Sixteen years into their career, Blackwood's very own controversy magnets have lost not a drop of their vitriol. Steel yourselves, royals, Frenchmen and Snow Patrol.
The Manic Street Preachers were looking forward to a quiet summer. Drummer Sean Moore had even booked a family holiday in Ilfracombe. Then, in May, came the career-reviving Send Away The Tigers album. Cue an 11th-hour phone call from the organisers of Japan's Summer Sonic festival asking if they could fly to Osaka and play a show, and one hastily curtailed West Country vacation.
"A part of you always wonders if you've worn a dress in front of screaming Japanese fans for the last time," beams bassist Nicky Wire. Today; Q meets the trio in Stir Studio, an unpromising-looking terraced house near Cardiff Central railway station. One night while
recording the new album, James Dean Bradfield popped outside for a cigarette, only to confront a pimp having sex with his girls. "It helps concentrate the mind having a no-go area right outside the front door," he smiles.
Few bands have had as an eventful career as the Manics. Childhood friends from the Welsh town of Blackwood, their gobby sloganeering and fondness for mascara saw them written off as a joke band when they emerged in 1991. Sixteen years on, they've become a national treasure, albeit one whose iconoclastic edge hasn't completely vanished. The interim period hasn't been without its traumas, not least the disappearance of guitarist Richey Edwards, who walked out of a London hotel on 1 February 1995 and has not been seen since.
The plan for today is to record B-sides but, says Bradfield, they've only managed to eat a bag of chips so far. As they gather on a sofa, Wire worries that they won't get an easy ride from the Q postbag.
"Fuck it," sniffs Bradfield. "When people have sent you knives, there's nothing to fear from a pile of letters."
We shall see...
I heard you got into property development and suffered your own disastrous Hacienda-style experience? - Jan Stevens, Cardiff
Nicky Wire: Oh yes, we got shafted good and proper. We bought some property in Cardiff as an investment and then our manager decided to turn it into a members-only club
— with no members. A disaster.
James Dean Bradfield: It was called Union/Undip. It had beautifully designed furniture, slate from Cuba, great reviews. But we deserved everything we got. It taught us we shouldn't be fucking about with anything but music.
Nicky, congratulations on the birth of your son, Stanley. How will you react if he comes home aged 18 wearing eyeliner and a skirt? - Gareth Jenkins, Blackwood
NW: I'll be really pleased and I'll shake his hand. It'd be much more concerned if he came home from a Snow Patrol concert. I would be very, very disappointed. I'd be on
the phone to a psychiatrist straight away But female attire - it shows imagination. As long as you are a good soul and you're not hurting anyone it doesn't matter what you do.
Sean, how are your kendo skills progressing? - Gill Taggart, London
SM: Well, it's been on hold because of the tour. I've been interested in it since I was about eight, but I only started six months ago. It's a semi-contact martial art and the first with equality of the sexes, Men and women fight each other with a big stick For me it's just an extension of drumming, except you've got just the one big stick.
NW: He thinks of James and me when he's doing it.
If Richey turned up today out of the blue, what's the first thing that each of you would say to him? - Jason Bradbury, Mansfield
NW : How's your guitar playing, has it improved? No, I suppose I'd ask him if he was feeling alright.
JDB: I think we all still consider that from time to time. For me it would be joy but also fear, I think I'd be crying my fucking eyes out. Tears of joy as well as being traumatised.
NW: When you've dealt with someone that intellectually advanced, you can't rule anything out. We've made more albums without him now than we have with him. There have been no new sightings. But while I was writing those words addressed to him on [2007 single] Your Love Alone...something touched me at my desk when I wrote, "I could have shown you how to cry". It was a moment of kinetic, intellectual connection.
SM: When he disappeared, I spent a week boarding out my attic. It took a week to cut - the wood, lay it all and get the rubbish down two flights of stairs. That was my therapy. God knows how I'd feel if he came back.
Nicky, could you still play football for Wales? - Tom Carter, Cirencester
NW: No, I'd like to have played cricket for Glamorgan or played football for Wales [Wire was Wales
under-16s team captain]. It depresses me I didn't make it. But I could be a manager. I could reinvent management in an intellectual style. I could bring the philosophical texts to motivate a team, If they wanted music to psyche them up then fine, But anyone listening to dance - on the transfer list.
If you could be a woman for 24 hours, what would you do? - Eleanor Watts, Sandhurst
NW: It would be blissful. I'd go to women's shoe shops - their shoes are so much better than men's. I'd like some Jimmy Choos.
SM: I'd like to improve my moaning.
Fidel Castro is a homophobic, Marxist dictator. Just why do you think he's so great? - Murray Keith, Chesterfield
NW: We wanted to launch an album and make it exciting [2001 's Know Your Enemy, which they kicked off with a gig in Havana] We'd won four Brit awards. We were the ultimate industry band. We wanted something different and un-PC.
JDB: As soon as the photo opportunity with Castro happened, which was a complete surprise, I realised
that we would be seen as endorsing everything he says. Much as I respect the impossible line they have to walk [in Cuba] he's not perfect. They've got a high life expectancy and they're full of civic pride. But, yes, they're also still too much into guns for my liking.
You have said complimentary things about the new Prime Minister, calling him a hard worker. Would you have thought the same at 21? - B Cope, Cardiff
NW: Yes. I hate young people saying, "I don't feel connected with Gordon, he's not on MySpace!" What the fuck has that got to do with anything? I want a man whose heart is in the right place, who has a brain twice the size of mine, who gets up and reads [German philosopher, Immanuel] Kant and [Danish theologian, Søren] Kierkegaard and then works 20 hours a day doing a brilliant job. That's what we've got.
When can we expect the Sean Moore solo album? - Jonathan Oury, Hendon
SM: Never. What would I be adding to the world?
JDB: Didn't stop me and Wire.
Nicky, Buckingham Palace calls to offer you a knighthood. Do you take them up on it? - Paul Cash, Reading
NW: No way. I'm utterly embarrassed by the fuckers who feel the need to do that. We were asked to play the
opening of the Welsh Assembly in front of the Queen. We refused. I have no idea why Bono would want to be called Sir Bono. He's moulded something great in his own right - how is an award from the Royal Family adding to that?
JDB: There's no animosity there. Politically we just don't believe in them.
NW: Oh no, I kind of hate them.
What's the most demeaning thing you've ever had to do as a band? - Brian Harris, Minehead
NW: Italian Vogue wanted us to dress up as giant sperm. But I surpassed that by getting my knob out for Select magazine. You could see my pubes but my knob was just out of shot. A big mistake.
JDB: We had to arm-wrestle sheep puppets for Irish kids' TV once, Even if we'd sold a million albums off it, it wouldn't have been worth the devaluation of our dignity.
James, I'm trying to shift a few pounds. Got any good dieting tips? - Frank Yates, Salford
JDB: Thanks for noticing. Yes, I've managed to shift a few pounds for this album. I knocked pasta and chips on the head. I started running around Cardiff Bay again. And I started diluting my fruit juice with half water, which was a tip from Nick.
NW: Giving up chips is harder than fags. Chips and telly. My life would be pretty empty without them A really cloggy bag of chips is better than even the finest pasta.
Why do bands these days have nothing to say in interviews? - James Houlston, Poole
NW: Over the last 10 years saying nothing has been the quickest route to stardom. We've had 10 years of economic stability, people are vaguely content and so what you get is...Coldplay. If there's a recession, you watch, there'll he gobby bastards everywhere.
Crappergate. Care to explain yourselves? [At 1999's Glastonbury festival, the band commandeered a Portaloo with a sign, "These facilities are reserved exclusively for the Manic Street Preachers"] - Jamie Christopherson, Burton-on-Trent
NW: It was me. Nothing to do with the public I didn't want to share a toilet with other musicians at Glastonbury. I don't smoke. I don't take drugs. I don't want someone coking up in my toilet. I don't see anything wrong with that. Is the essence of Glastonbury that you have to share a toilet?
Tell us a joke, Sean. - Sarah Belton, Gloucester
SM: No. Fuck off.
Come on, James, when you produced a Kylie Minogue album in the mid-'90s, did you think you were in with a chance? - Steve Gilloore, The Wirral
NW: Oh, yes, good one!
JDB: Well, I'll tell you a story about that. I'd be sitting there at the mixing desk, eating chips, and this French bloke she was seeing at the time [video director Stéphane Sednaoui] was always hanging around. He'd come in and say to her, ['adopts comedy French accent] "Ello, 'ow eez ma leedle princess today?" And then he'd say to me, "Tonight we will 'ave sushi, the most sensual of dishes". Basically he was saying, "Fuck off, you big chip-eating cunt, I'm French, I'm much sexier than you, you don't stand a chance". Then he went away and there was a picture of him in a magazine with a new haircut - a sort of spike
at the front and the rest of his head was bald. Kylie said "Do you like Stéphane's new haircut?" I said "I think he looks a bit of a knob, to be honest." She looked crestfallen. She said "There's no need for that." I felt like an idiot. All my anger about him had come to the surface. But Kylie was lovely throughout. And I was wearing khaki shorts, NHS specs and was hung-over so no, no chance.
You've written about anorexia, the Spanish Civil War, the class struggle. Have you ever rejected a subject as too serious? - Phil Cottee, Dundee
NW: There was a song called War Forever, which promoted the idea that war was a good thing. On reflection, we decided we were probably struggling for subject matter.
JDB: There was also a song called Anniversary To No One. It was about the wanton destruction and hatred of everything. It was one of the few times when I've actually been disturbed by someone's writing.
Sean, what's the most pointless gadget you've ever bought? - Jonathan Townshend, Bath
SM: I bought a Breitling wristwatch which emits an emergency beacon, so that if you get lost or your plane crashes then the people at Breitling know where to find you. Included in the price is one rescue anywhere in the world. Also, I bought a satellite phone which I have never used. Being stranded is a bit of a theme.
NW: One day Sean will have a car boot sale, and it will be the greatest car boot sale of all time.
James, you had a pet pony called Beauty as a boy. Then some Gypsies stole him and turned him into dog food. Is that early setback what all this is really about? - Colby Nelson, Maidenhead
JDB: Well, Beauty was my aunty's pony. And yes, when it disappeared, everyone said it was the Gypsies. I cried my fucking eyes out But no, the darkness doesn't spring from that incident alone. And I can't truthfully say it was ever established it was the Gypsies.
NW: Our angst springs from coming from South Wales. It's a longing encapsulated in the Welsh word "hireath". The Irish can usually see the better side of things, they have a sense of wonder. The Welsh don't. We think everything is going to turn out shit.
Richey Edwards: one of the great rock icons. Discuss. - Kev McNeith, Carlisle
NW: He was always unexpected. If you expected him to find someone cool he didn't. He went out for dinner with the writer Douglas Coupland and when I asked him about it he said, "He was a complete fuckwit. I hated him. I thought he was empty and fucking thick."
JDB: You don't get people like him in rock any more. He had no interest in playing the guitar. He couldn't play the guitar. And yet his contribution was immense. He was a rock star on completely different terms.