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'I've never seen poetry as just a thing on the page' - Cerys Matthews on fame, family and Cool Cymru

Welsh multi-hyphenate Cerys Matthews on fame, family and Cool Cymru


Solo project: presenter and musician Cerys Matthews

Solo project: presenter and musician Cerys Matthews

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Solo project: presenter and musician Cerys Matthews

In Cerys Matthews' native Welsh, the word 'cerdd' can refer to both poetry and song. This juncture forms the beating heart of the BBC Radio 6 Music presenter and musician's latest project - an album that uses both to dig deep into the British psyche.

She takes my call in a less than rock and roll setting - a local climbing centre (we speak in late 2020 when coronavirus restrictions allowed such things).

"Poetry feels different at the moment," the Cardiff native declares in her bright, husky, radio-friendly voice.

"It feels like it's not just an academic endeavour, it's not just for the establishment, it's not just for things to be written, to be hidden in books, to be learnt by rote, or by force.

"The way people respond to the world around them, the way the young voices and the new generations are doing it - you don't have to just call it poetry.

"It's in slogans, in mantras, in songs, in hip hop, slang and spoken word, monologues.

"I've never seen poetry as just a thing on the page. I've always felt like they were siblings with songs."

As if balancing parenting with her radio shows during the first lockdown was not enough, Matthews (51) continued to work away at her first studio album in more than five years, adding the finishing touches from her west London home.

As its bold, evocative album sleeve points out, We Come From The Sun also features Joe Acheson of Hidden Orchestra and 10 poets. These include the official poet of the 2012 London Olympics Lemn Sissay, multi-disciplinary artist Imtiaz Dharker and Adam Horovitz (the poet, not the Beastie Boy).

February last year saw each record their pieces at Abbey Road Studios in London, before Matthews and Acheson wrote and recorded accompaniments, often remotely during lockdown.

The album, Matthews explains, is a direct reaction to a world "changing faster than I can remember".

She's talking about "Isis, Syria, Yemen, climate change, Brexit, tribalisation, polarisation".

This, she explains, is important stuff. Matthews rejects the idea that poetry is disconnected from real life and lacks the oomph to make change.

"In my language, one word covers song and poetry," she explains. "And I've been brought up in the Welsh culture, which means I've known about my forefathers and ancient fathers who would recite these poems to mobilise armies or to motivate communities to invest a change, with music or with accompaniment."

Putting together an album during lockdown might seem an unhealthy or unrealistic target for most. But for Matthews it offered respite from the busyness of the home she shares with her husband and manager Steve Abbott, and her three children.

"It was a beautiful escape to be honest," she admits.

"Because to have three children full-time at home with their school work happening - Zoom lessons, their instruments. We have been grateful to work.

"But it was b***** noisy and then in the middle I'm trying to do this album and then the radio show as well. It was intense."

Unsurprisingly, the spectre of home schooling loomed large.

"I'm so grateful to teachers and schools and to hand them back over," she adds with a sigh.

"I was the worst home schooler, I was awful."

Her day-to-day is a far cry from her time as frontwoman of Cardiff rockers Catatonia in the Nineties. She rubbed shoulders with some of the biggest stars of the era and alongside Welsh bands such as Manic Street Preachers helped create the so-called Cool Cymru movement.

"We had a great time," she recalls fondly. "You start touring at the same time as The Stone Roses or Happy Mondays and end up at breakfast in Japan together and saying, 'Oh hi!'

"But it's funny, that's a long time ago now, and time keeps marching on."

Belfast Telegraph

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