Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (In Patagonia)
November 12, 2009 11:08 AM   Subscribe

A few years ago, Gruff Rhys, lead singer of fabulous Welsh pop oddballs Super Furry Animals (Cymraeg/English) set out to make a film about the search for his uncle, a 1970s Argentinian pop star called René Griffiths. The result is Separado!: part travelogue, part music film, and part history of how a small band of idealists set out to establish a Welsh colony in the Argentinian part of Patagonia.

The settlement was the idea of Welsh Congregationalist minister Michael D Jones (pic of his fabulous beard here), and the first settlers left Liverpool, bound for Patagonia, on a rickety tea clipper called the Mimosa in May of 1865. 153 passengers were aboard – including the Rev. Abraham Matthews, whose family travelled on this ticket. The Mimosa landed at Puerto Madryn and over the subsequent decades, its passengers and their descendants established a thriving Welsh community in the Chubut River valley. The settlers had been promised that Patagonia was much like lowland Wales, but they soon found it a harsh and unforgiving environment. Despite this, the colonists built both churches and what may have been Argentina's first system of artificial irrigation, as well as towns like Trelew and Gaiman, many of whose Welsh shops and tea houses survive to this day. (Small gallery of contemporary Gaiman and surroundings here.)

Glaniad – a joint Welsh/Patagonian project – has original documents relating to Welsh emigration to Patagonia, including printed material extolling the virtues of the settlements, the culture of the settlements, and the everyday working lives of the colonists.
posted by Len (14 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Love the Furries. What's the likelihood that I'll be able to see the film anytime soon? Will it be opening stateside?
posted by ekroh at 11:27 AM on November 12, 2009

A year ago I went on the Côr Cymry Gogledd America performance tour to Argentina/Patagonia, and we hit all the highlights you mention, Len. Interesting bit of history.
posted by Shadan7 at 11:57 AM on November 12, 2009

Such a fan of SFA, I'm all over this.
posted by Edgewise at 12:03 PM on November 12, 2009

And Neon Neon!
posted by setanor at 12:06 PM on November 12, 2009

Also huge SFA fan, will definitely read all of this, but I simply cannot allow a post about the Welsh in the America pass without mentioning Madoc, the Welsh discoverer of the Americas!
posted by palindromic at 12:37 PM on November 12, 2009

My great-aunt, who died earlier this year was a writer and a member of the Gorsedd of the Bards. She won the Bardic Crown twice (the only woman to have done so), the 2nd time with a poem about the encounter between two soldiers injured in the Falklands War, one Welsh the other Patagonian, who, lying in hospital beds next to each other discover their joint heritage.

I finally got to go to Patagonia 2 years ago (largely inspired by her poem), and have been back twice since. When I told her I was going she told me that if I got to Trelew I must go and see Mary Davies, everyone knows Mary Davies. Well I didn't think much of it until I met a lady (who only spoke Spanish and Welsh) on the bus heading down to Puerto Madryn who was from Trelew, and sure enough, did know Mary Davies and had heard of my aunt. So, there I was 12,000km from Wales, driving across the huge Patagonian steppe discussing my family and their common acquaintances.

Sadly however, Patagonia is a big place and I never did get to spend any time in Trelew. I did however often think how pissed off the first settlers must have been. That place is amazing, but NOTHING like Wales.
posted by jontyjago at 1:01 PM on November 12, 2009 [8 favorites]

SFA OK! I was a huge fan back in the day (best of my collection are autographed copies of the Llanfair... and Moog Drogg EPs!), and I think that Hey! Venus was the best LP in a while. Gruff is a mad genius--can't wait to see the film.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:18 PM on November 12, 2009

ekroh: What's the likelihood that I'll be able to see the film anytime soon? Will it be opening stateside?

From what I can tell, you might be waiting a while; it's barely being screened in the UK, and I've looked about for a DVD release, but no luck.

jontyjago – that's the kind of comment that reminds me how much I love MeFi and its weird interconnectedness with just about everything. And your great aunt sounds awesome. What was the name of her poem about the Falklands? (And is there an English translation available? My Welsh is nonexistent ...)

Oh, and just a general thought on the Super Furries: for all the love they get – which is a lot, even if the record sales don't match up – I genuinely think that they're one of the most underrated bands to have come out of Britain in the past 15 years. They're genuine, heartfelt creative eccentrics, in love with both pure bubblegum pop and wigged-out experimental insanity, and somehow they manage to yoke together all manner of wildly disparate sonic and visual elements into a weirdly coherent whole. I mean, there aren't many (any?) other bands who can write stone-cold brilliant, postman-whistling-worthy pop tunes that – to give one example – are about how Einstein's parents fell in love, while cramming in puns about Marie Curie's Polish heritage, the singularly odd appeal of 24hr service stations, and Che Guevara's asthma. In the hands of pretty much anyone else, that sort of thing would be insufferable. But the Super Furries just make it work.
posted by Len at 1:35 PM on November 12, 2009

Len - yeah, she was one of a kind. I remember telling her once while I was at school that we had been studying art and had been shown some Picasso paintings. "Oh yes, Picasso. I met him you know?"

And she had, she just hadn't mentioned it before. Just dropped it in to the conversation. She once tripped over Maurice Chevalier who was under a carpet. I mean, who hasn't?

I don't have a copy of her book here, there is an English translation (done by her) of the the 1983 poem "Bonds" in there. For those who are interested, a picture of her winning Crown Number 1, another obituary here and she even has a flat named after her...
posted by jontyjago at 2:55 PM on November 12, 2009

I've been desperately waiting more news about this movie since I first read about it a couple of years ago. I guess I'll still be waiting.

I love Super Furry Animals to a crazy degree (I'm really sad they have yet to tour on Dark Days/Light Years since they are such a wonderful band live) and Gruff Rhys is my favorite rock star ever. I am still busy collecting everything he's performed on.

Awesome post, though, and not just because I'm biased.
posted by darksong at 5:08 PM on November 12, 2009

Despite being a SFA fan for quite some time now, I've somehow missed all of this. So, thank you, thank you Len; this is an absolutely wonderful FPP!

must see movie must see movie
posted by soundofsuburbia at 5:48 PM on November 12, 2009

I seem to remember reading that Welsh speakers from Wales and Welsh speakers from Patagonia have some surprising mutual comprehension problems, because terms for 20th century items have been borrowed from English and Spanish respectively and aren't common to both speech communities.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:45 AM on November 13, 2009

+1 SFA
posted by BoatMeme at 10:22 AM on November 13, 2009

Brilliant post. Thanks for this! I will be digging around in these links for a while.
posted by daisyk at 5:06 AM on November 14, 2009

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