I recall interviewing Super Furry Animals many moons ago in a scuzzy back room at Manchester University’s gig venue.
I was new to interviewing at the time and was pretty much on an indie tip and assumed the band would be the typical indie interview with lots of quips but pretty good humoured banter. How wrong could I be…
When I got there the band were smiling at me through a thick haze of cannabis smoke and an almost mystical atmosphere where each and every question was swerved elegantly in a slow Welsh drawl. I was completely thrown at the time and it was only when I listened more closely to the music that I realised this band could not be lumped under the indie banner. They had made a genre all of their own.
A new book has been released charting their rise to leftfield notoriety and the outrageous adventures they had along the way. With a sleeve designed by their long-time collaborator Pete Fowler Rise Of The Super Furry Animals by Ric Rawlins charts the heady world of SFA involving 60 foot inflatable monsters, venturing into the Columbian jungle with Guerrilla fighters and of course their sound concocted from electronic blurps, surf rock, psychedelia and Japanese cartoon culture. Here’s an extract from the book that features SFA with the infamous tank they drove around to promote one of their releases but which went onto to become part of the band’s own self invented folklore.
“Revolutionary, crazed and beautiful musical events and conversations that originally happened through the medium of a cracked youthful version of the Welsh language are presented here for the first time in quality English. Ric lifts the lid on these millennial events through comic re-enactments, cosmic speculations and passionate research for the recordings.”
– Gruff Rhys
“Initially I just heard Super Furry Animals as being similar to Blur. So I thought, well fuck! Blur sell lots of records, I could have my version! Little did I know that I was signing the Beach Boys meets fucking Gong meets Isaac Hayes on a fucking acid trip…”
– Alan McGee
Once Dick Green at Creation had chosen ‘If You Don’t Want Me To Destroy You’ as the next single, the band’s marketing guru John Andrews called one of his infamous pub meetings.
“OK lads, the new single’s on the way and we’ve got a few grand in the bank. What shall we go with? Full page in the NME? Billboards?”
Daf went into a state of deep thought. The drummer had harboured an obsession with tanks since he was nine, and even attempted to build one in his dad’s shed. So when someone offered him a couple of grand to spend on whatever he liked, there was only one realistic answer. John Andrews took notes and nodded as Daf explained why buying a tank was a really good idea. Then he looked up and smiled. “Leave it with me.”
The next week, John was back on the phone. “OK, I’ve made contact with an arms dealer in Nottingham. He’s selling a tank for ten grand, which is frankly more than our budget… But, if we sell it back at the end of the festival season, we can sell it for eight grand, so overall it’ll only cost two grand. In other words, I think we can get a one.”
“Great! This arms dealer… is he reliable?”
“His name’s Baz?”
“Er, yes, but… listen, everything will be fine. I’ll see you on Saturday morning. Don’t be late.”
They pulled up outside the iron gates of the Nottingham industrial estate, and pressed the intercom button. It was cold. It was quiet. They considered running away – but then came the voice.
“Hello, Baz?” said John, suddenly aware of how damned polite he sounded. “This is John Andrews from Creation Records. May we come in please?”
There was no answer, but then the metal gates slowly creaked open. Their car cruised nervously forwards for another 30 feet, then Daf looked up and pointed.
A middle-aged man in an eye patch was hobbling towards them from the direction of a metal cabin. This was the guy.
“We’ve got a wide range of amphibious vehicles, as you can see,” explained Baz, walking the band through a huge courtyard of land submarines and deep-sea body suits. “We’ve also got a special offer on MEG fighter jets, if you’re interested.”
“Fighter jets?” said Guto.
John swiftly formed a human barrier between them.
“We’re just here for the tanks, thank you.”
Thirty minutes later, John waved out of his car window as they pulled through the gates once again. They hadn’t bonded with Baz, and wouldn’t be keeping in touch, but they had just bought a refurbished Second World War army tank off of him: not bad for a group of committed pacifists.
Cian, meanwhile, was still thinking about those amphibian submarines. “Next year,” he muttered.
The tank was immediately customised to the band’s specifications. Its primary function would be as a mobile soundsystem that could challenge the Criminal Justice Act: on the outside, speakers were welded to the steel so they couldn’t be removed. On the inside, the decks, amplifiers and controls were installed, effectively sealing them off from legal seizure and protect the DJ from arrest. Meanwhile if the authorities tried to remove the tank… well, it was a tank. There was only one final specification to be made: Cian recommended that the sound system should be as loud as Creation’s budget could afford.
At the band’s next festival date, a VW Beetle weekender, Cian got his first taste of the challenges associated with DJing in a tank. Halfway through the set, a drop of oil suddenly landed on the vinyl and began spinning round. The DJ stroked his jaw and muttered to himself, then set about mixing the tune out before the needle reached the blob. Then a second drop hit the record at an entirely different point.
“Ah shit!” he cursed.
Oil blobs successfully navigated, the techno set kicked in and Cian began to sit back and enjoy himself. But then something even weirder happened: the entire vehicle started gently bobbing from side to side. As soon as he’d dropped the next record, Cian picked up the walkie talkie and radioed over to Daf.
“What the fuck is going on?”
“There are about 50 people dancing on top of you!” laughed his brother from the other side of the field. “That thing must weigh over 17 tons and they’re rocking it all over the place!”
The tank turned out to be the best £2,000 the band ever spent. Beyond the media coverage that it generated, it also spawned a thousand myths and stories, as people talked of the time they clambered aboard the “techno tank” for a dance. Perhaps above all, it sent out a message of attitude that resounded somewhere between the freewheeling subversion of the Merry Pranksters and the dream-out-loud publicity stunts of the KLF.
“Everybody thought I’d say no to the tank”, says Alan McGee today, “but I like the idea of being bizarre, ridiculous – so me being me, I said yes. They terrorised the festivals, got away with murder. Nobody could repatriate the tank.”
As festival season came to a close, John Andrews reluctantly met his half of the bargain and had the vehicle returned to Baz’s compound. Before leaving, he casually enquired as to who its next owner was to be.
“Don Henley,” croaked the arms dealer, closing his books.
“Don Henley from The Eagles?” spluttered John.
“That’s the one.”
It seemed that Daf wasn’t the only rock star with a thing for tanks.
Rise Of The Super Furry Animals by Ric Rawlins is out now