If the Super Furry Animals seemed to spring fully-formed into the Britpop fray circa late ’95, it’s probably because their members all served long apprenticeships in other bands. Before SFA, frontman Gruff Rhys and drummer Dafydd Ieuan were in Ffa Coffi Pawb, who evolved from “making experimental noise jams and selling homemade cassettes out of a carrier bag” to their harmony-rich third album Hei Vidal!, which is now being made available for the first time since 1992.
Rhys and guitarist Rhodri Puw (later of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci) formed Ffa Coffi Pawb as 16-year-olds in Bethseda, inspired by John Peel, Flying Nun records and Welsh-language legends Datblygu. A certain irreverence was evident from the outset: Ffa Coffi Pawb translates literally as ‘Everybody’s Coffee Beans’ but say it out loud and it’s something much ruder. “I suppose the name of the band was a stunt,” considers Rhys, “in that we got instantly banned from radio and TV.” Gigs would often consist of “just one song, “Sister Ray”-style. We’d have electric drills, to drill our guitars. We couldn’t find a singer, so I ended up singing by default.”
Anglesey-based producer Gorwel Owen bought one of those homemade cassettes. “I then saw them live a couple of times at a small pub in Caernarfon. They sounded very influenced by Jesus And Mary Chain, with lots of feedback, but in the context of some great melodic songs.” With Owen’s encouragement, Ffa Coffi Pawb used the studio to experiment, incorporating elements of techno and psychedelia before eventually alighting on the joyful stomp of “We were going through an obsession with glam and powerpop,” explains Rhys. “Our elders were from the post-punk generation and we were rebelling by singing close harmonies.”
“Helping to make that record changed my whole outlook on recording,” adds Owen. “I have a very clear memory of faffing about adjusting the reverb on the drums, trying to decide on whether it sounded better at 4.6. and 4.7. Daf leant over and put it near 10, which was the correct setting of course.”
As vibrant as the album sounds now, the London-centric music industry of the early 1990s had little interest in bands singing in Welsh. Ffa Coffi Pawb only ever played three times in England, while hitting a wall at home. “We’d been playing around Wales for seven years and we felt we’d run out of road,” says Rhys, of their dissolution in 1993. “We’d play the same towns over and over again to the same people, so it was a mutual thing between us and the audience. It was like, ‘That’s enough of that, then!’”
Rhys and Iuean moved to Cardiff, teaming up with ex-members of U Thant to form Super Furry Animals, whose early records – co-produced by Owen – are clearly an extension of the overdriven glam pop sound first explored on Hei Vidal! Rhys remains particularly proud of “Dilyn Fy Nhrwyn” – a kind of personal manifesto which translates as “Follow My Nose” – and the breezy Bolan fantasy of “Lluchia Dy Fflachlwch Drosda i”.
“That lyric is like, ‘’,” he explains. “It’s on the basis that the world has failed, and all we can hope for is for dumb pop to save us from hell. I’m happy with the lyrics and how they subvert some of the poppiness. I have no idea if that transcends or not to an [English] listener because it’s in Welsh, but it’s a melodic record and a curiosity of the time. Personally it brings back really positive memories – the joy of feeling your way around making records.”
Ffa Coffi Pawb’s Hei Vida! us reussyed vt Ara Deg on July 28; their other two albums follow soon