...and yes, by nature too as Barry Egan found out when he met James Dean Bradfield of the Manic Street Preachers
TO this day, nobody knows what happened to Richey Edwards. The Prozac-gobbling Welsh iconoclast vanished in February 1995. A cadaverous, manic-depressive alcoholic with an eating disorder, he had yo-yoed in and out of hospitals.
The polemic figurehead of the Manic Street Preachers, the most heralded four-piece in Wales and the UK Richey turned up for what was to be his last-ever interview (with Midori Tsukagoshi of Japanese magazine Music Life) with his head shaved. Then, on the eve of a promotional visit to America, he vanished.
He left the Embassy Hotel in London, drove to his flat in Cardiff, and left his passport and credit card on the bed. Two weeks later, the police were dragging the river at the notorious Severn Bridge. There have been innumerable claimed sightings and rumours he is living in Goa, he is in a commune in Germany but nothing positive has turned up.
Six years later, lead singer James Dean Bradfield is livid that a certain nasty allegation about the band has recently resurfaced: that it was all a publicity stunt and that Richey is alive somewhere in deepest Wales.
"Four people I know actually think we still know where he is," he says. "I remember saying to one of them: 'If you don't think Bill Clinton can keep a blow-job a secret, how the f**k do you think we could keep that a secret? In the music industry?" he seethes.
James Dean Bradfield is not one to pull punches. When the Manic Street Preachers played in front of the Thai royal family in Thailand some years ago, James opened the show sounding like a PR agent: "This is dedicated to your lovely king."
There was a significant pause.
"May he rot in hell."
The crowd went ghostly quiet. When the band came off stage, the promoter, fearing for his head, shouted at the Manics: "You cannot say this! Police might come to your room! Something bad might happen. We cannot protect you!"
Just in case, the group's bassist Nicky Wire draped a tablecloth over a table so he'd have somewhere to hide in his room. Ever the wag, Bradfield waited for an hour before banging violently on his colleague's door, shouting in his best broken Thai policevoice: "NICKY WIRE! NICKAAAY WIIIIIIIRE! Open up!"
After about 10 minutes, fearing that Mr Wire was about to jump to his death from the 10th floor to escape the police, James relented. "It's only me, Nicky. It's James!" he said in a soothing Welsh accent.
"You bastard!" came the not-so-soothing reply.
A review of the band's brilliant new album,Know Your Enemy, in Q magazine, threatened to make James Dean Bradfield blow a metaphorical gasket: "... horrible shouty vocals, idiotic lyrics, no tune to speak of and an almighty soulless hole at the heart of them all ... schoolboy drivel tarting up barely understood words as lyrical enigma." Sipping tea in Dublin's Clarence Hotel, James Dean Bradfield can barely restrain himself. "I can't stop reading that review. That's the first time I've felt like beating the shit out of a journalist. And I've never felt like that in my entire life. I've always managed to avoid those feelings, but I wanna f**king kill that bastard."
James Dean Bradfield is a fascinating storyteller with a vivid memory. He was 15 when the miners' strike happened. He can remember marches going past his door, relations having no money after about nine months of being on strike. And giving half his sandwiches to completely threadbare kids in school.
He says that after the miners' strike, no one in Wales will ever vote for the Tories. He can also talk at length about his love of heyday Welsh rugby Gareth Edwards, JPR Williams et al. James Dean Bradfield used to be a decent outhalf in the school rugby team.
An only child who attended junior school in Pontypridd, the teenager James and his buddy Nicky would take the bus into Cardiff to busk on Saturdays. A passerby, so the story goes, screamed at Bradfield: "What are you, boyo? Some sort of manic street preacher?"
A generation later, there can't be that many people in the Western World who are not acquainted with the same boyos. Including Fidel Castro. The Manic Street Preachers' most politicised and musically schizoid record for years (produced mischievously by Dave Eringa, Mike Hedges and David Holmes), Know Your Enemy was launched amid much hype and furore in the capital of one of the world's last remaining communist republics: Havana, Cuba. This immediately set a certain section of the media against the band.
To others, it was highly appropriate. "Cuba is to the US what the Manics are to the music business: a thorn in the side, an island of dissent," noted the Guardian. To witness the first major western rock band play his country, Fidel Castro arrived at the Manics' show and was warned by Bradfield: "It might be a bit loud tonight." "Will it be as loud as war?" Fidel inquired through an interpreter with a loud cackling laugh. (Bantering with the band, Fidel is "essentially Mel Brooks with a beard," notes the Observer's correspondent in Havana, Andrew Smith.)
"You should come to see us play in England," suggested Nicky Wire.
"I couldn't get a visa to England," Fidel mused. "Maybe a visa to Wales?"
After the show, he spoke to the band. It was a revealing 30 minutes. "They call him the Horse," James says intriguingly. "Y'know, enormous!" he laughs. It seems that Fidel dresses appropriately to the left. "You can tell," James informs me.
"Fidel speaks pretty good English," James continues, "but like George Bush junior he chooses not to. With a playful smile on his face he asked: 'Do the Irish, the Welsh and the Scottish dislike the English?' And then he said with a laugh: 'I do not want to make noises about this it will be a diplomatic mess."'
Were the Manics being used by Castro?
"I know we were used a tiny bit in Cuba, PR-wise," James acknowledges. "I can't deny that. I have encountered a lot of cynicism towards our visit, but it was spellbinding to meet him. He is 76 and he is funny and warm and witty. And so far from that image of a man who will just get up and do a speech for four hours. He let us lead the conversation. He wasn't being poked and prodded by PR people. Sorry, but you get the impression that George Bush Jnr wouldn't know where Wales is if he had to point it out on the map."
The Manic Street Preachers headline the Heineken Green Energy Festival on May 4. Buena Vista Social Club play Smithfield on May 5. The Divine Comedy play Dublin Castle on May 5.