Super Furry Animals were a wonderful anomaly in the late ’90s indie world. As one of the most original bands of a generation reunite tonight at Brixton Academy, Oliver Keens picks out five highlights from their improbable career.
1. They overcame having a terrible name
Super Furry Animals formed in Cardiff in 1993 – an era when wacky animal-based indie bands abounded, from the mildly jocular Llama Farmers to the plain ridiculous Ken Dodd’s Dad’s Dog’s Dead. Most ‘animal bands’, like Arctic Monkeys, become embarrassed by their duff names after a few years. Not so the Furries, who ended their first comeback show in years last week in Gloucester dressed in luxuriant and golden yeti costumes.
2. They brought an international drug smuggler into the national consciousness
In the ’70s and ’80s, a pouty and shaggy haired Welshman named Howard Marks lived an outlaw’s life shifting thousands of kilos of cannabis around the world. The law caught up with him in 1988 and he was imprisoned, but a year after his release in 1995, the Furries covered their debut album ‘Fuzzy Logic’ (right) with his various passport pictures, and even named a song after him. So began the legend of ‘Mr Nice’.
3. They had cash to burn
Whereas bands today would do a gig for a sandwich, the ’90s was a more moneyed age. SFA signed to Alan McGee’s Creation label in 1995 and thanks to the cash generated by labelmates Oasis, the Furries were able to indulge in some barmy whims. Cue the five-piece visiting guerrilla-held territory in Colombia for a video shoot, getting a pair of 60-foot inflatable bears to join them on tour and using a pricy Steely Dan sample on ‘The Man Don’t Give a Fuck’.
4. They blasted techno at indie kids
SFA had a deep love of squelchy Daft Punk-esque acid tomfoolery, and frequently ended shows with ferocious ten-minute techno wig-outs. Another great indulgence – courtesy of Creation – was buying a tank from an eyepatch-wearing man from Nottingham called Baz. It was kitted out with decks and speakers for keyboardist Cian Ciaran, and became a Criminal Justice Bill-defying mobile rave unit that was taken to festivals during 1996. What happened to the tank? It ended up being sold to Don Henley of The Eagles. Naturally.
5. They defied categorisation
While many feel that Britpop brought a commercially minded blandness to indie music, Super Furry Animals bucked the trend by absolutely shovelling eclectic influences into nine brilliant albums of glam-rock, vocoder balladry, smoky trip hop and calypso rock. Alan McGee puts it best: ‘Initially I heard them as being similar to Blur. So I thought: Well, fuck, Blur sell a lot of records, I could have my own version. Little did I know I was signing the Beach Boys meets Gong meets Isaac Hayes on a fucking acid trip.’ Even if you don’t make what promises to be a memorable reunion show this week, thank heavens there’s a heaving back catalogue of mixed-up sonic genius to enjoy.