Most bands claim to love playing festivals, but self-proclaimed introverts Manic Street Preachers have taken a long while to get into the bonhomie of the summer open-air experience, says Tanya Sweeney.
Come summertime, musical visitors never tire of telling us how much they enjoy the festival experience. Playing to a yet-to-be- converted crowd, the carnivalesque vibe, hanging with rock’n’roll buddies... festivals have long been a much-loved experience for many a band.
Not so, however, in the case of Welsh rockers Manic Street Preachers. "Funnily enough, it’s only in the last few years that we’ve become open to new experiences and enjoyed doing festivals," muses front-man James Dean Bradfield in an exclusive chat with HQ.
"In the past we've not been the most festival-friendly band, mainly 'cos we're not that loved-up to begin with, or the type of happy band to try and get an audience to clap.
"It's weird, because when most bands first turn up to play a festival, they run around backstage, enjoy the free booze, chat to the other bands, but that was something we didn't really want to do.
"We had this Welsh Presbyterian ethic - just get in and work."
"It's cool to see a few new faces each year," he continues. We've touched base with Stereophonics this summer, as we've played three festivals in a row with them. We'll see each other and share a beer but we don't ever get into the whole 'travelling circus' vibe. You must remember that we're not the most sociable of bands!"
With 17 festivals on this summer's slate for the trio - and countless open-air appearances already to their name - the Manics have predictably amassed quite a few tall tales on the festival circuit.
"I think in 1992, we did two festivals in one day - one in Germany and then a tiny one in Holland, made up of about 200 people," Bradfield recalls.
"Richey (Edwards, missing ex-guitarist) had a ritual whereby he would eat, exercise and have a few vodkas before each show. Still, he didn't quite figure that he had to do the ritual twice this particular day. He'd gotten quite loose, and during the show I had my foot on the effects pedal and I realised my foot suddenly felt quite heavy.
"Basically, he'd fallen asleep on my foot, so I gave him a bit of a nudge and then he leaps up and dives straight into the non-existent crowd and lands flat on his face. Richey was responsible for many cool and iconic moments in his time, but safe to say this wasn't one of them."
Still, the Manics have mellowed with time, and for Bradfield, life on what he calls rock'n'roll's 'travelling circus' does have a few plus points.
"We've gotten to play places we've never been before and so this year and last year we've played places like Turkey and Croatia. They've been quite interesting, and I think because of that we've become a bit warmer as a band.
"We've been playing to younger crowds, and you can see when you play an old song like Motorcycle Emptiness that it registers on their faces, 'Ah, so they do that song'. That's kind of gratifying."
Of course, playing with long-time heroes and up-and-comers alike on the same bill is another welcome diversion during festival season.
"You do get a chance to see one or two bands alright," says Bradfield. "I've been checking out Hot Chip, and Lenny Kravitz was surprisingly good.
"We went on right before Bob Dylan at a recent festival and that was like a scene out of Almost Famous," he laughs. "We were watching from the side of the stage. I think looking at the back of Bob Dylan's head was a definite high-point for me!"
Of course, the Manics command their own 'elder statesman' reputation when it comes to festivals; for his part, Bradfield appears bemused at how the festival weekends have evolved over the years.
"Even when I went to festivals before playing them, I remember they were almost like gatherings," he recalls. "Now festivals are much more structured and amenable, some might say they're a bit homogenised but I definitely think they're more inclusive. There are more things to do and enjoy, and entire families go down. It's become a different experience."
Which begs the question: will the Manics be bringing their own broods to Punchestown this summer?
"Well, we've been with our respective wives for a very long time, so not really," smiles Bradfield.
"I'd say at this stage they're bored seeing us! Besides, at a festival, there should still be an element of rock'n'roll. It's not a crèche!"