Gareth Smith goes on a strange meandering journey with Gruff Rhys and his new radio half hour, Resist Phoney Encores.
In Resist Phoney Encores, Gruff Rhys sets out on a chaotic expedition chock-full of bizarre diversions. The train journey from Cardiff to Bangor, involving a sadly all-too-believable four changes, also provides the Super Furry Animals frontman with an apt metaphor for the convoluted trajectory of his show. There is no direct trainline between South and North Wales and, likewise, there are no clear routes between the eclectic elements of this irreverent radio comedy.
The show is equal parts doc- and mock-umentary, combining genuine discussion and recollections with Rhys’s unique observations and deadpan humour. Its purpose, as he informs us at the beginning, is to ‘understand crowd behaviour in order to free the audience from the tyranny of the artist’. While I’m still not entirely sure what this means, his humorous meditations on the subject are certainly (if accidentally) timely. He discusses with Professor Stephen Reicher the potential of crowds to be both inclusive and exclusive, which will either make you yearn for a public gathering or grateful that you’re social distancing.
The ensuing tales of connections and contacts – whether at gigs, on trains, or via a debit card concealed in a shoe – coalesce around the central story of a phone-box in Bangor which holds special significance both for The Beatles and Rhys himself. Alongside recollections from Dr Jenny Boyd about her time with the group in the late sixties, he searches for the location of this mythical object. Rhys’s awkward and earnest hosting persona is occasionally reminiscent of Louis Theroux, while elements like the low-quality phone calls and narrative dead-ends add to the programme’s off-beat charm.
At the beginning of his show, Rhys promises us liberation. He might not have had liberation from boredom in mind, but there are certainly worse ways to kill thirty minutes of quarantine than having an ironic solo listen to this meandering, but enjoyable, exploration of our herd instincts.
Resist Phoney Encores is available now on the BBC Sounds app.