A GIANT television set, fake palm trees, audio visual screens, crash helmets…
Gruff Rhys is a man who likes his props.
This month, the zany Super Furry Animals frontman comes to Sheffield as part of a solo tour in support of his soon-to-be-released Hotel Shampoo album – which, as the name suggests, is inspired by hundreds of freebies.
But this isn’t any ordinary handful of robbed toiletries – Rhys’ personal collection of complimentary personal hygiene products is the result of 15 years of collecting.
“I stole the name from an installation that I built called Hotel Shampoo out of all these old shampoo bottles,” said Rhys.
“I started gathering all these bottles and cheap disposable items about 15 years ago – it’s ridiculous that you get all this stuff.
“I mean, does anybody use a shoe horn these days? I don’t think I’ve ever used a shoe horn, I just put on my shoes with my hands. That’s definitely the most ridiculous item,” he says in a thick North Wales accent.
The majority of collectables have been taken from budget hotels. “That’s where I stayed mainly – though I’ve also stayed at other people’s houses and B & Bs but I wouldn’t take anything from those places. I’ve stayed in those kinds of B & Bs where you’re scared of swearing and things like that.”
Hotel Shampoo is a piano-led album based on the memories triggered by items such as shoe horns and free shampoo bottles.
“Having never kept a journal, these items have become like diary entries, triggering memories of all those buildings and random people I’ve met and inspiring songs on the album.”
And although the album is piano-led, its live rendition, which will be performed at the Memorial Hall later this month, is completely different.
“I’ve been rehearsing with a Welsh surf band called Y Niwl, which is The Fog in Welsh – they’re helping me play with the solo tour,” he says.
Is the band named after the seventies horror film The Fog?
“Well, Wales is very foggy and every time I go up to their house in North Wales they’re always watching Film 4 or some sh*t film on the Horror Channel like Beyond Loch Ness, about a monster in a crap lake in North America.”
Live the album will have a surf feel too. “It’s going to be very West Coast on stage – we still use the piano and we will be taking the piano on the road but we will be playing guitars as well. I really want to create a surfy feel on stage.
“I want to take bags of sand with us.”
But his designs to create a beach on stage in Sheffield are not merely airy-fairy ideas. In the past, Rhys and the Super Furry Animals have been renowned for their elaborate stage set-ups.
“We’ve used artificixal turf before to stand on while playing on stage – it’s much nicer and brighter than standing on taped-down wires. But I have been a bit reckless in the past with props.
“During one tour I did this thing where I used a mock TV set so I had a TV set built but when it arrived it was made massively out of proportion. The people who had made it had got the dimensions all wrong, it was twice the size it should have been.
“It was huge – all very Spinal Tap and we had to hire an extra van for it, so I actually lost money on that tour. But you live and learn.”
He adds: “I’d really like some fake palm trees – so anyone who fancies bringing anything along, please do. Bring anything.
“Props would really help – especially a surfboard.”
Gruff Rhys plays on February 14 at Sheffield Memorial Hall.