Dylan Moore travelled to St Martin’s Church, Laugharne to witness a performance from the first lady of Welsh pop, Cerys Matthews.
‘Life is a strange thing,’ says Cerys Matthews as if she’s only just noticed. ‘Singing Ring of Fire in a church, next to the grave of Dylan Thomas.’ Put like that you have to agree with her. ‘It’s been amazing to spend twenty years singing pop songs,’ she also observes, ‘and this is a great pop song’. Another truism. But the reason Cerys is at pains to acknowledge her pop roots is that she’s so much more than that these days. Even the festival programme says ‘her from the radio’; no mention of Catatonia, the band with whom she made her name.
And the show replicates the intimate feel of her Sunday morning programme on 6Music. Cerys talks, reads poetry and prose, and plays music. Only here, live, the music is all hers, at least in terms of performance. But there are –
Chief amongst those enthusiasms at the moment is poetry, particularly that of the Celtic nations. Perhaps audience members who were expecting Cerys Matthews only to sing may have taken a while to warm to the generous helpings of Burns and Yeats, as well as a 9th century Irish poem about a hag, but they certainly left with smiles on their faces. It wasn’t as if they weren’t given warning: ‘Be very afraid,’ said Cerys as she took to the stage, ‘look at me with my pile of books.’
There were, inevitably given the setting, numerous readings from Dylan Thomas, including his famous piece about Laugharne itself –
Another feature of her radio show present at this gig is Matthews’ willingness to share her own recent experiences. There’s potential for something of the diva in Cerys’ pronouncement that ‘we’ve just come back from Seville’ (her husband lurks at the back of the stage in a rather dandyish trilby hat; Cerys herself has gone for a pink-
When she returns for an encore, respect is evident from both the performer and her public. And given the setting, there is respect for her maker too. ‘This song was written in America in 1872’, she says, ‘but it’s ours’. Cerys’ voice –