Fire in My Heart: Why I love Gruff Rhys
I started following Gruff Rhys after hearing the single Hometown Unicorn by the Super Furry Animals on the radio, and since then I’ve been lucky to watch them live around 80 times, and Gruff’s solo gigs and other projects around 50 times. It’s always a pleasure to see what’s coming next from him, as he is also very creative and inventive with his projects. Gruff was making music for 10 years before I started listening, and now he’s reached the significant anniversary of releasing his 25th album.
Gruff Rhys was in several bands before Super Furry Animals, most notably Ffa Coffi Pawb, who released three albums on Ankst between 1988 and 1992. There was a bit of a revival in 2004 when Ankst also released the compilation album Am Byth, and Hei Vidal has recently been re-released on vinyl recently in 2023.
I heard Super Furry Animals for the first time in 1996 when they played Hometown Unicorn on the ‘Evening Session’ with Steve Lamacq and Jo Whiley on Radio 1. It was the first single for the band on the Creation label, before their debut album Fuzzy Logic was released in May 1996. I fell in love with the single, and later the album, which I bought on CD when it was released. It was different, melodic and catchy, and I wanted to hear more. I started listening to some of their Welsh lanuage songs for the first time when I heard some of the B-sides of the singles, like ‘Dim Bendith’ and Arnofio/Glô in the Dark’, as well as listening to songs from other bands such as Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Melys, Topper and Catatonia.
I missed the Fuzzy Logic tour in 1996 as I was unfortunately too young to go (which was also the same year Super Furry Animals played Glastonbury for the first time), but I saw them for the first time in the ULU in London in May 1997, before they released their second album Radiator. The gig was loud, full of great songs, and was lots of fun, with a long extended techno ending for ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’. My mum came to collect me at the end and was let in by security to wait for me in the venue, so I’m not sure what she thought of that finale! Since then I’ve seen SFA live around 80 times between 1997 and 2017, so made up for missing the Fuzzy Logic gigs!
‘Radiator’ was released in 1997 and was one of SFA’s most successful albums in the charts as it reached number 8 in the UK charts, and was more recently listed by NME at number 92 in their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. One of my favourite ever albums is ‘Mwng’, which was released in 2000, and includes 10 tracks all in Welsh, reaching number 11 in the UK charts and is the biggest selling Welsh language album ever.
I was born and brought up in the suburbs of London, but started to learn Welsh after hearing Welsh language music, at first by teaching myself, and later in Welsh classes after I moved to Cardiff as an adult. I loved the sound of the language and wanted to understand and speak it myself, and bands like Super Furry Animals were a big inspiration for this.
One of my favourite tours was the Love Kraft tour in 2005, when I was travelling with the support band El Goodo, who were good friends of mine. I had the whole experience of seeing the set up, sound checks and eating the tasty dinners prepared by the touring catering staff, and was great fun with lots of good memories, plus met lots of interesting people along the way.
SFA arrived on stage in a golf buggy with “SFA OK” number plates, wearing light up jumpsuits for their performance. Gruff also wore a red Power Rangers helmet when they played the song ‘Slow Life’. Some of the most memorable gigs on the tour were Glasgow Barrowland, Liverpool University and Brixton Academy in London, which were full of energy on stage and in the audience, with a fantastic atmosphere.
Gruff Rhys released his debut solo album ‘Yr Atal Genhedlaeth’ in 2005, and I went to his first solo gig in his hometown Bethesda, in the Neuadd Ogwen. It was very different to SFA gigs, with a stripped down acoustic setup, Casio keyboards and samplers mixed with Gruff telling stories and jokes. It was a lot more laid back than an SFA gig, but still very entertaining. Since then he has released 11 solo albums including film soundtrack albums and his newest album ‘Sadness Sets Me Free’.
Since the debut solo gig there is often a full live band, and there have even been gigs including a band and full orchestra on his tour for Babelsberg, which I saw him perform in the Wales Millennium Centre with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales as part of the Festival of Voice in 2018. Gruff has also worked on several different and diverse projects including Neon Neon with Boom Bip, Gorillaz and Africa Express with Damon Albarn, amongst others.
Another important influence of Gruff’s music for me was starting my own band, She’s Got Spies, for which I wrote and recorded my first album all in Welsh, ‘Wedi’. Obviously the name came from the song on the album ‘Radiator’ by Super Furry Animals, and when I started the band with Matthew Evans from Keys in 2005, I asked Gruff if I could use the name ‘She’s Got Spies’ as SFA and Gruff’s other projects have been a huge influence on my own music, being an inspiration for wanting to start a band and create music of my own.
Find out more about Gruff Rhys’ new album Sadness Sets Me Free HERE
Find out more about She’s Got Spies HERE
A version of this article originally appeared in Welsh on the BBC Cymru Fyw website
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