Armed with perhaps the best voice ever to holler from Wales, andthat’s saying something with the likes of Shirley Bassey in theequation, Cerys Matthews can really sing.
Lusty and life affirminglypowerful, with fantastic cracks that give it a euphoricsexiness, it helped Cerys hit the big time in the mid ’90s with Catatonia.
Catatonia, a band shenaively named after reading Aldous Huxley’s Doors Of Perceptionthinking the name meant a euphoric state instead of the direct opposite, clawed their way up from the indie gutter, playing thetoilet circuit and building a loyal fan base attracted by thecharismatic Cerys and that voice.
The bandcould write great songs but they seemed fated to being one of thegroups that fitted in nowhere, another washed up talent in the UK’sfashion driven music scene. At best they could emulate the minisuccess of the Darling Buds, another underrated, girl-fronted band fromthe decayed hinterland of South Wales.
Just before Britpop there was a bit of a Welsh thing going on.Manic Street Preachers and Super Furry Animals had inadvertently turned people onto theidea of a Welsh cool and overlooked bands were starting to get pulledfrom the wreckage of the Welsh scene. Catatonia were given somecolumn inches, a bit of hope. And then along came Britpop and theywere thrust rather rudely into the limelight.
Although they werenever consciously members of the biggest British pop scene of the’90s, they were swept away in post-Oasis euphoria and became bonafide pop stars with hits like Mulder and Scully helping to definethe times.
They sold shedloads of their breakthrough International Velvetalbum, but dipped with its moodier follow up. Cerys split, made asingle with Tom Jones and then dropped off the radar. She moved toNashville, got married and released adebut solo album, Cockahoop, which received good reviews but notched up only low key sales figures.
She’s been working a much more relaxed pace with her new album, NeverSaid Goodbye. “I’ve lived in America for four years, I split my time between livingthere and being back over here, when I record in America it feelslike less pressure, it feels like I can try anything and that’sreally helped with what I am doing. Over here everything is tied downmore to tradition.”
- Cerys Matthews on her adopted home in Tennessee
Beingunknown in America means she can get on with the songwriting stuff ansod the history. This has really helped. Moving to Nashville was like a dream world.”It was a huge dream moving to America. I used to pinch myselfbecause I was just living in a shack with no electricity, no water…and just playing this music with all these people who were sotalented, like Johnny Cash‘s bass player and Mark Knopfler‘s guitarplayer. They’d just come and hang out on the porch. It was weird -like I’d gone to heaven or something.”
Not that Nashville is perfect.”There is a dark side to Nashville. People have never been anywhere.It’s like they are unaware that they have got a passport, let alonehow to use it! My kids have now got that southern drawl as well, nowthat they have States going to school.”
Being away from the endless rush of the British scene has leftCerys to her own devices. It’s been a healthy break, one that has lether music come out the way she wants, away from the pressures of thescene.
“It’s not like being in band any more. I make music on myown now. It’s so intimate in some respects and then so rude in otherrespects,” she laughs.
- Cerys Matthews on her breakdown
Working at her own speed suits Cerys – now it’s about the music,the star machine has been ditched. The Catatonia big time experienceaffected Cerys. “At first when we made it it was really fun at firstbut it quickly became horrendous. I much prefer being at this level,just making the music without all the other stuff.”
Being a pop star was fun at first but it didn’t do her any good.”My breakdown was inevitable, I was doing too much. I just had tostep back, stop saying yes to another lager and just get on withthe music. I look back on all that period with a wry smile, though!”
A survivor, Cerys has got her life together, and with a voice as strong as hers she wasnever going to really have a problem in surviving the inevitable poststardom comedown. And survivors always make the best records.