Thursday, 26 December 2013

CERYS MATTHEWS

Live Review

Town Hall, Birmingham

There are two words which sum a Cerys Matthews show, great fun. The Welsh singer/songwriter and BBC Radio 6 presenter rarely stops talking, with the exception of when she is singing but she is such an enthusiastic and engaging character she could be reading out the small print on a complex insurance document and people would listen.

Cerys Matthews
She opened the first of her two part show on the banjo with a Woody Guthrie song, Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet?, which was a soft ballad, accompanied by Frank Moon on ukelele. Immediately Matthews’ valley spring tones filled the Town Hall auditorium with a gorgeously haunting version of the tune.
Moving to her guitar she followed this up with Ruby, a faster, slightly more upbeat song with a nice change of chord halfway through. Most of her songs have a lengthy introduction and she openly boasted that the longest preamble she has done to date was at the neighbouring Glee Club where she chatted for 21 minutes.
And Johnny Come Lately, from her Catatonia days, was no exception, and when she finally got round to singing there was more than a hint of Kate Bush about her sound.
Matthews was also determined the audience was going to earn its keep and following a fun version of the kite song from Mary Poppins she started splitting up the audience, like a school teacher in a music lesson, and got them involved. One half of the audience sang Pack Up Your Troubles while the other side sang It’s Long Way To Tipperary and it wasn’t a bad effort both sides finished at the same time.
It was inevitable that there would be some Welsh language songs and the first was Moliannwn from her Hulla Baloo album which is totally in Welsh. The song is about spring, and is sung to an African American minstrel tune.
She even cajoled three members to get up on stage and add the sound effects as she read out a Dylan Thomas poem. She kept the mood light with some unusual choices such as Banana Flip from the 1930s, You Are My Sunshine and her own version of Oh My Darling Clementine.
This was followed by a slight more pop version of the old Irish traditional Galway Shawl where she seemed to struggle on the higher notes.
Matthews opened the second half of the set with another from her Catatonia days from their International Velvet album, Don’t Need The Sunshine, and then with the other band members Andy Coughlan, Gwenan Gibbard, and Patrick Rimes she did her second Guthrie song with Take A Wiff On Me which was excellent and full of verve. Together they managed to produce a skiffle/jugband sound using the fiddle, harp, double bass and probably the world’s most animated gob iron player who produce some magical sounds which really got the crowd clapping.
Skiffle was the punk music of its day, not so much in the radical and politically provocative content but in the fact it was from grass roots where most of the instruments were home made or everyday items such as a washboard or stone jar. In Britain the movement was popularised by "The King of Skiffle" Lonnie Donegan. 
King of Skiffle, Lonnie Donegan

Matthews then treated the audience to the wine song Chardonnay, from her Cockahoop album, which was followed by a great version of Jingle Bells which was full of fun and enthusiasm after which came a wonderfully traditional version of Deck The Halls accompanied by the harp and fiddle before the band joined in to slide into a funky version of Ding Dong Merrily on High, again with the audience dragged in to provide vocal support.
Changing the mood a little she brought out old time spiritual Go Tell It On The Mountain which she sang with all the gusto you would expect from someone brought up in the traditions of the chapels in the Welsh valleys.
There was a move back to the secular with a ragtime blues number Come On Around To My House Santa which was also woven with Western-style country sound. The song was originally done by Blind Willie McTell and Matthews tweaked the lyrics for the festive season, the original version being Mama not Santa.
The band really got going with Blueberry Hill with some marvellous gob iron (that's a harmonica for those who wondered) and bluegrass fiddle playing.
In complete contrast they moved to a medieval sound using the fiddle, harp and drum with Matthews leaving the mic to dance around for the medley which quickly moved into a hoe down.
She got the Welsh contingent, and everyone else for that matter, going with a fantastically rousing version of Ar Ben  Waun Tredegar again from her album Hulla Baloo.
One of the highlights of the night was some incredible harmonica playing for Guthrie’s going down the road and towards the end she brought out her own version of Elvis’s Love Me Tender.