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Cerys Matthews: Glasgow Music Walking Tour Blog

We are big fans of Cerys Matthews’ show on BBC 6 Music, not just for the eclectic music she plays but also for the enthusiasm the former Catatonia frontwoman brings to her broadcasts.

As well as supplying absorbing music and chat, she is an ardent advocate of poetry, and has channelled that passion into a new album of spoken word and music.

We Come from the Sun is the first in a planned series curated by Matthews, who has handpicked established and rising poets to recite their own works over an atmospheric soundtrack she composed and recorded remotely during lockdown with Joe Acheson of Hidden Orchestra.

a screen shot of Cerys Matthews

Photograph by Rhys Frampton

Matthews is a positive, galvanizing presence and even after the challenging year we’ve left behind, she reckons “there’s some good things coming in 2021. I hope to spread the noise and the hugs around a bit and that the vaccine is successful.”

We were chuffed to get the opportunity to speak to her about her love of poetry and particularly about our national bard, as it transpires that this celebrity patron of the Dylan Thomas Society also runs a Burns club at her kids’ school. Traditional Burns Supper gatherings may be on hold in 2021 but that doesn’t mean we cannot celebrate the wise words of Robert Burns. Over to Cerys….

First of all when we talk about poetry, it’s too easy to go ‘oh, that stuff we had to learn in school, that stuff from a dusty old book’. I don’t see poetry in that way and I think it’s helpful to disregard that definition. What I love is when any piece of art makes you sit up and go ‘that’s amazing, what does that say about the world’ and in that sense a great piece of writing opens up the world to you.

I do tend to go towards the pieces of work that just give easily, that just open the door and you go ‘whoa, what is this beautiful language and this beautiful world it’s created?’ I’m a huge fan of Dylan Thomas, I’m a huge fan of Langston Hughes, I’m a big fan of WB Yeats – and Robert Burns.

If you’re allowed an insight through writing, whether that’s an essay, a play or a poem or whatever, that’s what I love. It’s a tool for switching on the lights and understanding the world more.

So you take the likes of Robert Burns and take his position in life as a ploughman, as a youngster that didn’t have all the doors open to him, and look at what he’s left the world 200 plus years later – how early he was on board with this idea of equality, not just between the classes but between the races. He was outspoken against slavery and about the idea of the miracle of life itself and the sanctity of living creatures.

What I love about Robert Burns is that he was an internationalist. We are part of the whole world and humans have a right to live and breathe and be safe and exist within their own home situation all over the world.

So I run an International Burns Day at my kids’ school. The premise is you can recite Burns but you can also read any poem you fancy in whatever language and from whatever country or culture and I hope that Robert Burns somewhere would be nodding to that idea.

You can have the framework of a Burns night. You can have a piper and the haggis and the whisky and the poems. But every year I get a different band – I’ve had an Irish band, a Hungarian band, a Romanian band. I was due to have an Americana ceilidh band this year but it’s got postponed now. So you mix it all up with the same framework – so much fun. That’s poetry and writing, it’s not just left on a shelf, it’s all about life.

I’m a massive fan of the likes of John Cooper Clarke, Mike Garry and Lemn Sissay, who’s on the album. These guys are not just sitting in their shed, fiddling with words, these guys are out and about making people roar with laughter, being clever with words – Billy Connolly aswell. This is just pure entertainment, nothing wrong with that.

We Come from the Sun is out now on Decca Records