Gruff Rhys has been releasing records, cassettes, and flex discs since 1984 and is 20-something albums into a varied music career as a solo artist and as a member of Super Furry Animals and Neon Neon. He also created two immersive musical plays, Praxis Makes Perfect and Candylion, both with National Theatre Wales, and a series of films and books about tours; including the feature-length documentaries, American Interior and Separado! with ie ie productions. His first book, American Interior, published by Penguin, was longlisted for The Guardian First Book Award and shortlisted for The Gordon Burn Prize and The Wales Book of the Year Prize, and also featured a groundbreaking app. His most recent album is 2019’s Pang! on Rough Trade.
Rhys, whose projects over the last few years have included a Super Furry Animals reunion tour, a gallery exhibition of his collection of internationally pilfered hotel soaps titled Hotel Shampoo, a much-lauded book – and accompanying documentary – tracing an 18th-century relative’s journey across North America in American Interior, and a steady stream of captivating solo recordings, is one of the UK’s most inventive and brilliant artists. Resist Phony Encores! begins with photographs of his pre-Super Furries punk band, a Welsh language group whose name translates roughly to “Coffee Beans For Everyone.” Popular on Europe’s minority language punk rock circuit, Gruff cut his teeth as an outsider artist intent on infusing his work with irreverent, often absurdist, humor. His live shows have long been renowned for his playful encouragement of audience participation and fans will be familiar with many of these images, some of which have been made into a companion set of cue cards.
Applause! Louder! Thank You! These cue cards have gradually become more ambitious and absurd: Wild Abandon! Burger Franchise Opportunity! Generic Festival Reaction! The crowd generally goes wild on cue, prompting Rhys to seek explanations for the unimaginable highs and weirdness of life in music through the lens of crowd psychology. The book will appeal to students of linguistics, propaganda, and graphic design, and anyone interested in music and live performance.
Says Rhys of the creation of the cue cards over a decade ago, “Suddenly there was little pressure for me to communicate with the audience when all I was interested in was writing and singing songs. Which was just as well as I had very little in the way of social skills and couldn’t speak very clearly or look an audience in the eye, and I wasn’t interested in people having a good time.”
There are pitfalls, however, when using cue cards to direct an audience. A central anecdote and imagery come from a mistakenly erected “TAX THE RICH” cue card—held in the air whilst singing backing vocals for Sir Paul McCartney …
Rhys enlists the help of, among others, Stephen Reicher, arch-critic of the UK government’s COVID-19 response, to think his way through crowd psychology and our communal need for music, searching gently and comically for the meaning of life itself. This is a roadmap and call to arms for anyone seeking to Resist Phony Encores!
Rhys originally performed Resist Phony Encores! as an acclaimed one-man slide show at the Edinburgh Festival in 2018.