Gruff’s trail leads to another life story - and this time it’s personal

Gruff Rhys, formerly of Super Furry Animals, promo pic for his American Interior album and tour, 2014
Gruff Rhys, formerly of Super Furry Animals, promo pic for his American Interior album and tour, 2014

Wrapping their music up in some sumptuous modern psychedelia, Welsh rockers Super Furry Animals never took their eye off the story.

What made their records through the Nineties and Noughties such engaging listens was that wonderful mix of swirling music, often topped off with big choruses - and a peek into other people’s lives.

Super Furry Animals group / band

Super Furry Animals group / band

From gentleman rogue Howard Marks to automobile engineer John De Lorean via cult heroes such as Welsh children’s television stample Sali Mali and mercurial Cardiff City and Reading footballer Robin Friday, they had a way of grabbing your attention.

With SFA seemingly on hold, lead singer Gruff Rhys has been able to extend or simplify his musical direction from project to project, including two albums with Neon Neon and a handful of solo LPs.

And this time around there is a personal touch to the singer’s new album, American Interior, the promotional tour of which includes some narrative and a slideshow (“it’s a low tech show though,” he says) and comes to Hebden Bridge Trades Club on Sunday, September 14.

Such is Gruff’s pull that the gig sold out weeks ago, but it’s an intriguing tale that those lucky enough to have snapped up the tickets early will hear.

The album, which is accompanied by some hi-tech support, with an app, a complementary book and a film, follows the path of 18th century Welshman John Evans, who ventured out in search of the Madogwys, a legendary lost tribe of Welsh-speaking American Indians.

It’s a strange story, a leap into the unknown that inadvertently blazed a trail for better known mappers of the early American frontier Lewis and Clark, even though the quest ultimately crushed John Evans.

“John’s life is a footnote in history and he’s famous in his home village in North Wales but not particularly anywhere else,” said Gruff.

“I’m descended from his uncle.

“There was this crazy theory that there was a mythological Prince Madog from Wales who discovered America in the 12th century. John borrowed enough money to cross to America to look for any descendants.

“He came to the conclusion Prince Madog never existed and it broke his heart. He died at 29 in New Orelans.”

John Evans was an untrained cartographer, but the map he made of his journey went beyond the known borders of the United States and became the guide for Lewis and Clark.

Gruff’s own search for information about his distant relative took him from a Native American sagebrush ceremony at a Cardiff arts centre to the heart of Mandan country in North Dakota, incorporating along the way an American investigative tour.

“It was hard - there is very little recorded about him. There is just enough to make out his life story and not much else, but when we found things it was extremely moving. He crossed the Missouri river - it was an interesting time,” he said.

A multi-media project, Gruff looks at it not so much as progressive rock but “something to get into”, rather as SFA made albums like Rings Around The World.

Super Furry Animals themselves are on hold at the moment, but Gruff does not completely rule out some activity in the future. “There are no concrete plans for Super Furry Animals. But we’ve got nine albums out there and it would be a shame not to play them sometime,” he said.

Regardless, local listeners and record buyers alike have this trip back through time to savour.

l More on American Interior at