As the Manics gear up to release their latest album – the predominantly acoustic, pastoral and Motown-tinged Rewind The Film – it seems a good time to revisit the Manics bassist and lyricist’s October 2006 (Take 113) grilling from fans and famous names. Topics include Cuba post-Castro, Live8, aircraft leg-room and winning Wimbledon…
“The well-bred contradict other people, the wise contradict themselves,” said 19th-century glam punk Oscar Wilde and, on those terms at least, Nicky Wire continues to be a well-bred font of wisdom. At 37, 17 years and seven albums on from the moment the Manics came straight out of Blackwood with the avowed ambition to outsell Guns N’ Roses, headline Wembley and split up, age has not withered his passionately contrary, avidly autodidactic intellect. Eschewing the mascara and frocks of yesteryear (“Karen O has stolen my wardrobe!” he moans. “Mind you, she does it better than me…”) for the kind of corduroy jacket worn by peeved young men of the 1950s, Nicky arrives today with a surly, lo-fi new solo album (I Killed The Zeitgeist), hatching plans for the next Manics record (“It will be post-Iraq rock,” he says), and feeling strangely desolate after the recent demise of The West Wing. But the prospect of a record mailbag of questions from the readers of Uncut soon has him back on hilariously vituperative form.
I Killed The Zeitgeist is a very old-school, inflammatory Manics title. What do you think of the current zeitgeist bands?
David Martin, via e-mail
I like Bloc Party. I like The View. There’s a lot of music I like, but it’s the overall idea that you take a bassline from Joy Division and weld it to a drum track and just mutter inane lyrics over the top that I find woeful. Aren’t Bloc Party the modern-day Slowdive? That’s a fucking terrible thing to say about someone, I suppose! I just think there’s something about them that’s genuinely real. But there’s no music that’s really amateur any more – everything is so well produced. There’s lots of pretty good music, but not much truly great music. I hate fucking Rufus Wainwright more than I hate most things. The whole fucking Wainwright family! These intellectual fucking New Yorkers! I hate this sacred cow culture as much as I hate modern music. I’m probably one of the few people who devoured the Babyshambles album. “Fuck Forever” is one of the worst played, worst produced records I’ve ever heard in my life and I really admire that.
Did Geldof even ask the Manics to play Live8?
Dave Percival, Bolton
He didn’t ask, but I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have done it. I think it’s admirable and it saves lives, but they seem to think it changes political systems. Capitalism needs poverty to survive – every fucker knows that. You learn that in CSE! And they seem to think you can tinker with capitalism and change governments, but you can’t. Live8 seemed to want to go beyond saving people’s lives. Gordon Brown was trying to get rid of the debt anyway. For all his faults, George Bush has given more aid to Africa than any president in history. And he’s a complete cunt! I’ve got no problem with Bono at all, it’s more… Midge Ure. I’m not going to be lectured to by Midge Ure, I’m sorry. I’ve got a degree in politics! They’re just so naïve politically. I couldn’t have a conversation with them to be honest. They haven’t read Engels. For fuck’s sake, they’ve read No Logo and they think they’ve got political insight! But I dunno, I might have been forced into it by the other lot. I think James is more open. But no one would have wanted us at Live8, ’cause our last LP didn’t sell any records! Not enough records, anyway!
In an alternative life, which of these would have been your preferred occupation: The manager of a Heineken Cup-winning Scarlets (Llanelli); Wales’ first ever Wimbledon-winning tennis player; or a legendary captain of Glamorgan County Cricket Club?
James Dean Bradfield, Manic Street Preachers
I think winning Wimbledon – because it would resonate around the world. Just to wear a little wristband with a Welsh dragon on. I love Andy Murray. He’s miserable, he’s surly – he reminds me of myself in my teens. I’ve got no problem with the English in any sport; I’m not a bitter Welsh person. Cricket, I love. And, of course, having Simon Jones and, last year, Geraint Jones made it even more special. But to be a Formula 1 champion might beat all of them, ’cause you can be a fucked-up playboy on top of everything! And Wales is brilliant at those.
How do you see Cuba after Fidel Castro?
Eliud Correa, Mexico City
Scary! It’s like the runt of the family is going to get the job. When that happens it’s always bad news. I was impressed by Fidel, when we played in Cuba 2001, in the sense that he was so well briefed and so on it. Cuba was what I expected. Communism is a failure – I’m fully aware of that. I just wanted to see the one place it still operates. People go on about the poverty in Cuba, but the life expectancy is 79.4 years. That’s not poverty. Africa is poverty. And the education – everyone I met spoke English. I was impressed by certain parts, but the reality of a communist state was… a reality. There were elements of it that were absolutely shit.
I met you back in 1999 and you signed a receipt for me. The receipt was for five boxes of Calvin Klein boxers, at £25 each – was this a case of Nye Bevan’s theory that “Socialists can have good taste, too”, or simply rock-star extravagance, Nicky Wire-style?
Jon Lawley, Cardiff
I have a problem that I tend to get rid of my underwear very quickly. Not a medical problem! It’s just something I do all the time: I don’t like underwear that has hung around. I’m not extravagant at all. I’ve got a nice house but nothing over the top. I find I just spend more money on the things I liked when I was young – records, books, clothes, make-up. There’s no problem mixing style with socialism – Fidel was stylish! When he went to the UN in his army fatigues, that was better than Margaret Beckett turning up in a piss-stained dress from Dorothy Perkins.
Nicky, how does it feel to be writing without James and Sean?
It was just an outpouring. It was going to be a poetry album, but I turned up at the studio and did four songs in two days. It was effortless just in the sense that I had no expectations. When I made it, I wasn’t even going to release it. It was like one of my favourite periods of music – C86. A wilful, independent attitude. We really did once spend a summer arguing over who was better out of McCarthy and Guns N’ Roses. We ended up sounding much more like Guns N’ Roses, but if I was ever asked to curate one of those festivals like Meltdown, if there was one band I could get to reform, it would be McCarthy. I Am A Wallet – that album is just fantastic. I think C86 was political in its… independence. Did Talulah Gosh stand for everything we despised? Well, yeah, we pretended that… but seeing them at Port Talbot was one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen! I just have a huge soft spot for C86 – everyone from the Arctic Monkeys to Franz Ferdinand owes a huge debt to those bands. They did it before, much better. Franz Ferdinand’s last single was a total rip-off of “Up The Hill And Down The Slope” by The Loft!
As a band perceived to be political, how did it feel to lose your bottle just when the world went tits up?
Fi Oakes, Liverpool
I don’t quite understand that! When the world went tits up? When Blair was elected? When Bush got elected? We were in Cuba at the time! Am I disappointed that bands don’t take political stands against Iraq or Blair and Bush? I don’t know. I think it’s partly down to the musical media. They’re not interested in talking to anyone about politics. My generation had us, Blur, Radiohead – we were all verging on getting dropped at times. It took us ages to make our great records. And with that came an expectation of ideas. And I think that’s just been ditched. I dunno if it’s the bands’ fault or the media’s fault. I don’t think we’ve ever bottled it. The world is so much more complex. When we grew up, there was Thatcherism, it was black and white… you had the Berlin Wall. We do live in a decadent society and bands are part of that. Some of that is down to 10 years of economic prosperity. The thing about Live8 is it’s a single issue. The war is a single issue. But there’s no kind of narrative that binds that together, is there?
you ever considered doing reality TV and, if so, which show would you go on?
Ricky Wilson, Kaiser Chiefs
That’s strange because I often fantasise about going into the jungle. I’d like to go in there and be as miserable as possible and refuse to do any of the tasks and we’d all starve to death. And everyone would despise me. So on that level I quite fancy it. I thought John Lydon was brilliant. Maggot was a bit disappointing – I’m a big fan of GLC. I was disappointed when Germaine Greer did it. She hasn’t been the same since. The most fucking intellectual woman of the last 20 years saying: “I didn’t realise it was going to be used!” Pathetic!
Do you see any parallels between Syd Barrett and Richey?
Martin Benjamin, via e-mail
I do a bit. I’m not a huge fan. I mean, everyone likes some Pink Floyd. But it was quite a bit different, ’cause they lost a frontman. I watched the BBC4 documentary on Syd – and it was odd the way he was gone, but still around. I’m not saying Richey was still around, but he still was a presence. There was no finality for us, and obviously there wasn’t for Pink Floyd either. A kind of freakish thing with me and Richey was that we would sit down and write lyrics together. It wasn’t like Keith and Mick, bringing along lyrics to the guitarist. To sit down and write “Motorcycle Emptiness” at my mum and dad’s house – at my desk! We did that a lot. It’s just really rare. And that was obviously missing when he was gone.
If you were an angry young man today, would you have gone into politics rather than pop?
Theresa Jacks, Stevenage
I think I might have strayed into politics! I think I would have enjoyed it, with the Welsh Assembly and an easier way in. To be minister of culture or sport or something would have been great. But I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes! With my history! But you have to be immoral if you’re in politics, otherwise you end up like Tony Benn. He’s great and all that, but those kind of people stopped Labour getting elected, which meant that Wales was destroyed by the Tories for 20 years. They could sit back with their principles, but we got all the fucking shit!
I was shocked when in 1993 Nicky said: “Let’s pray that Michael Stipe goes the same way as Freddie Mercury.” At the time there were rumours about Stipe and AIDS. Why did you say that and how do you feel about it now?
Edwin de Corti, Holland
Regret always comes up in these interviews, doesn’t it? I don’t understand it when say Iggy Pop says “I have no regrets!” I regret shitloads of stuff! It’s part of facing up to reality. The only thing I don’t regret is talking a lot: you learn a lot about yourself by doing it.
Blueberry-flavoured Ribena. What’s the point?
Katherine Heggarty, via e-mail
It’s disgusting – it’s too fucking healthy! They’ll be having pomegranate fucking Ribena next!
Being a tall gentleman, how do you cope with leg-room in cars and on long-haul flights?
Maggot, Goldie Looking Chain
My great failings as a failed communist are first-class travel and big cars. I don’t drive myself so I get black cabs everywhere. Perfect for leg-room. Good hotels and travels are my only real vices. I think I’ve earned it now. I am a failed communist – but I think that’s a good thing, because communism is a failure. Is there anything that gives me hope? No, I think we’re all waiting for the great leap forward. You can’t tinker – capitalism will use up all the poverty in the world in the next 100 years. There’s not going to be any cheap labour left. A recession wouldn’t be a bad thing. We’d get better music. It’d show kids what a fucking recession actually is!
Are you going to end up one of those Grumpy Old Men on the BBC2 show of the same name?
Martin Reeves, Whitechapel
I don’t usually like Jenny Eclair, but she was on one of those programmes the other day talking about how kids don’t know how to be bored today. Boredom is fantastic! Sitting on a wall for six hours was exciting when I was a kid! I’m not just being a grumpy old man. Boredom is important to learn – to have nothing do and control that boredom. It’s such a glorious feeling, to feel like there’s nothing happening, there’s nothing to do! Kids are scared of having nothing to do. I’m not a grumpy old man – I think the future could be wonderful. I think there’s a political movement that’s gonna come along and enlighten us all! Communism, the suffragettes, something always comes along. It’s not very nice waiting though, is it?