Culture

One night in Toulouse – when Welsh football and music collided beautifully

16 Jun 2021 24 minutes Read
For one night only.

David Owens

Wales fans at Euro 2016 will have plenty of favourite moments from a tournament that exceeded all our expectations and fulfilled so many dreams.

On the pitch and off there were tales to tell that will reverberate through the decades of a team and a fanbase as one, proudly united in representing our small but beautiful country on the world stage.

For many of us Toulouse will always have a special place in all our hearts. Not just for the total football Chris Coleman’s Red Army deployed in crushing Russia 3-0 in the Stadium de Toulouse, sending us spinning deliriously and unexpectedly into dreamland as group winners, but for a gig in the city two days before that unforgettable result.

It was a night which transcended the normal dictates of the gig going experience, when rock ‘n’ roll wizards SFA put us under their spell.

Super Furry Animals headlining the Rio Loco Festival in the city’s stunning Prairies Des Filtres park is now etched in the annals of history as the evening when football and music collided beautifully in France.

Shindig

That it descended into one giant Welsh football shindig – a sea of ecstatic Wales fans in bucket hats singing Wales football songs was perhaps inevitable. People describing this as the greatest gig they had ever witnessed underlined that magic can happen in the unlikeliest of places.

The sight of thousands of Welshmen and women, joy unrestrained, joining in with bemused but happy French locals for a giant party, only embellished the unorthodox nature of the occasion, which culminated in an emotionally charged rendition of Mae Hen Wlad Fy’n Nhadau, complete with the Furries’ CIan Ciaran leading the singing from the stage.

The Celtic-themed Rio Loco Festival, has been running for more than 20 years, featuring performances from musicians from Ireland, Scotland, Isle Of Man, Cornwall, Brittany and Wales.

In 2016 the five-day event also featured Mercury Music Prize-winning Young Fathers, Irish folk legends The Chieftains, and US punk band The Dropkick Murphys.

It’s doubtful, however, that the festival has ever witnessed a performance like the one the Furries  turned in.. See their specially adapted version of the band’s Euro 2016 football song ‘Bing Bong’, including a segue into Salt N Pepa’s ‘Push It’ for cult hero Hal Robson Kanu and Chaka Khan’s ‘Ain’t Nobody’ for the player with the bionic leg Joe Ledley, for evidence of this unconventional music and football mash up.

Nation Cymru has spoken to members of the band and those Wales fans who witnessed this unforgettable evening, to reveal how the show came together and how it ended up as one of the greatest nights of so many lives.

In their own words, this is the story of Super Furry Animals in Toulouse at Euro 2016 featuring:

  • Gruff Rhys, Super Furry Animals singer
  • Guto Pryce, Super Furry Animals bass player
  • Elis James, comedian and broadcaster
  • Bryn Law, author and broadcaster
  • Haley Evans, founder of FE Wales, for female Welsh fans
  • Leon Barton, author and co-host of Podcast Pel-droed
  • Dan Tyte, writer and co-host of Cardiff City podcast A Bit of Swazz

When Wales fans saw that the Furries were playing a show in Toulouse during the Euros you knew that this was going to be a special night.

Gruff Rhys: “We alerted our long time booking agent Geoff Meal as soon as the Euros were on the cards – and revived our long sleeping Euro 94 song Bing Bong – we were able to bring the band and entire crew to the Toulouse game – it was great! Wales matches were always a huge deal for SFA – I remember we turned down a headline show at a Valencian amphitheatre once as it clashed with Wales playing England at home – the one GLC sang at towards the end of the Hughes era. We actually tried to book a whole tour in France – a Bordeaux show was very close to being finalised – it might have been advertised even – but it fell through.”

Guto Pryce: “We sent out a smoke signal and the stars aligned. It was always a hope that we would play a show in France during the Euros. We were a well oiled touring machine at the time.”

Understandably, tickets flew out for the gig, which also helped given that they only cost £7!

Leon Barton: “I was so delighted. I always had a feeling something might happen with SFA at the Euros, because I know they’re big Wales fans.  I always remember this classic quote from Gruff in the late-90s , talking about Bobby Gould: ‘I’m all for eccentrics usually…just not when it comes to something as important as football’.”

Elis James: “It almost felt too good to be true, and added to the feeling that the stars were aligning to make this the best summer of our lives. A band that had been in hiatus for years, that I loved, playing two nights before a crunch match at a European Championships. That’s what it’s all about. The Furries have also been the unofficial band of Wales Away for years. Partly because of the music, and partly because they’re such genuine football fans. S4C made a brilliant documentary about them called Poptastic, in around 1996/1997. I remember it showing them smiling ruefully in the away end in Eindhoven as Wales conceded a seventh goal against Holland, before playing a gig that night.”

Haley Evans: “I remember that I was in work when I saw it, I can’t  even remember where I saw it, I’m assuming social media and I just squealed with delight. I found the Rio Loco festival website, discovered the tickets were €8 and popped a message in our WhatsApp group basically saying that we were going! It was genuinely up there with the moment that I discovered that the tickets for the Euros had gone through, before a ball had even been kicked, you just knew that this was shaping up to be the best summer of our lives.”

Dan Tyte: “I had so many alarms set on my phone during the run-up to the Euros, when it beeped, I was never really sure if I was meant to be booking an Airbnb in Bordeaux, a train to Lens or a flight to Toulouse. Adding a Super Furries gig at a Celtic Festival in the South France the weekend of a Wales game in a major tournament was an alarm I never thought I’d set, but I’ve never been happier to hear the beeps and book the tickets. That was a magical summer when anything seemed possible. It felt like how you’d run your band if you had one, playing where you wanted to because you could. Rod Stewart’s football pitch in the garden taken to new levels.”

Official shower supplier

Bryn Law: “As soon as the gig was announced, I knew it had to be built into the itinerary so an extra night in Toulouse was built in. The tickets were so cheap as well!  I’ve got to know the lads down the years and I went to see them playing in Leeds just before the Euros. I took (Spirit of ‘58 owner) Tim Williams with me as he wanted to get bucket hats to the lads that they could wear in France. We went and met the Furries afterwards and had a few beers on the tour bus. As we were chatting, they outlined their plans for the concert in Toulouse, the tour bus was going to provide a base in the park where the festival was taking place. I described how I was going down in a camper van. One of the lads, it might even have been the tour manager, asked if it had a shower? I was picking it up over there but the description said it did. Suddenly a plan was formulated, the tour bus didn’t have a shower, so I could park up next to them and become official shower supplier to the world’s greatest rock band!”

The clamour for tickets underlined how much the Furries mean to so many Welsh people.

Elis James: “They and the Gorky’s are my two favourite bands ever, I think the Furries are one of the truly great bands of the last 30 years. They made such pioneering, fantastic records, and never seemed to make a creative misstep. I also loved that they were undeniably, unmistakenly Welsh, but completely cliche free. It was a modern Welshness I recognised, wrapped up in music that I thought was better than anything else around.”

Haley Evans: “I was 15 and living in Hampshire when Fuzzy Logic came out. I was introduced to them by a guy I went to school with, who was quite the artist, would draw the bear on everything. I thought the bear was cool and he told me I should listen to their music, especially as I was Welsh. Needless to say, one listen to Something 4 The Weekend, the first Furries song I remember hearing, and I was hooked. The first time I saw them live was on the Saturday afternoon of the Reading Festival in 1997 and I just thought they were brilliant and they fast became one of my favourite bands. They were always there from then on and my life would be pretty dull without the joy their music brings me.”

Dan Tyte: “They’re the band for me. I was 15 when Fuzzy Logic came out. It’s reasonable to say that they helped change my life, or at least were the soundtrack to the time my life was changing.  My school pal Rhodri and I devoured everything they released, searching out the Ankst stuff we were a bit too young for and their early (to us at least) gigs magically syncing with our fake IDs and new found love for a moshpit. Rhodri’s mum was a teacher in a school with Bunf and apparently would take him in sandwiches for his lunch. I vividly remember missing out on the infamous Eisteddfod show where the band handed out song sheets in Japanese and hummed choruses in protest at not being allowed to sing English songs, telling Rhodri I couldn’t make it from a phone box in Manchester outside the family christening I’d been held up at. But I got my own back: when I was at the gig in Toulouse, Rhod was with the Welsh squad as the team doctor. Things hit ahigh point when I produced a BBC Sounds doc called The Story of Miwsig, about the history of Welsh language music  which has got an interview with Gruff in.”

Bryn Law: “For me, SFA represent something very special in terms of my connection with Wales. When the national team was rubbish, I’d go and watch them all over the country and it felt like following a Welsh team. Successful performers, representing their country with a real cool laidback pride. It wasn’t rugby or choirs, it was something new. The epitome of this was the video for Play It Cool. There was the Welsh football shirt, in a video, on The Chart Show.

It was important that SFA liked football, not rugby. As a lad from the north east, that was my outlook as well.”

Gruff Rhys’ photo from the stage before the gig

Whatever thoughts people may have had about what they were going to encounter on arriving at Prairies Des Filtres for the Rio Loco gig, what they actually saw no doubt exceeded everyone’s expectations.

Gruff Rhys: “It was Cian’s 40th birthday on the day of the England game so the SFA tour bus had to pick us up from a car park outside Lens in the middle of the night – we waited for a few hours drinking lager in the back of a friend’s Transit van by the motorway- then a bus picked us up and we drove to Toulouse overnight and through the next day and hung out at the festival a few days early. It was perfect as it was something like a fiver a ticket for the show – but we never could have expected that kind of night.”

Guto Pryce: Bucket hats, bucket hats. Lots of bucket hats.”

Elis James: “I was in Toulose with a load of mates, but I also recognised about 80% of the audience from Wales away trips. I watched the band with Leon Barton, whose writing and work on Podcast Pel Droed I loved, but I’m not sure if I’d met him before that night. I expected there to be lots of Welsh fans, but that didn’t make it any less good. I just realised that as a country, we have the coolest set of fans in Europe.”

Leon Barton: “I was there really early on the day cos I really wanted to see Alasdair Roberts, who on earlier in the day, so I arrived before the army of bucket-hatted Welsh turned up. It was amazing to see and feel the gradual Welsh takeover for what was a magical celebration of Welsh counterculture – which I think really centres around football and bilingual bands such as the Super Furries.  It’s really my experience of Welshness – nothing to do with the royal Welsh rugby union and Katherine Jenkins and all that sh*te. And Elis still owes me a pint!”

Haley Evans: “My other half, friends and I were staying in this beautiful chateaux about an hour from Toulouse and as there were about 10 of us, we already had a minibus. We drove into Toulouse and parked near a metro station a few stops away from the festival site. I laughed when we arrived. Here we were, at a Celtic folk music festival in Toulouse and there was just a sea of red. I saw someone I knew within 30 seconds. In fact, everywhere you turned, there was someone you knew! We knew that there were going to be a few Wales fans there, but the sheer number who had found out and secured their tickets was way beyond any expectations.”

Dan Tyte: “A revolving group of us had been sharing digs in France since the game: Gav, Scooby, Jamie Gunn, Mike (Williams – who was NME editor at the time and wrote his post-Brexit editor’s column from our wooden Airbnb in Bordeaux), with Joel and Ben joining for the England game and Delmi for Toulouse. I’m the organiser in the group, which is good news as I wouldn’t have wanted to leave getting those tickets to anyone else. Anyone from Cardiff who’s ever been to Green Man will know that it can feel like (Cardiff’s music quarter) Womanby Street in a field, stopping every two seconds for a chat with an old face. That field in Toulouse was the Wales Away equivalent of that.

Bryn Law: “I’ve seen the Furries play live so many times in so many places but I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to a gig as much as this one. We walked up the long drive into the park, it was really dark, and we didn’t have a real sense of what we were walking into. I managed to beg a concert poster from one of the staff in the way in. Then we emerged through the trees into the venue setting and we knew immediately we were in the right place. There were bucket hats everywhere. In fact, the only headgear to rival the bucket in terms of numbers were these weird big pointy, twisty hats that looked like they were made out of brown paper. I think someone said they were a traditional Breton hat and the festival theme was Celtic so, maybe ?

We wandered around watching some of the other bands, I bumped into the lad who used to live across the road from me in Ruabon when I was 12, we had a good chat, and a few beers of course. Then, it was time.”

Bucket hats abound.

The gig was a full on SFA set and given the audience was mostly of thousands of incredibly drunk Welsh fans, it soon descended into an experience that quickly transcended a normal show

Gruff Rhys: “We didn’t play like a particularly up beat set of singles or anything either – it was a pretty full on prog SFA show with all the visuals and the most intense songs we had. But seemed to work somehow – it was filmed by French television and it’s one of the best gigs we ever had filmed I think. It’s still on YouTube. It was good as everyone was on it but the audience seemed to be up for anything – people sang along with the weirdest tunes but still partied. We had some of the Barry Horns on stage which probably helped. It was cool as I kept seeing people from Bethesda in the crowd!”

Guto Pryce: “I think we played more Mwng songs than we’d usually do. I suppose we knew a lot of Welsh fans would be there. It was after all only £7 to get in. It was fun. The pressure was off us a little as everyone was having a great time just being at the Euros. The audience were mostly steaming drunk.  The locals seemed bemused but happy.  We may have had a little more cheese than usual, but we were in France.

Leon Barton: “They played ‘Mountain People, my all time favourite SFA song and the first chorus of ‘The Man Don’t Give A F*ck, bouncing around, was just mental. Meeting the likes of Bryn Law, Elis James (and you Dave) were highlights.  Me and Elis stood next to each other and at one point El goes ‘Imagine not liking football and music…imagine being into Game of Thrones or something’ which became a running joke between songs (“Right, sorry, gotta run, there’s episode of Babylon 5 I’ve only seen seven times starting in a few minutes” etc)  It was the first time I’d met Elis and we’ve been mates ever since. It was just a memorable, mad night. II was 38 at the time. I thought I’d stop having mad nights out when I became a dad age 34 but that is one of the maddest!”

Elis James: “If I remember rightly, it was a folk festival of some sort, and the Furries were quite an incongruous addition to the bill. I think I’m right in saying that they asked to perform there when they saw our third game was in Toulouse. It was a great set, but my favourite bit was Cian singing the anthem at the end. The perfect end to 20 minutes of techno after TMDGAF (The Man Don’t Give A F*ck)

Haley Evans: “I’ve never known anything like it. There were some technical issues but bloody hell, it’s up there as one of the best gigs I have ever been to. After the disappointment of the result against England and the stress of getting to that game, not knowing how their fans were going to behave, we got to Toulouse and it was time to let our hair down. That gig couldn’t have been more perfectly timed, a lot of people released a lot of emotions that night. We sang, we laughed, we hugged out mates, we danced, we let everything go…I genuinely think the Russia game was better for it! ‘God! Show me magic?’ He did and it was right there in Toulouse. There were so many unforgettable moments. Having to explain to the locals who had asked what was going on after the Hal/Bing Bong/Joe Ledley medley. ‘Mountain People’. Cian. Cian was loving it, wasn’t he? I think they all were. The national anthem to end the night – I love that you can watch the gig back and that’s what is going on as the credits roll.”

Dan Tyte (in green) and friends,

Dan Tyte: “The sun shines on the righteous so of course it had been glorious during that first week in France, or at least that’s how I remember it.  But the day of the gig, the skies above Toulouse opened up and it started to rain.  Not a problem if you’ve got a bucket hat on. I remember the local crowd being an eclectic mix of old hippies and slightly bewildered kids. The skies getting darker. ‘Slow Life’. Cian singing the Hal Robson-Kanu song. Hit after hit. The anthem.  Flashing lights. One of those memorable, but hazy nights that I’ll be glad YouTube existed for when I’m in the nursing home. You’d travel to France for that gig alone.”

Bryn Law: “I was beside myself with excitement by now. Here, tonight, in a park in Toulouse, everything was coming together. I’d sat behind Gruff and Guto in Bordeaux. We’d celebrated that marvellous win together. Now we were here to celebrate another aspect of confident , cool Cymru. The French people around us in the crowd were intrigued and impressed by the bucket hats and wanted to know why we wore them? How do you explain? This is our culture.  When the band came out the roar was like being at the match. I’ve seen so many great Furries gigs but this one was my favourite. Musically, they’ve probably played better, as they explained later, technically, they’d had big issues but that didn’t matter. I just loved it. Them, us, altogether, being Welsh and happy and singing along with every song. At times it was very emotional. I’d fill at the sheer joy of the who,e experience. Then there were the onstage adllibs, the brass playing Push It to start a mass Hal Robson Kanu chant, and then, when it was all over, Cian coming back out, in Tims’s hat, to lead a brilliant, raucous rendition of Hen Flad Fy Nhadau. Has any crowd ever spontaneously sung the national anthem at a gig’s conclusion before?”

Dave and Hayley.

The singing after the show was monumental, the land of song transported to foreign climes as the party continued post-gig and the days that followed

Gruff Rhys: I think eventually the audience became the gig. The Rio Loco festival have a different theme every year – that year the theme was ‘Celtic’ they had some decent bands, Young Fathers and Alisdair Roberts from Scotland for example – but after we finished playing the crowd stayed and sang the entire red wall 2016 repertoire for another half hour at least – the organisers had a proper Celtic experience that night, but no trouble – just pure joy.  One of the promoters came into our porta cabin dressing room before the show and explained in broken English – ‘there’s someone here at the gate from the Wales team – says he wants to meet you – I think he said his name is something like Co-co -coal….’ – ‘no way not – Coleman?’ I asked – ‘Yes – exactly Coleman’ he said – ‘Shit – let him in yes – bring him here’ five minutes later a Mr Coleman turned up, not Chris Coleman after all – Sonny Coleman, Chris’s son! We ended up partying with him into the night and got some great stories from the Welsh team camp. It was an incredible time. I remember going into a book shop in Toulouse and it was full of people in Wales shirts reading books – no flying chairs in sight. I pissed myself laughing. And the sunset light in the stadium on the night of the Russia game was beautiful – and probably the best Wales game I’ve ever seen. I mean the Belgium game was good but it was transgressive and stressful – I thought my head was going to explode! whilst Toulouse was an easy going big party.”

Hayley Evans: “We got on the metro after the gig to head back to the minibus and we were asked how Wales had got on by some fellow passengers. They couldn’t believe that we hadn’t played because we were just everywhere. The conversation turned to our team and they were asking us about who we had other than Bale, we’d gone through Ramsey, Joe Allen and Ashley Williams when I pipe up with Hal Robson-Kanu. They repeated back to me quizzically, “Hal Robson-Kanu?” just as the train was pulling into a station at which point the doors opened to a bunch of Welsh fans coming onto the train singing his name. You couldn’t have made it up for timing, it was hilarious. Cue 10 minutes of singing and dancing on the metro – us, them, everyone. One of the French girls was filming it in hysterics so it might be on YouTube somewhere.”

Bryn Law, Elis James, Leon Barton – in a blur!

Leon Barton: “Me and my mates ended up at a reggae club about a mile away after the gig. We were the only white people in there.  After a few drinks we grabbed the mic and started chanting ‘Hal Robson Kanu!’ over the top of the dancehall backing track. They were very good about it. Barman gave us free shots.  To this day, I don’t know what it was exactly.”

Dan Tyte: “Two days later we watched the greatest performance by a Welsh football team of all time, frantically booking the Eurostar to Paris for the Northern Ireland game on the whistle while taking pictures of the group B table. It truly was the best of times.”

Bryn Law: “There was more to come from this night though. Gruff had told me to send him a message afterwards and he’d sort us out with backstage access. He was as good as his word. He came out to find himself. Then we spent the rest of the night lazing in deckchairs, chatting with the chaps, discussing shower arrangements.  They were a bit disappointed with the way it had gone, because of the technical issue, butI tried my best in my own fanboy way to convince the team that I’d just had one of the greatest nights of my life. I always think it’s important to thank people who make the music we love if we ever get the chance. I hope I took my chance that night. When the beers ran out, we took our leave and headed back over the bridge into town. There was singing from a bar on our route. Outside I spotted more friends and we hugged and laughed and from their midst, bucket hats still on, brim turned up, Cian emerged. He’d headed straight off after the gig to join in the party we’d been having day after day in France.

People talk about the greatest summer ever, I can narrow the focus more and say that Toulouse was the greatest weekend of my life. There’s never been a better time or place to be Welsh.

We’re the mountain people!”

Gruff Rhys: “I only missed the Northern Ireland game at the Euros – I took the whole family to Bordeaux went home to vote and was on too much of a downer after the Brexit vote to go to Paris. I had a lift in a Mini to Lille with Cian and a few friends for the Belgium game and had a cross continental adventure with my father in law for the semi final in Lyon. Guto, myself and Cian were out for most matches but we were all in Toulouse and it was magic!”

STOP PRESS… As I write this, SFA’s keyboard wizard Cian has got back to me after I messaged him asking if I could put a few questions to him about that night in Toulouse. It would be remiss of me if I didn’t include his response…

“You can try but I was high as a kite, both on life and  erm…… that night,  dancing in the street with strangers after  one hell of an emotional journey. Best gig  that I care to remember in 20 yrs of gigging.”

ENDS (but the memories live on)

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William Habib Steele
William Habib Steele
1 month ago

Makes me think of being in St Malo in 1972. My wife and I were on our honeymoon, and out for a walk on the walls of the city. Suddenly we heard the strains of Cwm Rhonda coming from a nearby bar. Welshmen singing! It sounded marvellous!

sonny coleman
sonny coleman
1 month ago

One of the best nights of my life.

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