What else to do when the rain is lashing down and the wind is whipping you in the face but go and stand in a hushed room, watching two men perform some experimental music? Watching Group Listening could only be described as a ‘what the f*ck’ moment. As in, no one really knows what’s going on but at the same time want to know more about this peculiar duo, who seem awkward faced with the polite applause of a rather bemused Brighton. Their debut album, Clarinet & Piano: Selected Works Vol. 1 features ambient works from the likes of Brian Eno and Robert Wyatt – Welshman Stephen Black, on clarinet, is best known as Sweet Baboo (who has previously collaborated with Gruff) and pianist Paul is acclaimed in the genre of jazz and noise improv. Both are undoubtedly talented, using their instruments, cassette recordings and other manipulative techniques to create atmospheric instrumentals. However, it appears that the crowd was not expecting something so, well, weird because few seem to get it; amazing given that we are in a city named this year as the hipster capital of the world, surely a place that this sort of thing was invented for.
“I’m honoured if anyone listens to my songs and I don’t really have any expectations of anyone. How would I describe my music to someone that’s never heard it? Outlaw paranormal pop”. Such is the brilliantly cool and slightly eccentric mind of one of Wales’ favourite sons, Gruff Rhys. Refreshingly original, he is as well-known as the frontman of indie-popsters Super Furry Animals as he is for his solo work, in which many of his releases are proudly delivered in his mother tongue. His accent is pretty amazing if he is speaking in English too. Watch a YouTube interview with him and hope that he says the word ‘orchestra’. You’ll see what I mean. Indeed, in recent years particularly, it seems that there is not much that he hasn’t touched creatively, notably delving into the world of film in 2014’s American Interior project (where he also created an app – that’s right, an app – to compliment the soundtrack and corresponding book), as well as performing with the Wales National Theatre alongside fellow Welshman, Sweet Baboo.
Gruff Rhys has always been brazen with his political beliefs, particularly in the run up and aftermath of Brexit back in 2016. Before the result, Rhys released ‘I Love EU’ which was “An attempt to make an emotional case for Mother Europe – this flawed, fantastic, potentially utopian megaclub that I’ve been lucky enough to grow up in”. Around the same time, he wrote the ten songs that would appear on his new album, Babelsberg, which explores those similar themes of political turbulence. So why the wait?