Hiatus. That’s a funny old word. In linguistics, it’s the occurrence of two vowel sounds without a break, without a consonant stuck in there to break things up - the word hiatus itself, or ‘Radiator’. That’s quite the opposite of its Welsh translation bwlch. In anatomical terms, it’s a gap through an organ, an essential viaduct for the transmission of nerves through the soft machine. It’s also a term that gives its name to a throat-scorching hernia; a fire in the heart. That’s further from where we want to be. More esoterically, it’s disconnect between theory and practise; meaning and reality. Getting closer now. What we’re dealing with is an interruption in time. A discontinuation of thought. That last part can’t be right, though, can it? I think about Super Furry Animals all the time.
Super Furry Animals have been on hiatus since 2010. ‘Dark Days/Light Years’ is to date their most recent album, released the year previous, the ninth album of a band that was light years ahead of their peers. Oasis? Fuck off. Blur, a good band? Yes. A great band? Eventually. Teenage Fanclub and Spiritualized touched on perfection, one rooted in Northern Britain, the other floating in space. Radiohead’s dystopian grandeur towered over everything else. Primal Scream gave out but didn’t give up. Manic Street Preachers may as well have. Supergrass, Suede, and Pulp – they all left a solid legacy. Their names are met with a nod of approval these days, any minor past transgressions now buried under the weight of major melodies indelibly etched into the mind. Many more rose and fell - of their time, not timeless. And Ocean Colour Scene? They’ll outlive us all.
From Cardiff they came - Gruff, Bunf, Cian, Dafydd and Guto – uniting as SFA from various techno and indie backgrounds to become one of the most casually inventive bands of their time. Their first known recorded artyfact, the track Dim Brys, Dim Chwys, appeared in ’94, and the 'Llanfairpwllgwyngyllllantysiliogogogoch (In Space)’ and ‘Moog Droog’ EP's both came rolling off the tongue in ’95. At this point they were still singing solely in Welsh, save for ‘Moog Droog’s God! Show Me Magic, a song that would turn up the following year on their debut album ‘Fuzzy Logic’. 1996 was a good year.
SFA had the most important thing of all, those motherfuckers of invention...
That first paragraph was a bit “Webster’s Dictionary defines…” A bit of a long winded way of telling a person you love a band. Sometimes it’s easier to just press the play button. Play someone It’s Not The End Of The World - “Like when the taxi comes/ To take you away/ When you’re in no hurry” It’s perfect. It’s everything that a lyric should say; every feeling of loss, or of love, or of fear, or of sorrow, or of hope, fuck it’s like…it’s like when the taxi comes to take you away when you’re in no hurry.
“Marie Curie was Polish born, but French bred…French bread!” There’s another one, roared with an elbow to the ribs midway through Hermann Loves Pauline (as Gruff said in one interview, “I'm all for puns, you know, and I like the space between languages and between meanings.” There’s that damn hiatus again) Then, predating their campaigning for a nuclear-free Wales by a decade, “Of course, she ended up dead from radiation/ Slow invisible suffocation” That’s what SFA were better at than the rest; raw emotion, humour, subtly masking the sucker punch… but what does a lyric matter without something to back it up. SFA had the most important thing of all, those motherfuckers of invention. They had the tunes. Take a glance through the chronology of the band’s singles from ’96 onwards; it’s a chronicle of creation and development, and of transcendence…transcendence of fucking Britpop.
Genres were legion: garage rock, indie, spacey psychedelia, doo-wop, prog, calypso, techno… the list is pointless. Any time the press tried to pin them to a scene - be it Britpop, or neo-psychedelia, or some sort of fabricated ‘Welsh’ movement with the Manics, Catatonia, Stereophonics, or even Tom Jones ferfucksake - the band hopped into their Super Furry tank and ploughed their own furry furrow. They owned a tank, by the way, a blue techno-blasting beast; a great talking point but one that the Queen wouldn’t allow on her highways, so it had to be trucked between festivals. Incidentally the tank is now owned by Don Henley of The Eagles. He’s a collector.
That wasn’t their only encounter with a legendary musician. Paul McCartney from Wings chews celery and carrots on ‘Rings Around The World’s Receptacle for the Respectable – as he allegedly did for Brian Wilson on Vegetables from the unreleased 1967 album ‘Smile’ - returning the favour of the band remixing some previously unreleased Beatles music (later released on ‘The Liverpool Sound Collage’ record). Another quid pro quo moment occurred after a Cardiff studio encounter with John Cale, who played piano on the same album’s Presidential Suite in return for their backing him on one of his own tracks. This kind of bad behaviour is rampant among musicians. Seamus the dog howled (presumably returning the favour of David Gilmour’s hospitality in the absence of his master, Steve Marriot) on the eponymous track from Pink Floyd’s ‘Meddle’; thirty years later SFA had a Beatle chew on greenery.
it’s a chronicle of creation and development, and of transcendence…transcendence of fucking Britpop
Their collaborative nature extended to other areas of the Furriverse. A decade of record sleeves with artist Pete Fowler gave the music a unique visual thread, anthropomorphically psychedelic to match their music and erstwhile stage attire. More recently, they’ve worked with the Celt Experience Brewery to create an 8.5% “psychedelic wild saison yeast beer” called Fuzzy. SFA are intent on manipulating all five of your senses, and the sixth too if they can get away with it one suspects. The three-dimensional models for the cover art of ‘Guerilla’ and surround sound mixing of ‘Rings Around The World’, ‘Phantom Power’ and ‘Lovekraft’ can only be looked on as further steps to complete envelopment.
Hiatus. This is the meaning of the word: since ‘Dark Days/Light Years’ things have been quiet from the SFA camp, but not from its inhabitants. Solo ventures preceded that album and have continued in its wake. Cian Ciarán has two albums under his belt, as well as a techno house music side project called Acid Casuals and a recent collaboration with psych-pop man Wilding. His brother Dafydd formed The Peth in 2008 with Rhys Ifans, releasing one album and recording another (yet to see the light of day), and currently plays with The Earth. Gulp is Guto Pryce’s band, while Bunf’s The Pale Blue Dots have just released their ‘Lots Of Dots’ record. Gruff, of course, has been busy of late, his latest flights of the fantastic leading him to follow a biographical muse. Aside from two concept albums – the first about John DeLorean, the second about Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli – with Boom Bip under the moniker Neon Neon, his latest solo endeavour combines an album, book, film and phone app detailing the journey of his ancestor John Evans to America in the latter stages of the 18th century to track down a Welsh-speaking Native American tribe. A hiatus is far from empty space.
“We keep going. That'll be strange, stopping. And if we stop we will stop” That’s what Guto said before ‘Lovekraft’ came out. What’s next for SFA? Who knows? All we know is that their sonar pulse is still pinging in the darkness. And when it stops…fuck it. They’re only a band.