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Friday, 21 September, 2001, 12:25 GMT 13:25 UK
Catatonia: Equally cursed and blessed
Cerys is rumoured to have finished a solo album
Catatonia's beginnings, like many great rock bands, were humble if not a little unglamorous.

Cardiff's Queen Street - one of the Welsh capital's main shopping avenues - on a Saturday afternoon is hardly the King's Road.

But one fateful afternoon in the early 90s, it was to propagate one of the most original and successful bands of modern day rock.

There were the only band in history to sing in what was really an exaggerated Welsh accent. It was obvious they were not coming from the home counties

Iestyn George, music editor of Maxim magazine

Above the din of shoppers and crying children, you could just about make out the strains of her now instantly-recognisable gravelly, voice.

Cerys Matthews - the second daughter of a well-to-do surgeon from Neath, south Wales - was busking and had just finished singing a folk song.

Mark Roberts, from Llanwrst, a small town in the Conwy Valley, had been watching her on a street corner and walked over to chat.

"He just went up to her and asked her if she wanted to form a band and shortly after they became lovers," said BBC's Session in Wales's Joe Goodden.

"There and then they formed the nucleus of the band and assembling various members for the band and in 1993 signed up with Crai, a north Wales-based record label catering for Welsh language artists.

"There followed a whole stream of band members. People would join and then leave shortly after including Daf from the Super Furries."

Confusion reigned. Arguably Wales's coolest ever export, was a world away from the sleek, manufactured bands which now dominate the popular music scene.

Even the name of the band was a mix-up - although one some may say was strangely prophetic.

Cerys Matthews
Depression meant a long silence from the band

"I'd read that Cerys had thought had got confused and thought Catatonia was a state similar to nirvana," added Joe Gooden.

"She said it was only when she eventually looked it up in the dictionary that she realised how off the mark that was."

It is an unlikely story given that Ms Matthews trained to become a psychiatric nurse but then the stories - most apocryphal - surrounding the band are legion.

The anecdotes about Cery's exploits in Cardiff pubs would put any self-respecting ladette to shame.

The band had begun to enjoy limited success mostly in the Indie charts after signing to the Blanco y Negro record label.

It was in January 1998 that the strange ensemble from south Wales climbed to number three in the charts with Mulder and Scully.

"Everybody was quite shocked," said Joe Goodden.

"No one knew who they were as up until then they were just an Indie band that had hardly ever charted.

Cardiff-born Iestyn George, music editor of Maxim, said she instantly wiped other female artists like Natalie Imbruglia off the face of the earth with her charisma.

"There were the only band in history to sing in what was really an exaggerated Welsh accent, while the pop charts are basically an Anglo-American creation," he said.

Cerys has a long life ahead of her. She has got a battle ahead of her, she knows she has

Iestyn George, music editor of Maxim magazine

"It was obvious they were not something that was coming from the home counties."

By now Cerys and been with Mark Roberts for seven or eight years.

The relationship had always been an intense one. In the early stages that was to be its strength, but as Catanonia began to lead the way for 'Cool Cymru', the lovers began to fall apart.

Their third album - Equally Cursed and Blessed mostly written by Mark Roberts - was jam packed full of negativity: how bad London was (Londinium); how bad relationships were (Dead From The Waist Down); how bad the music scene was (Karaoke Queen).

Everybody stood by just waiting for the band to follow suit and split up.

In the summer of the this year, Cerys Matthews checked into a rehabilitation centre after reportedly collapsing with exhaustion. All gigs were cancelled.

A statement put out by her record company said was undergoing treatment "for exhaustion and a recurrent asthma complaint - both of which have been exacerbated by drinking and smoking".

Cerys spoke openly of her depression, the physical strain of touring, and the mental anguish of pop stardom.

But, if the strong rumours are to be believed, the rehabilitation had been a complete success.

The word is she has already completed her first solo album.

But Iestyn George warned: "Cerys has a long life ahead of her. She has got a battle ahead of her, she knows she has."

See also:

21 Sep 01 | Wales
Troubled Catatonia split up
07 Jul 01 | Wales
Catatonia given Royal approval
12 Oct 99 | Wales
Catatonia worn out by fame
30 Sep 99 | Rugby World Cup
Stars come out for Wales
08 Jun 99 | Entertainment
Cool Cerys comes top
03 Dec 99 | Entertainment
Tom singles out Cerys
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