Saturday 31 July 2010

Rings around the world: "Separado!"

It sounds like the sort of thing a bored rocker might invent to enliven interviews while on the publicity tour for his latest recording, but - no - apparently, it's all true. Between 1850 and 1865, there really was an exodus of Welshfolk to Brazil and Patagonia, where the pilgrims attempted to set up a "Nova Cambria" (or New Wales) on the flats and in the rainforests.

Among them was one Dafydd Jones - a distant relative of Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys - who was obliged to beat a hasty retreat from the land of his fathers after sending his cousin a cropper in a rigged horse race. In Separado!, Rhys attempts to retrace his ancestors' footsteps while touring South America, hoping to discover more about this unusual heritage (the Super Furries have previously released several albums recorded in the Welsh language) and, more specifically, to track down one of Jones's descendants, the elusive Rene Griffiths, who carved out a curious niche for himself in the 1970s as "the singing gaucho" on Welsh TV.

Segments of Dylan Goch's film feel a little rushed and underdeveloped - an issue perhaps with trying to combine tour and shooting schedules - and as the images scroll across the screen in an (aptly) eastward direction, Separado! proves prone to traveloguey padding: artsy shots of steering wheels and the insides of hostels, rolling, passenger-side footage that succeeds in conveying less about the bizarre nature of the Patagonian landscape than isolated images from Pablo Trapero's Born and Bred. Still, as with the White Stripes' leftfield tour feature Under Great White Northern Lights, this is a case of a musician going off the beaten track and seeking to engage with something wider than their usual circles, and on that level, it's an enjoyable and edifying watch.

Rhys remains good company throughout, and some of his findings - an Argentinian phone book replete with columns of Williamses; communities with names like Dolavon, stocked with tea rooms and daffodils; the brothers Leonardo and Alejandro Jones, straight outta Betws y Coed - are as unexpected and beguilingly odd as anything to be found on your standard SFA album. Goch doesn't stray too far from the remit of a record company-approved promo - Rhys's latest, eminently melodic compositions are carefully showcased - but Separado! might also be usefully approached as a trippy, shambling episode of Who Do You Think You Are? "I was chased by an armadillo," our tourguide confesses at one point, "and I didn't know whether or not it was dangerous."

Separado! is on selected release.

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