Magazine article Gramophone

Cerys Matthews: How a Welsh Childhood Shaped the Musician and Presenter's Love of Music-Of All Kinds

Magazine article Gramophone

Cerys Matthews: How a Welsh Childhood Shaped the Musician and Presenter's Love of Music-Of All Kinds

Article excerpt

My earliest memory is of singing. A huge sow had jumped out of a trailer in front of us and hobbled down the country lane. What did we do but burst into song--'Y Mochyn Du' ('The Black Pig'). It seemed my fate was sealed.

For every event in life there would be a soundtrack--every moment galvanised with music. Was I happy about that? I was obsessed. Music became everything, not just traditional Welsh songs, but music that varied from Puccini to Dylan, from Cwm Rhondda (we always sang at chapel, and always went twice on a Sunday) to Handel's Messiah. I was well and truly hooked.

There was always a piano at home, passed down through the female line from my great-grandmother--my grandmother was a mezzo-soprano, but marrying at 18 and the Second World War did nothing for her stage ambitions. I thumped at it in all moods, it was my best friend. And school? The jammy thing was being enrolled in a Welsh-language school, Bryn y Mor in Swansea. This meant music in every class. We sang in the bus on field trips, sang our maths times tables, sang as the seasons changed. We entered eisteddfods, recited, danced folk dances. Then the day came when a recorder was placed into my care. It was basically 'Three blind mice' and I was away.

Birthdays thereafter brought a different recorder model to my collection: fife, treble, bass, tenor. There were recorder courses back then in West Glamorgan, at a time when music funding wasn't threatened, and on one of these a teacher suggested I try out the oboe. Youth orchestra followed and became my gateway to heaven: added to that extraordinary feeling you get when a community comes together to make beautiful noises, was the off-stage camaraderie. My overriding memory, apart from travelling to London to play for Princess Anne at the Royal Albert Hall, is sitting, legs dangling out of windows of the Swansea University student digs where we'd stay. It was 1981, and 'Tainted Love' was top of the charts. We belted it out at full volume, the melody hanging in the summer air, then drifting out over the crescent-shaped bay.

I guess I've always been an advocate for the Duke Ellington school of thought: 'There are two kinds of music. …

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