Super Furry Animals

Photographs by Darren Warner
From Issue 9 of PLUGGED IN

Here at PLUGGED IN we’re always on the lookout for new contributors to the magazine. So after running two successful Live Performance Photography courses, which has given us some new photographers (the work from this year’s participants can be seen in this issue on pages 26-33), it seemed appropriate to organise a Writer’s Workshop in which we could discover a few new writers to join the reviewing team. So, together with RCT’s Arts Development Team, we set about looking for budding music journalists to come along to a writer’s masterclass followed, a week later, by press access to the Super Furry Animals exclusive gig at the newly refurbished Coal Exchange in Cardiff Bay in November.

After three hours of professional tuition it was clear the gathered writers were up to the job of reviewing this — yes, it just has to be said — Super band. Of the dozen young people taking part only one or two had ever heard of the Super Furry Animals or listened to their music, which PLUGGED IN found amazing as they are such a good band who have been around for so long! So it was with interest that we awaited hearing and reading their reactions to the gig. Being firm fans ourselves, we were sure that the young participants would not only enjoy the music and be blown away by the performance of this truly outstanding band but be converted to Super Furry Fans. Some of the workshop writers’ reviews are printed here and overleaf — read on to see if we were right!

As much as I try to keep an open mind when hearing music I am unaccustomed to, I admittedly was filled with low expectation and spirit when I gave up my relaxing night-in in exchange for a Friday night in the Cardiff Coal Exchange. Super Furry Animals are not a band that I had heard much of, so I was somewhat surprised to walk into such a crowded floor filled with heightened anticipation. Now this began to feel like a gig. Still unsure of what sort of night I was in for, I pushed my way to the front barrier, where the atmosphere had increased ten-fold. Both my expectations and the anticipation of the packed floor were not lifted by the support, a somewhat incompetent duet that failed to grab the attention of the crowd, and barely received a small round of applause.

After what I considered a failed attempt of crowd-warming, the support left the stage, and the roadies had the rapt attention of the entire crowd. Half an hour later, the projector fired up, music started and the audience erupted, as frontman Gruff Rhys crawled on stage with a beer in one hand and a giant cue card reading “Applause” in the other; which, despite the gap of several generations, the audience obliged to as one. And the show began.

There was very little talk and a lot of action on stage, as the band had a lot to get through in their two-hour set. Only pausing to change guitars, grab another beer or to hold up a quirky placard to the audience (some politely stating “Diolch!”, some commanding audience reaction and one that simply read “Pysgod”), my apprehension that had built up through the supporting act was drowned out by the numerous technical effects and the sheer musical genius on stage. The audience were in their element, screaming the lyrics back at Gruff Rhys and reaching their hands over the barrier in the typical rock show fashion. SFA casually surfed through their many styles of music, subtly showing off their flexibility in two dozen songs.

Although the vocals showed little variation, the instrumentation pleased the tastes of every fan; the songs split primarily into three sections, which welded together to form one set. The crowd-arousing techno opened the set with favourites such as Rings Around The World and Golden Retriever. This then slid into comfortable pop-rock that used a variety of acoustic and electric guitars, and Gruff even pulled out his electric lute during The Very Best Of Neil Diamond. At hearing the sound of Juxtaposed With U, the audience immediately cheered and sang the song word for word over the distorted voice of Gruff and his Vocoder. All previous opinions of SFA now diminished, I was keen to see how the Furries were to finish off the set. I was not disappointed — The Furries blew the audience away with a number of their loudest, most offensive rock songs, in particular Man Don’t Give A F***, the lyrics of which the audience screamed back at Gruff with increasing passion, threatening to break through the barrier and raid the stage. Although not exactly moshpits and mohawks, the crowd jumped and shouted and cheered together as one, beer spilling and no one caring. Gruff Rhys lifted up his “Resist Phoney Encores” placard before finishing the set with Cosmic Trigger. Foreman, bassist and lead guitarist lifted their guitars as one, and crossed them high in the air as a salute to the audience, before Gruff lifted his final placard and placed it in front of the drum kit: “The End”. The audience chanted Super Furry Animals until hoarse, and I left the Coal Exchange happy to withdraw my previous apprehension, and proudly calling myself converted to the way of the Super Furries. BETHAN REES

I found myself waiting in the cold on the cobbled street outside of the Coal Exchange. As the doors opened and the security guards let us in I took in the familiar surroundings. High ceilings, wooden beams and the old clock I’d once admired in the hall. Waiting patiently for the support acts to come on I couldn’t help but notice the chit-chat that was going on in both Welsh and English. Adam Franklin took the stage with an acoustic set which made him seem out of place compared to what was coming up after. He welcomed Mark Gardener, former singer and guitarist of Ride, to the stage where they duetted. The song that seemed to be a favourite with a few in the crowd was How Does It Feel To Feel, a cover of the classic Ride song. Between sets the technicians came on and sorted out the instruments ready for the Super Furry Animals to grace the stage. I turned slightly to my left and saw a bearded man placing several signs in between the amplifiers. One that caught my eye was one that read “Pysgod”, which anyone who has been taught Welsh in school can tell you means fish. As the lights began to dim the screen behind the drums exploded with the artsy video Slow Life. The band marched on stage all except Gruff Rhys. As the song started to near the lyrics Gruff came on stage holding up a sign reading “Applause” and the crowd went wild at this point. Grown men were shouting “Super Furry Animals” like teenage girls! As the set went on the men got more and more drunk which meant more pushing and shoving. Then SFA started to play Hello Sunshine to mellow it down and there’s nothing more pleasing than hearing drunken men singing in unison. Every now and then Gruff would hold up a sign to say “Thank you” or one for us to applaude or scream “Whoa!” depending on the tempo of the song. One thing that struck me about the Super Furry Animals is that they don’t mess around and talk to the crowd very often but they communicate through visual effects and signs. I noticed that two men besides me were “worshiping” and blowing kisses to Gruff.

To be honest if someone was to ask me to chose a song of the night it would be an impossible task because there we so many good songs but a dedicated fan would probably tell you Hello Sunshine, Man Don’t Give A F**k and Crazy Naked Girls because they seemed to make the crowd go mental! I went into the gig only knowing the line up of the band and came out a newly converted fan. VICKIE JONES

The Cardiff Coal Exchange was certainly the place to be on Friday the 20th November 2009. The magnificent building provided the perfect venue for the Super Furry Animals show, entitled Recreation, with support from former Ride front man Mark Gardener. The gig, courtesy of Soundtrack International Film & Music Festival, was the first of a series of Super Furry Animal shows that will be taking place around the UK throughout 2010.The Coal Exchange recently re-opened its doors after being inactive for two years due to redevelopment plans that fell through.

There really couldn’t be any better way to celebrate the Coal Exchange’s return to glory than with a night’s entertainment from one of the most successful Welsh bands in existence. And what a night it turned out to be! Not really knowing much about the band Ride or Mark Gardener, I was quite curious about his performance. Strolling onto the stage casually, he showed no signs of being intimidated by the huge crowd that had congregated in front of the stage. Guitar in hand, he bent down and quietly tuned it. Some people watched while others didn’t pay the slightest bit of attention. I was one of those who watched with interest as he continued about his business before leaving the stage. There was something about him that I found captivating, perhaps it was knowing that this was a man who was immensely talented and had given over 20 years of his life to his love of music and performing. When he returned to the stage, to perform with Adam Franklin, from that first strum on his instrument, there wasn’t one person in the room who wasn’t paying attention to this guy any more. A combination of incredible guitar playing and a voice that didn’t fail to impress, he was the perfect choice to warm up the crowd for the Super Furry Animals. His stage presence was mesmerising as he swayed gently to the music and his experience spoke for itself. Mark definitely gained a new fan in me that night! As 10pm rolled around and the band of the night took position on stage, the excitement of the crowd reached fever pitch. The noise was incredible, both from the audience and the band who knocked out song after song in an insanely psychedelic fashion. Bright lights, coloured lights, flashing lights, they had it all going on while a screen behind the stage filled with swirling shapes and images that left you dizzy and disorientated. The experience was like falling headfirst into a kaleidoscope, with a really good soundtrack. It was hard to tear your eyes away from the stage, but at the same time I found myself spacing out and just listening to what was being played.

Gruff Rhys was amazing, and hard to keep up with! He was anywhere and everywhere. Kneeling on the floor singing, holding up signs that read “Applause” or “Diolch”, and at one point I think he was even playing a banjo! Mind you, not being a musician don’t take my word on that! Every move the band made and every note they played went down a storm with the crowd. Standing right in front of the stage seemed like a good idea at the beginning of the night, but every time a particularly well loved tune came on, I was elbowed in the back of the head countless times by hardcore fans rocking out behind me. The audience just couldn’t keep still and they didn’t care who got in their way! Songs like Slow Life and Crazy Naked Girls mixed the old with the new, showing off the band’s varying material from over the past decade. For me, Hello Sunshine was a song that stood out from the rest. I couldn’t help but laugh when halfway through the song the music stopped and Gruff reached down to take a swig from his bottle of beer before continuing with the track. What a classic moment! At the beginning of the night, a woman standing next to me said that she had brought her sister all the way from London to see the band play on home soil. She told me they were amazing, incredible and almost unexplainably brilliant — and when I was leaving she asked me if I agreed with what she had earlier said. I smiled and said yes and, to be honest, she hit the nail on the head with her synopsis of the Super Furry Animals. The band are absolute musical geniuses who look no different from any other five dudes walking the streets of South Wales. Easy to relate to and scruffy in style, their performance was unpolished to perfection. ROBYN KENNEDY

20th November 2009, Children In Need night; a special concert is playing in The Millennium Centre, where some of Wales’ finest acts are performing to an audience of thousands. However, for a thousand-strong crowd of Hometown Unicorn’s, there’s only one place on Earth that can fulfil their need for more musical satisfaction — Cardiff’s Coal Exchange, for a show entitled ‘Recreation’, a celebration for Creation Records 25th Anniversary next year. The venue was awash with beer, beards and Welsh pride, as the crowd was safe in the knowledge that they were about to experience a group of one of Wales’ proudest (if not quirkiest) sons: The Super Furry Animals. That is, of course, after the atrocious, mumbling excuse for a support act left the stage. Despite his rock credentials, former Ride frontman Mark Gardener, and some guy called Adam Franklin, well and truly sucked every last drop of excitement out of the building. The chant of “SFA-okay, SUPER FURRY ANIMALS!” spread in pandemic proportions once “Adam & Gardener” had finally left the stage, dragging the atmosphere back from their embarrassing embrace. Renowned for making an entrance, Gruff and the boys came on carrying placards under their arms: “Thank You” in four different languages, “Woah”, “Pysgod” (yes, that’s right, fish) and the one which Gruff was unnecessarily holding above his head, “Applause”. Slow Life lead from the front, closely followed by (Drawing) Rings Around The World and Golden Retriever, showing right from the beginning SFA’s innate ability to create utterly diverse songs but tie them together with the single thread of psychedelia. This running theme was projected onto the screen behind them, as every member of the set list was accompanied by MDMAzing visuals. Every moment felt anthemic, from the political rage of Inaugural Trams (during which Gruff handed the mic over to a cardboard cut out of Paul McCartney to deliver the German spit), body-swaying romance in the swooping Juxtaposed With U and a fantastic rebellion in the epic Man Don’t Give A F**k. But it was Crazy Naked Girls from their latest album Dark Days/Light Years that wins the title of “Moment of the Night”. With its sexplicit lyrics and raunchy rhythms, it was impossible not to become drowned in the crowd’s chaotic thrashing of bodies. Keeping The Cosmic Trigger Happy was the last hit to ring through the wooden-beamed confines, sounding like The Beatles being thrust into the 21st Century by a rocket of synths and riffs. It was at this moment that the entire room’s patriotism was realised in a hybrid of Welsh/English slurs of endearment, solidifying that this was a night to be proud of your roots, regardless of where you were. ABBIE EVANS

To call the Cardiff Coal Exchange a place of important history would be no grand understatement. After all, this was the place of the first ever one million pound business deal. So to suggest that the Super Furry Animals intended to add a bit more history to the place in a gig to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their old label Creation Records in one of the first nights the Exchange has reopened for gigs, would be anything but an absurd statement to make. The venue itself is sort of a grand ballroom with beautiful architecture. Adding some dry ice to the place causes a very dreamy atmosphere, which suited supporting guest Mark Gardener, former singer and guitarist of Ride, just fine. Joined by guitarist Adam Franklin with a Jazzmaster in true shoegaze style, Gardener worked his way through Ride classics, to the delight of the people in the audience who actually knew his work. He proved he still has a wonderful voice and finished off with a stunning version of Ride’s In A Different Place and a suitably psychedelic version of The Creation’s How Does It Feel To Feel? in tribute to his old label. The Super Furry Animals came on stage to deafening applause and for the next two hours proceeded to rip through as many songs as they possibly could, with songs like Golden Retriever appearing to be played through in about one minute thirty. Incredibly the band managed to maintain this thunderous energy throughout, and the audience were more than willing to do their best to join them. Using a video screen which played a variety of interesting psychedelic accompaniments, an unpredictable lightshow which could go from mesmerising to almost blinding during Hello Sunshine and a nice amount of dry ice (or possibly steam from audience), the band managed to conjure up comparisons for me with early Pink Floyd shows. Songs like (Drawing) Rings Around The World used their repetitive grooves to put more than a few people into a hazy trance, especially for one person I saw, who proceeded to perform an ultra-slow motion version of the robot for most of the night. In a live setting when the songs are stripped of studio experimentation, it’s clear that the group play perfect pop songs. Despite the un-linear arrangements, they become instant sing-along classics. That’s not to say that the band has stopped their trademark bizarreness, because that’s not true — particular proof of this was Gruff Rhys’ habit of holding up sign cards saying “Diolch” instead of actually saying it. Most non-Welsh speaking people in the audience (like me) were familiar with the meaning and appreciated it, but struggled to hide our confusion as to why he kept holding a sign saying “Pysgod”, even people who could translate had to stop and say, “What?” As the night progressed the band were building up into a louder and noisier frenzy with accompanying strobe lights flashing rapidly. This didn’t disorientate anyone in the audience though, they welcomed it. This show finished with a glorious version of Man Don’t Give A F**k, which gave everyone in the crowd a chance to, well, not give a f**k, jumping around and singing like Wales had just won a World Cup. Gruff held up a sign persuading the crowd to “Avoid phony encores” and to be honest one was certainly not even needed. The band did what they had to do — prove they’re the greatest live Welsh band around and anyone at the Exchange that night would agree. JAKE HEALY

Cold, damp and ready to go! This night meant two things to me. My first time in the Coal Exchange in Cardiff and my second gig. So as I entered I didn’t know what to expect, I had never heard of the band, let alone become a fan of their music but still, as I entered the main hall, the atmosphere was established immediately, with the air filled with smoke and lit with a range of stage lights and a room of people in little groups on the floor, by the bar, and right up next to the stage. The stage also set the scene with guitars, drums, keyboards, everything to set the story that would be that night. So as the large hall slowly and steadily filled with more and more people the lights came up, with Adam Franklin, guitar in hand and microphone at the ready. Franklin delivered soothing but powerful vocals with melodic guitar chords, his voice put you in mind of a teenage prom scene in a movie. However it got more interesting when Mark Gardener joined him. With another voice and a another guitar (this time acoustic) they both stepped it up with some funky guitar work and a shift in pace, you began to tap your foot along to the music, finishing off with the moving ballad, How Does It Feel To Feel. With the support finished, the crowd was waiting in anticipation for the main event. As I looked behind me it seemed that the contents of the room had doubled, you couldn’t so much as lift a camera without brushing someone, but no one cared, they were there for an intimate and compelling spectacle. The air seemed to go quiet so gradually you could scarcely notice, yet you knew when the show had started, the lights went up, the backing films rolled and the Super Furry Animals, locked and loaded, jumped onto the stage, immediately tackling their instruments and microphones and began to belt out their songs.

This was not only a treat for the ears, it was a feast for the eyes with a visually stunning performance, with tantalizing lighting and a projection of colour, It seemed intoxicating while being completely sober. Song after song they continued to deliver to their audience, an energetic, melodic feat of a live performance. The crowd was loving it. With air drumming, sing-a-longs, head bobbing, feet tapping, pulse racing and more “Whoas” than you can shake a stick at, the crowd kept wanting and the Super Furry Animals kept on giving. With powerful renditions of Juxtaposed With U, Cheetah Girl and many, many more, the performance was incredible, with an audience so engrossed in their music that all inhibitions were forgotten. So I think I speak for everyone there that night when I left Cardiff thinking, “That was amazing!” MARTYN DAVID

A 14-year-old girl accustomed to the likes of Take That and Alesha Dixon, I was certainly a newbie to the Super Furry Animals world. I ambled through the bitterly cold, crowded streets of Cardiff, not really knowing what to expect. Would they be good? Or would they just demolish my ears and put me off rock gigs for life? It was worth a try and I arrived at the charming Coal Exchange (an unexpected venue for the psychedelic rockers to play, I thought) to see a line of dedicated Super Furries fans waiting in the cold to be let in — a good sign! The smoky hall was already beginning to fill with people eagerly anticipating the Super Furries, so I bagged myself a spot at the front to see if the Welsh rockers were really worth coming out for. It was a long wait and a slight anti-climax when the illuminated, alluring stage littered with guitars and drum kits was filled witha man and his guitar. Adam Franklin wandered on to stage and began playing a small acoustic set. Not much of a singer but a skilled guitarist and the lighting certainly did him a favour by shining from behind to give a glowing effect to him and his red guitar. Nevertheless the crowd weren’t too impressed and it was his saving grace when Mark Gardener (the former front man of popular rock band Ride) joined him. Their harmonies rang true over the rich guitar tunes and got the crowd’s attention. Despite this, we still weren’t best interested and an impatient vibe began to rise when the Super Furries had still not come on by 9.15pm. However, the support band wrapped it up (about time!) and various technicians began to meander around the stage doing a sound check. Time ticked on and 10pm arrived — by this point I was practically snoring and fed up of waiting — but I was jolted to my senses when an amazing back projection showing colourful footage started up and the Furries slipped one by one onto stage to the sound of obsessed fans screaming. Leading man Gruff Rhys held up a sign saying “Applause” — as if they needed to ask for it! The crowd were going crazy and when the band burst into their first number, Slow Life, every person in the audience came together and began to sing along and start to dance. I was pleasantly surprised by the catchy rhythms and melodies that you just had to bop along to. The extremely talented musicians welded exceptionally well together, and the weird and wonderful band came up with a variety of innovative things to make their show that little but different… such as Gruff waving a plastic orange tube around the mic to make his own sound effects — it would have been the strangest thing ever at any other concert, but it fitted right in with SFA.

I have to say, my favourite part was when Gruff held up a sign that just said “Pysgod” — the most bizarre thing to do, but I found myself lapping it up along with the rest of the crowd and cheering my head off. The Super Furries ensured that there was never a dull moment and performed crowd pleasing tracks such as Rings Around The World, Juxtaposed With U and my personal favourite Hello Sunshine — what a reaction! The crowd loved it and I have to admit I was pretty impressed too. My only grumble is that it was so late, so after a while the songs merged into one and started to sound the same. The crowd got a bit uncontrollable for my liking too — drunken fools pushing desperately closer to the stage and dancing wildly. Despite this I was pleasantly surprised by the band and thought that they gave an exciting, high energy performance, enough to earn a place in my iTunes library. Not bad! MARTHA REED

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