REVIEW: Gruff Rhys, Memorial Hall, Sheffield.

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OVER 20 years into his musical career, Gruff Rhys has made oddball concepts his specialty - be it writing songs about tennis players Venus and Serena Williams with his main outfit Super Furry Animals, recording an entire album about the life of motor entrepreneur John DeLorean, or in the case of his new release, an LP themed around free hotel toiletries.

The album, Hotel Shampoo, was released on the day of the Sheffield gig, so the audience could be forgiven for being a little unfamiliar with the material - unless, of course, they’d downloaded it already.

Clad in an oversized, diamond-patterned woolly jumper, Rhys took to the stage solo to perform Hotel Shampoo’s reflective closer Rubble Rubble, backed by a portable record player playing a lo-fi drumbeat.

Then the evening’s four-piece support band Y Niwl appeared, to join him on tracks from his three albums to date, including Candylion and 2005’s Welsh-language effort Yr Atal Genhedlaeth.

Songs from Candylion got the biggest cheers of the night, with the upbeat, harmonica-driven Court of King Arthur proving a highlight.

Not that the new songs weren’t up to scratch - Sensations In The Dark cantered along with a Mariachi-esque flavour, and tropical-themed single Shark Ridden Waters was also well received.

Though the gig was a fairly sedate, all-seated affair, the evening reached a noisy conclusion with the epic tale of terrorism, Skylon, which finished with Rhys holding up a placard simply reading ‘Thank You’.

Richard Blackledge