Gruff Rhys

Gruff Rhys: on the trail of Prince Madog. (Promotional Photo / July 31, 2012)

Gruff Rhys

Aug. 2, Beineke Library at Yale University, this show is free with RSVP tickets, but there are no more tickets available.


The worlds of indie rock, American history and cartography have rarely intersected as nicely as they will when Welsh singer and Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys performs solo at Yale's Beineke Library on Aug. 2. The performance will involve a presentation about Rhys's relative John Evans, an adventurer who left Wales for America in 1792 in search of a mythical lost tribe of Native Americans who were commonly believed to speak the Welsh language. The belief sprang from the legend of Prince Madog, who was thought to have discovered America in the 11th century. The performance is the first part of an "investigative tour" that will follow parts of Evans' route in America. Along the way Rhys will meet with experts and historians for a documentary film he's making about Evans.

On his journeys Evans crossed the Mississippi and got to North Dakota, annexing territory and hunting and traveling with Native American tribes along the way. The map that Evans and his crew made of their trip was used by the Lewis and Clark expedition. Rhys will begin his trip at Yale because that is where Evans' famous map is said to be housed.

Rhys spoke to the Advocate recently by phone from Wales in advance of his tour. "We thought [Yale] would be a good place to start," he says. Rhys has been studying Evans and his expedition.

"I've been interested in the subject for a few years," he says. "I've been reading up on it."

Evans found no signs of Welsh-speaking Native Americans, and he eventually concluded that the Prince Madog story was just a myth. Evans died in New Orleans. He was 29.

Rhys has concluded that the longevity of the myth has something to do with the conditions in Wales by the end of the 18th century. "The Welsh culture was very depressed and there was lots of poverty, and I suppose it was an escapist fantasy," he says.

Evans is "a footnote in history" says Rhys. He's known in the village that he came from, but otherwise his contribution to American and Welsh history is mostly overlooked and unknown.

Rhys expects to explore the wider themes of Evans' fate.

"I'm weaving John Evans's story into my journey," he says.

As the frontman of Super Furry Animals, Rhys has demonstrated a familiarity with quixotic pursuits of his own. The band plays epic alt-rock that draws equally on the Beach Boys and Pink Floyd. They're a little like the Welsh version of the Flaming Lips, with a little less drug-induced psychosis.

"I'll be playing a slideshow, so I can illustrate and explain the story to the audience," says Rhys. Some of the songs will be based on Evans' life and on Rhys's investigation. He'll be posting information and updates on his website along the way.

"This is the first leg of the journey. I'm hoping to return next winter to tour the Dakotas."

"I'm interested in how myths can get so out of hand, the kind of sense of desperation that drives the building of a mythology and how it can interfere with hard history. It's tragic in some ways. What would have driven this young man to take this insane journey?"