This is the second film by Welsh singer Gruff Rhys ex of Super Furry Animals, and like his earlier, Separado, is part tour, part historical investigation, and is also very strange.
He begins in Boston, in search of an ancestor John Evans who went to North America in search of a Welsh speaking tribe of natives. He converted to Methodism, then when he reached the border of Spanish America, became a Spanish citizen, then led a voyage of exploration up the Misouri, befriending several hostile tribes along the way. As a representative of the Spanish, he also single handedly defended the biggest border in the colonies, which also annoyed rather a lot of people. “He got jailed during an extremely harsh winter, he was put in the stocks in St Louis as a political prisoner, he caught malaria, and was walking through the wilderness naked, along the Mississippi seeing aligators and snakes and things for the first time,” said Rhys.
He failed to find the mythical tribe, but he did find the last native speaker of Madan, the natives who had befriended Evans, so there was much discussion on how much better the Welsh language and culture has fared.
The story of Evans is an intriguing one, as his survey of the lower Misouri was used by several later explorers including Lewis and Clarke who are apparently quite well known. Despite his success he died at the age of only 29 in New Orleans and his grave is unknown.
Rhys seems to have had a lot of interest from his Furry fans, who seem to have loved the concerts which had music, historical exposition and powerpoint. Some of his fans speak Welsh, even refusing to speak English to camera, and they all seemed to like the felt avatar of John Evans who accompanied the tour and was seen pointing the way and even having a sneaky cigarette.
This is a wonderful film, which doesn’t claim to be completely historically accurate, but there are enough facts in there to hold it all together, but hey it’s a great yarn. It is part of a multimedia project of album and book brought out together, full of Rhys’s warm quirky humour. And the music is great, too. There’sso much going on there you can forget that is the point of the tour. Definitely worth tracking down. I wonder how may other strange historical personages are lurking in Gruff’s family tree.