Ahead of their Roundhouse gigs to celebrate the Super Furry Animals' first two albums, Gruff Rhys recalls the band's 'adventures in Camden'
08 December, 2016 — By Róisín Gadelrab
Super Furry Animals will play live at the Roundhouse tonight (Thursday) and tomorrow
GRUFF Rhys is a tease. Perhaps the prolific Super Furry Animals frontman is weary of press interviews more than 20 years down the line, but he definitely has a mischievous streak when we speak on Sunday afternoon.
Gruff begins by apologising for being late for our 3.30pm phone call: “Sorry I’m late. I went to get a coffee to wake up.”
The band are in Norwich, just a few days into their Fuzzy Logic/Radiator tour, having travelled overnight from Llandudno. Due onstage in a matter of hours, Gruff speaks of a strange ritual the band enact before each gig: “We hold a kind of shamanic ceremony usually, the details of which I can’t really share. We’ve been doing it for at least 20 years. It’s based on an ancient text we came across by chance.”
But when asked if this is a tall tale made up for journalists, he says: “I can’t reveal any more about this mysterious process. I’m bound to secrecy.”
The band play two nights at the Roundhouse this (Dec 8 and 9). “It’ll be really great to spend two days in Camden and play a beautiful venue,” said Gruff. “It couldn’t be better for us. This is the 20th anniversary of our first album, Fuzzy Logic, and we’re playing that again, and our second album, Radiator, because we like to play long sets.
“We’re playing the two albums in order, back to back. It’s nice being able to play material we don’t usually get to play, so that’s really cool. It will be our fifth night by London – we’ll be on fire hopefully.”
Twenty years on, SFA are able to play the albums on a much larger scale, says Gruff: “When the album first came out we played small clubs, we tended not to play slow songs, we were playing faster ones and getting by on the energy in the room. Slower songs were more technically difficult to play.
“Now we can play them and more atmospheric material. Technology is more accessible, so we’re able to put on a much more technical light show than the first time.”
The band use film and animation, lights and lasers and Gruff promises inflatable bears, vampire bats and animated Ventolin dispensers. The band have a long history with Camden and Gruff hints at some memorable times, but again, he chooses to remain mysterious.
“I’ve had plenty of my own adventures in Camden. I don’t know if they are best left as memories. They are extremely exciting stories – some things happened that you would not believe, but I’m afraid it’s not possible that I can reveal them in the printed page. They’re the best stories you’ve ever heard,” he says.
“The first time I came to London I played at The Falcon in the late 80s and then Super Furries got signed after a show at The Monarch when Alan McGee (of Creation Records) came to see us. That was very exciting. At the time, Creation Records were based across the bridge from the Roundhouse, in Primrose Hill, so we used to drink in The Pembroke in the 90s, just across the bridge from Camden so we could do spot raids in Camden and crawl back to the hill. It was our fourth or fifth gig and he (McGee) wasn’t convinced on the spot so he invited us to make some demo’s for his label and we went to Fulham for the weekend to record and he came down and offered us a record deal, which was life-changing at the time. We were massive fans of the Creation label – Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub. A few other labels were interested, but as soon as we knew Creation were interested we knew it would be with them.”
Gruff, who released I Love EU, earlier this year, has some dire predictions about the future.
“It’s been an inspiring year and I think it’s definitely going to affect the tone of the culture that’s going to be created. We’re entering a pretty brutalist age, even though we were in one already. It’s going to be increasingly brutal and I’m sure culture is going to reflect that.”
The year 2016, he says, will be “defined as the year of horrors, unless next year is just as bad, in which case it’ll be seen as the beginning of a whole era of horror. There’s always a role for music, either as a catalyst or an escape. Any year of the Conservative Party is disastrous, they have no idea how to govern responsibly”.
Although he won’t reveal what is next for him and the band, Gruff confirms that things, however vague, are brewing – yet another secret he prefers to keep to himself.
“Absolutely, they say the best plans are the ones you don’t tell anyone about,” adds Gruff. “There’s no plans for anything, we’ve got a whole constellation of projects that we do and nothing concrete really.”