Cerys Matthews

Cerys Matthews Picture credit: BBC

CERYS MATTHEWS is a Welsh singer, songwriter, author, and broadcaster. She was a founding member of Welsh rock band Catatonia and a leading figure in the ‘Cool Cymru’ movement of the late 1990s.

Matthews has hosted a weekly music show on BBC Radio 6 Music, a weekly blues show on BBC Radio 2, and a monthly show on the BBC World Service, also making documentaries for television and radio.

She founded ‘The Good Life Experience’, a festival of culture and the great outdoors in Flintshire in 2014, with Charlie and Caroline Gladstone and is author of Hook, Line and Singer and children’s stories Tales From The Deep and Gelert, A Man’s Best Friend.

Matthews was born in Cardiff, on April 11, 1969, the second of four children. The family moved to Swansea when she was seven. She went to Bryn Y Mor Welsh language school until 11 years of age, then attended St Michael’s School, Llanelli.

She then attended Ysgol Bro Gwaun comprehensive school when lived in the Pembrokeshire village of Trefin and Bryanston school, a public school in Dorset, England.

She is fluent in English, Welsh, Spanish, and French. Matthews has cited her childhood heroes as being Pippi Longstocking and writers William Butler Yeats and Dylan Thomas.

She learned to play the guitar at the age of nine, sang Welsh folk songs and taught herself traditional songs from all over the globe including blues and Irish folk songs. Matthews was a member of the West Glamorgan Youth Orchestra. She had a stint in Spain as a nanny, where she learned to speak Catalan.

Catatonia were formed in 1992, after Matthews met Mark Roberts. She subsequently sang lead vocals on, and co-wrote the music and lyrics for, the band’s hits. Songs she co-wrote included You’ve Got a Lot to Answer For, Mulder and Scully, Dead from the Waist Down and Road Rage.

Cerys Matthews and Catatonia

She also performed a single with the band Space named The Ballad of Tom Jones, which tells the story of two lovers who want to kill each other, but then hear a Tom Jones song that defuses their homicidal feelings.

Matthews later collaborated with compatriot Jones to record a version of Frank Loesser’s Baby, It’s Cold Outside on Jones’s 1999 album Reload.

That year, Matthews was voted the ‘Sexiest Female in Rock’ in a readers’ poll for the magazine Melody Maker.

After Catatonia’s rise to fame with their second album International Velvet, and subsequent success with Equally Cursed and Blessed, the band returned with their fourth studio album Paper Scissors Stone, but in September 2001 the band officially split.

Matthews joined The Pet Shop Boys on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in June 2000, performing a duet of their hit What Have I Done To Deserve This.

In December 2001, she returned to the recording studio for the first time since Catatonia split up. She recorded a song in both English and Welsh for the pre-school cartoon series Sali Mali.

She provided guest vocals on the track Cyclops Rock, from US alternative rock band They Might Be Giants’ album Mink Car. Her line was originally supposed to be provided by Joe Strummer of The Clash. Cerys went on to co-write with Strummer, Gypsy Song appeared on her debut album Cockahoop released by Rough Trade in 2003.

Matthews moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 2001. On her arrival she began playing with Bucky Baxter, who had played lap steel guitar for Bob Dylan and Ryan Adams. She had already collected 76 traditional folk songs with the idea of making an album of folk covers.

Cockahoop ended up consisting mainly of her own songs. It was recorded in seven months and appeared on Blanco y Negro Records in the United Kingdom. Whilst recording this album she met future husband Seth Riddle, and the couple were married in Pembrokeshire in February 2003. She toured the album around Britain with minimal promotion as she was several months pregnant at the time. The album’s Stateside Records release followed in October 2004.

In December 2005, Matthews recorded a new version of Len Barry’s 1960s UK and US top 10 hit 1-2-3 in Nashville. She released it as a download-single with all profits going to a children’s charity.

In 2006, Matthews conducted a short tour of the UK to promote her second solo album, Never Said Goodbye. The album was preceded by the single Open Roads. She headlined Cardiff’s Big Weekend festival.

During September and October 2006, Matthews embarked on a UK and Ireland tour, during which she played tracks from her first two solo albums as well as three Catatonia hits. She also embarked upon a short acoustic Welsh tour in November 2006 before returning to Nashville for Christmas.

In an interview on the eve of the launch of her Welsh mini-album Awyren = Aeroplane, Matthews confirmed she had divorced from Riddle and temporarily moved back to her farm in Pembrokeshire. Awyren = Aeroplane won her the ‘Contemporary Composition’ award in the National Eisteddfod. The award had been resurrected and presented for the first time since 1936.

In 2007, Matthews became vice-president of the Welsh homelessness charity Shelter Cymru. She also accepted a role of Performing Arts Ambassador for Linden Lodge School, Wimbledon in the same year.

Matthews joined the Welsh band Manic Street Preachers on stage at The O2 in February 2008 to sing the female vocals of their 2007 hit Your Love Alone Is Not Enough.

From November 2008, Matthews sat in for Stephen Merchant and Marc Riley on BBC 6 Music and went on to present George Lamb’s slot in April 2009. She presented the show A Month of Sundays With… Cerys Matthews and covered for Nemone on 6 Music from July 2009 while Nemone was on maternity leave.

Matthews began maternity leave herself from November 2009 and had to finish presenting the show a month early. In April 2010, Matthews returned to 6 Music to present a weekend show on Sunday mornings. She produces and presents radio documentaries and shows, including Hook Line and Singer, where she shared her love of fishing on Radio 4.

Matthews released her first CD for two years in October 2009. The album, entitled Don’t Look Down, was released in two versions, one in English and the other in Welsh (the title of the Welsh edition was Paid Edrych i Lawr). It was recorded in Providence, Rhode Island, Nashville, Seattle and London, and coincided with a two-week UK tour.

Matthews has covered Glastonbury Festival for both BBC television and BBC 6 Music, wrote and presented a BBC Two programme on poetry and presented TV documentaries on singer Dorothy Squires, the Mississippi River and Cuba. She also wrote and presented a documentary on early blues players such as Memphis Minnie, children’s character Pippi Longstocking, Mahalia Jackson and the celebrated British blues label ‘Blue Horizon’.

She has presented a documentary for BBC Radio 2 on Maida Vale studios and frequently contributes to BBC Radio 4 programmes such as Feedback, Frontrow, Loose Ends and Saturday Live, also writing a column for world music magazine Songlines. She has curated festivals for the Tate Modern, the Shetland Theatre and Womex.

In 2010, Matthews released Tir (‘territory’ or ‘land’), a collection of traditional Welsh songs, and of photographs from her family archive from the 1880s to 1940s of people at work and play. Songs include Calon Lân, Cwm Rhondda, Migldi-Magldi (sung as a duet with Bryn Terfel), Myfanwy and Sosban Fach. This was the third release on her own label, Rainbow City.

Explorer was Matthews’ fourth solo album (2011). In both selecting and writing the songs, she delved into the influence of both the music she had heard around the globe and places she had visited. On the album she incorporates a little Spanish, Scottish, Irish, Welsh and American sensibilities, styles and genres.

Matthews played the Isle of Wight and Hay festivals in 2012, the latter with a Woody Guthrie tribute show, and collaborated with artists such as Arun Ghosh, Tunde Jegede, Attab Haddad, Frank Moon and the London Bulgarian Choir. 2012 also saw her play music from her collection of Welsh traditional songs Tir, with Ballet Cymru, ending in a show in Sadler’s Wells, and a nomination for a Theatre Critics Award 2012.

She produced and arranged Christmas album Baby, it’s Cold Outside (2012) to much acclaim, recognised by The Sunday Times as an “essential seasonal album”. She played UK literary festivals including Dartington, Chester, Hay and Edinburgh and released an album of traditional Welsh reels and songs, Hullabaloo.

Cerys with her St David award

Matthews won gold at the 2013 Sony Radio Academy Awards, winning in the ‘Music Broadcaster of the Year’ category. Baby it’s Cold Outside, released for Christmas 2013 on the Rainbow City label, is a selection of Christmas carols and classic Christmas songs all arranged and produced by Matthews using instruments such as Chinese temple blocks, oud, celeste and coconut shells.

She was Artistic Director for the opening ceremony of Womex 2013, representing Wales and, in 2014, co-founded an interactive festival, The Good Life Experience, with Charlie and Caroline Gladstone, held every September on the Gladstone estate in Hawarden, Flintshire. It is a festival which celebrates the great outdoors, with abseiling, campfires, axe throwing, foraging, talks on survival, as well as cultural activities, crafts, books and music.

Matthews won a prestigious ‘St David Award’ – for her contribution to culture in 2014 – run by the Welsh government, in its inaugural year. Other prize winners on the night were Bryn Terfel and Lyn Evans.

She was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2014 Birthday Honours for services to music and in July that year Matthews was awarded an honorary degree from Swansea University.

Matthews won the Best Presenter Music award at the Audio Production Awards in November 2016. In May 2018, Matthews took over from Paul Jones as the presenter of the Blues Show on Radio 2.

Matthews married Steve Abbott in 2012 and they live with their family in West London.

Hook, Line and Singer, Matthews’ collection of singalong classics published by Penguin, became a top three Sunday Times bestseller in 2013. The book includes personal anecdotes and song histories. Song examples are Let’s Go Fly A Kite, Oh Susannah and Swing Low Sweet Chariot.

Tales From the Deep is Matthews’ duo of stories written in verse with paintings by Fran Evans, published by Gomer. It was nominated for a People’s Choice Award. It was followed by Gelert, a man’s best friend (Gomer, 2013).

Where The Wild Cooks Go is Matthews’ book of recipes, music, poems and cocktails, published by Penguin Random House.