A greatest-hits retrospective raised fears that it might be curtains for Manic Street Preachers. But now they're back with a thoughtful new album and a just-announced Arthur's Day gig. They talk about leaving their angry young men days behind them and - what a coincidence - booking an Australian tour just as the Lions were passing through.
It was on the top floor of a cinema. It was only our second or third Irish date. An arts college gig? There were about 80 people there. We didn’t have enough songs for a headlining set, so we played some of them twice.”
David Bowie can’t remember large chunks of the ‘70s, but Sean Moore has no difficulty recalling an April 24 1991 show yours truly was at in Limerick’s Savoy Cinema. I'm ashamed to admit I dismissed them in my Hot Press review as third-rate Clash copyists. Within a year Generation Terrorists had been unleashed and I was eating supersize-me portions of humble pie. The chaps obviously forgave me because in February 2001 they whisked me off to Havana
for their Castro-attended show in Teatro Karl Marx.
Like a lot of long-haul Manics fans, I feared that December 2011’s “let's play all 38 of our singles in sequence” gig in the London O2 and subsequent greatest hits tour was their way of bowing out but, nope, after recharging the batteries they’re back with a new album, Rewind The Film, that excites just as much as Generation...did way back when.
“The game plan was to have two years off, but after a month we were all like, ‘This is boring, let’s go into our studio in Cardiff and do what we love best.’ Having a bit of a mess around turned into making an album; the momentum just kicked in.”
Whisper it quietly - especially if you’re in the presence of Richey 4 Real purists - but Rewind.. is deﬁnitely the band's ‘adult album.’
“Well, we’re in our forties now,” Sean notes. “If you look at our Facebook, the disgruntled fans tend to be of a certain type. Middle-aged men who, dare I say it, still hark back to the days of Generation Terrorists and Gold Against The Soul . They’d like us to revert back to the heavy guitar thing with solos and James at the top of his voice giving it full-throttle, but things have to move on. You have to follow where your heart goes. We can’t be these early twenty-somethings raging and screaming and smashing things up like we used to. Then again it’s like Pickled Onion Monster Munch; don’t mess with the
“The Complete Singles was a way of celebrating the past whilst at the same time saying, ‘Okay, let’s move on to the next phase.’ There’s no point being in a band unless it’s in some way evolving .”
Rewind The Film has a roll-call of guests, the most prominent of which is serial collaborator Richard Hawley.
“He’s an old mate of James’. Personally, I’ve always loved his guitar playing and thought his last album was really good. Nick originally sang the verse on the title-track - he did a good job too, but we thought it’d work better with a lower voice and Richard was top of the list.”
What’s he like to work with in the studio?
“Richard’s the same as ourselves; he’s been around a good few years and is just a really good guy. It was his idea to have the beautiful slide-guitar at the start of the song, so he totally made the track.”
Respective guest duties on ‘4 Lonely Roads’ and money track ‘Sullen Welsh Heart’ fall to their Cardiff neighbour Cate Le Bon and Lucy Rose, the English singer who formerly part of the Bombay Bicycle Club set-up.
“James has been trying to get away from the spotlight a bit in terms of always handling the lead vocal. Again, ‘4 Lonely Roads’ is a song that Nick originally sang but we also had in mind a female singer. Cate makes it a little bit gentler, a little bit sweeter.”
Being bumped off all these tracks is going to give Nicky Wire a complex!
“He’s got loads of those already, one more’s not going to make any difference!” Sean laughs. “Lucy’s a contact we made through the record company. She ’s got that sort of ‘early Leonard Cohen backing-singer’ quality to her voice and transformed ‘Sullen Welsh Heart’ into something very beautiful.”
Rugby Obsessives that they are, the Manics arranged it so that the stop-offs on their summer tour of Australia were in close proximity to where the British & Irish Lions were playing.
“The idea first came to us eight years ago. It took a lot of organising but it turned out to be a brilliant mixture of the finer things in life - music and sport. Despite it being the Australian winter, it was great weather and Jamie Roberts got up and played guitar with us in Melbourne, which was a great honour. For us!”
Were the Manics aware of how many toys were thrown out of Irish prams when Warren Gatland dropped Brian O'Driscoll?
“I just think it was a very brave and intelligent decision," Sean says ensuring dogs’ abuse from Ross O’Carroll-Kelly types when they fly into Ireland for Arthur’s Day. “Thankfully it paid off and Brian was very professional about it. He understood ."
Er, judging by what he said last week I don’t think he did.
“The justification was the result. Obviously it was a shame with it being his last international game, but that’s part and parcel of professional
A big fan of Ireland — “We always have a blast when we’re over!” - Sean’s looking forward to raising a glass to Guinness on September 26.
“My mum and stepdad used to run a pub, so I know how much of an art form pulling the perfect pint is! We had a brilliant time when we played Arthur’s Day before in 2011, so it’s something we’re looking forward to.”