Cerys Matthews talks 6 Music Festival and the magic of musical discovery

BBC Radio 6 Music presenter, broadcaster, and artist Cerys Matthews joins Headliner for an in-depth chat about this year’s 6 Music Festival, which takes place in Greater Manchester from March 7-10, her highlights from down the years, as well as her ongoing obsession with discovering new music.

Featuring headline performances from Young Fathers, Gossip, and The Smile, the 2024 6 Music Festival marks the second year in which the festival has been grounded in its homeland of Greater Manchester, having previously visited a different city each year. Hosting gigs across multiple venues across the city, 6 Music and a raft of its presenters will be out on location broadcasting from the event, with content available on 6 Music, BBC Sounds, BBC Four and BBC iPlayer.

Here, Headliner catches up with Matthews to find out about who she is looking forward to seeing this year, her favourite 6 Music Festival discoveries from years gone by, any why her passion for musical discovery remains strong as ever…

Thank you for joining us today, Cerys. What you can you tell us about your earliest memories of being at the 6 Music Festival?

I've got really fond memories of Glasgow. It is such a music city anyway, and having been a touring musician since I was a teenager, going back to places like Barrowlands, is such a pleasure. There's a layering of memories that you have as you travel the country and go back to these venues and then to see acts that you might not have seen live, that you've played and followed on the radio, is always brilliant.

What are your thoughts on the festival being based in Greater Manchester now as opposed to moving around the country?

If money was no factor in it and practicalities and sustainability and stuff like that, it'd be great to go to all corners of the UK and beyond. I mean let's take the festival to Cuba, you know, but we live in 2024 and it kind of makes sense to stay in Manchester in terms of so many of our shows come from there. You’ve got Deb and Tom there and Radcliffe and Maconie and Riley and Craig Charles. The whole of the infrastructure of the BBC is there.

In terms of sustainability, it makes sense as well. But I will miss going to the different cities because it's always lovely to meet as many of the listeners as possible. People can get to know different cities and come and stay in the city and stuff like that. If you think about festivals like Benicassim and Glastonbury and stuff like that, they're always the same venue and you get to love and get to know a place, a festival and the venues or the fields that host the artists. As long as the artists keep changing, I think that's the priority and that's the focus.

You never stop learning and you never stop trying to explore. Cerys Matthews

Does the festival play a role in supporting the independent venues circuit?

Yeah, for sure, absolutely. When you think about live venues it's not just musicians, it's the whole infrastructure and the whole community, the lighting designers and the sound people and the bar staff. You hear about these vast new arenas around the world like Sphere and it’s like, gosh, it would be a crying shame if we can't sustain the smaller ones that really allow risks to be taken and really support emerging art forms. Talk to any musician and where do their careers start? They certainly don't start in the Sphere, do they? Oh, Wembley Arena. You need a place where you cut your teeth and you can take those risks and somebody takes a financial risk to put you on the bill. We've got to make it work. So, festivals like this certainly help towards the longevity of the smaller venues.

What will you be doing at this year’s festival?

I'm so lucky to be able to work in a field that I've been obsessed with since I was a child. You never stop learning and you never stop trying to explore and find new artists that inspire you. I'll be broadcasting from there - I've got a show on Sunday. I'm also going to be trying to check out as much as I can, because there is such a vast difference between listening to recorded music and watching acts live. I think that's the beauty of any kind of festival, whether it's an urban-based festival that shares different venues, or whether it's your field festivals. Really, what stands out is that nobody can really predict who's going to pick up that wind of the zeitgeist and it keeps you really excited to see which act really lights up.

Who are you excited about seeing this year?

We are pretty jammy as DJs. We get to get on stage and introduce some of these artists. Hopefully that'll be the case this year. Gossip are performing in the UK for the first time in a few years and Beth Ditto is such a front person. It'd be quite interesting to see how they sound and what they're up to in terms of new material.

It seems that your passion for musical discovery is stronger than ever. Is that so?

Yeah, I'm afraid I'm a bit of a bore when it comes to music! I always have been since I was a kid, because it's just such a weird art form. You know where it comes from and what kind of floats your boat and I get to speak to an awful lot of musicians, composers, conductors, producers, and you can practice and you can learn your craft to a certain level. But at the end of the day, where a song comes from, nobody can really put their finger on. I love that mystery about music. I love that and I love that about live music. All the variables, the audience members, the hecklers, the sound of the room, whatever's in the news that day, the lighting engineers, the dry smoke, everything. All those variables can affect the magic of the night, or in a good way or bad way, but usually in a good way.

Cerys Matthews will broadcast from the BBC Radio 6 Music Festival, 7th – 10th March in Greater Manchester. Tune in on 6 Music, BBC Sounds, BBC Four and BBC iPlayer.