"Cherry Lee Mewis is a
twenty-four-year old female singer-songwriter from North Wales with a
voice that means business ..... Cherry betrays her age with performances
of some of the most gritty songs from places so far removed from North
Wales and from a time that bears no resemblance to that of today. I'm
pleasingly reminded of early Janis Joplin or at the very least the late
Jo Ann Kelly .... "
Extract from review of Cherry's latest album 'Southbound Train' by Allan
Wilkinson, Northern Sky
"There are not too many
young women around on the British blues scene and still fewer capable of
making one of the finest and more original albums to come out of the UK
that I have heard for a good while. Cherry Lee has a fine voice and
mixes up vintage jug band sounds, fifties skiffle, hillbilly bogie,
pre-war blues, diva-ish jazz and just a slight dash of rock'n'roll and
soul to make a very individual approach, generally close enough to a
traditional blues sound to be categorised as such, but sufficiently
distinctive to be far more than worth a cursory listen ...."
Extract from review of Cherry's latest album 'Southbound Train' by
Norman Darwin, Blues & Rhythm
are your first musical memories growing up in North Wales?
Cherry: Being 8
years old and starting a girl group in school and we used to practise
every lunchtime in the playground and charge kids 5p to sit and watch
us!! I wrote our songs, if you could call them that and was very bossy
with the other members, sometimes they didn't want to practise and I
would say things like "we have to, we're never going to get famous if we
you come from a musical family?
Cherry: No! There
was always music around and I remember my mum playing Motown cassettes
in the car and my dad playing records all the time in the house and I
was really into the girl group Eternal, which was the main reason I
started a girl group in school but I just remember turning to my mum one
day and saying "I want to sing" so I did and so then I started to
perform on any stage that would have me! But no one played or sang in my
you always want to become a singer?
Cherry: For as long
as I can remember, I played violin and piano from a young age but
annoyingly didn't continue, saying that I did start to dabble with piano
again later on. I was a Michael Jackson fan from around 4 years old I
think, and then Easther Bennett the lead singer in Eternal was a big
influence on me .. as soon as I knew I wanted to sing, I've gone for
every opportunity that came my way and just got out there and learnt my
did you get started in music?
Cherry: I started by
doing talent shows between the ages of 9-11, just as a way for getting
out there on stage and gaining some experience with audiences and
developing my confidence. From the age of 12, my dad took me to our
local music shop and we got to know the guy who ran it and my dad bought
my first PA system from him including a good ol' tape deck for all my
backing tracks that I was starting to build up! Turned out that he was
actually a pub/club singer and he invited my dad and I to one of his
gigs and got me up to sing ... it was in a grotty pub and I was only 12
but it made me want to start doing my own gigs all the same!
North Wales, there's a lot of holiday camps and so my mum and I would go
round them all and try to get gigs and before I knew it I had a summer
season booked in one of the main camps in North Wales! Word got out and
I was brought to the attention of some local agencies so they started to
get me gigs as well. So I worked the pub and club scene right through
from aged 12 til I left home at 22 ... I got involved with my local
radio station after winning a talent competition they organised when I
was 9, and started doing radio roadshows with them all over Wales which
was great fun. Not to mention appeared on some TV shows which will no
doubt surface one day!
kind of material were you playing in the early days?
Cherry: I was on my
own, I didn't have a band then, so I had backing tracks and I would do
covers ... I realised that a lot of the other acts on the circuit were
doing the 60's and 70's material but I wanted to do chart stuff! All
kinds of styles from Janis Joplin and 4-Non Blondes, to Shania Twain and
Alicia Keys! It's great to explore different styles with your voice, and
that's where I learnt my craft and learnt to sing different styles and
use my voice differently, oh and deal with lager louts and learn how to
work a crowd!
first attracted you to the blues and what does the blues mean to you?
Cherry: My dad's
records! Growing up, I was into the songs my friends at school were into
and followed the charts, but then there was stuff from way back that
none of my friends would listen to but I'd hear it around the house and
love it. I got into Janis Joplin and from reading about her influences,
Bessie Smith being one, it introduced me to the sounds of Bessie
herself, then Memphis Minnie, Robert Johnson, Mississippi Fred McDowell,
Otis Redding and I'd ask my dad "have you got anything by Blind Lemon
Jefferson?" or any artists I was checking out at the time and he always
would have records by them! I think it's important to know where things
come from. All music evolved from blues.
are your favourite blues artists (both old and new)?
Fred McDowell, Son House, Howlin' Wolf,Karen Dalton, Judy
Roderick, there are so many! I also love Ike & Tina, Etta James, Koko
Taylor, Bette Midler when she played 'The Rose' in the film of the same
title ... so many great artists - I'm a fan of the big powerhouse-type
singers and artists that are different and really push the boundaries
... I'm a fan of songs too, not 20 minute solos all over the show, and
just real good performers that entertain the crowd. Blues artists today
that I really rate are the Gerry Jablonski Band, Ben Poole Band, Never
The Bride - more rocky blues but I love this band and Nikki Lamborn is a
fantastic singer and entertainer.
has influenced you the most in your music writing and playing?
Morissette has been a huge influence lyric-wise, amazing lyrics and her
Jagged Little Pill album was one of the first albums I bought
when I was 9! I'm a fan of story-telling lyrics, unusual lyrics and
topics and Alanis's songs just blow me away. Shania Twain's Come On
Over album and her Up! album too - biggest selling album by a
female artist of all time. I can listen to them over and over. The
voices I admire are Janis Joplin, Jeff Buckley and also an amazing soul
Marsha Ambrosius. I'm into so many different styles of music and listen
to all sorts - like anyone learning an instrument growing up, you're
eager to be able to sing/play lots of varied things so I love belting
stuff out but then also love to hold back with my voice and sing in a
way that people wouldn't expect. Lots of influences but ultimately when
I'm up on that stage, it's "tonight Matthew I'm Cherry Lee Mewis ..."!
2008 you moved to Bedford to further your career (why Bedford?) - that
must have been a wrench?
Cherry: Well when I
was 17 I signed with a management company in Bedford, I sent a demo tape
to them after I saw a lot of internet buzz on an artist they were
managing at the time who was doing all these amazing gigs supporting
chart artists yet she was unknown. And so I had a management and
production deal with them. I had just passed my driving test so it
worked out great, I'd bomb down the M6 & M1 in my little Metro almost
every week to go and record original material and cut my teeth in the
studio. I was doing pop/r'n'b material then which wasn't my preferred
style but I just went with it at the time and for the whole time I was
with my manager and producer, from 17 to 20 years old, I got to release
my own 12-inch vinyl white label and it got into the Music Week's Urban
Club Chart as highest new entry amongst artists such as Beyonce &
Eminem, went on my own 24 date UK tour sponsored by non other than VK
Cherry! Also did various 'Party in the Park' gigs alongside Jamelia,
Lemar, Girls Aloud and so on ... it was great and I nearly got signed
but it just didn't happen ... material wasn't good enough I don't think
but I got introduced to my now guitarist, Max Milligan who also lives in
Bedford, and we started to do acoustic gigs together. When I parted ways
with my management, Max suggested I do an album with him and he asked
what I'd like to do. I told him how much I love blues music and we
started working on Little Girl Blue in 2007 and in October 2008 I
was tired of travelling back and forth to Bedford from North Wales so I
eventually moved! All my band now live in Bedford and surrounding areas
so it's ideal now and the music scene here is really healthy, much more
than back home!
me about your debut album 'Little Girl Blue', how did you select
the songs and what attracted you to the songs of Memphis Minnie, Robert
Johnson and Jelly Roll Morton?
Cherry: Well I
always tell people that I see Little Girl Blue as a blues version
of what Joss Stone did with her debut album The Soul Sessions -
taking rare and hidden gems from way back to the 1900's and without
changing them too much, doing our own arrangements of the songs while
still keeping it real raw and dirty! A lot of the songs I chose like
The Man Next Door by Koko Taylor & Keb Mo, Everybody Here Wants
You by Jeff Buckley (which was actually recorded in 2005 and it's a
bonus track on the album as it doesn't really fit with the other songs
but I really wanted to release it), Sweet Substitute which was
originally Jelly Roll's song but I'd heard the Karen Dalton version. My
dad suggested I record Wade in the Water and he played me Judy
Henske's version which I loved instantly. Max chose Cherrywine
(which is a real crowd pleaser at gigs!) and Shame, Shame, Shame.
There was one original song on there, Ugly Night that I wrote on
the guitar. We just wanted a nice mix of material, showcasing the
second album 'Southbound Train' was released in 2010 to critical
acclaim, this time with your own material, how was the recording
process this time round compared to the first album?
Cherry: Well because
of rearranging the 20's blues numbers on Little Girl Blue, I
wanted my own songs on this album and Max (my guitarist and songwriting
partner) and I soon got to work on it! Even writing stuff and gigging it
before recording it which I personally like to do because you find that
the song just evolves and performing it live is so much different to
when you record it. I personally don't like people listening to
Little Girl Blue now because when we perform those songs, 4 years
on, they're so much different and I sing them better which is another
reason why I would like to do a live album next.
track, Southbound Train was written really quickly. Max had a
battered old 3-string guitar that he rescued from a skip and he came up
with this great riff. He recorded it and I had it playing in my car for
a couple of weeks and wrote the lyrics to it quite quickly really and it
signified my move down south too! I wrote Time Limits quite a few
years ago but it didn't have a melody so I came up with the chorus on
the guitar and then played it to Max and he 'fancied it up'! There were
also contributing writers, Drew Ford, Jo Burnett and Lindsay Scott who
are so talented and Drew's song Western Star, is a popular one at
gigs. The writing process does vary from song to song - I sometimes
write lyrics on my own and come up with a melody straight away or Max
and I will write music and lyrics togetheror Max will already
have some music and I'll write to that - lots of different ways of
bringing a song to life!
there any particular songs that you play that have special meaning to
Cherry: To be
honest, they all mean something special to me - you have to feel
something about that song in order to perform it - sure, you can blag
stuff but it's only when you get inside the song that you really
perform it. I've watched singers that sing the song and then I've
watched singers that sing the song. Classic example is Bette
Midler at the end of the film The Rose where she does an
explosive performance of Stay With Me Baby - wow. That is what
being a singer is all about.
2010 you supported Walter Trout and you also performed at the Howlin'
Wolf Memorial Festival in West Point Mississippi, as well as appearing
as a special guest of Blind Mississippi Morris in Memphis and supporting
Mud Morganfield on his UK tour (wow!), how were the experiences?
Cherry: Amazing! To
finally go out to Memphis with my dad was one thing but getting asked to
do a festival - the Howlin' Wolf Festival was pretty special. I got to
go to all the places I had wanted to go like Sun Studios, Stax,
Graceland and then took a trip to Clarksdale in Mississippi and stayed
at the Riverside Hotel which used to be a hospital and was where Bessie
Smith died in 1937. The room in which she died is now a shrine to her
and was just so surreal to step into. I met Howlin' Wolf's two daughters
and niece at the festival - I had to pinch myself! I had an amazing
bunch of musicians who were my band out there including Grammy award
winning Billy Earheart on keys who plays in The Amazing Rhythm Aces and
Little Richard's guitarist, Kelvin Holly!
Mississippi Morris did the festival too and a few days later my dad and
I were in BB King's on Beale St and found out he was playing there that
night and when he learned I was there in the audience he asked me to
come up and do a couple of songs with him and I was so happy to get up
there and perform on that famous stage.
Morganfield is fantastic and I told him when I met him that only a
couple of months earlier I was standing in his late father's wooden
shack in the Delta Museum in Clarksdale! Great guy and we're pleased to
be supporting him again in May.
with the Walter Trout support. The original support band didn't show up
to a date Walter was doing at The Stables in Milton Keynes and at 7.10pm
I was gearing up for a night in front on the TV, 7.15 I got a call from
The Stables venue asking if I could 'fill in'!! I grabbed some things,
luckily my guitarist was on his way back from a day of teaching in
London so he went straight there, I bombed my car there fully aware that
I was having to go onstage at 8pm!! We did it just as a duo and it went
down really well and Walter was at the side of the stage after we came
off and said "loved it, you playing with us tomorrow too?!" So we got
asked to do the following night at the Assembly in Leamington Spa!
reviewers have made comparisons, do you see yourself as Britain's answer
to Bonnie Raitt?
Cherry: Not at all!
I love Bonnie but I don't play guitar for one! Well not publicly anyway!
I'll use the guitar to write songs with but I've never wanted to play
guitar onstage, maybe one day who knows? Huge compliment though to be
compared to her, I love her voice and songs. Everyone gets compared to
artists and if Bonnie Raitt is my comparison, I ain't complaining!
me about the band, Max Milligan, Robbie Mathews and Nick Slater, when
did you all get together?
Cherry: Well as
explained in an earlier answer, Max and I met back in 2005 and after we
released Little Girl Blue, we always wanted to get a band
together eventually and for a bit we had ex-Argent member, John Verity
(who produced LGB) playing guitar with us and also Jeff Dakin on blues
harp but knew it was only a temporary set up but Max already knew Nick
and Robbie and they came on board in 2008 and we haven't looked back!
Nick plays his resonator guitar and Robbie plays upright stick bass. We
do sometimes have a drummer, Flow, who Max and I already knew from the
Music Centre in Bedford. People sometimes ask why we don't always have a
drummer and it's mainly because we can go without one because of the
style of the songs as it's acoustic but I have to say I am a fan of the
driving beat and the fuller sound when we have all of us up onstage
together. When we do festivals it's always the 5 of us. They're the fuel
to the igniter - they're like family to me now and we have so much fun
on the road, just watch some of the video blogs I've put on my YouTube
music styles may be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do you
think that is?
Cherry: It's real,
it's about real musicians and regardless of styles, it always comes down
to songs, they're what lasts and talented people that write, play and
perform them. You still see so-called blues fans dissing what's blues
and what's not nowadays but the blues has evolved so much throughout the
years, the roots are there still but the playing styles change and so
on. If the music is good, that's all that matters!
do you see the future of blues music?
Cherry: Younger and
younger people are picking up instruments and today's blues musicians
are getting younger! It's fantastic ... having a focus on something when
you're that young is brilliant. I'm a strong believer in knowing where
songs came from and how it all began so to know your music history is
important and I think younger people are getting curious about artists
like Robert Johnson, but all in all, it's a very healthy scene and it
will only continue to grow.
are your future aspirations; what's in the pipeline / plans / gigs /
tours / albums?
Cherry: Can't wait
for festivals to start! We've got some great ones lined up this year;
Springfest this coming weekend (Sat 16th April), Scunthorpe Blues
Festival, Maryport Blues Festival, Colne R'n'B Festival, Bedford Proms
in the Park, Cambridge Rock Festival and so on! Plus a return trip to
Memphis in 3 weeks! I'm performing on the Market St Festival in
Columbus, Mississippi so I can't wait to get back out there and catch up
with my friends and fellow musicians. I'm going to do a video for a new
track, Man Overboard and then release it in iTunes over the summer as
well .. I am interested in doing a live album, whether that will be this
year or not I'm not sure...new album next year. Hopefully see you all at
a festival or two in the summer!