Saturday was the first day of the festival and a gloriously, sunny first day at that. Despite the sunshine, there was an eager queue waiting outside Whelans, all happy to leave the balmy evening and go into the dark bar for Gruff Rhys’ talk about his new project American Interior.
The evening began with Tony Clayton-Lea interviewing Rhys about his new multi-platform project; American Interior spans an album, a book, a documentary and an app. It follows the footsteps of famous Welsh man John Evans, a distant relative of Rhys, who went to America in 1790 to find a rumoured tribe of Welsh-speaking Indians. The Welsh Indians were said to be descendants of Prince Madoc who, according to Welsh legend, discovered America in the 12th century, three hundred years before Columbus. Rhys, who was aware of John Evans from his childhood, was asked to write the music for a play marking the 200 years since Evans’ death in 1999. While his music wasn’t used in the play, due to touring commitments and the death of the director, it made him more interested in John Evans’ story. Fifteen years later, on tour across America, he realised he was very close to the journey that Evans had taken but didn’t have time to visit the places and explore the story properly. When he returned to the UK, he asked his record company if his next tour could follow John Evans’ journey and give him time to visit and explore his destinations. Rhys wanted to verify the tall tales that he was told about John Evans as a child, stories that sounded far-fetched but that you accept when you’re young. He wanted to find out what was true and what was myth. The record company granted his request and the tour evolved into a series of musical lectures about Evans’ journey, accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation and a three-foot model of Evans, rebuilt in felt. The story of this tour, and Evans’ original quest, are told in the American Interior book and documentary. The songs, however are less didactic and instead try to create the emotion of John Evans’ journey or concentrate on one small detail. Rhys didn’t want the song to just consist of facts.
Rhys also talked the early days of Super Furry Animals; how he met band-mate Bunford for the first time on the roof of a train and how getting signed to Creation Records was like winning the pools. He also talked about a new Super Furry Animals release – a beer called Fuzzy created by the Celt Brewery.
The second half of the evening was a performance of songs and stories from America Interior, complete with projected slides and a special appearance from the felt John Evans. It was a treat to see these songs performed in such an intimate venue and the crowd were captivated. The story of John Evans’ adventures in America was interspersed with songs played on an acoustic guitar, harmonica and a few electronic gadgets. It was a very special way to spend a Saturday night and a great way to get a history lesson!