If I’m being perfectly honest I didn’t rightly know what to expect but I trust my mate Lou when it comes to marvellous music recommendations, so when she said Cerys Matthews was playing at the newly refurbished Sherman Theatre in Cardiff and why didn’t the two of us make a trip there and stay with her ma, I enthusiastically agreed without question to the suggestion.
That was months ago. I did a teeny bit of research as to the Matthews sound post Catatonia. I contemplated downloading an album but never quite got round to it. The few tracks I listened to online were pretty; inoffensive. There was some country music and some songs in Welsh. It was all, nice, like biscuits.
Between university and present day, for reasons of the heart, I have had a ten-year drought musically. In the intervening years the world has changed – and potentially the gigs I now go to and the peeps that I go with have too. It’s a lot less smoky. It’s a lot more seated. Seeing anyone ‘well known’ is structured more like a theatrical event. There are intervals. My brain defaults though to the beforetime, to the darkness of random venues, of sticky floors, of people projectile vomiting on the way to the loos, of scary looking but ultimately kindly punks and tiny girls in vest tops with sharp, vaguely malicious elbows, determined to get to the front. My muscle memory experiences the thought of going to a gig in terms of mosh pits and crowd surfing.
I knew a 2012 Cerys Matthews gig wouldn’t be quite that (though it was only the day before that I realised we would probably be seated). In fact, if I thought anything at all, it was that it might be a tiny bit bland at the edges.
In the auditorium the scene set was opulent and cosy, a shabby chic sitting room with triolets of candles glinting in red glass holders on upturned crates and boxes; an old suitcase was scattered with books of poetry; two large red Persian rugs diagonalled up stage right; a standard lamp snuggled centrally just behind Cerys’ chair. The lighting design was warm, washes of red and honeyed creams. Into this space entered the band – monochrome - Cerys in black leather trousers, a baggy white shirt and a black bowler hat, looking effortlessly rock. The packed auditorium reacted with gusto.
The show itself was awesome. I say that with absolute subjectivity and abandon all care for any sense of being objective and balanced in my assessment. They played a range of music, combining folk, blues, hymnody and pop, interwoven with informal conversation and poetry; threading the instruments, the pieces of music, the times and places in Matthews life with lazily shared but deeply felt personal philosophy about the riches to be found in words and sounds and though not directly verbalised there was a deep sense of the importance of detail, accuracy. Matthews travelled to Spain at 18 to learn classical guitar in the country where the nylon string is god; she returned to university to learn the Spanish language formally; she sang the poetry of Lorca in its original voice to an audience in a city where she lived till she was 7 before launching lovingly into the poetry of Dylan Thomas, who was born in the (rival) city of Swansea where she lived thereafter, before travelling musically to Nashville and the blue mountains and returning home lyrically & linguistically to sing from the depths of the valleys in her alternate-native tongue. We journeyed with her, joyfully. We stood and clapped our appreciation at the end. We left satiated and hungering for more.
I’d say ‘Go. See.’ But it was a one-night stand. You missed it.