Louise Gannon meets the Manic Street Preachers, this year's biggest band, but still coming to terms with losing their inspirational guitarist.
Backstage at the Brit Awards, Jay Kay is speeding around on a skateboard, Geri Halliwell is playing table tennis with Lennox Lewis and Robin Gibb is have a joke with Skin from Skunk Anansie. Nicky 'Wire' Jones from the Manic Street Preachers is sitting in his dressing room studying the Paddington to Cardiff timetable.
James Dean Bradfield, the Manics' singer/songwriter, laughs. 'Everyone's up for a party except Nicky. He's upset because he'll miss his last train home." Wire shrugs.
To prove he's happy to enter into the spirit of pop's annual back-slapping event, Wire agrees to go to the Hard Rock Hospitality Cafe for his lunch. A plate of chips. Once seated he stares bemused as Ginger Spice flits from table to table, pecking Gary Barlow's cheek. He shakes his head. "I just don't feel part of all this. Don't get me wrong, I think it's really good and I think she (nodding at Geri) is good, too. It's just this sort of thing makes me feel really uncomfortable. I'm not the sort of person who could walk over to a Bee Gee and start talking.
Bradfield is naturally pleased the band are going to win a Brit or two (British Best Band and Best Album for Everything Must Go). "Any success we have as a band can only ever be bittersweet but it is still good. You can't ignore that. It's still good," he says.
It is just over two years since the Manics' guitarist and lyricist Richey James went missing. He was last seen alive on February 1 1995 at the Embassy Hotel in London, when he checked out at 7am. Investigations revealed he returned to his flat in Cardiff, where he left his passport, credit card and supplies of an anti-depressant drug.
Then on February 17, his silver Vauxhall Cavalier was found abandoned at a service station by the Severn Bridge. The police file remains open, complete with psychologist's reports of his mental instability and general ill-health. Certain officers who worked on the case have long since presumed him dead. His band mates refuse to believe he has gone forever. Richey was the soul of the band.
The Manics rarely talk about Richey publicly. His disappearance sparked a media investigation. They were particularly upset by a Channel 4 documentary last year called From Despair To Where which focussed on a Manics fan called Gillian Armstrong who mutilated herself in the same way as Richey had done. It was, they said "Just sick."
"It was really difficult," says 27-year-old Wire. "We didn't know whether to carry on or just give up. We were all lost. But after some time we just drifted back together and carried on."
"We've all been together since primary school, our families know each other. It's what we've always done. It's been hard and it's been confusing, but we've accepted it and we've changed." Wire was Richey's closest friend in the band and took over the mantle of lyricist, a position which made him feel uncomfortable.
"When we bought out Design For Life (their first single post-Richey), all I was worried about was that people in the music press would say they liked it because they felt sorry for us. We really didn't want to have the sympathy vote. We'd rather have been blasted than that happen."
One of the Jamiroquai musicians comes over and sidelines Bradfield. He shakes his hand and proffers compliments. Wire watches, then says: "Most of our original fans probably would never have expected us to be at an event like this."
"They'd have thought we'd have been dead against it and we probably would would when we got together seven years ago. But we weren't just against the industry, we were against the world. We were all from working class families, all from Blackwood in South Wales and we hated everything in life. It hadn't shown us anything to be optimistic about - unemployment, negativity, that's all we knew. That's what we were all about - the rest of us as much as Richey."
He adds; "I know I've changed. Things that have happened to us have made me change. It probably sounds strange to say I've found a bit of peace after what has happened to us with Richey. But him going away has made me realise I never, ever want to leave home."
"You need a lot of strength to be angry all the time. What happened with Richey made us lose a lot of that strength. A lot of that anger."
"I'm married now, I'm content. I used to be an angry young man but now I'm happiest when I'm pegging out the washing talking to the woman next door over the fence who hasn't really got a clue about what I do or why."
"My work means nothing to her. I hate leaving Blackwood. It's my home town. My mum and dad live a few streets away and James has a place nearby. But he's a single man and he's got a place in London. He likes it, I hate it. But then he's a musician and I'm a writer. We're different. I resent the fact that London is the centre of things. Everyone who wants to do anything thinks they have to move there, be there. But it doesn't breed talent. It just takes it from other people, I never think anyone has a sense of belonging. Of being in the place that developed them.
"I don't need to in London to be a songwriter for my generation. I get all the inspiration I need watching television. I turn it on when I wake up at 10am and don't switch it of till 1am. I watch sport, news, nature programmes, even Richard and Judy. It's a fantastic way of keeping in touch with the world and learning. I watch everything then I write. Then I do the housework which I love as well.
"For Valentines Day my wife bought me a Dyson Hoover. It's a fantastic design. You see the dust flying into it. It gets things really clean, I love it. I found out about the guy who invented it. He's being ripped off by the Americans who've copied the design. I hate that, It's typical. So unfair."
Staying home in South Wales, a 'Valley Boy' or a 'Bedroom Boy' as he calls himself, has become an obsession. Bradfield claims they have to con Wire into coming to London for meetings and recording sessions. He won't fly anymore. He'll only agree to a tour of Japan if he can go on the Trans-Siberian train from Beijing and then a ferry to the mainland. There is a sense that nothing could ever compare with the problems posed by Richey. His drinking, his self-mutilation, his depressions. The well-worn crumpled timetable in his pocket provokes a smile whereas Richey's obsessions - alcohol, knives - provoked deep anxiety. They begin technical talk about the show.
Six hours later The Manics have performed, received their two Brits and made their speeches. Bradfield is excited. "The atmosphere was fantastic. It just didn't seem like a load of record company executives noshing down food. There were hundreds of fans in front of the stage jumping up and down."
Wire, who made an impromptu acceptance speech on behalf of everyone who ever went to a comprehensive school, has been congratulated by a teacher. "This guy said he thought what I said was really good. I don't want comprehensive schools to close down. He's given me all these leaflets. I'm glad I said something that provoked a reaction. I didn't plan to say it. I just wanted to when I got up there. We have to be relevant. The day the Manics lose their relevance is the day we disappear."
So did they think somewhere out there Richey would be watching as they stood on that stage with their pop Oscars. "Five of the songs on the album were done by Richey, so this is as much for him as for us," says Bradfield.
Wire adds: "But I know he won't be watching the Brits. He'll be out there, but he's probably watching Newsnight. Anything but the Brits."