James Dean Bradfield On The Dangers Of Taking Life Easy
James Dean Bradfield doesn't cope well when he's left to his own devices - but when he and fellow Manic Street Preachers Nicky Wire and Sean Moore announced at the end of their 2005 tour that they were taking a two-year break, the singer found himself in exactly that situation.
"I had all these plans," he says. "I was going to learn a different language, build a guitar. I thought perhaps I could go and do some of the Silk Route in China, but it never came off.
"I just sat in the chair watching (sports channel) ESPN Classic for like a month," he grimaces.
But it didn't take long for the couch potato lifestyle to lose its allure.
"That first month sent me insane," he says. "I became a completely dysfunctional, miserable person, completely uncommunicative and aggressive. I realised I'm an institutionalised musician," he laughs.
"I've been making music solidly since I was 15 and I can't really exist without it."
Hence The Great Western, James' unexpected foray into a solo career. Many side projects from musicians still in bands are often lesser versions of their band's material, but James's album is a pleasingly solid piece of work.
Fans of the band will find it a sufficient stopgap before the next Manics album. But there are some differences, for example in the lyrics.
In the band this is normally Nicky Wire's area, with James' only foray into lyrics being the 2001 Manics single Ocean Spray, which he wrote after his mother's death from cancer.
"At first I found (lyric-writing) hard," says James. "I realised that in (former member) Richey (Edwards) and Nick's lyrics you hear the first line and you know what it's about.
"My lyrics were sometimes thoughtful, and sometimes more exploratory in terms of actually admitting I'm not understanding what I'm writing about but I hope I get there in the end."
He says the album, and Nicky's debut solo effort I Killed The Zeitgeist, out later this year, give the band a new lease of life.
Some might say they really need it. Last album Lifeblood, released in 2004, was their least successful yet, stalling at No 13. At the end of the last tour even the band themselves knew they needed a break.
"With Lifeblood I was trying to find something new in the Manics," says James. "I was always discarding the first or second ideas and instead working on the third. I'd lost perspective on what made the Manics good and that was our instinct together as friends and musicians.
"But we had a moment of clarity on that last tour. Me and Nick realised we'd been in the same band for 21 years and our audience had been coming out to see us all that time. We just thought, God, they could do with a break actually."
Brought up in Blackwood in south Wales, James formed firm friendships with his cousin Sean, and Nicky and Richey at Oakdale Comprehensive School. As soon as he left school James kick-started his career by busking in Cardiff.
"The worst reception I ever had was outside a convention of 10,000 Mormons," he recalls. "I got £1."
Undeterred, he went on to form the Manics with Nicky and Sean, with Richey later completing the final line-up. After hitting the road playing various small venues around the country, they were signed by managers Phillip and Martin Hall.
The Manics became a huge cult success, releasing three albums, two of which went Top 10. Then in 1995 the band became the centre of one of the greatest mysteries in rock history when guitarist Richey disappeared.
Over a decade later he remains missing and has not been officially declared dead. The band even keep an account open for him, in which they put his share of the royalties. His legacy as the Manics' most unforgettable band member is hard for the others to escape.
"Obviously he's not as strong a presence as he used to be," says James. "We have to hunker down and depend upon each other as three people. But part of being in a rock'n'roll band is always fiercely retrospective and you always see memories of Richey.
"His is an indelible presence, and rightly so, but, as time goes on, you tend to talk about the good things rather than the bad things.