When The Manic Street Preachers flew into Adelaide for the Big Day Out concert, they brought with them tragic memories of an unsolved mystery. Michael Duffy reports.
Three years ago on Monday, Manic Street Preachers lyricist Richey James drove to an infamous suicide spot in Wales and was never seen again. And whether he took his life or merely escaped into hiding still remains a mystery. While the Welsh band has gone on to release two albums which have driven the Manics to the top of the United Kingdom music scene, the mystery of James lingers as a major component of the band's allure.
Speculation that the disappearance was a hoax persist, and sightings of James have been reported throughout Europe and India, although none has been confirmed.
Lead singer James Dean Bradfield is still deeply affected by the loss but says even if James were to return, he would not be allowed back into the band.
"No, obviously not. He didn't want to be in a band and being in a band wasn't conducive for him as a person," Bradfield says. "If he came back, we'd be confused and we'd be in turmoil. We'd want
to start by being friends again, but I don't want to work with him again."
Contractually, a quarter of the royalties from James's songs are still held in an account in case he returns.
Before his disappearance, James, who wrote the majority of the band's lyrics, was a tortured genius, infamous for self-mutilation. He gained widespread notoriety in 1991 for carving "4 real" into his arm in front of a journalist who doubted his reputation.
"We still hope that we'll see James again, but we have to try to resolve ourselves and try not to think about it too much," Bradfield says.
The Manic Street Preachers will perform alongside Hole, Marilyn Manson and Ash at the Big Day Out at Wayville Showground at 5.30pm tomorrow. And while the band's image has subdued in recent years, Bradfield says he is flattered by comparisons that have been drawn between his band and the Sex Pistols.
"We saw the Pistols as this perfect little crystalline image," he says. "They came and they were absolutely amazing they were beautiful, they were intelligent, they were cool as fuck, they were violent.
"When we were young, our favorite bands were the Clash and the Pistols. We liked bands that talked about things that affected them." For their latest album, This is My Truth Tell Me Yours, the Welsh trio has undergone a style overhaul, abandoning its political/punk roots for a more musical approach.
"Music for us was the first obvious escape route from where we were growing up," Bradfield says.
"It was either do that or be incredibly good at sport to escape. But music was the one thing that communicated to us, the one thing the four of us all absolutely agreed on."
"We used to run the band almost by a set of rules, by a manifesto but I think we've relaxed a bit now.
"We used to hide behind a lot of things we said and the music became just a way of reporting what we were saying.
"Now we've relaxed a bit and realise we have to let the music be a bit more human rather than just a vehicle for the things we said." When the Manic Street Preachers emerged in the UK, they went against the grain of the Manchester scene and broke free with a style of political rebellion which inspired fanatical devotion from fans. "Our third album, The Holy Bible, was a stage where our fans became quite obsessive," says Bradfield. "Their attention to detail was quite scary really, there was no get-out clause for them and I think those who really got into that album became younger versions of ourselves.
"Then later you had what you'd call I suppose 'lads', wearing buttoned-down Ralph Lauren shirts. The two groups practise this sort of inverse snobbery at concerts now and sometimes it can become quite heated.
"I've tried to stay away from it. I'm no great mediator anyway, but nobody in a band can ever dictate how they're interpreted. You can't say some fans are better than others."
Now the Manics stand among the elder statesmen of the British music scene with their place in music almost certainly assured. "In the British scene, everything has become so polarised," Bradfield says. "You have the pop thing going on where these boy bands and girl bands selling so many albums its fucking scary. "And on the other hand, you have the leftover from Britpop who have gone on to become even bigger bands and the minor league bands have found it hard to survive.
"For us, we've been successful for the first time, having success in Europe now; it's cool. I'm getting to be quite an old fella and it's cool it's finally happening."
Bradfield says he's looking forward to playing in Adelaide, having heard stories of South Australia's weather and womenfolk.
"We've heard the food's good and you've got good-looking women there but we always take these things with a pinch of salt," he says. "When we perform, we'll play a mix of the old and the new but also expect to see sad faces up on the stage we're still not happy with the result of the Ashes series."
Despite the Manics' success, Bradfield says the band is still hungry, desperate to pillage all that is available in the music industry. And despite having created an album hailed by many music critics as the best album of 1998, the band is yet to achieve success in the United States.
"We've always been really competitive people and I don't think any of the really big bands get along," Bradfield says.
"I see Noel Gallagher (Oasis songwriter and guitarist) around and he's the only one I don't feel competitive with. He's the king of rock 'n' roll and I figure I'll leave him to his kingdom.
"But now we're driven forward by a desire to fuck other bands over. I want what's mine. I want what's yours. We want what's coming to us we want it all."