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  • Writer's pictureJO'B

Cool Cymru! Gruff Rhys' new album plus live at King's Place, London, 7th February 2024

Updated: Feb 9

I have written about Gruff Rhys before - twice in fact. They are two of my least read pieces. The review of his previous album (Gruff Rhys - Seeking New Gods) got 15 reads. I also wrote a gig review in 2021, when lockdown restrictions were lifted to allow such things. It had been a massive 436 days since my last gig, so I was somewhat excitable... (see 436 days – my first post-lockdown gig: Gruff Rhys @ Islington Assembly Hall, 21st May 2021) - that did slightly better and got 66 reads. Still, a lot of effort for not much interest.

Picture care of Vincent

Out of my current 202 blogs, they rank 190 and 100 respectively. Is it worth the effort to write about him again as no one seems that bothered? Is it an anti-Welsh thing? Are people confused and do they think I am writing about Griff Rhys-Jones, formerly of Alas Smith & Jones and Not The Nine O'Clock News? And what's wrong with Griff Rhys Jones???

I have no idea why anyone reads anything I write to be honest but I am flattered and chuffed when they do. So I will give up an hour or so to write about this lovely man, his beautiful music and fabulous, quirky gigs. If 15 people read this, then that's good enough.

The new album, Sadness Sets Me Free, is his eighth solo record. In addition, he has made two soundtracks, three albums with Ffa Coffi Pawb, the band he drummed in as a teenager. Plus nine albums with Super Furry Animals and two albums with Neon Neon. That's 22 albums, ignoring guest appearances and much more - the man himself estimates 25 albums, though I am not counting compilations and he may be. So even if it's just 22, that's still not bad - and it's 22 albums more than I have made. I am 94 days older than him, so there really is no excuse. I am a slacker. If only my folks had been Welsh instead of Irish, it could have been so different...

Like its predecessor, it's another lush, light, buoyant, fun, but melancholic slab of chamber-pop. Opener and title track Sadness Sets Me Free has a beautiful coda, following its initial country feel - it sounds like Glenn Campbell, though I cannot remember the Wichita Lineman doing cocaine in a cloakroom, unlike this song's protagonist.

They Sold My Home to Build a Skyscraper is about the destruction of cultural spaces to make way for more luxury apartments - it's a bit disco, a bit tropicana, despite its sad subject matter.

Celestial Candyfloss has the best opening lyric of the year so far - “I said ‘I’m a barista’/She heard ‘barrister’”. It's a magnificent pocket symphony.

The whole thing is funny, joyful, joyless, simple, complicated, pensive, grand, country. funny, sad, gentle, savage....contrary. Songs about break-ups, caravan holidays, bad choices, discredited politicians (or should that just be politicians these days?), it's a usual Gruff Rhys album - a very good thing.

Me and Vincent head down to Kings Place for the gig and catch up for a beer first. I remain appalled that Vincent and his old colleague Hayley (who I am now working with on a project) are going to see Smashing Pumpkins. 1979 and Tonight Tonight aside, I don't get them. Vincent has heard my anti-Corgan rants. I am with Sharon Osbourne!

We consider our forthcoming gigs together - looking forward to Liam Gallagher playing Definitely Maybe, baffled that his terrible collaboration with John Squire can sell out a whole tour in 30 seconds...and excited by Suede and the Manics in July.

As we chunter away, a growing crowd of ageing Super Furry Animals fans and hipsters arrive. There are a fair number of woollen hats and trousers that would need an Uber to find their way down to their shoes.

We head in to check out support act Rozi Plain, who is gentle, jazzy, folky, minimalist, understated and cool. It's just her and Rachel on guitar. Her voice is calming, her stage presence is friendly, genuinely chuffed we are here to hear her. The music is delicate, with quirky soundscapes supporting her amazing, noodley guitars. The whole set is jubilant, captivating and I need to give her a proper listen. She is also a member of This Is The Kit, who I love dearly (see This Is The Kit - Off Off On).

Picture care of Vincent

Gruff and his band hit the stage soon, dressed in matching white overalls, presenting themselves as some cosmic removal/logistics company. The set starts slowly, with the closing track from the new album, and then gradually picks up pace. Bad Friend is a start / stop performance, with many false, sudden endings as Gruff seeks applause, but then the show finds its groove.

Pang!, one of three songs sung in Gruff's native Welsh, is magnificent, with his superb drummer stepping away from his kit to hold up a sign with the song title, instructing us to shout "Pang!", which we dutifully do - we are easily led. Like Rozi, the show is pleasingly ramshackle, and Gruff's love of signs is hilarious instructing us to applaud, go mad, not to follow signs and much more. During Negative Vibes, he reads and casually shreds a series of notes submitted by the audience in the build up to the show, each setting out some bad experience to be exorcised. Occasionally Gruff stops and wanders over to the drummer, surreptitiously showing him a particular note, before dispensing of it. The shredder is miked up so we get the full effect while the band stray into their own personal jazz odyssey. It's huge fun.

The show ends as it starts, with an instrumental stroll back through the new album's closing track, while Gruff waves more signs and we obey - he may soon be our cosmic overlord, using signs to mind-control his hipster sheep. Go and see him, you will love him and come away with a warm, Ready Brek glow..

Stay safe, and if you enjoyed this, please subscribe (see link below), x

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