Last time we spoke was before the Christmas tour...
NW: To be honest the Christmas tour we were really worried about it, it was the first time we'd got back into that arena mentally for quite a while. We were pretty scared and apprehensive. It did have one of the greatest Manics gigs ever, the one at the CIA in Cardiff. It was truly incredible. The night before in Manchester had been weird. It was freezing cold; we just didn't click that night. The next day in Cardiff, Martin our manager came on the bus before the gig and said, "Can you come upstairs boys, I've got something I need to talk to you about." As Welsh people we obviously thought something was wrong – someone’s died, something’s gone wrong, been dropped. Anyway, he says, “Conor (McNicholas, NME editor) has just rung me, you’ve got the Godlike Genius Award” to which James replied, “Shit, I’m not sure we deserve it...” in his Mr Humble way. From that moment on the gig was just fucking stupendous, it really was. I had to keep it quiet until Brixton the next week. Those two gigs were probably two of the best reviewed gigs we’ve ever done, certainly in London. All the London gigs we did this year were amazing in the end. Anyway, I think I said something from stage like “Buy the NME next week, there’s going to be some beautiful news in there!” I could see Dan Silver and a couple of the NME boys bricking it that I was going to give it away. The two Brixton’s, Cardiff, Edinburgh, even Aberdeen on a Sunday night, kind of allayed all our fears. Brighton I think was good but I was so fucking utterly hammered...there was tiny bit of an onstage fracas...only a little one. I remember mumbling onstage “I’ve peaked too early!” James said to the crowd “Excuse my voice I’ve got a bit of cold” and I shouted “Shut up, you’ve had loads of fucking steroids” and he turned to me and said “Alright you fucking sing then.” I am assured that it was a good concert though. I do firmly believe that champagne afflicted playing is better – for me anyway. Champagne with a sugar cube – gets into your bloodstream quicker. As soon as I come offstage I stop drinking. Great contrary behaviour.
The whole tour and finding out the NME thing, it really was a fine end to a very good year. I have to say about that period, everything did genuinely go so well band wise that every time you end up doing something you are convinced you’re going to spoil it.
Why do you think there was such a sea change last year with regards people’s feelings towards the band?
A few things really. Ourselves, our attitudes, the way we looked, our outlook, our sense of fun, a sense of the “fabulous disaster” had returned. And we made a brilliant rock record. We couldn’t have had the return that we had without making a brilliant record. I think you see it in the artwork, which I still think is great, all the artwork, all the singles, and the video with Nina. I think our approach was to take ourselves less seriously, just to be like we were in 1992 - making mistakes, being laughed at but with people deep down knowing that “the boys are back in town”.
It did seem like it became “acceptable” to like you again...it also seemed like you became cool again which bands of your stature don’t really ever get again...
I thought the NME cover with Richey on the front was one of the best things ever on us. On him in particular. I went through all my archives, through all of Mitch Ikeda’s photos that didn’t make it into the book, they were all exclusive pictures in there. I thought it was written so tenderly, so intelligently. And there were five pages of writing in there, which you just don’t get anymore. The glory of getting the NME award, it’s not about boosting record sales or anything like that, let’s be honest, it’s not like the Brits. It’s really about being recognized about being one of the quintessential NME bands of the last 20 years. I know we could have been all cynical about it and said “Oh they ignored us for ages” but it just doesn’t matter, we’re so fucking lucky to have a weekly music press in this country. What happens if it goes, I’m supposed to sit and read a fucking computer screen. I still get a real buzz when a journalist gives you a really brilliant “reviewer phrase”, like when Barry Nicholson did the album review and said “‘Rendition’ sounds like the National Anthem played by The Who” – that’s because he’s a journalist. Some blogger, it’s just not the same thing. Being a writer, seeing millions of bands, siphoning through culture, it’s not easy. It still gives us a thrill when someone says something great.
It did seem like some sort of cynical wall had been taken down, not just at the NME. I can understand why people thought that maybe we didn’t care anymore, maybe that we were on some kind of never ending Marlon Brando period! Every great band should have a Brando period, where they don’t give a shit and make wilderness albums that you dip back into, like “Know Your Enemy” and “Lifeblood”, a folly type of record. “Their Satanic Majesties Request” by The Stones is the one I always pick up – no one liked it at all. Funnily, fan-wise it’s really turning. I’ve been told that on all the websites, they have “Do you prefer the melancholic beauty of ‘Lifeblood’ or the chart friendly ‘Send Away The Tigers’?” They’re all voting for fucking ‘Lifeblood’!
It feels nice that this NME thing will be the end of this little chapter of our career. If we end up doing any festivals in the summer it will definitely be with a few new songs thrown in. It’s funny, I was remembering back to this time last year, before we started doing these things, in one of my insane chatters to James and Sean, which I’m sure they don’t fucking listen to by the way, I remember saying “I’m going to be in the Cool List, we’re going to get the Godlike Genius Award, come on boys, we can do it!” they were both completely like “Oh Wire just fucking shut up!” In the end, setting us that impossible target was a good thing to do. We could never be Radiohead, that kind of lackadaisical coolness. We’ve never been like that. We’ve always had a certain work ethic, an insane “plough on” mentality. Band mate goes missing, manager dies – shall we make another record? Looking back, ‘Generation Terrorists’ to ‘Everything Must Go’, four albums in four years, with pretty much two masterpieces in ‘Holy Bible’ and ‘Everything Must Go’. ‘Generation Terrorists’ is a fucking double as well! The only person with that work ethic now is Pete Doherty. He still has that innate thing that he loves writing a tune, that that’s the only thing he can really do, I love that. I really felt good about that, thinking about the NME Award and the four albums in four years thing, the singles that we did, the B sides, that burst of creativity...
It must be funny to be having the peak point of the Manics renaissance in a week where Wales seems to be at the top of it’s game, so to speak...the rugby, St David’s Day...a second wave of Cool Cymru maybe?
Duffy at number 1 for two weeks, Joe Calzaghe, Mark Webster winning the BDO World Darts Championship, ‘Gavin & Stacey’ winning awards...I think coming from a small country, if you’d have asked me this 10 years ago I’d have been really cynical but now, I think you just have to enjoy the times when we experience these little spates of greatness. There is serendipity to it all at the moment; it just feels like a good place to come from. Cerys is doing “Your Love Alone...” with us at the Awards – she’s sounding great at the moment. When you hear all these Amy’s and Duffy’s and Adele’s, as good as they are, I just think Cerys’ has got such a great voice – she should do an album of covers, we’d even be her backing band if she wanted. I just think it’s perfect timing for her. By the way, utter respect, to the Arctic Monkeys for their Brit School piss-take at the Brit Awards. I thought they’d made a good effort with their suits, but when they went up the second time, I just thought their speech was fucking fantastic.
Also, it was funny watching Paul McCartney get the equivalent award to us at the Brits, the Lifetime Achievement Award. His version of ‘Live And Let Die’ fucking rocked. Why on earth does he have to play that fucking awful one with the ukulele? (‘Dance Tonight’)
What would be your equivalent single to that?
“There By The Grace Of God”, it’s got to be our worse single. That or “So Why So Sad”. God knows why we never put The Avalanches mix of that on the greatest hits. We should do another one someday – I think there’s something like 17 singles that aren’t even on ‘Forever Delayed’. I think we’re on 36 singles now.
Where next then?
There’s some real heavy stuff going on at the moment, I can tell James is really itching. We’re practising for the show and I can hear him playing a lot of “Holy Bible”-esque riffs. I think he wants to do something very angular, very meaningful. Typical Manics fashion, just when things appear to be going really well and we could keep it going, we fuck it all up. I think he wants to do something very heavy – not the kind of anaemic stuff that gets called New Wave today, he’s trying stuff that’s got a metallic sheen to it. So that’s the next thing we’re going to try. But they again it could end up being an acoustic album.
What else has been going on over the last few months, what have you been listening to and watching?
James has been working in Germany, playing guitar with Herbert Gronemeyer, a German musician who was also in ‘Das Boot’ years ago. I’ve been listening loads to the MGMT album, it’s just glorious. Been listening to The Faces loads, I’d forgotten just how brilliant they were. Les Savy Fav, The Courteeners, Morrissey’s “Your Arsenal”, Does It Offend You, Yeah?, Lightspeed Champion, Those Dancing Days. Loads of Green On Red, loads of That Petrol Emotion, I managed to dig out all of their records again. One of the great lost bands they were. Funny thing – I noticed that the last Super Furries record is called ‘Hey Venus’, which was a That Petrol Emotion album, also that there was a TPE track called ‘Lifeblood’ – two of the great Welsh bands have albums named after That Petrol Emotion records! I loved Michael Portillo’s documentary on Thatcher, it was stunningly brilliant. I love him as a broadcaster, he’s soothing and intelligent but as a politician I used to think he was utterly detestable. It’s obviously been a total sports fest, from the Superbowl onwards, the Six Nations now, just brilliant. Touchingly beautiful documentary on Edwyn Collins on BBC4 the other day, which was just spiritual. His wife just seemed like an angel, she really did. Been watching lots of the political coverage of the American election which has been amazing, I’m addicted to that. A lot of Bill O’Reilly on Fox believe it or not. “Meet The Press” on NBC. The most bizarre thing about it all is if anyone watched the last series of ‘The West Wing’. It’s so scarily similar. John McCain is Alan Alda in that, a republican who could get Democrats to vote for him. Jimmy Smits, a Democrat coming from nowhere, race issues and all of that, it’s incredible. It’s the most underrated series of ‘The West Wing’, the best series too. Worth watching if you’ve got any interest in the current state of American politics.