Gruffydd Maredudd Bowen Rhys’s, or more commonly known as Gruff Rhys, lead of Welsh rock-outfit the Super Furry Animals, brings his latest solo UK tour to Manchester’s Methodist Central Hall. People have big love for Gruff, anyone who I’ve told about this gig, has nearly murdered me for my ticket, so my expectations are pretty high.

It’s a no-alcohol gig, because of the first rule of The Methodist Church club, (even the communion wine’s non alcoholic), so on offer tonight is some standard tuck shop fare of pop n crisps. Built in 1856 (re-built in the 50’s), it’s a big place, taking up almost one block of Oldham Street. Designed to attract big crowds, the main hall has an art-deco feel, with egg-shell blue walls and a large, seated balcony, with incredibly tall ceilings; a stark contrast to gothic traditional churches. But I love venues like this; disguised hidden gems, right on the high street.

Gruff’s here to air his third solo release ‘Hotel Shampoo’; that takes its title from his huge collection of travel-size shampoo bottles and other ‘complimentary’ hotel stuff he’s gathered whilst touring the globe. There’s a great video of Gruff here, with his impressive anthology of shite he’s collected over the years.

Tonight’s a sell out and its lights down as a video starts on the biggest projection screen you ever did see. A deep voiceover welcomes us to “Hotel Shampoo”, whilst a film plays a mash-up of vintage, naff, ‘Hi-deHi!’ style holiday resorts of a by-gone era.

Arriving on stage looking like a cool, bearded geography teacher with 4 band members, the first track tonight is Gwn Mi Wn from his ’05 debut solo album Yr Atal Genhedlaeth. It looks like Gruff’s playing an invisible drumkit with Wii drumsticks. There’s also a standard drum kit and a mini one being played. Gruff then jumps onto the keys, whilst a hypnotic video clip plays on the big screen.

Towards the end of the track, guitarist 1 whips out a recorder and guitarist 2 gets out one of those fat recorders only the favourite kids at school got to play. The song finishes with a little bird chirping on the big screen. In his lovely, deep Welsh accent Gruff acknowledges the crowds rapturous applause with a “Thank-You Very Much”.

From the stunning array of instruments, sounds and visuals in just the first track, I have a feeling that tonight I’m going to hear and see first-hand, what all this musical genius talk was about.

Next is CandyLion, the title track from his second ’07 album. It’s a cute song with references to lots of little super furry animals and things; Dalmatians, penguins – summat you’d put on, on a Sunday afternoon, reading the papers. Although, I’m struggling to hear many clear words from the vocals.

At this point I’m wondering when the stage lights will make an appearance, as the band are in darkness, albeit for the video and small red light.

With another Candylion track, The Court of King Arthur, Gruff adds that, “This will be the only reference to royalty you will get from me tonight”.  He gets back into guitar stance to simultaneously play harmonica, whilst the guitarist doubles up as a drummer. The track conveys Celtic undertones of a yester year.

The first of many placards held up by Gruff throughout the night reads ‘THE TERROR OF COSMIC LONELINESS, homage to Gruff’s 2010 collaborative project of the same name. The lo-fi album sees Gruff team up with Brazilian VCR repairman/peace activist Tony Da Gatorra. The next track ‘In A House With no Mirrors’, is the only likeable song on the crazy thing.  With a massive, pounding drum and bass intro, my mate pipes up and adds, “It sounds like their 16 and it’s the first song they’ve ever written.” They’ve turned it up to 11, because it’s proper, ear ringing loud, and annoyingly quite repetitive. And there, right then, in one moment, I turn into my Nana.

Whilst dabbing my bleeding ears, next is Gruff’s stab at being a ‘write the feem tune, sing the feem tune’, jack of all trades- wonder.  Whale Trail is the soundtrack to a new i-app game of the same name and his new single. The crazy horrible feedback ruins the sentiment of this gorgeous, whimsical song. Shaking a tambourine, Gruff answers an old fashioned telephone and shouts “I can see my house from here!” The song speeds up at the end, and in the background there’s a video of a skier zooming down a slope. Well I wasn’t expecting anything normal.

Next is Pwdin Wy which Gruff, after shifting back to guitar position, helpfully points out means egg pudding, from the album Yr Atal Genhedlaeth. The track’s split nicely into two parts (aptly named 1 and 2), with the first, a pretty  love song, whilst Gruff warns that Part 2 takes a depressing tone, as it all goes wrong and they both die….and he’s right!

Whilst explaining the sentimental undertones of the track some drunk shouts out ‘can we get a beer?’ It’s then I realise, the reason I’ve been straining my ears to hear the lyrics to a few of the songs, is because….many are completely in Welsh. Light bulb moment. It also dawned on me, it’s getting incredibly warm.

Another from the same album is Ambell Waith and my eyes still aren’t adjusting to the dimness. He’s starting to look like John Bishop with a beard it’s so dark. The song ends in a loud, mental musical crescendo, with the video going all flashy, the type you get warnings about.

With my eyes still flashing Gruff re-visits Candylion with Lonesome Words, a beautiful, yet sad folk-tinged song about heartbreak. The guy on the drums is establishing himself as a bit of a legend tonight, as the march like tempo creates a heavy hearted sound, whilst black and white vintage clips of the Vegas strip whizzes by on the screen.

I don’t know if I’m coming or going, one minute my senses are awash with massive sounds, a million instruments, flashing lights and then to the gorgeous If We Were Words (We Would Rhyme), our first visit to Hotel Shampoo.

Sensations in the Dark, brings out another instrument and band member, a trumpeter! Yus! An incredibly upbeat and catchy chorus. This heads straight into Vitamin K, also from the latest album, but at this point I realise I might start sweating on the guy next to me, so I duck out to get some pop. Coming back, the intro to Christopher Columbus sounds dead familiar, as we get a little taste of the brass again, with whisperings of ska undertones.

Honey All Over, is memorable, sticky, sweet love song, that could possibly have been placed on any of Gruff’s releases over the last decade. Boasting once again, a menagerie of instruments, including a handheld keyboard. Be sure to catch the video for this, as part of director, Peter Gray’s video series of handpicked tracks from the album.

We check out of the Hotel and get back to some of the old stuff. Ni Yw Y Byd, urges anyone standing still, not to be by the end of this, with tambourines and the old favourite recorder. I think it’s one of those feel-good songs, but this is a guess, because it’s in Welsh.

Gruff flashes more placards to excite us all; “APE SHIT” “WOOP” “APPLAUSE” to begin a rare Welsh treat from the CandyLion album, Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru (Driving Driving Driving), about a very long journey.  There’s a screaming air raid siren and big screams, whilst a video of cars crashing and crash test dummies flickers and repeats itself. Argh!

Circle of Violence  is next, plucked from the same release Gruff sings about dirty bombs and power stations, to the soundtrack of loud double drums; proving that this dude can make a hefty (but good)  noise!

On his 17th Song (!), when most bands about now would be bedding down in the tour bus, Shark Ridden Waters, (this tune again, has another awesome Peter Gray mini-movie video online), squeezes in, yet again an amazing array of sounds and quirks. Then when Gruff picks up the placards that bear ‘Thank-You’ and ‘The End’, we know its good bye from him…

Or it is? Course it’s not, as two stage hands carry out a pair of aeroplane seats as the crowd screams for more, and we hear the familiar bird chirp from the first song. Heading back on stage, Gruff puts on a 12” vinyl, before donning a bright yellow aeroplane safety vest. He tells us to imagine we are 10,000 feet in the air, as video of crisp blue sky and fluffy clouds plays behind him. After advising where nearest emergency exits can be found, Gruff and 2 band members prepare for takeoff with the epic Skylon.

Taking up almost a third of Candylion, Skylon is an intricate step by step account of a hijacked plane, sitting next to an annoying actress and the perks of being a bomb disposal expert in the right place at the right time, described so vividly my fear of flying’s kicking in. Its monotonous tones are engaging and one by one the band re-join the stage. With an extended trumpet finale, Gruff switches instruments between the keys and tambourine, still wearing the jacket.
After roughly a week – Gruff re-caps the whole story and has one final shouty shout of ‘SKYLON!’. The placards make a return, thanks are shared and the song and the gig finishes.

It has been an incredible array of sound and vision and a musically faultless output throughout, but at the same time it all seemed a bit flat, even with the staggering assortment of instrument and genre switches, but was it all too much? Is this what happens when I drink ginger beer and stand in the dark for 2 hours?

Tonight he’s taken us all on magical, glass-bottomed tour of his vast and diverse musical repertoire. Watching Gruff Rhys live is a sensory awakener; I don’t know whether to feel sad, ecstatic, hot, deaf, alive, thirsty… But whatever I feel, I know one thing….this man’s a frickin genius.

Gruff’s digital double a-side single and Whale Trail game will be released on 20th Oct and a limited-edition 12” vinyl single on 31st Oct.

Also, in response to the devastating stock loss in the PIAS warehouse fires caused by the London August riots, folk like Jarvis Cocker have curated a series of 10 limited edition compilations for just a fiver. Volume 4, compiled by Gruff, is available from the Finders Keepers website.


Co-founder, Producer and Presenter of the weekly Silent Radio show. Part of the Silent family since 2010.Over 10 years experience of working with national, award-winning youth charities and in the creative industries. She’s the former Deputy Director of NOISEfestival.com, Europe’s leading promoter of emerging creative talent. Here she helped secure new creatives secure massive media exposure (BBC R1, 1Xtra…), showcases at mega impressive locations (Downing Street, V&A...) and kudos from the best in the business (Brian Eno, Boiler Room, Peter Saville…).She also flies the flag for women in the media as Director of Manchester’s independent music website Silent Radio and co-Founder, Exec Producer and Presenter of the Silent Radio show on MCR.Live; Further radio includes BBC 5Live, BBC Radio Manchester, plus the odd bit of TV Production Management with international broadcast credits (BBC, ZDF / Arte, Smithsonian…), she also dabbles with playing records to people and her first podcast is currently in pre-production.Bestest gigs: Pulp, Sheffield Arena, ’12 | Micah P Hinson, Sheffield Lantern Theatre, ’12 | Dream Themes, Manchester Star & Garter, ’14 | Patrick Watson, Manchester Gorilla, ’15 | Less Than Jake, Nottingham Rock City, ‘01 | Frightened Rabbit, Manchester Deaf Institute, ’12 | The Decemberists, Manchester Academy, ‘11 | Passion Pit, Manchester Academy 2, ‘09 | Iron and Wine, The Ritz, Manchester, ‘08 | The Verve (with Beck), Wigan Haigh Hall, ‘98 | Take That, Manchester Eastlands Stadium, ‘11 |Worst gig: Fall Out Boy, Manchester Roadhouse ’05 (subject to change)