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How We Met: John Niven & James Dean Bradfield - The Independent, 17th February 2008

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Title: How We Met: John Niven & James Dean Bradfield
Publication: The Independent
Date: Sunday 17th February 2008
Writer: Sophie Morris
Photos: Eva Vermandel


"We lived a Welsh Valleys lifestyle, but in London. We were good, hard, steady drinkers"

John Niven 40 a writer whose first novel, Kill Your Friends, is the dark tale of a young A&R man during the Britpop era. Niven was an A&R man himself during this period at London Records and Independiente. He lives in Buckinghamshire with his fiancee and has an 11-year-old son from a previous marriage.

James and I met, as did so many of our generation, through Robin Turner of Heavenly Records. Heavenly was a bit of a hub for certain like-minded individuals.

But we really got to know each other the following summer, in 1995, when we both lived in Notting Hill. I remember walking into the pub one Sunday night and seeing him in there having a pint on his own. I remember thinking he looked dignified. What Tony Soprano would call the "strong silent type". We both soon moved to Maida Vale and thus began our Seinfeld years, with one of us constantly bursting through the other's door to raid the fridge.

When I first met him, the last record his band [the Manic Street Preachers] had made was The Holy Bible, which I still think is one of the best rock records ever; I was in awe of James' ability on the guitar. But as we got to know each other, I realised we'd had similar teenage years - me in a small Scottish town, him in a small Welsh town - watching the same movies and playing guitar to The Clash in our bedrooms. I still sit around playing guitar with him, it depresses me how good he is.

James and I did the whole Soho House and Met Bar thing in the 1990s. Everyone would come home in the morning off their faces on coke, but James could outdrink anyone on pharmaceuticals.

We also did this thing we called "wolf trips" - the laughable notion that we were a young pack of wolves going off to some foreign city. The best time was in Havana when the Manics were the first rock band to play Cuba. I remember a long night of mojitos and huge cigars on the veranda of the Hotel Nacional, where they shot The Godfather. It was a magical evening.

It was a difficult time for James because of the whole thing with Richey [Edwards, one of the original Manics line-up, who has been missing since 1995]. People were incredibly insensitive, but he handled it with great dignity.

I was terrified about leaving the music industry but James was very supportive both emotionally and financially. I've moved out of London now, so we keep in touch by phone, often during sporting events. I remember James consoling me when I'd screamed myself nearly unconscious as Colin Montgomerie threw away [golf's] US Open in 2006.

Coincidentally, his wife and my girlfriend are best friends from school, so we go out now and again for dinner, and we went out to Italy for their wedding a few years ago, which was fabulous.

James Dean Bradfield 38 the Manic Street Preachers' lead singer and guitarist. He has made eight albums with the band, and released his first solo album, The Great Western, in 2006. He lives in London with his wife.

Our mutual friends would talk about John as this shadowy figure who was good with words. The first time we met was at a Beth Orton gig but everyone was always pretty much hammered at those Heavenly gigs so it's kind of lost in the fog of time. I remember the second time in a pub in Notting Hill much better. John was at the bar, and I remember thinking, "That's the face that fits the stories that I've heard about the person who's called John..."

We were the last two to meet in our circle, which conjoined around music, food and drink and films. For me it was almost like living a Welsh Valleys lifestyle but in London. I never thought we were the wildest people in London, but good, hard, steady drinkers. I look back on it fondly, especially that era when we all started to go away on drinking holidays together.

John was one of the first people I met in London who talked about the lyrics as much as the music. I was impressed by the fact that he always started with words. We inevitably bonded over The Clash and he knew really obscure songs. At one point we lived around the corner from one another and I'd go round to his house and have to ring the bell for ages, as he'd always be inside throwing shapes and jumping up and down and trying to get his guitar to sound exactly like Mick Jones.

While it was obvious that John was a working-class lad, he also got a First-class degree from Glasgow. It was clear to me that writing was his natural talent, because he was so anecdotal and always quoting stuff. At some point we all said to him, "Why don't you start writing?" and I think it was a relief when he did.

John co-wrote a couple of the lyrics on my solo album and I'm glad he did. He had spent four years writing and re-aligning his mind and I thought he might go: "Jesus Christ, I'm not getting involved in some kind of rock-lyric haiku."

Whenever I call him now he's not recovering from some kind of Chernobyl-like hangover, but from writing too much. He's that working-class hero who owns all his own ideas - everything he's learnt is from himself, and that's kind of why I hang out with him, because he fits into the Manic Street Preachers' credo.