Cerys Matthews - Union Chapel, London
Welsh warbler Cerys Matthews has recently released a new album entitled Don't look down. In my mind it's her finest solo album to date and her best collection of songs since Catatonia's International Velvet. Tinged with a hint of 60s soul, lead track "Arlington Way" sets the album up nicely, delivering several highlights throughout its duration, including the laid back "Aeroplanes", a track that brings to mind both So Tough-era Saint Etienne and The Free Design and the rowdier, short but sweet "It's What's Left That Makes It Right".
With this in mind I decided to pop along to Cery's performance at London's Union Chapel, to take in the gospel according to Matthews. I had visited the church earlier in the month to watch New York trio Au Revoir Simone and it was nice to be back at the venue as it's a gorgeous setting for a music performance. Cerys's crew had helped to add to the ambience, placing lit candles front of stage and at various points throughout the venue's balcony section.
Cerys Matthews became a household name back in 2007 when she appeared on ITV's I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!. For several months she was a tabloid favourite, especially when she became romantically entangled with fellow contestant Eastenders actor Marc Bannerman. I hadn't seen Cerys appear much in the press in recent months so I was very suprised to see a swarm of agency photographers at the venue, all hoping to capture a shot that would end up in papers in the days to come. I joined the huddle in the right aisle of the church, waiting for Cery's arrival.
There were a few disgruntled members of the congregation tutting loudly behind the assembled photographers due to their view potentially being obstructed. Hopefully they cheered up when Miss Matthews appeared as we all crouched down to snap away. It wasn't a perfect situation as Cery's opened with a very moving version of the traditional folk song "I Know Where I'm Going", with her acoustic rendition accompanied by the sound of several cameras firing in unison! We didn't have much choice in the matter as we were allocated the first three songs so had to shoot when we could, rather than the more appropriate rowdier moments later in the set.
The show should really have been entitled An Evening with Cerys Matthews as it one of those gigs where the singer regaled us all with the background behind the songs throughout the night. She was joined on the Union Chapel stage by two band members and delved into her back catalogue in more or less chronological order.
Cerys's previous band Catatonia only got a one track look in before moving on to solo material, with Cerys proceeding her riotous romp through "Road Rage" three songs into the set with "I joined a band and travelled the world for a while and this particular song was particularly kind to us".
In no time time at all we were transported to Nashville, with Cerys giving us the lowdown on her time spent song writing and recording in Tennessee, happily name dropping musicians she worked with and delivering a fine selection of songs from that era including "Whispering Jesus" and tracks taken from debut release Cockahoop like a gorgeous version of "Louisiana", complete with mandolin and Cerys playing a dinky little multi colored xylophone held close to her head like a violin and "Chardonnay", a track written by ex-Strangler Hugh Cornwell and song writer Roger Cook which Cerys stumbled upon when she came across the pair writing it outside one evening.
Cerys put Cockahoop to bed, moving on to sophomore release Never Said Goodbye, pulling a couple of songs from the album in the shape of "Ruby" and "A Bird in Hand", a track written in South Carolina under an old oak tree!
Back in Britain Cerys took a detour from her albums informing us of her time working for the BBC during their poetry season, treating us all to a rendition of Robert Burns song "Ca' the yowes to the knowes" As a Scotsman I can honestly say it was a beautiful performance, even coming from someone from Wales!!
I was really enjoying Cery's set but I had positioned myself in the front row of the left side of the church, fairly near to some of the candles, whose heat was beginning to make me feel just a tiny bit drowsy. Luckily this was the point in the show where things moved up a gear, with more band members joining the stage for tracks from current album Don't look down. "Into the Blue" and "A Captain Needs a Ship" saw Cerys just basically, really going for it.
As she's currently pregnant Cery's had spent the evening performing sitting down but at this stage in the proceedings it was time for a bit of "rockin' out"! The new songs sounded amazing live, with Cerys pouring a lot of passion into her delivery, especially towards the end of "Captain". Current single "Arlington Way" completed a trio of tracks from the album, producing possibly my favourite song of the night.
Cerys wound up her set with her take on the Elvis classic "Love Me Tender". Performed solo you could have heard a pin drop as the audience were listening with reverence.
Cerys and her band returned to a rapturous response, with the first song of the encore a traditional Irish folk song that segued into Catatonia's "Strange Glue". "Spider and the Fly", another track from her current album appeared next, sung in Cery's native tongue. Don't Look Down is also available in a Welsh language edition and it was interesting to hear this version, though I think I prefer the English take of the song.
The evening ended with Cerys reminiscing about visits to church as a small child and the mishap she had when her "pet" piece of fur coat fell from the balcony and landed in an old woman's lap, mistaking it for a mouse! After the humor the night finished on a slightly more sombre note, with Cerys's take on an old Welsh hymn.
I hadn't seen Cerys live since her Scala show back in 2006 so it was nice to be reacquainted with the Welsh wonder! Her new album deserves more attention than it's currently receiving so check it out if you can.