If you're not familiar with Gruff Rhys, then you should, after reading this of course, buy every Super Furry Animals album and his Candylion solo album. The Super Furry Animals are probably one of the most innovative bands of the last 20 years. Fusing psychadelic synth, electronica, sampling, beautiful harmonies and singing in Welsh with the kind of anthemic fuzzy rocking guitars that irony vacuum Leicester poseurs Kasabian would give their skinny jeans collection for. They also put on a pretty damn good stage show with yeti costumes, power ranger helmets and the greatest encores in the business. And if that's not enough, they created the best protest song ever in The Man Don't Give a Fuck, which scores extra points for not only having one of the best record covers of all time - featuring legendary footablling rebel and bon vivuer Robin Friday - but also contains the most swearwords in a song (though annoyingly these have been blanked out of the version in the video below). And if that's not enough, they're also Howard Marks's favourite band and even boast Rhys Ifans as a one time member.
So, we've established I like the Super Furry Animals, so can Gruff make the transition from rock and roll frontman to documentary (for this is what Separado! is) film maker? In a word. Yes. The film is essentially a multi sensory ode to Wales and a celebration of Welsh culture, an extension of what Gruff does with his music.
The opening scenes take place in Wales in the mid 1800s, with a dreamlike sequence recreating the controversial horse race that family legend tells splits the Gruff Rhys family tree, and packs one half off to South America to start a new life at a time when the Welsh were seeking refuge from the persecution of the English. Gruff appears, dons his Power Ranger helmet, grabs his guitar and transports us back the to present, and into road trip tour movie, as he goes in search of his Welsh ancestry in Patagonia. The focus of the trip is finding the man who fascinated a young Gruff, and inspired him to pick up a guitar after appearing on a 70s TV show, the Argentinian poncho-wearing Welsh-singing guitarist Rene Griffiths. The man who to Gruff's surprise and delight turns out to be a distant uncle.
Gruff transports us, using his apparently magic helmet, across South America, and back to Wales, to tell us the story of the Welsh migration. Speaking to family members, historians and a collection of musicians including the fantastic Tony Da Gatorra , a Brazilian TV and video repair man, who's invented his own instrument - a cross between a drum machine and a guitar called the Gatorra.
It's with the likes of Gatorra that Gruff performs a series of gigs across the continent, starting off with a group of bewildered pensioners who just seem glad to have a bloke from Wales visiting them, and ending with a gig in front a 'bewildered horse'. It's these gigs, and the trips in between that hold the film together, but this is not just a tour movie. Gruff keeps the focus off himself, and lets the viewer experience what he does. The characters, the - often sad - history and the stunning landscape. It's not all fluff though, themes such a genocide and the effect of the immigrants on the indigenous population are explored and Gruff stumbles on a small community who's way of life is threatened by the imminent arrival of a US gold mine.
Gruff's self effacing nature makes the film a joy to watch, the historical re-enactments work well, flickeringly interspersed scrapbook style amongst the deserts, plateaus and vistas of Argentina and the Andeas. It's Who Do You Think You are meets Star Trek and Sergie Leone on Peyote to a Gruff soundtrack. Super Furries fans will love it, anyone who's proud to be Welsh will love it too, and I know there's plenty of them.
Does Gruff find his long lost enigmatic uncle, who always seems to be one step ahead of him as he heads West to the Andeas? I'll leave you to find out by watching the film.
Right, now watch the best of the Super Furries below:
And the trailer for Separado!