Gruff Rhys ambles onto stage wearing a fluffy wolf-head hat and a slightly overwhelmed expression.
He holds up a number of placards onto which he’s scrawled random words, and then finally sits down to begin his one-man show – American Interior, Rhys’ talk-cum-gig dedicated to 18th century explorer John Evans.
The shaky introduction is followed by 90 minutes of detailed explanation about Evans’ trek from north Wales across the Americas, between 1792 and 1799, interspersed with slides – both humorous and informative – and glorious songs that further tell the story.
American Interior is also an album, Rhys’ fourth solo collection, and a book – which is subtitled The quixotic journey of John Evans, his searchfor a lost tribe and how, fuelled by fantasy and (possibly) booze, he accidentally annexed a third of North America – and a film.
Like Rhys, John Evans grew up in north Wales. Intrigued by persistent tales of a tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans, he voyaged to North America to find them, first landing in Baltimore, and at various points over the next seven years, walked 1,800 miles, was imprisoned on suspicion of being a spy and was paid by the Spanish to map the Missouri River and find its exit to the Pacific.
What took Evans seven years on foot, took Rhys, former member of Super Furry Animals, only five weeks by train, but he got a great taste for the man’s life while he was away.
“I’m not a historian,” he says, “so I’m coming at the story as a storyteller and songwriter. I’m looking at the tragi-comic aspect of the story. I think he was a really serious guy and lived an incredibly hard life.” he says.
“There is room for a major academic study on John Evans, but I’m not that guy. My tragi-comic take can be a gateway for someone else more serious.”