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Causing A Stir - Buzz, April 2009

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Title: Causing A Stir
Publication: Buzz
Date: April 2009
Writer: Rhian Angharad Jones
Photos: Valerie Phillips

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On Christmas Eve 2008, the Manic Street Preachers formally sealed their relationship with Cardiff's longest running professional studio. As the band embark on their brand new project, Buzz asks: why Stir Studio?

Good news for Manics fans across the land: the threesome are recording a brand new album using lyrics written by former guitarist Richey Edwards and music to be engineered by punk legend, Steve Albini. In the band's own words, "We have been in the studio with Mr Steve Albini recording live - to tape - no Pro Tools - no safety nets. All the songs we are recording are lyrics left to us by Richey. Finally it feels like the time to use them." Richey disappeared in 1995 and since then the band have continued to put 25% of all royalties earned into an account in his name. Famous for his limited musical ability but staggering lyrical prowess, he was pronounced presumed dead on 23 November last.

Frontman James Dean Bradfield says, "Musically, it feels like a follow-up to The Holy Bible but there is also an acoustic side - tender, romantic, nihilism, Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky-esque. It's a record that celebrates the genius of his words, full of love, anger, intelligence and respect," It's hoped that the album will be released in spring and carries the working titles Journal For Plague Lovers or I Know I Believe In Nothing, But It Is My Nothing.

It's no surprise that such a 'daunting' has led to the band buying Cardiff's Stir Studio. The Manic Street Preachers have a long history there: having recorded most of their last album, Send Away The Tigers there in 2007, as well as band members Nicky Wire and James Dean Bradfield's solo albums.

Famous Studio, as it was called, set up in 1988 by 70s popstar Tony Etoria. He didn't do much with the place and, all told, it was underdeveloped and unremarkable. That is until 2004 when it was bought by Paul Durant and Stir Studio as we know it was born.

Having worked in some of the world's best studios as both a musician and an engineer, Durant spearheaded Wales's first community studio at Cardiff's Grassroots in the late 80s and led the Monnow Valley studio resurgence of the new millennium, giving Welsh bands the opportunity to enter the international Stage. His client history reads like a who's who of Welsh rock royalty; Stereophonics, the Super Furries, Catatonia and, of course, the Manics.

Brought up surrounded by music and musicians, life was shaped by two formative events. "Pete Townsend gave me a smashed up Gibson SG when I was 12 Years Old and it changed my life. Then being invited to the Albert Hall and being at the side of the stage, with Ritchie Blackmore [of Deep Purple] there: it took me somewhere and triggered something inside me."

When he took over at Stir, he left the live room with its wood floor untouched. As Durant explains, "Because it sounded so good, you had to leave it how it was for fear of changing it in way that wasn't good. "One thing he did do was install the historic Trident TSM40 mixing console. Commissioned by Monmouth's infamous Rockfield studio in 1978, it cost a staggering £60,000. Since then, it has been used by Queen on Bohemian Rhapsody, and many of Britpop's leading lights, including Oasis. Durant believes that The Trident was central to Stir's success: "Because it was the first one, it's rather special and sounds fantastic."

The Manics approached Durant in November 2007 but he was reluctant to sell: "I really wasn't sure - I'd put so much into it and it was like my baby. It was a year before I actually started saying yeah go on, do it." As they settle into the studio over the next couple of weeks, we wait with baited breath to hear whether the icons can top the success of their last album. We're crossing our fingers.