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Band Of Honour - Daily Record, 9th January 2011

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Title: Band Of Honour
Publication: Daily Record
Date: Sunday 9th January 2011
Writer: John Dingwall

Rocker's lament for group glory.

Manic Street Preacher James Dean Bradfield insists indie music is dead because new bands are now full of wannabe accountants.

James has fronted the Manic Street Preachers since 1986. The band - James, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore - carried on after their guitarist, Richey Edwards, went missing on February 1, 1995.

James believes that most of today's musicians lack true rock 'n' roll spirit and treat their pop music careers like gap years before going back to do conventional jobs.

He said: "I think it is still easy to fall in love with a record but it's not so easy to fall in love with a band. I don't look at a band now and think that it is going to be amazing or a great band. I don't see a story unfolding with bands because it is gap year music. It seems like somebody has said, 'I think I'll do an album then my dad will give me a job in the accountancy firm'.

"Look at the first Clash album through to Sandinista. It is a great line that band walked and you knew they were great enough to screw up and get there in the end. If a band has success now, straight away they form a side project or give their songs away to a superbrand. It doesn't feel like being in a band is a badge of honour."

He added: "I was looking at the Top 40 and it's like the indie wars never happened. It's as if Manchester, Seattle and Britpop never existed. Britpop meant guitar bands were in the top five every week. For a guitar band to be in the Top 40 now is a rare thing. It's all pop music. It is really depressing."

The Manics have long been famous for the meaningful and political nature of many of their songs. The title of their fifth album, 1998's This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, lifted a quotation taken from a speech given by Labour Party politician Aneurin Bevan. That album's track If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next took its title from a Spanish Civil War poster.

And the 2001 single Let Robeson Sing is a tribute to the black American actor, singer and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson.

But James now feels the band must make way for younger acts.

He said: "It is important to say we still have the same ideals in an age where there is no ideology anymore. The nihilism has been downgraded into something more positive. We cannot offer you an ideology.

"There is an essence that is the same.

We are not going to pretend we are indestructible. We are not 20. We are 41.

"I do understand why rock 'n' roll is obsessed with youth because rock 'n' roll should be about nihilism. But we still have something to offer."

Yet the Manics are enjoying a return to form with current album Postcards From A Young Man, which James rightly describes as a celebration of the band's career.

He said: "When you get to your 10th album, you either make a decision to reinvent yourself or to celebrate yourself.

"We tried to do things we thought we were best at and celebrate the band. We went back to the past. Naturally, there is a real dose of nostalgia on the record.

"I'm not pretending it's one of the most groundbreaking albums of all time. It isn't. But it connects to all our first loves. We did delve into things that are missing today and try to stem the flow.

"When I was extremely young and first started listening to music, it was bands like Electric Light Orchestra and Queen. For once, making the record, we started by thinking there's no such thing as a guilty pleasure. We let everything pour out.

"It did feel as if we were bursting at the seams and it felt like our time had come.

"Because it was the 10th album, there was a part of me feeling that we should be pushing the envelope.

"The NME was our touchstone when we were young and that has meant there is a tiny bit of nagging in our heads - which is no bad thing. But we felt that if we foisted anything upon the songs to make them more modern that would come out wrong.

"There was a small period of trying to find a different direction but we soon realised that if we treated the songs in any other way other than as artefacts they fell apart. I decided to be positive and it was a purity to the songs that made them that way."

The album includes collaborations with the likes of Echo & The Bunnymen's Ian McCulloch on Some Kind Of Nothingness, and Velvet Underground legend John Cale on Auto Intoxication, while A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun features Duff McKagan on bass.

James said: "It felt natural to get heroes on the record. We were so surprised those people agreed. It was like asking a girl at the school dance to get up with you.

"Ian McCulloch was the first person I saw live in 1985. We knew his voice was perfect for that song. John Cale was a massive inspiration when I was young.

"Back then we felt South Wales was a bit isolated but to see a Welshman go to New York and communicate to the world in the coolest band in the world was special.

"When I realised he was Welsh it made me realise it could be done. I had met John a few times and loved his solo work so I bit the bullet and rang him up. But we made sure they were musically relevant and not just used as names. I can't believe we have Duff McKagan from Guns N' Roses on the album. He is one of Nick's favourite players. It does blast away all your cynicism when stuff like that happens."

Meanwhile, as another anniversary approaches marking Richey's disappearance, James understands those fans who have become obsessed with the band's original lyricist and refuse to accept the "presumed deceased" verdict of 2008.

He said: "We still feel indelibly connected to Richey. It is interesting to think what lyrics he would be writing now but we'll never know. It intrigues me sometimes.

"I have no answer - which is a testament to how unique he was. I can't second guess what he would be like as a lyricist today let alone what he'd be like as a person.

"Richey kept things close to his chest. He didn't have a normal script. He was miscast for the play and was slightly out of step with everything else - which is what made him so good. If you grow up being friends you never want to leave it behind.

"Being within the band, sometimes you can escape it. If you play a song like Design For Life, that sums up an era of the Manics when we were trying to survive on our own six feet. We weren't trying to leave him behind but we were trying to keep going.

"We never want anything to do with closure when it comes to Richey because it is such a bull****, empty American notion.

"You can't get closure on everything in life. It's impossible. Most fans don't build mythical tales around him, which is a relief, but I understand the mythologising of somebody in rock 'n' roll. I was a Joy Division fan so I understand that process."

The 2009 album Journal for Plague Lovers was made up of songs using lyrics left behind by Richey.

James said: "If I feel as if I want to be back in Richey's world, I can go there in my mind or play a song or write music to his lyrics.

"People write books about Richey assuming they knew him but perhaps we never knew him really. You've got to entertain that notion."