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Manic Street Preachers On Their Forthcoming Co-Headlining U.S. Tour With Suede - Under The Radar, 27th September 2022

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Manic Street Preachers On Their Forthcoming Co-Headlining U.S. Tour With Suede
Publication: Under The Radar
Date: Tuesday 17th September 2022
Writer: Dom Gourlay

James Dean Bradfield Discusses November's Joint Shows and the New Reissue of Know Your Enemy.

It’s been a busy September for Manic Street Preachers. The Welsh trio—James Dean Bradfield (vocals & guitar), Nicky Wire (bass), and Sean Moore (drums)—celebrated the 21st anniversary of 2001’s sixth LP Know Your Enemy with a reconstructed and remastered reissue that scored a whopping 9/10 on these very pages earlier this month.

A few days later, the band then confirmed they’d be returning to the United States of America for the first time since 2015 as co-headliners with fellow UK stalwarts Suede. Arguably two of the most pivotal, influential, and musically consistent to emerge from the British underground scene over the past three decades, it’s a mouth-watering tour for anyone fortunate enough to get a ticket, particularly as it will give fans an opportunity to see both bands play some of the most intimate venues they’ve played in years.

With the tour only weeks away, Under the Radar caught up with Bradfield to get the lowdown on what to expect from these shows, his favourite moments from past Stateside visits, playing again with Suede, Know Your Enemy, and Wales’ chances in the forthcoming World Cup in Qatar.

You’re heading to the States with Suede in November. This will be your first U.S. tour since 2015. How did it come about? Are you looking forward to it?
You can count the number of U.S. tours we’ve played on one hand. So, to be 52 years of age and 14 albums in, and to feel as if you’re still going to a relatively new place is good. It’s nice for an old bunch like us, and it feels good to be touring with Suede. There are realities post COVID, there are realities in terms of being an older band, you know, and it feels nice to actually go out there and share that task with another band that we shared some kind of kindred spirit with. There was some strand of DNA which we shared with Suede, you know, some kind of secret drama that they had which Nick [Wire] and Richey [Edwards] definitely took. There’s some kind of secret code underground grammar that Nick and Richey had, which they took from Hanoi Rocks, the Pistols, The Clash, and lots of other things. Even Public Enemy, and Suede had that too. It felt as if it was self-made. It felt as if it was homespun, felt as if it was something that was secretly coded just by them. Just like it was by Nick and Richey. There was a kindred spirit there, I’m not quite sure how you’d describe it? But we recognized in Suede early on there was some kind of J.G. Ballardian kind of dystopian landscape that was running through the songs as a kind of cautionary tale. And I think Richey especially connected with that. He was a massive Ballard fan and so’s Nick. We all are, to be honest. So, there was a lot of stuff there, and we were both kind of just pre-Britpop as well. But we got lumped in with it. Obviously, we’re a bit older. We’d been around while the whole revival was coming, and then somehow, we got lumped in with Britpop and Everything Must Go came out. We were already three albums in but when Suede came out it just felt as if they were on their own. Then suddenly they got anointed as the spearhead of Britpop at some point. So that was quite strange, it felt as if we were completely on our own. But we got co-opted into Britpop too. So, there’s lots of similarities there. And also, they’ve overcome quite a lot of adversity. Losing someone like Bernard Butler, who was such a brilliant guitarist and great musical architect for Brett [Anderson]. That transition of power from him to Richard Oakes, and watching to see if they could succeed at doing it was quite thrilling and also quite scary at the same time. Because we toured with them in 1994 in Europe, and I remember watching them thinking, “Wow, is this gonna work?” And then, you know, Dog Man Star came out, which is amazing. I love that album. That was probably their most Ballardian record. I remember thinking, “Wow, they’ve created a record like that.” At that point, Richey had a couple of emotional events in his life, so to speak. Nevertheless, Richey demanded to come back on the road with us. He said it would be good for him. So, we were walking a tightrope with Richey at that point, to see if this thing could still work with him being on the road. He was trying to figure it out too, to be honest. So, we were in that position. Suede were in that position. And obviously, we came out the other end of stuff, where unfortunately, Richey went missing. We did carry on, and we managed to make sense of everything and go forward. So did Suede in a different way losing Bernard who was amazing, then finding Richard Oakes who is amazing too. So, they came out with Coming Up, which I loved as a record and thought was a brilliant album. So, there’s a lot of similarities. Coming through the adversity. The secret kind of self-homespun DIY underground, glamour chic that they had. The site of nature of their lyrics, and just coming out the other side of it all. And just making sense of it. We share a lot of experiences, I think.

I think it’s probably fair to say that most Manic Street Preachers and Suede fans have very similar tastes in music. Most people I know that are fans of one are fans of the other. Do you think one thing you do share is that you’re almost like outsiders in many ways? You’ve mentioned Britpop and glam rock but you’ve never actually been tagged to any one specific scene or genre, which is obviously down to the music that both bands have made as well. Do you think that’s one of the reasons why you’ve always stood apart from other bands?
I think we’ve got one thing that stood us in good stead, unbelievably, which was used both in our favor and traded as an insult, was that we were from Wales. People would say, oh they’re from Wales, we’re not going to expect much from them. Lots of silly little kind of headlines, and it’s stood us in good stead that outsider status. Dare I say it, that chip on our shoulder kind of really was a good energy source that we drew upon a lot. We made sense of it again, like, “Why do we need to be with a movement? Why do we need to have a kinship with lots of other bands when it’s so much easier to do things on your own?” Whether it be artwork, whether it be a narrative, whether it be lyrics, whether it be a concept piano record, anything. It’s so much easier to be on your own, because sometimes you have disagreements in a band and we used to work things out by committee. If you try to figure out how you fit into a cultural landscape, then the game’s over. You can’t worry about how you fit in with your peers. You really need to go forwards and just ignore that. You’ve got to be quite myopic about it. I think Suede have that. Brett [Anderson] definitely had a similar vision of the world lyrically than most lyricists around him at that point.

I believe both bands are going to be headlining on alternative nights. How did you decide who is going to headline on which night?
I’m not quite sure, but I think to do it on an alternate nature seems vaguely fair. But also, I think they’ve looked at local algorithms and realized that these shows will be more appealing in some cities in America than others. So, there are anomalies in the American landscape where you might hit Seattle, and there are a lot of fans waiting for you, then you go to Minneapolis and it’s not so good. I probably shouldn’t have said that about Minneapolis but just to give an example of how unpredictable it can be from city to city.

Some of the venues are only 1,000 capacity or just above, which is which is very, very small compared to what you’re used to playing in the UK especially and in some cases will be the smallest rooms you’ve played since the Generation Terrorists days. Will it seem strange playing to smaller crowds? Does that mean the setlists will be more reflective of the band’s heavier material, or it will be a career spanning mix of greatest hits and album tracks?
I think we’re certainly going to embrace it. We’re not going there to indulge ourselves; we’re actually just going to play for people that just want to hear us. We’re not the kind of band that doesn’t interact with the audience, so we will be playing different sets most nights, but I think it’s fair to say they’re mostly going to be heavy with greatest hits. I might not remember everything about our gigs the last time we played in America but I remember the sense of them. Whether it’s playing to 400 people in Tennessee or wherever, I remember the sense of what they were like and it was quite a quintessential experience, so I’m quite looking forward to that.

You’ve covered [Suede’s] “The Drowners” in the past and did the collaboration with Bernard Butler at the Teenage Cancer Trust show 1994. Will there be any similar collaborations or covers on this tour?
We haven’t planned anything. That kind of thing sounds a little too showbiz for a band like us!

Have you got any lasting memories that stand out from previous shows or tours of America?
We were playing in Detroit, and I always get excited about playing Detroit because you’ve got the Hitsville studios. I can visit the museum for the third time, and there’s Fishbone’s restaurant as well. You can do a walking tour of the old car factories, walk along the boulevard that Hitsville is on and see the faded grandeur of what Detroit was, the big money that used to be there. It’s quite haunting now. It almost feels run down, like everything is not so attainable now. I love the sense of Detroit and I’ve got a soft spot for the Redwings ice hockey team. The gigs are never that well attended so it’s a double-edged sword, and I remember the last time we were there it was about 1,000 capacity and we had 300 turn up at best. I remember coming offstage and somebody told me, “You did well tonight, I forgot to tell you that’s the stage Harry Houdini died on!” That’s gonna last quite a good memory. I said, “Oh, thanks for telling me that!” Then I suppose the first time we ever played in America was in New York and Blind Melon were on before us. They just went on forever and ever and we ended up going on quite late. At one point, there was a rumor Slash was in the crowd because Blind Melon and Guns N’ Roses were quite friendly with each other. So, I was buzzing with adrenaline to fucking show him what me and this slightly battered Les Paul of mine had got!

Moving on to [the reissue of] Know Your Enemy, how did the restructure come about? Whose idea was it to change the tracklisting and running orders? I read that you only agreed to be involved if you could mix it.
It came about because we’ve archived, reassessed and kind of repackaged most of the records. It’s always lovely going through and finding the demos and actually interesting to see how we came up with songs and just having memories and stuff. And also, being a bit more completist about stuff because I’m a big fan of boxsets. I’ve got cupboards full of boxsets. So, it’s just nice to revisit your own records. But with Know Your Enemy, we’ve never really touched it at all. I suppose we were scared of it because we knew the story. If you go back, we told everybody that originally it was going to be two albums, but then it got condensed into one. So, we always had this in the back of our heads. We knew that Know Your Enemy was a bit of a failure. It was the one album of ours which we barely ever go back to and listen. The mix was terrible, the order was terrible. There were tracks missing. The whole context of it, we just messed it up. A lot of that was down to me, because Nick’s original idea was to have two separate albums as it is now. One half was to show the kind of confusion that we’d gone through and some of the loss we experienced in a very short space of time. To show that manifests itself as a band, and then the other half was to show that we’d come out the other side with our political instincts still intact. Regardless of quite a lot of trauma with my mum and Philip [Hall] and Richey. And despite all the success we’d had from Everything Must Go and This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, we still want to show them. It wasn’t just all about us assessing our own emotions, that we still had a political backbone. If you look at some lyrics that Nick wrote back then, you know, “Freedom of Speech Won’t Feed My Children,” there’s a lot of stuff in there, which I think is relevant to the present day. A couple of lines in “The Convalescent” as well, especially a line like “Srebrenica cousin of Treblinka,” nobody else was writing that at the time. Which I thought was quite a brave lyric because it was happening right on our doorstep in Europe and nobody had ever made the connection with what was happening to the Japanese in the second world war. There’s lots of little lyrics on that album which are connected to everything that’s going on around us. So, it was to show that we’d been through something but we’d come out the other side. We weren’t so myopic, and so self-obsessed and so decadent, that we hadn’t forgotten that the part of what we liked about the band was sometimes just delving into analyzing the things that were going on around us. Not understanding but just trying to analyze. So, that’s what the album was supposed to have been. It’s supposed to be that and I chickened out. I said to Nick and Sean [Moore], “We’ve already kind of done that with Generation Terrorists and that was that was a bit of a folly, a bit of a fable in itself.” It confused people, whereas The Holy Bible is so direct, and Everything Must Go was so direct. This Is My Truth… was a bit more expensive. But why do we want to go and mess everything up now? This kind of double narrative and no obvious hits? That we haven’t written on obvious yet. So, I convinced him not to do it, and so it’s all my fault, really. That’s what happened. And, of course, if you compromise, more often than not, you end up with a terrible, terrible, insipid version of what you initially intended. And so that’s what happened. So, when it came to reappraising it, Nick said he only wanted to do it if we were returning to what was originally intended. So, I agreed, but only if we could remix it because myself and Dave [Eringa] messed up the mixing first time around. So yeah, it was just good to go through all that and good to see how things connected to each other. Like “So Why So Sad” for example. When we got the mix back from The Avalanches, we got it back too late to actually put on the record. This is our Screamadelica moment where somebody else’s version of one of our tracks was better than ours. So, we should have included it but the album was already pressed up. But then we got the remix so that was a missed opportunity. A song like “Door to the River” had been knocking around for a while. It was the title of one side, and it was supposed to be just the three of us together, almost playing like “The Sound of Silence,” Simon & Garfunkel kind of style. Just as a three piece, and that’s what it is on the record now without any orchestration or anything. Then me and Dave went and messed that up by going from just the three of us to actually putting bells and whistles on it. So, it’s my McCartney versus Spector moment on “The Long and Winding Road” in a lowercase less historical fashion. So, there’s lots of little stories like that. I’d always looked at Know Your Enemy as the runt of the litter. I have always thought that’s the album which just isn’t that good. Now it’s finished and I can listen to it go, I actually think this is another album which I really like. It really is a good record, and that’s a relief to me. I can look back and say it was good. It got repaired.

For me, some of the changes to the running order really accentuates some of the tracks that probably didn’t get as much recognition first time around. “Epicentre” for example. That really, that jumps out now at the end of the first record, and also “The Year of Purification” as well at the start. It reminds me of the first time I heard R.E.M.’s “Radio Free Europe” with its similar guitar sound. Then I listen through the album, and I think there’s probably a dozen singles here. “Dead Martyrs,” for example. I actually feel the restructured Know Your Enemy will make people revisit the album and wonder why they didn’t give it as much attention first time around. Was that also your intention?
Well, I messed it up, you know. It was me, I fucked it up! With “The Year of Purification,” I was such an obsessive about R.E.M. when I was young. Not so much Reckoning but I played Murmur to death. “Shaking Through,” what a song! The start of “The Year of Purification” has an echo of “Shaking Through.” We were always dismissive about “Dead Martyrs” as it felt like that was an off cut from The Holy Bible. I remember Nick saying in Spain when we’re recording it that the title is such an oxymoron. So, I was like, “Well change it then!” I have no muscle memory of hearing the song and singing it, so it stuck and never got changed. Nick was always saying, “What the hell is that? What was I thinking? As I go, we’ll make it mean something else.” I think it sounds better now because we handed that track over to David Holmes to do some additional production on, way before other people were using him as a producer. He was just doing his own stuff at that point more than anything, and he got Kevin Shields to play on it. We buried Kevin Shields’ guitar on it a tiny bit, whereas now it sounds like this absent-minded nihilistic swipe. It either works or it doesn’t. And it works. And it’s brilliant. It’s made the track much better. Kevin Shields tells me that it’s much, much better. Just a lot of decisions like that when me and Dave were making it. We were like, “How did we fuck this up?”

The two previously unreleased tracks, “Rosebud” and “Studies In Paralysis,” also enhance the record. Would those songs have ever been released had you not revisited Know Your Enemy? Are there any other songs buried in the archives that might be revisited in the future?
No, this was the one really. There was one song that we thought might be floating around from Send Away the Tigers but we couldn’t find it. There might be something floating around off Lifeblood, maybe one track but that’s it. Perhaps there’s something flying around with the last two albums but nothing substantial. But no, this was the big one where we knew “Rosebud” was there, but we assumed we’d put it out as a B-side. Then we checked and we never had. I’d completely forgotten about “Studies In Paralysis” and it just came to Nick one day and he was like, “Fuck, I think this is another track!” and it was. I think we’d forgotten about it because we didn’t really know what the song was about. It was about feeling nothing. It was about just being empty. And just being white. Just being whiny and feeling sorry for yourself. And just feeling vapid, and feeling as if you were staring into the void. But in a way that was a first world problem. It was just a song about self-pity more than anything. And that’s what we thought, “Who the hell wants to do that? We don’t even want to hear it.” But of course, when it came to it, it had just a nice bit of absent-minded rock and roll abandon about it. So, we chucked it on the record, which felt nice to do. Sometimes when you’re stuck in the middle of an irregular, context is everything, and you feel everything is so important, you’ve got to convey so much. And sometimes it’s just good to put something out there, which is a bit narcissistic and self-obsessed. Sometimes it makes sense.

The demos are really fascinating, particularly the embryonic version of “The Masses Against the Classes” where part of the chorus to the recorded one, and also “His Last Elian,” which is comprised of parts that eventually went onto become “His Last Painting” and “Baby Elian.”
We had to make the sure the music and the lyrics were appropriate for each other but that’s where both those songs started, and you really want to reveal that because we don’t usually do that. I generally write music to Nick’s words, and the words are influenced by the music, for me anyway. That’s how I do it, and he’s like, “No, that’s good. It’s interesting.” It just shows that sometimes being in a band is much more of a haphazard thing than people realize. Sometimes chance comes upon you and it just happens. You’ve just got to be in the right position and have the right musicians and the right chemistry to make it work. So yeah, that is interesting. I remember looking at that demo of “The Masses….” A day before I did that demo in London I was at my mum and dad’s place in the valleys, and I remember just sitting in my mum’s bedroom because she’d passed away recently. I was just sitting there for a bit of company really, because I just wanted to feel closer to her really and I wrote that in my mum and dad’s bedroom. It’s the last song I ever wrote there. I remember thinking I should have written something beautiful and melancholic and just introspective and I wrote “The Masses Against the Classes.”

One of the original lyrics to “The Masses Against the Classes says, “We’re still together.” Was that meant to be a defiant statement against any detractors Manic Street Preachers are still going strong into the 21st Century?
Yeah, there was a bit of that I suppose. Being in a band is a bit of a strange thing. Suspension of disbelief sometimes, isn’t it? You think you’ve got a real job, but it’s not a real job. There’s a lot of long hours but it’s still not a real job. After you come back off the road and people say, “Oh, you just jump around and play guitar!” but it’s not as straightforward as that. We’ve travelled for 10 hours overnight, then we do a soundcheck, then we do promo, then we play a gig, and then we travel again. So, it is hard work. So, to justify that it’s hard work. But then deep down, you know that it’s hard work, but it’s also not a job. And that’s the big difference. You know, it’s something which requires commitment. And it requires effort and requires a really strange lifestyle sometimes where sleep goes by the wayside. And you’re working till four o’clock in the morning, but it’s still not a fucking job! Still not a job. So, you try and justify it on one hand, and then you realize, it’s not a job. I’m still in an amazing position. So, you get stuck in these old routines, that make no sense in your head, and you start thinking, I’m gonna keep on doing this. Then you think, “Oh, it’s not going right and we’re not a real band anymore. Success has turned our heads and our soul is not intact.” So, you take two weeks off then realize, “What the fuck was I thinking!” Part of that drama and part of that history theory is what feeds a band. Sometimes, you’ve got to think that what you’re doing is really, really important. Otherwise, it just becomes something which doesn’t weigh enough. It doesn’t weigh enough when it goes to the scales of judgement. It doesn’t weigh enough if you don’t feel as if it’s really important, I suppose. So, you’ve got to delude yourself, and you’ve got to be a bit comical, and you got to be a bit cynical sometimes. But at that point, yeah, we were all those things. We were a bit hysterical and thinking, “How long can we do this?” And we’ve lost so much in the pursuit of this goal, not by any mistakes that we made just by it being such a hard journey. Should we just stop here? So yeah, we were too accidental for our own good at that point. So, it definitely fed into lyrics, and I think that’s why sometimes you look at the lyric and go, “That’s what I was thinking. Okay, I’ll change it now.” Sometimes you should look at stuff in the morning and go to sleep on it. Because emotions arise out of hangovers, sometimes. So, it can work out. It’s good to have those demos and just go back and think I was being a bit silly there, musically and lyrically.

Will you be revisiting many of those songs for the tour in November? Will there be any shows specifically for the anniversary reissue of Know Your Enemy?
I’m not sure. I genuinely don’t know. We’re just concentrating on going to America with Suede first. Me, Nick, and Sean are in the studio at the moment rehearsing. We all live a fair distance from our studio in Caerleon near Newport. So, we’re all going in there when we can and bashing stuff about. We’ve been rehearsing a few big hitting songs that we haven’t played in the set for quite a long time. Trying to see if we can play “So Why So Sad” in that style. Trying to see if I can replicate Sean’s trumpet solo on “Ocean Spray” by using something else. It’s nice to be able to go into the studio and just fuck around, do things. Make some noise, take the piss out of each other and watch a bit of cricket. Just get out of this awful new cycle we appear to be in at the minute.

Are there any plans for a fifteenth Manic Street Preachers album?
Definitely. We’ve written some songs but we don’t know what they mean yet concept wise. I still think we’re working on sense memory. When stuff comes out, we don’t know what it means yet. We’re all really focused on going to America and making this work. Everyone’s excited about it, which is always a good thing to be.

Will there be another James Dean Bradfield solo record after 2020’s Even In Exile?
Nick’s going to put his solo album out sometime next year. It’s a brilliant record. Every time I think he should reduce it to a 10-track album I can’t think which one to take off, it’s that good. So that should be out early next year. For me, I don’t know yet. Even In Exile was a concept record so I didn’t have the pressure of having to make something commercial. There was no “hit” on there. I delved into the cosmic realms of prog at certain times on that record, and it was nice to do that. To not have to come up with something that was immediate or catchy. It felt right, but at the same time it’s probably something I’d steer away from doing again. Making a record about Victor Jara, I felt I knew enough already and it was amazing working with Patrick Jones [Nick’s brother]. We just started on the record as soon as we had the idea. Next time I’d like to do something a bit lighter, a bit more Blondie-esque maybe. Every time I listen to Blondie, I realize they were such an amazing guitar band, but not in that crushing way either.

I believe you’ve a soft spot for Nottingham Forest. What are your thoughts on manager Steve Cooper getting them to the Premier League for the first time in 23 years? Do you think they’ll stay up? There’s also a heavy Welsh connection at the club with Cooper coming from Pontypridd then Wayne Hennessey, Neco Williams, and Brennan Johnson all being regular starters for the Wales national team.
I had a big interest in Brian Clough so when he went from Derby to Forest, I just got into them. Just at that time when they won two European Cups in a row having won the league the season before that. So, I’ve always had an interest in the Tricky Trees. I used to go and see Newport a bit when I was young as well. I’m a little bit fair water. I do break the rules a bit. There’s a rule among diehard football fans that you can only have one team. I can’t say I’m a diehard Forest fan as I haven’t been to the ground for about 18 years now. That’s a long time, and my son has started going to see Cardiff City now so I go with him. I have an interest, but I guess you could call me a hedge fund football fan! But it’s amazing to see Forest back in the top division. It’s amazing to see the City Ground back up there again, and it’s amazing for the fans as well. And it’s amazing to see the Welsh contingent doing so well too. We’re colonizing you!

How do you think Wales will fare in the World Cup this November?
Now you’re asking me a question that I really don’t want to touch! It feels like bad voodoo that can go wrong. I was at the game when we qualified and we all just stood there then looked up at the TV 10 minutes later where they showed our group. And it just didn’t sink in until that point. I remember someone behind me saying we’ve got a group! We’ve never had a World Cup group. You just don’t know what that feels like! We’re just happy to be there, and we’re happy to be in the same group as England and we wanna go for it. We’re just in a really good mood. So, I just don’t know how we’ll do to be honest. I just want to take the weight, and the importance, and the narrative, and the sting out of Wales being there and if we get a draw when we play England and the USA, of course we’ll be happy. Everybody’s expecting England to ace that group so let’s just wait and see what happens. It’s been building for some time. When you used to watch the team under Mark Hughes there were eight or nine players from the Premier League, on a good day. Then when Chris Coleman and Gary Speed came along, God rest his soul. Nearly every player was playing at the top level and we can say that about pretty much everyone in the squad now, so we know we’re in a good position. We know we’ve got competition for places. We know we need Daniel James to settle at a club and be playing regularly. We know it’s important for Gareth Bale to go to America so he doesn’t get the shit kicked out of him playing for Cardiff City. We need Wayne Hennessey to keep his mojo because in that last game for us he was amazing. And Brennan Johnson to just keep on taking penalties like he does, because he looks like the calmest penalty taker in the world at present. Connor Roberts as well. He’s been doing brilliantly. One of those full backs that’s always chipping in with goals and assists every now and then. There’s lots there to be really happy about. Every Welsh football fan is just checking every weekend to make sure one of ours isn’t injured. But first and foremost, when I saw we had a group. The first sentence in my head went, in my lifetime I’ve seen it! I’ve done it. I’ve seen Wales qualify for a World Cup. That’s what’s most important so to be honest, I’m still in a good mood about that.

What advice would you give to a new band just starting out?
We lived in an age of music press and we shot from the hip. There were mistakes made when we did interviews and stuff. I don’t have to give advice about the music press because there isn’t really a music press any more. Not where sub editors would be needing a big story every week and some bands would talk the talk. So, I don’t think I’ve got anything relevant to say to a new band right now. I can be virtuous and tell them to say what’s in their hearts, but of course I hope every band’s doing that anyway. When we started, I was still buying vinyl and CDs. There was no such thing as downloads. I wasn’t buying bottles of water! By the time we signed a record contract with Colombia I think I’d bought two bottles of mineral water in my life. I didn’t have a mobile phone. I was buying Melody Maker, Sounds, NME, Select magazine, everything has changed. So, any advice I could give would mean nothing to them.

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