Cherry Lee Mewis has a story to tell. She has something to say - and she tells it through her music, her way.
The 5ft-nothing, power-house singer songwriter has grabbed the musical bull by the horns, and together with her long time co-writer and guitarist Max Milligan, has produced her most personal album to date; Catch My Drift - a hair-raising declaration of refreshing honesty. This album takes the teasing hint of vulnerability of 2012's Heard It Here First, and the quirky puns and energy-a-plenty vibe of 2013's Cherry Pickin' EP, then pushes the boundaries even further, taking in the best of musical influences while still keeping that elusive Cherry Lee Mewis treatment that gives the record a real punch. But let's back-track a minute...
A whole three years have passed since the critically acclaimed Heard It Here First, which helped introduce a whole new audience to the dynamic sound of Cherry Lee Mewis, as well as earning new fans last year after the surprise release of the foot-stompin' EP Cherry Pickin', firmly securing Cherry's place as one of the rising stars on the UK music scene today, which has seen her share the stage with diverse artists such as Bernie 'Whitesnake' Marsden, Walter Trout and Robin Trower to Ronan Keating, Aled Jones and The Quireboys. Taking her music from the tiny clubs of Bedford, to festivals in the UK, Europe and the USA such as Italy's Tropea Blues Festival, Howlin' Wolf Memorial Festival in Mississippi and BluesFest at The Royal Albert Hall, to venues in Nashville, Memphis and Mississippi, naming just a few.
Cherry cut her teeth endlessly playing the rowdy bars and clubs in her hometown in north Wales from the age of 12, developing not only her powerful soulful voice, but her performance and style too. "The concept of expressing myself creatively from the age of 8 was something I was always intrigued and inspired to do...where as my mum would love motown and retro soul records, my dad would be more into the rock 'n' roll and the psychedelic, really obscure 60's stuff. He introduced me to Curved Air, Vashti Bunyan and Janis Joplin and because of that background, it enabled me to wrap myself around anything from a sweet soul ballad to a jazz song to noisy rock’n’roll...I loved playing the bars in Wales and learning how to deal with all sorts of audiences, I can sure tell a few stories of bar room brawls and jealous lovers during gigs, but you'll have to listen to my music to hear them!" she chuckles.
It wasn't until later on, that Cherry became immersed in old school country, blues and rock'n'roll music from her dad's record collection and picked up a 'bargain bin guitar', learnt some chords and started putting pen to paper.
"While I loved to entertain people, I always knew I would never be satisfied singing cover songs for the rest of my life so that's when I started writing songs on the guitar. It took me a while to find my own voice but I totally appreciated the creative process, especially when I signed to a management deal when I was 17 and spent every waking moment in the studio creating. It was an amazing life experience for me...."
Cherry's tough girl persona has been born not only out of a passion for remaining true to herself and being around and entertaining adults from a young age but from a childhood well acquainted with believing in yourself at whatever cost.
"I changed schools perhaps one or three times (!) to try to feel accepted for having and following a dream. Singing on BBC Wales TV sure helped me up a few rungs of the career ladder but earned me a punch up in school too! Apparently you can't go on TV when you're 13 and then expect to go into school and be normal the next day! I always knew deep down though that this is what I was meant to do, sing, entertain and write my story through my music....I want people to have the courage to stand up for themselves and what they believe in and don't let anyone ever tell you you can't do something. I realise I should have stood up for myself a lot more when I was in school rather than running away, but hey, it's made me the person I am today."
Cherry continued to juggle gigs and school and eventually through mutual friends, got introduced to her co-writer and guitarist of 11 years, Max Milligan, an accomplished musician and songwriter, so the winter of 2008 saw Cherry finally pack her bags for good and leave her tiny village of Mochdre in north Wales, to her adopted home of Bedford.
"I had been back and forth to Bedford for a number of years making music, so it wasn't totally alien to me, but moving permanently away from family and loved ones was and it left me facing totally new life experiences..."
Not long after her move, Cherry and Max self-released an album, Little Girl Blue, where they re-arranged 11 early blues numbers, including songs by Memphis Minnie, Robert Johnson and Jelly Roll Morton.
"It was fun to work together with no pressure at that time, before I started honing in on how I wanted to sound. I just kept writing and putting aside the songs that most felt like me, ready for another record in the future. Max totally just 'got me' from day one and is my backbone when it comes to music, we of course are great friends too. He is the most musically inspiring person i've ever had the fortune of knowing and working with and he's always given me the encouragement and space to learn and grow as a musician and person aswell."
Not only a creative force in the studio but an ignitable and charismatic stage performer too, Cherry is best experienced live and together with her band accompanying Max on acoustic guitar and mandolin are, Nick Slater (dobro), Robbie Stewart-Mathews (double bass, banjo, blues harp & backing vox) and Brian Greene (drums), Cherry feels a real drive behind her at the live shows. "They sure as hell fuel my fire! They are with me on this crazy ride because they know I'm a little edgy and different. And I’ve played so many shows and been on the road so much, I feel like people are starting to get me now. Or else they think, ‘She’s not going away, so we might as well just start liking it!',” she laughs.
As well as performing all over the UK with her own band, the past couple of years have seen Cherry in demand on the UK rock scene and as well as performing on stage with, she has also sang both backing and lead vocals on albums by Del Bromham of Stray (Nine Yards), The Quireboys (Homewreckers & Heartbreakers), 100% Frankie Miller (alongside Ronnie Wood & Bonnie Tyler), and most recently Bernie Marsden of Whitesnake (Shine). Cherry also accompanied Bernie Marsden on his UK tours in 2012 and 2013 at sold out shows including London's Jazz Cafe and Silverstone's British Grand Prix in front of a 10,000 plus strong crowd. Cherry's vocals for Bernie's new album were actually recorded at none other than Abbey Road Studios in May 2013.
Cherry performs with Del Bromham of Stray in his Blues Devils outfit from time to time, including a date opening up for Mott The Hoople at Birmingham's Symphony Hall.
You may also catch Cherry from time to time guesting with Think Floyd where she belts out Great Gig In The Sky too!
Other highlights so far have included Cherry being the 'Artist in Session' on Paul Jones' BBC Radio 2 show where she was invited with her band to record 4 tracks at the legendary Maida Vale Studios. Opening up for Robin Trower and Albert Lee, returning to the Mississippi with band member Nick Slater to perform at the Market St Festival in downtown Columbus alongside US blues legend, Super Chikan, following on from Cherry's successful performance at 2010's Howlin' Wolf Memorial Festival in West Point, Mississippi. Being special guest of Blind Mississippi Morris in the legendary BB King's on the one and only Beale Street in Memphis, and being personally asked by Paul Jones to perform three songs at his annual charity concert at Cranleigh Arts Centre in Surrey which saw Paul and his harmonica joining Cherry onstage for a song.
Cherry spent the summer of 2014 back out in Mississippi, Memphis, Nashville and Austin where she was touring with her Mississippi band including a date at Morgan Freeman's Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale where the man himself came down to see them. Cherry also was chosen to sing at the weekly Songwriter's Night at none other than the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, as well as guesting on stage with Paul Oscher in Austin who played harmonica for Muddy Waters for 5 years.
More recently, summer 2015 saw Cherry spending four months overseas touring with a jazz outfit successfully resulting in her being asked to tour for a further four months from December '15 to April 2016. Cherry is now fitting her new jazz tour project in around her own music shows in the UK and will spend another four months out of the country, two months at a time, throughout 2016.
Plans to record a jazz album to showcase these jazz tours, are underway.
"I recognise that in the fickle world of the hustlin' music game, an artist's strongest asset is their music - songs that will move people long after the image fades. That's what I keep coming back to," she says with a knowing smile, "that's all that matters...."