Gruff Rhys: ‘I found Britpop difficult. We couldn’t really get on board’

The musician, 48, on the importance of his Welsh identity, campaigning to remain and taking a tank to festivals to use as a sound system

My first memory is being allowed to walk to the shop on my own. I was quite young, but I remember being proud my parents trusted me to do things for them, to pop out and get things they needed. I was lucky with family really. I had a big brother and sister. They had loads of records and guitars in the house.

I formed my first band aged six. My parents took me to gigs when I was very young. I remember them taking me to see the Welsh language folk band Ac Eraill in 1974. I was four. By the time I was six, I was fully committed to a life in music.

Welsh identity has always been important to me. I grew up in a Welsh-speaking community in a quarry town in Gwynedd in north Wales. I was taught everything in Welsh at school and all my friends and family spoke Welsh. There’s a big Welsh language pop culture, which is particularly politicised because of the precarious nature of the numbers who speak the language. I became very engaged with it politically. I went on rallies continually.

I found Britpop difficult. Given where Super Furry Animals came from and what our politics were, we couldn’t really get on board, despite the fact that we were hugely influenced by Anglo-American culture, too. When I was young, I was hugely inspired by the Welsh punk band Anhrefn. They would end their gigs by not playing the Welsh national anthem. I thought that was unbelievably cool.

I campaigned for Remain during the Brexit referendum. When I wrote the song I Love The EU, I didn’t mean to write a song for the campaign. I just had a really terrible song title and the song came out of it.

I’m unbelievably disappointed that Wales didn’t qualify for the World Cup. If they had, there would have been a queue of Welsh bands knocking on the door of the Welsh FA. When we qualified for the Euros in 2016, there were dozens of songs. It was a festival of song! It was fun doing ours, Bing Bong. I’m just concentrating on the Welsh women’s team now. We’ve got to beat England. Winner takes all!

When Super Furry Animals got signed, we quickly made a decision to make the most of our good fortune. We were really interested in pranksters like the KLF and the Sex Pistols, and so, when we saw marketing people spending loads of money, we bought a tank, decommissioned it and took it to festivals as a sound system. Our plan was to buy all the armoured vehicles on earth and decommission them. Every time we got a platinum album, we’d buy another. But things didn’t work out like that.

Gruff Rhys’s new album, Babelsberg, is out now on Rough Trade. He is at the Edinburgh festival 17-25 August


James McMahon

The GuardianTramp

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