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Baker's Dozen

Cosmic Portals: Gruff Rhys' Favourite Albums
Colm McAuliffe , January 23rd, 2019 11:42

Ahead of his gig at the Camden Roundhouse this week, Gruff Rhys waxes lyrical about 13 favourite records, deep cuts from the Welsh language underground and beyond

As a child growing up in an anodyne small town in the deep south of Ireland, I found the concept of Welsh culture impossibly thrilling and exotic. This wasn't an arbitrary decision to bat in the favour of my Celtic brethren; in fact, I had an ancient black and white television, bequeathed to my by my grandmother, which could somehow pick up just-about-watchable reception of Welsh television channels. And so I spent every evening glued to whatever was being transmitted on BBC Wales or HTV, be they news reports of local farmers running amok in Aberystwyth or live coverage of the national Eisteddfod. The offbeat details, anecdotal stories and sense of a culture existing and thriving in the margins was both familiar and remote and these images, illicitly being broadcast across the Irish Sea, opened up a portal to a world where nothing was in colour but everything was richly illuminated due to its seeming unavailability.

Of course, I have always imagined I was the only person experiencing this sense of accidental cultural consumption, but not so. "When I was growing up in north west Wales, I was picking up all my pop radio from Dublin and RTÉ Radio 2," says Gruff Rhys, multi-faceted Super Furry Animal, quixotic solo pop troubadour, "and we'd get Dave Fanning [Irish John Peel equivalent] and adverts for Dunnes Stores and for things we couldn't buy and places we couldn't go! My first visit to a Dunnes Stores was quite spiritual because I'd heard the adverts for years. And yeah, it was good to have another portal on life, an escape hatch! Unless you knew someone with records and had a friend in bands, you had to buy a record to check it out. So it becomes expensive if you're a kid as you're not going to be able to buy that many records.

"There were big gaps in my record collection as it was hard to access [good records]. But there was lots of tape-playing; I like the idea that a community will get into a set record. And with physical records – cassettes – you can lose them but some tapes I never lost, they just stuck around. I had Berlin by Lou Reed and Younger Than Yesterday by The Byrds from the age of seventeen for an entire decade. Those cassettes were always in my bag. I don't know if I even liked the albums but I just listened to them loads."

While Rhys' most recent album, Babelsberg, is a politically charged survey of contemporary American culture, our chat spans an altogether less volatile landscape, one which traverses Welsh folk communities, Turkish record shops and seven hour jazz-infused road trips. But our guide is already having some doubts. "Ahhh..thinking about it now, there's a disturbing amount of records from 1973 and 1974! But you know, maybe time does help to confirm a record's vitality."

Gruff Rhys plays In the Round at the London Roundhouse this week - for more information go here. Click the image below to begin reading through his selections