The first five years we were a cult band," says Manic Street Preachers bassist Nicky Wire (nee Jones).
"That means you can stay in bed a lot more. In the last three years that's changed." Wire is sitting in a London hotel room, awaiting his breakfast before departing for an appearance on The Ian Wright Show, a talk show hosted by the maverick English soccer star. As a fanatical follower of sport, Wire is looking forward to it. He has 10 cable sports channels hooked up to his home and says that the worst thing about touring is being stuck in Central Europe with nothing to watch except "the bloody downhill skiing or handball".
For Wire, popular music and sports have long been touchstones in his life. They presented themselves as the two most obvious ways to exit life in Blackwood, the South Wales mining town where the four original members of Manic Street Preachers formed the band in 1988.
"We lived in a socialist, working-class area, a very tough place," he recalls. "The biggest thing in our lives when we were growing up was the 1984 miners' strike - 70,000 in South Wales lost their jobs. Culturally and economically it was a depressing place to live afterwards." The raw nerve that was the early four-piece Man-ics was informed by the politics of The Clash and Public Enemy, the swagger of '80s hair metal, situationist slogans and tabloid speak. Their blazing 1992 debut, Generation Terrorists, was a statement of intent in it-self. Gold Against The Soul and the despair of The Holy Bible followed. But in February 1995, guitarist Richey James, Wire's lyric-writing partner, disappeared (his fate remains unknown). The Wire trio, with guitarist and vocalist James Dean Bradfield and drummer Sean Moore, that re-emerged in 1996 with their fourth album, Everything Must Go, had evolved. An anthemic classicism was now married to their questioning lyrics. The single A Design For Life, which detailed class struggle became an unlikely hit.
This year's This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours consolidated their appeal in Britain and opened up the rest of the world, a process that Wire has his concerns about.
"When we go abroad people still think of us as loutish, punkish, arrogant and confrontational," he says drily. "But even when we were like that we were still very nice boys."
Wire's also aware that they're up against the timer that marks middle-age and a loss of musical potency. Success means longer bouts of touring and less time in the studio.
To keep "attuned", Wire still lives in a "crappy little terrace house", down the road from both his brother and mother. "That keeps me in touch with reality," he says. "In Wales you just can't have an ego."
The bassist gets reports on the high life from Bradfield, who moved to London several years ago. "He tells me what parties he was at and which famous people were there. He even went out drinking with Tom Jones. Tom's still up there with the best of them. If there's one World Cup Wales could win, it would be in drinking."
Manic Street Preachers play The Metro on January 21 and The Big Day Out on January 23.