London's Cultural Guide

Cerys Matthews: ‘It’s the best job in the world’

The musician and radio presenter on her BBC 6 show, her upcoming festival, and why she's hosting next weekend's Poetry & Lyrics event in King's Cross

Cerys Matthews: ‘I’m a very fidgety writer, often starting tons of other ideas before I can harness myself in to finish another.’ Photo: Rhys Frampton

Two-day spoken word bash the Poetry & Lyrics festival, curated by Poet in the City, kicks off next weekend at the waterside cultural behemoth that is King’s Place. First up is Blurred Lines, an evening hosted by award-winning musician and presenter Cerys Matthews, who’s joined by lyricist Don Black as well as the poet Liz Berry. The festival then continues all day Saturday, with highlights including a family workshop with John Hegley and New Words, New Voices with rapper Dizraeli.

So Cerys, how did you get involved with this event?
I’m a huge fan of poetry, often mixing it in with my music on a Sunday for my BBC 6Music show. I met the London charity Poet in the City at a WB Yeats event, admired what they were up to, and wanted to work with them on a future project. Well, this is it.

Your night is called Blurred Lines. What can we expect?
It’s a chance to enjoy great turns of phrases, new, old, and ancient, in front of a live audience, plus excerpts from great songs and poems. Each guest will bring in a selection of their favourites, and we’ll gather opinions. I love the chaos of this.

Cerys: 'That feeling of intense industry while being so alone is priceless.' Photo: Rhys Frampton
Cerys: ‘That feeling of intense industry while being so alone is priceless.’ Photo: Rhys Frampton

What are you looking forward to most?
The interesting thing about questioning the difference between lyrics in a song and poetry is that the answer isn’t really the important thing. What matters is the chance to savour and ponder the works at hand. In many languages there is simply one word for poem and song and this is how I approach them as very similar art forms, appreciating them using the same senses. But some people totally disagree with me. It makes it interesting to ask fellow lyric writers and poets how they see it.


Everyone used to love singing along to your 1990s classic Road Rage. What lyrics are you most proud of?
I love the ones that present themselves with little effort, like The Good in Goodbye on Cockahoop, which I dreamt up after a Dylan gig, and also Into the Blue, from Don’t look Down, which is very simple, but just feels like me: “Well I woke up this morning like I’ve always done, with a strong cup of coffee and a sense of things to come, and I raised my arms up to the sky, just to see if they’d grown, seems the longer that you live the more there is to know. I’m not looking for trouble, trouble always finds me.”

What tips would you give wannabe lyricists or poets?
I’m no good at tips. I’m a very fidgety writer, often starting tons of other ideas before I can harness myself in to finish another. So I’m reluctant to give advice. There are so many styles out there. Just enjoy it, no matter the result. That feeling of intense industry while being so alone is priceless, even if at the end of it you crumple up the paper and walk away.

Afternoon clouds reflected on King's Place. Photo: PR
Afternoon clouds reflected on King’s Place. Photo: PR

What’s best about hosting your BBC 6 show?
The absolute freedom I have to choose three hours of all era, all genre music (and poetry) each week. It’s the best job in the world. I also invite the guests – be they explorers, voice coaches, chefs, historians, academics, poets or sportsmen – anyone who has interesting things to say about their subject, really. There are no limits, or no-go areas, apart from the obvious as children tune in. In fact, I’ve got rather fond of spending time with like-minded people who are tuning in each Sunday. We number over 500,000, making it the biggest single digital radio show in the country – that’s incredible considering I don’t adhere to programming rules and play so many tracks that are deemed ‘niche’. I don’t count them as specialist. I just think I play great music.

Dizraeli also appears at the Poetry & Lyrics Festival. Photo: PR
Dizraeli also appears at the Poetry & Lyrics Festival. Photo: PR

What do you like about the new King’s Cross?
I love it. I was sad for a while as I had friends who lived in some of the old blocks, before the redevelopment, but when I visit King’s Cross now, with the galleries and children playing in Granary Square I feel it’s very right, a new future- reminiscent of other European squares in say Berlin or Paris. There’s a sense of creativity and momentum.

Where do you live now?
We’ve settled near Portobello Road, not far from the Westway where The Clash hung out. It’s full of people with questionable dress sense, like me. I feel at home among so many people from around the world.

Finally, tell us about your own Good Life Experience festival?
It’s perfect for first-timers as it’s not hordes of bonkers techno heads, but rather a beautiful place for people to come and enjoy a weekend of curiosities like literature, poetry, campfire cooking, craft beer, music and archery. There’s a ton of acts handpicked by me, so if you like my Sunday show, you’ll enjoy this. It all takes place under the stars in the green hills of the Hawarden estate of former prime minister William Gladstone. And best of all, no VIP area: we’re all in this together.

Blurred Lines with Cerys Matthews takes place at King’s Place (90 York Way N1) on Friday 10th June, from 7:30pm. It’s part of the Poetry & Lyrics Festival, curated by Poet in the City, which continues all day Saturday 11th June. To book tickets head here. More on the Good Life Festival here.

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