GRUFF TALKS ABOUT THE HISTORY OF THE WELSH MUSIC SCENE - 22/08/2005
CYMRU FEEL THE NOISE
Super Furry Animals' frontman Gruff Rhys traces his country's homegrown sounds from their timid orgins to today's burgeoning catalogue of styles
Sunday August 21, 2005
The Welsh rock and pop scene is very strong at the moment, but then it always has been. As a child, I recall my parents owning a lot of welsh records and, later, i bought a substantial amount myself. I also saw a lot of the bands live; bands that put out records on labels like sain, recordiau'r dryw, cambrian and welsh teledisc. To us, Welsh music existed in a parallel universe to anglo-american pop culture.
The first Welsh language long-haired, psychedelic pop record came out in 1968 by a band called Y Blew. This really was the starting point, not least because it marked a break from the music's polite past. There were an unusually high proportion of women in Sixties Welsh pop, most of whom were in uniform, in girl groups and on the Cambrian label. In fact, Mary Hopkin started out singing in Welsh before being discovered by Paul McCartney, signing to Apple and scoring a transatlantic number one.
Meic Stevens is the pivotal figure in Welsh music. When he returned from the London folk circuit of the Sixties he had various hippies in tow, like Syd Barrett. Stevens released records at some time or another on most of the Welsh labels, though his most notable album is 1972's Gwymon. People liked him because he was a lot more world-weary and rock'n'roll than all these polite bands born out of singing at Eisteddfod meetings. And he really is the boss, a real free spirit.
In the late Sixties, for example, he formed a subversive prank folk band called Y Bara Menyn with Geraint Jarman and Heather Jones. Which was the holy trinity of Welsh pop in one group.
The main concert promoters of this period were The Welsh Language Society, a youthful political pressure group that organised direct yet non-violent campaigning to fight for more rights for the language. There was a lot of political turmoil in those days, which is reflected in the lyrics. The flooding of the Tryweryn Valley in 1965 really kickstarted a new insurgency among the Welsh speakers; ramshackle guerrilla organisations such as The Free Wales Army and the Welsh Defence Movement were set up.
After the Welsh referendum for devolution was lost in 1979, though, lyrics became less self-conscious. People sang in Welsh because it was their first language rather than out of political or moral duty. The result was the Eighties' post-punk scene, which was angry yet creative. It displayed an urge to engage with the outside world and take the music to an international audience.
Out of this period came bands like Y Brodyr, Anhrefn, Datblygu and Y Cyrff. Fronted by David Edwards, Datblygu were the most influential band of the Eighties and Nineties, evoking the Fall crossed with Serge Gainsbourg.
Anhrefn Records released a series of fine punk records and compilations in the Eighties that were championed on the European anarcho-punk circuit and by John Peel; Ofn Records, run by future Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and Super Furry Animals' producer Gorwel Owen, released great electronic music by Ofnus and Eirin Peryglus; and Ankst was the dominant label for Nineties guitar bands such as Topper and Fflaps. They faced stiff competition, though, from Fflach and Crai. The latter were responsible for early Welsh language records by Catatonia, who later gatecrashed the national charts alongside the Manic Street Preachers, Stereophonics and Super Furry Animals.
Now because of the explosion in digital home recording there's an enormously vibrant new music scene epitomised by online shops like www.sebon.co.uk and labels such as Fitamin Un, Slacyr, Recordiau and Boobytrap.
Meanwhile at this year's National Eisteddfod in Bangor people will be eagerly awaiting new material by ace acoustic singer-songwriter Alun Tan Lan , who se 2004 album, Aderyn Papur, set a new benchmark for Welsh-language rock.
LOVE KRAFT, THE OBSERVERS POP CD OF THE WEEK - 21/08/2005
MORE WELSH WIZARDRY Kitty Empire
Sunday August 21, 2005
Super Furry Animals
When you unwrap any new Super Furry Animals album or, indeed, download it, you never quite know which band is going to turn up. Will it be the grandiose pop engineers of Rings Around the World, their 2001 landmark? Will it be the soulful, Welsh-language obfuscators of Mwng, Rings's predecessor, and a stealth hit? The paranoid polemicists of their last blast, Phantom Power? Some men in blue bear suits playing techno?
This uncertainty is one of the immense pleasures of Furry fandom. It's also one of their drawbacks, at least from the point of view of a major label's accountants. Already difficult to categorise - their heady music incorporates electronic experimentation, vintage psychedelia, acoustic balladry and mid-Seventies AM rock, while their live shows have typically ended in acid rave meltdowns - the Furries change emotional hues as often as a jumpy chameleon. Keeping pace with them is a huge reward to the initiated, but it can be a daunting prospect for anyone who sees a big Technicolor back catalogue as hard, guilty work rather than a treasure chest.
Love Kraft, SFA's seventh album, isn't as forthcoming as the glorious Rings or 1999's Guerrilla (the repository of most of their best-known songs). Those who go to it searching for the rabble-rousing mischief of songs such as the Steely Dan-sampling 'The Man Don't Give a Fuck' (still their unofficial anthem) won't find it.
Instead, Super Furry Animals have made a modern-day psychedelic soul record. Recorded in Spain and mixed in Brazil, it opens with the splash of guitarist Bunf diving into a swimming pool; the sound of the band backstroking through a sea of Seventies vinyl would have been just as appropriate. Singer Gruff Rhys cedes some vocal duties to three other Furries. Also on hand are virtuoso string arranger Sean O'Hagan and a 100-piece Catalan choir. Away from Wales, the Super Furries have harnessed all their epic, baroque, sweet and languid instincts and squeezed them into an album that grows more elegant and prodigious with every listen.
On first appearances, though, it feels like the Super Furry mission to cross over into mainstream pop may have just petered out. 'Zoom!', Love Kraft's first track, belies its instantaneous title. Seven minutes long, it features swelling choirs and soul organs, snaking counter-melodies and rotating electric elements that dissolve into a smirking analogue oscillation. It's really great.
But in their attempt to be the Beatles of Sergeant Pepper without having first been the Beatles of 'Love Me Do', a Super Furry penetration of the mass market now seems unlikely. They're just too busy miking up pool balls. The single 'Lazer Beam' is a Jesus Christ Superstar outtake gone delightfully right, but it won't unseat James Blunt any time soon.
Love Kraft is far from impenetrable, though. There is a song nominally about dinosaurs, as daft and inspired as any previous Furry eccentricity. 'Atomic Lust', sung by drummer Daf, is as succinct as the Furries get these days. It's a deceptively subdued strum-along about uncertain love that could draw a wistful sigh of recognition from the stoniest gulag guard.
'The Horn' sustains the Beatles comparison by faintly recalling 'Norwegian Wood', but tottering on three legs. And so it goes on, through ecstatic string sweeps that (I'm reliably informed) recall the Rotary Connection and their arranger, Charles Stepney. There's even one song, 'Psyclone!', whose electronic noises sounds like the Crazy Frog DJ-ing with a better playlist. It takes a while, then, for the deep mechanisms of Love Kraft to reveal themselves fully. They don't just shake their 'ba ba ba's at the listener. But when the Furry logic does dawn, it's clear that this band just get better and better. Their seventh album is expertly nuanced, rarefied and, when you've finished reeling, packed with pop songs. If only the charts would recognise them as such.
GLC to JOIN SFA AT V FESTIVAL - 20/08/2005
GLC TEAM UP WITH SFA GOLDIE LOOKIN' CHAIN have said they're going to team up with the SUPER FURRY ANIMALS for their headlining set tonight (August 20) at the CHELMSFORD leg of the V FESTIVAL.
The Newport outfit will join SFA to perform a song which is currently being kept under wraps on the Volvic stage.
The Maggot, who is celebrating his "42nd" birthday today, told NME.COM: "We're definitely doing a collaboration. We're not sure what it is yet but we're gonna turn and see what they say."
It is the first time in almost a year the two bands have teamed up to sing together.
The last time the GLC and SFA performed onstage was at The Carling Weekend: Reading Festival.
Speaking about their earlier performance on the main stage The Maggot added: "It was my birthday today. I'm 42 today. It went very well. I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate a birthday. So many people turned up for my party and I'm absolutely amazed I'm so popular."