Entertainment Music

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Cerys: The rock princess of wales

Yet despite all of these talents, to some, Cerys Matthews will always be the woman who enjoyed a very public romance with Mark Bannerman on I'm A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here! in 2007.

But no one category can contain this strong, self-possessed earthy character. She is happy to sing in her native Welsh lilt rather than affect a mid-Atlantic twang like some of her peers, even recording an album in her mother tongue (Paid Edrych i Lawr).

She sprung to fame with hits like Mulder And Scully and Road Rage and had a hit duet with Tom Jones.

Cerys is now heading to Dublin, making a rare live appearance tonight at the National Concert Hall as part of the ESB Live series.

Clearly, Cerys feels a connection with her Celtic cousins across the Irish Sea, which can be traced back to her childhood growing up in Swansea and Pembrokeshire.

"Going back to when I was nine, I was given a book full of Irish songs," says Cerys.

"It became like a Bible to me. I've not really told anybody. Not until I got invited to the National Library of Ireland, where I was given a book on WB Yeats for a documentary I made for the BBC.

"I've always thought of Irish songs as being full of drama and tragedy. I know Bob Dylan also learnt a lot from them. It's the history and the words and the romance and the personal accounts as well as the melodies. They also tell you the stories of females -- which you don't often get in history books."

So what can her Irish fans expect to hear at the show?

"I've been singing now for 20 years, so the repertoire has got pretty big," she says. "The first half will be traditional songs -- some from Wales, some from Ireland, some from America.

"And I'll play some songs from my 2003 album Cockahoop as well, which came out a few years after the band (Catatonia) split up. Some of them have a bit of a country twang.

"Then in the second half, I'll have the assistance of eight Irish string players and a percussion section, as well as a Latin American musician from Chatenooga.

"So I'll be able to play songs from one of my last albums, Don't Look Down. But I'm not going to tell you which songs I'm playing -- you'll have to come and see for yourself!" she laughs.

Cerys says her love of old traditional tunes came in handy when it came to mastering a musical instrument.

"My friends learnt to play guitar by playing along to The Clash and The Cure -- but I could never get it to sound like them, so I played along to these old songs which no one knew -- so I could put my own stamp on them."

Although she has a weekly slot on digital station BBC 6 Music, Cerys was last seen on our TV screens when she presented an excellent documentary on Celtic writers who have influenced her.

"There's something about Dylan Thomas and Robbie Burns and WB Yeats, they have this magical, lyrical quality. It's not academic, it's not brain fodder. But it just seems to pour out of them. I see them as romantic -- not in the sense of being all soppy with roses but I mean that urge to throw yourself into something no matter how dangerous."

After the implosion of Catatonia, Cerys changed tack and moved to Nashville, where she soaked up all the great roots music of the South.

"I found places like Arkansas, Alabama and Louisiana incredibly inspiring. They play a different way. They play behind the beat, whereas in British music, they play on the beat. It must be the sunshine but I love the lazy feel of it.

"Nashville is a very small community. I got to play with a lot of great musicians, people who'd played with JJ Cale and Johnny Cash, and I worked with Bob Dylan's pedal steel player Bucky Baxter when I was making Cockahoop.

"It's like an open hearth, whereas in the UK you feel like you're showing off. It's very self-conscious. It's different in Ireland where you have that tradition of playing in pubs."

Finally, how does Cerys look back on her time in the Australian outback on Ant & Dec's reality show?

"It was very interesting to be in the middle of it but I wouldn't want to go back to living in the jungle!

"People have tried talking me out of things before but I decided I wanted to have a go. I didn't think it would take away from my music -- and I'm right back into that now.

"But I didn't need the publicity. The danger of doing the show is that it only shows one dimension."

They made you do horrible things in that jungle . . .

"I'm like a farm girl. It just didn't really bother me. The only thing was the hype. I don't like hype much. There are worse things than eating bugs. But I think that's cultural anyway."

Cerys Matthews plays the National Concert Hall, Dublin, tonight at 8pm nkelly@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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