mon 27/05/2024

Separado!/ Gruff Rhys, BFI Southbank | reviews, news & interviews

Separado!/ Gruff Rhys, BFI Southbank

Separado!/ Gruff Rhys, BFI Southbank

Super Furry Animal goes to Patagonia

Croeso i Drelew: Welsh Patagonia explored in 'Separado!'

Patagonia’s Welshness was a nagging issue for Gruff Rhys, mainman of Welsh psych-nauts Super Furry Animals. His distant cousin, the folk singer René Griffiths, was born in the desert-filled southern reaches of Argentina, but visited Wales and appeared there on TV in the mid-Seventies. Remembering those appearances, Rhys decided to visit Patagonia to search for Griffiths amongst the region’s Welsh-speaking community.

Given a Rhys-hosted outing at the BFI, the resulting film Separado! was billed as being followed by a live set with Brazilian Furry Freak Brother-lookalike Tony da Gatorra.

Da Gattora also appears in Separado! Born Antonio Carlos Correia de Moura in 1951, his first album, So Protestio, was issued in Brazil in 2005. He’s the inventor of The Gattor, a sickle-shaped blue and white electronic percussion instrument that’s strapped on like a guitar. Despite not having a language in common, Rhys and da Gatorra collaborated on the just-released album The Terror of Cosmic Loneliness. Although the duo took five days to work up the music, it was recorded in five hours.

Separado! is an often touching documentary of Rhys’s journey through Patagonia’s Welsh descendents looking for Griffiths. Trelew, with a population of 100,000, remains the capital of South America’s New Wales, with pages of its phone book devoted to entrants with the last name Griffiths. Separado! is less Who Do Think You Are? and more, as Rhys puts it in the evening’s Q&A, a “magical realist” representation of the search for a lost part of Wales, personified by René Griffiths. Most of Patagonia’s Welsh immigrants arrived there in the 1850s fleeing persecution by Anglican landowners. Rhys was setting out on a solo tour and had to start somewhere, so he chose Patagonia. However, Griffiths couldn’t be found. No one knew where he was.

Then, after the Q&A in which Rhys admitted that while making the film “we didn’t know what we were doing, but I did know what I wanted to say", Rhys announced that he had an “extremely special guest, René Griffiths". Suddenly, there was the elusive Griffiths, fuller of figure than the images from the film, with an acoustic guitar, red-fringed poncho and trousers tucked into his boots, plains style. Hammering at his guitar he executed “a typical Gaucho song in Spanish with a bit of Welsh”. Next up was the laudatory (Welsh-language) “Tonight it's Raining Beer". Introducing it, Griffiths said that when visiting Wales he’d been told to drink like the Welsh. In the audience, Rhys visibly glowed.

71a0d0ONO8L._SL500_AA300_Next up, da Gattora took to the stage, joining the pair for a run through of “Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru” (Driving Driving Driving), from Rhys’s 2007 solo album Candylion. Griffiths gone, Rhys offered the audience a gentle warning: “We made a record called The Terror of Cosmic Loneliness which may give you an idea of the direction.” The fuzz on Rhys's acoustic guitar set to stun with da Gattora rhythms this close to a Seventies home organ drum machine, the pair performed a lacerating version of Cosmic Loneliness’s freaky “In a House with No Mirrors (You’ll Never Get Old)”. Monolithic Black Sabbath riffs were given an added edge by the primitive electronic beats – Silver Apples recast as a metal band. Taking over, da Gattora spewed forth a song in Portuguese described by Rhys as having as its “general message a voice for the landless”. A crazy mélange of plip-plop beats, coconut-shell rhythms and cheese-grater guitar, it certainly evoked anguish.

Rhys hoisted a placard emblazoned with "Obrogaod" (thank you) and it was over. Peculiar, and a testament not only to Rhys’s open-mindedness and willingness to adventure anywhere sonically, this was also a tribute to the unique musicians that lurk at the various edges of the Earth. Where next for Rhys?

Watch the Separado! trailer

Rhys admitted that while making the film “we didn’t know what we were doing, but I did know what I wanted to say"

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