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Junior meets musician, DJ and author Cerys Matthews

The musical mum-of-three talks about her new book, performing for children and why parents need to sing it loud ahead of her appearance at Wimbledon BookFest


Posted: 11 October 2013
by Alex Lloyd

Cerys Matthews
Musician Cerys loves to sing with her family. (c) Rhys Frampton
Womble at Wimbledon BookFest
Will Wimbledon's most famous musical act, The Wombles, make a surprise appearance at Cerys' show?

Where did the inspiration for your book Hook, Line and Singer come from?

I've loved songbooks and collected many over the years. If you learn a song off the page you often have more freedoms to make it your own, having no recording handy to copy or imitate. But I also learned so much about the world from songbooks, since the songs subject matter covers so much ground - famine, religious persecution, single motherhood, murder and parties. No subject matter is taboo in the old songs.

What was the process of putting the book together like?

Compiling the songs was easy, putting a lid on it was hard - there are just so many wonderful, singable, memorable songs out there. But at one point Penguin turned round and said, "Enough! You're making a book not a door step."

What are your earliest memories of singing and making music? 

My earliest memory is of a sow breaking her leg and us bursting into song. The long version is in my book. My family loved to make a noise and I was lucky to go to a school where I remember every subject was taught through songs. Also I'd go to chapel twice on a Sunday so learned innumerable - and unmatched in their beauty - hymns.

Do any songs particularly stick out from your childhood and why?

A lot of the songs from my childhood are on my new album Hullabaloo - goat counting song, an ox driving song, a song about a tidy house by the sea and of celebrating the coming of spring. They have just the best melodies - infectious.

How did you come to play and write music yourself? Can you remember your first compositions?

Yes, my first song was about French sausages. It was a rant against supermarkets. Serious stuff! I started with free school lessons on the recorder, then I taught myself guitar and piano.

Are your children musical? 

All children are musical, I've never met one who doesn't love music. I think we only get self conscious and shy when peer pressure dictates that we ought to. They find the music they like, heavy metal or Motown, a lot of the time. One Direction or similar puppetry doesn't get a look in. 

What do you think singing together brings to a family? 

I just think making a noise together or having a dance together or cooking together, no matter how cacophonous or uncoordinated or messy, feels good. In the modern world where so much is marketed and preened and polished, and we live in our solitary online gadget worlds, that on occasion it's refreshing to stick a fat two fingered salute at this and make your own entertainment entirely for fun.

Why do think some parents are reluctant or shy about it? What tips would you give them?

Life's too short. Jump in!

You are doing a sing-a-long at the Wimbledon BookFest. Do you get nervous and does anything ever go wrong?

Nothing can go wrong as there is no right or wrong, it's not about a performance at all, just about enjoying history, information and having a go at making a noise together and hopefully having some lovely memories pop up.

How does playing to an audience of children and families compare to your Catatonia days? 

I can't even remember them as it's so long ago.

Are there any particular songs, musicians or albums you’d recommend for parents to share with their children?

Things that are a bit different to the usual pop music targeted at little ones.  Jazz, jazz, jazz - Lead Belly, Louis Armstrong and Burl Ives. Children are like sponges and take it all in. Or just turn the music off and let them make the noise.

You’ve also written a couple of children’s books - Tales From The Deep and Gelert, A Man's Best Friend. Was the jump from songwriting to literature easy?

It's all about story telling and enjoying the sound and magic of words. They are very similar - like different fingers on the same hand.

Which children’s authors do you admire or enjoy reading?

My daughter loves Rick Riordan's book and my son loves Tom Gates. It's great when you see a child really start to enjoy reading. That pleasure is one they'll hopefully cherish all their lives. Nothing better than a good book, a cosy bed and quiet time to read.

What are your favourite children’s books?

Pippi Longstocking was always a favourite, as well as The Faraway Tree books by Enid Blyton. I love the Gruffalo books too. Oh and Tom Sawyer.

Cerys Matthews will be at Wimbledon BookFest 2013 on Sunday 13 October at 4pm for a Sunday sing-a-long from her new songbook Hook, Line and Singer (£20, Particular Books). Tickets can be purchased at www.wimbledonbookfest.org.

Buy Cerys' book here

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