. And employees’ boyfriends, it seems. Matthew has put his personal reputation (and his son’s) on the line. Clearly a man of integrity. (Or possibly a narcissistic t*** like Trump.)

he won't wait.
Watch them run down to platform one
And the eight-thirty train to Matthew and Son.

Well, I used to run down to platform one for the six-forty three train, that’s one hour and forty-seven minutes earlier, matey. And I don’t know how far you live from the station, but I do wonder whether thirty minutes is enough time for you to wake up/go to the loo/shave if applicable/shower/get dressed/have a nutritious breakfast/brush your teeth/make up if applicable/gather your stuff/get to platform one. All the things you should do to arrive at Matthew & Son presentable and ready for work.

Matthew and Son, the work’s never done,

That’s what work is, right? If all the work was done, you wouldn’t have a job any more, would you?

there’s always something new.

Stimulating work then.

The files in your head, you take them to bed, you’re never ever through.

Right, let’s assume it’s not a hand tool factory.

And they’ve been working all day

All day?

All day

No employer would expect less.

There's a five minute break and that's all you take,
For a cup of cold coffee and a piece of cake.

Cake? You get cake? Do Amazon delivery drivers get free cake? Luxury!

He’s got people who’ve been working for fifty years

A steady employer. A job for life. Probably a decent pension scheme. How many young people entering the job market in 2021 can expect that sort of loyalty from their employers? Uber pension, anyone?

No one asks for more money ‘cause nobody dares

There’s a whole world out there, guys. Go work on someone else’s files. Retrain. Emigrate.

Even though they’re pretty low and their rent’s in arrears

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Matthew and Son don’t pay a decent salary. Perhaps their employees are profligate.

Matthew and Son,
Matthew and Son...
etc

Cat was a precocious talent, and this song still sounds fresh. But he couldn’t have imagined how, half a century later, the march of Thatcherism and Reaganomics – followed by the rise of the gig economy – would make the workers at Matthew and Son look like the lucky ones. If they were recruiting today, applicants would be queueing around the block. Or rather, they’d crash the servers.

Matthew, and his Son – or by now his Great Grandchildren – are just trying to run a business. Give them a break. But make it a twenty minute break. And make sure the coffee’s hot.

Songwriter: Cat Stevens
Matthew and Son lyrics © Cat Music Ltd.