Y Niwl. Yep. A Welsh surf band. Possibly the only Welsh surf band in the world too. That’ll make ‘em the best then. When I say surf band we’re not talking the Beach Boyos, Y Niwl’s brand of surf music is more Dick Dale and Link Wray, the kind of twangy instrumentals that Tarantino would slice his own ear off to have on one of his soundtracks on. What really makes it work (as opposed to being a little bit cheesy) is the band’s obvious love of the music coupled with some really top notch playing and plenty of twangy guitars. Given the distinctly drab weather outside it was a welcome blast of Summertime fun, fun, fun.
After a spirited set their work still wasn’t done though. Y Niwl were back to act as Gruff Rhys’s backing band too. Gruff is, I think it’s fair to say, something of a musical genius. Having delivered album after album of cracking twisted pop with Super Furry Animals he’s recently started doing more of his own thing. The results, including Candylion and Neon Neon, have been some of the best releases of the past decade or so. Now he’s back with Hotel Shampoo, seemingly inspired by his collection of hotel shampoo bottles (he’s kept one from every hotel he’s visited over the years...as you do).
Gruff's as laid back as they come. Ambling onstage like he’s taken the wrong turning he wanders over to the mic “Hello...we’re going to...play some songs...and then we’ll play some more...thank you”. The crowd (possibly some of them a little more ‘refreshed’ than usual after Birmingham City’s frankly sensation win over Arsenal) whooped and hollered at this intro before Gruff launched into the first of several Welsh language tracks ‘Gwn Mi Wn’ from his debut solo album ‘Yr Atal Genhedlaeth’. I don’t speak Welsh. I daresay few people in the crowd did, but it’s a beautiful language to listen to, especially when it’s being sung in the honeyed, tremulous tones of Gruff at his best. I love that voice. Retaining the laid back quality that he speaks with it’s the kind of vocal that could put out fires and stop rampaging rhino’s and much of Hotel Shampoo material, with its chilled out slightly loungecore feel, makes really good use of it. Before checking in tonight though Gruff gave us ‘Candylion’ and ‘The Court Of King Arthur’ together with ‘In a House With No Mirrors’ from Gruff’s underappreciated collaboration with Tony Da Gatorra, ‘The Terror Of Cosmic Loneliness’. Then there was just time for ‘Pwdin Wy 1 & 2’ which Gruff solemnly informed us was a two part love song about a girl called Egg Pudding who catches a sexually transmitted disease of a guy called Keith Edgar. This may or may not be true...we’ll all have to brush up on our Welsh to find out. Hotel Shampoo time and a half dozen tracks from the newbie “Half...a dozen...” intoned Gruff “...it’s like...an egg box of songs...”. Hmmm maybe he’s got a thing for eggs? Pick of the selection were ‘Sophie Softly’ and ‘Honey All Over’ replete with 60’s pop style ba-ba-ba-backing vocals. Recent single ‘Sensations in the Dark’ was sadly bereft of its mariachi horns tonight, but still classic Gruff.
Back to the Welsh language tracks and the motorik Gyrru Gyruu got a welcome spin before Gruff led the (mainly) seated audience in a rather impressive Mexican wave as a precursor to Candylion’s ‘Cycle Of Violence’. “Break a glass” instructed Gruff “...just one mind”. Sadly they were all thick plastic so it would have taken a herculean effort to get so much as a crack out of one. With the promise of an encore one or two vociferous members of the audience started baying for Sklyon. Gruff was more than happy to oblige “Bowing to popular requests...I’m going to play...” “Skylonnnnn” screamed one particularly excited woman “....Rubble Rubble” responded Gruff. Ha! Brilliant. He gave in eventually though.
Skylon, an epic tale of a bomb disposal expert coming to the rescue of a plane full of passengers, lasts a good quarter of an hour or so (as you can see/hear for yourself) but I reckon I wasn’t the only one that didn’t want it to finish. A ‘nos da’ all round then...