Music: Gruff Rhys

He’s back in town with his multimedia show, American Interior

Gruffydd Maredudd Bowen Rhys, otherwise known as Gruff Rhys, is best known for his work with Welsh legends Super Furry Animals, but increasingly over the years he has been doing his own thing. In 2010 he made Separado, a film project that saw him exploring Argentina in search of a long-lost uncle: 1960s balladeer Rene Griffiths. It seems that Rhys has a very interesting family tree; for his next project he zoomed in on John Evans, a distant relative who sailed to America in 1792. The resulting American Interior album, book, film and app has been receiving high praise from all corners, including the book world, making the long list of The Guardian’s First Book Award.

John Evans became interested in the legend of Welsh prince Madog ab Owain Gwynned (Madoc for short), who apparently discovered America three centuries before Christopher Columbus. The myth goes that Madoc and fellow voyagers intermarried with local Native Americans, and that their Welsh-speaking descendants still live somewhere in America. “He got jailed, he was put in stocks as a political prisoner in St. Louis, he caught malaria, and saw alligators and snakes for the first time …” says Rhys. “He lived with a number of different tribes, including the Omaha Tribe. I played an Indian reservation, that was fascinating. They are like sovereign nations, and also with different political ideals.

“I am not an academic or an archaeologist, but I have taken the gist of the story and put it into sounds and pictures. Someone told us the story as a kid, I used to exaggerate in my mind a bit, but I thought I would try and find out a bit more about him …”

Earlier this year, Rhys composed the film score for Set Fire to the Stars, about Dylan Thomas, and which stars Elijah Wood. He even formed a jazz band to record the music. Out in the UK next year, it’s about a week in the life of aspiring New York poet John Brinnin, who brought Dylan Thomas out on his first American tour, and it’s about him trying to keep Thomas sober for a week. Did he succeed? No …

American Interior, St. George’s Church, Thurs 18 September, 7pm, £18

Jeff Hemmings

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