Cerys Matthews interview: The TV and radio presenter talks eclectic taste, capitalism, and how to avoid being made to dance

Matthews had a string of top 40 hits and two No 1 albums in the 1990s as lead singer of Catatonia and now hosts a Sunday morning radio show

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The Independent Online

You're part of the BBC's Glastonbury team and you're hosting your own festival. With such eclectic music taste, how do you put the bill together?

The important thing is the mix. Somebody might not like your nose-flute player from Mongolia, so you've got to make sure the mix is right. And there's a Cuban twist this year – we have roll-your-own cigars and Cuban dancing.

So you can dance while you smoke?

If there's one thing you don't do when you go to Cuba, it's try to dance – they dislocate their hips there or something. So you have to make sure you have a cigar in your hand because if you pretend to smoke, no one will ask you to dance.

You were in Cuba recently– didn't you dance while you were there?

I tried not to, but the youngsters pull you up on your feet. We sang Welsh-language folk tunes with Cuban musicians. Which sounds awful, but it was great.

You must make interesting connections between music from different parts of the world?

It is of endless fascination to me how music is linked. Growing up I was a huge fan of Bob Dylan. His music is a never-ending map and his work as an ethnomusicologist hasn't really been brought to the fore yet. Listen to his music and you're going to be hearing Jesse Fuller and Irish and Scottish songs. He knows the whole of the folk and roots repertoire.

What do your kids listen to?

My 11-year-old listens to Nirvana – the 1990s are big among 11-year-olds at the moment, apparently. So I said, "Oh, I had quite a bit of success in the 1990s." She was just not interested, which is fine by me because that's how it ought to be.

 

Does your musical interest come from your parents?

My dad used to mix up opera arias with a bit of Buddy Rich or Ella Fitzgerald, which I'm so thankful to him for. I think what you play influences your children so much. So don't play them Disney – play them Duke Ellington.

Do you have one particular record you would save in a fire?

Anything by Snooks Eaglin, a New Orleans street singer who was known as the human jukebox. I adore his guitar playing. And that voice just kills me.

You spent six years in Nashville and South Carolina. Other than the music, what do you miss?

The weather. I grew okra in the garden and tomatillos. I love Mexican food. My favourite thing in America, apart from the music and the record shops, was the Mexican community. It is culturally a lot richer than what is on offer for most people in America these days, because of rampant capitalism and the lack of a very good broadcaster, which is why I'm so passionate about safeguarding the BBC. If you let the commercial world take over, we'll be all the poorer for it.

Do any particular Glastonbury moments stand out for you?

There was one year [2009] when the old guard played: Tom Jones, Neil Young, Status Quo. And they blew everyone's heads off. Status Quo aren't the coolest band – but listen to their back catalogue and it's single after single after single.

Is there anything you won't play on your BBC 6 Music show?

In theory, if there's a sound that I can play then I'm going to be interested in it. I've had whales that sound like humans, frogs that sound like squeaky toys, cats that sing. But I don't play music that, to me, doesn't give back anything.

And now it's the most listened to radio show on digital. You're vindicated!

Exactly! I know it's no good when you say "I was right all along", but I was right all along. There's great music out there. So, play it, goddammit!

Biography

Cerys Matthews, 46, had a string of top 40 hits and two No 1 albums in the 1990s as lead singer of Catatonia. She hosts a Sunday morning radio show on BBC Radio 6 Music. She will be covering the Glastonbury Festival for the BBC from 24-28 June and is set to host her own festival, The Good Life Experience, in north Wales at the end of September. She lives in London with her husband and three children.

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