I count myself for lucky to have seen Gruff play the other night at a tiny, unique venue in the back and beyond of Wales. It felt like I had a bit of an adventure of my own just getting there. When the tour dates came out ‘Cardiff’ seemed quite convenient as my parents live there. Turns out the gig was in an old Welsh chapel (now a recording studio) about 20 minutes outside Cardiff in a very small village called Pentyrch.
So after a Megabus from Manchester and a bus out to Pentyrch I was there, nice and early for a good seat. I didn’t mind waiting outside (in the graveyard) as the door was open and I could hear Gruff sound check but was easily persuaded to go into the bar when offered- I know, a Welsh chapel with a bar, what has the world come to.
Gruff came into the bar at one point but I he was caught in conversation with some guy (later discovered they had been on The Voice apparently) so I didn’t get a chance to say anything.
Once inside the chapel I wasn’t disappointed. Pulpit, pews and a balcony all made for an impressive theatre. I took the front centre seat but felt decidely odd as the son of a pastor sitting in front of the pulpit sipping my pint!
I’m quite the fan of concept albums and eccentric projects. Of course Gruff Rhys is no newcomer to the scene with his critically acclaimed neon neon side project chronicling first the life of John DeLorean on Stainless Style and later Giangiacomo Feltrinelli on Praxis Makes Perfect. It also reminds me of another musical obsession of mine, Luke Haines of The Auteurs. I’ve been fortunate to have seen him with his North Sea Scrolls side project, detailing his alternate history of Britain and touring his album on British wrestling in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Like American Interior both had a generous helping of slides, songs and comedy interludes.
Anyway It wasn’t long til the man himself took his position behind the pulpit accompanied by a smaller than life John Evans. What followed was 1 3/4 hours of music and eccentricity. I’d imagine something similar would have been happened if the original John Evans had made it back to Wales and had gone to the local chapel to try to convince the locals that they should all move to America.
PowerPoint in one hand and guitar in the other Gruff transported us to Wales and America in the days of the American Revolutionary War. Besides playing many of the songs from the new album he managed to merge in some old favourites whew the fit the theme. Talk of the mythical Prince Madog provides a opening for the ‘The Court of King Arthur’ (one of the few Archaeology themed songs about). He even managed to find parallels with communism by playing ‘Hammer & Sickle’ from the recent neon neon outing when speaking about the dream of a ‘Free Wales’ in the New World.
Here is ‘100 Unread Messages’ It pretty much covers the whole story with numerous key changes! He did ask us to bear with him as most of the songs were getting the first airings – you’ll notice a few aborted starts but the audience was definitely on his side!
100 Unread Messages, Acapela Studios
In between songs Gruff illustrated the story of John Evans through a speedy PowerPoint. Speedy due to the ominous ’10 % Battery Remaining’ popping up on the screen. Again best seen rather than explained:
The demise of Don Juan Evans
Sublime and ridiculous throughout, I’m not sure where the time went but all to soon it was over and Gruff departed leaving only John Evans to pose for pictures (of which he did many).
Tshirt purchased all that was left to do was wait for my parents to pick me up. Wait. Yep so far out into the sticks was it that I had to take up my parents kind offer of transport. I wasn’t going to looks gift horse in the mouth though and neither did the two guys I extended the offer to. Somehow it felt in keeping with the intimacy of the night.
It really felt that we had witnessed something special. I know he will be taking the show the big city of London but just like John Evans, he had to set off from Wales first.
Approxiamate setlist (give or take and jumbled up- May have been more American Interior songs)
Honey all over
100 unread messages
Court of King Arthur
Gyruu Gyruu Gyruu
Hammer and Sickle
The Whether (or not)
Sensations in the Dark
Shark Ridden Waters
EDIT: Just spotted this other review from Wales online