Friday, 24 February 2012

Cerys Matthews and the band

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.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Extreminism I

My mother was an extreminist.  I loved her with a passion and a faithfulness that continues to characterise my kindred friendships.

She was awe-inspiring, in both the 'breathless wonderment of coming across a sudden stunning vista' meaning of the term and in the 'fear god' version.  Her acts were undertaken with childlike simplicity and a godly force - this is how it is, it can be no other way.  All consuming, she bundled the world up in an enthusiastic burst of direction and joie de vie or engaged them in deep, darkly political banter; she laughed long and loud, drank and danced as though this night, this party were the forever of the universe.  She had as many ideas as the tribes of Abraham, counted in stars, and would talk to the finest spun detail of each new notion so as a child I would surf the waves of every possibility only to come crashing on the unsuspected rocks of realisation that her words were not stone, and paved no concrete path to anywhere.  Castles in the sky, fairy tales and a wonderland of words were enough for her.  Mostly.  She never bemoaned the lack of materialisation of her dreams, well trained in her own youth I suspect to enjoy the fantasy for its own worth.

Which is not to say she was unhappy.  Far from it.  She had all the things she wanted in her life which amounted to my dad and 'the girls' and enough credit (mostly) to indulge (at appropriate intervals) in good food, wine, cigarettes, clothes, dogs, day trips out and sometimes even sunshiny holidays.  She loved to travel and she loved to move and make home.

Which is not to say she was never unhappy.  Passion cuts both ways and extreminism is terrifying.  When my parents argued all her quick-witted wordy cleverness came to the cutting fore.  Doors slammed.  Threats were issued and at times acted upon, my mother dramatically announcing her departure by the front door, pausing Pinter-esque, for my father to come down from his tower of anger and sweep her up into his arms like some romantic hero warrior, declaring her his most wonderful and wanted princess, and, when he did no such thing, slamming out of the house, her rage shaking our foundations.

I have stood in front of my father begging him to go after her.  I have stood in front of my mother begging her to take me with her.  Neither monolith moved, my pebble words barely scratching the glass of their flaming eyes.

Later, she would return, having walked until she was too tired to walk anymore and my dad, secretly relieved I think, would let the argument go.  They would touch, hug, kiss - gently, tentatively - have a cup of coffee and a cigarette and talk quietly about small nothingnesses until it became night.

We don't want to become our parents.  We are always the next generation and seek unconsciously to evolve, to grow from.  Though I loved her, I also hated her and feared being tainted by her psychosis, her volatility.  I sought always to analyse, to reflect, to consider the world from every angle before committing myself to an opinion.  I looked to create calm and stability, to soothe and to make dreams come true for the dreamers in my life, that they may never know the disappointment of waking without fairy-dust having worked its magic.