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Manics On New Football Single - The Quietus, 23rd May 2016

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Title: Manics On New Football Single
Publication: The Quietus
Date: Monday 23rd May 2016
Writer: Simon Price

Manic Street Preachers have been talking to Simon Price for The Quietus about their football anthem 'Together Stronger (C'mon Wales)', written to celebrate their national team's historic success in qualifying for this summer's Euro 2016 championships in France

“I think Nick, back in Sparky's (former Wales manager Mark Hughes) tenureship, started the lyric then,” singer and guitarist James Dean Bradfield explains. “I went to lots of those games, and I remember going to the San Siro game in 2003 when we lost 4-0 to Italy, which was just a terrible day for more reasons than one (Italian fans infamously rained bottles, coins and urine down onto the heads of Wales supporters). And that lyric bit the dust, and so did the plan to write the song. But we always had that ambition.”

“It had been around for a while,” bassist and lyricist Nicky Wire confirms. “Not fully-formed, but I'd always had the genesis of a lyric which went through all the fucking tragedy of being a Welsh football fan, the play-off cock-ups, and so on. I was actually there that night in Ninian Park in 1986, against Scotland, when we could have qualified for the World Cup, and Davie Cooper got a dodgy penalty, and (Scotland manager) Jock Stein had a heart attack and later died. And the Paul Bodin penalty miss (against Romania in 1994, ending Wales' hopes of qualifying for that year's World Cup). And losing to Russia in 2003. So all that stuff was there, but I didn't write it down this time until we'd qualified. And the basis of the song was to have a sort of Send Away The Tigers/Postcards From A Young Man anthemic feel, and if it's not good enough to be on one of those albums, let's not do it. So we didn't even tell anyone at first. We just did the song, before even being in contact with the FAW.”

The Manics have a long-standing affinity for the overlaps between music and sport. “I always got a thrill when 'Australia' was used on the Nationwide League's goal round-ups for three or four years,” James admits, “or when (Bradfield solo single) 'That's No Way To Tell A Lie' was used on Match Of The Day's Goal Of The Month for two or three years. I always loved that. Also, I've always loved sports themes: there are loads of sports themes from the Seventies and Eighties which have got a bit of a Krautrock element to them. 'Chaseside Shoot-up', for example, the old golf theme by Brian Bennett, is fucking brilliant. So this is just one of those little Manic holidays where we thought we could do something good for it. I went to four of the qualification games, and we're all big sport heads, so to not celebrate something like that would have been churlish. Game on! Let's do it!”

The song and video function as a potted history of Wales' lows and highs over the years, from the tragic suicide of manager Gary Speed to the triumph of the squad he bequeathed to his successor Chris Coleman. “I got all the bits of commentary together,” says Wire, “with Steffan Garrera (of BBC Wales), and everyone else fucked off and I put them in the track with (long-time Manics producer) Dave Eringa, which is a really important part of the song, to illustrate the story: the gigantic high of now, and the sadness of the past.”

James Dean Bradfield doesn't disagree with the suggestion that his rousing intro carries echoes of the guitar style of Stuart Adamson from Big Country/The Skids. “Oh, completely. It's completely Stuart Adamson. There's no secret about that. That actually does sound like him.”

The dual title is a compromise between the song's “C'mon Wales” chorus and the Football Association of Wales' official #togetherstronger hashtag. “'Together Stronger' is not our title, obviously. We called it that because we thought we'd incorporate the official Welsh FA tagline into it. There's a really good BBC Radio Wales documentary about the whole thing by Steffan Garrera.”

The next stage was to film the video, getting together with several members of the current Wales squad, which was possibly more of a thrill for the band than for the players. “I went up to [Liverpool midfielder] Joe Allen”, remembers Wire, “and said 'You look like a really cool Argentinian player from the Seventies. I love your new hair...'”

“Joe Allen was really cool dude”, Bradfield continues. “I said to him 'You've stolen my haircut from 1994', haha. He didn't say anything, but I did say to him 'Thanks for not singing God Save The Queen at the Olympics', because he was in the Great Britain team, and he, Aaron Ramsey and Craig Bellamy didn't sing it.”

One or two of the Wales stars were already familiar with the Manics' work. “Chris Gunter (Reading defender) is a bit of a fan of ours,” says Wire, “but the younger kids, obviously, haven't got a fucking clue who we are, to be honest. But footballers do get a bad rap. I've gotta say it was really good fun to have them jumping up and down.”

The Manics' friends and fellow Welsh legends Super Furry Animals have also released a song to commemorate the team's success. Whereas 'Together Stronger (C'mon Wales)' is a typical rousing anthemic rock song, SFA's 'Bing Bong' is a somewhat bizarre, vocoder-based electro-psych earworm. “I think it's a great track,” says Wire. “I'm not quite sure what it's got to do with the football! But the start of it sounds like that amazing Welsh Krautrock that they're so good at. I wish it had been a double A-side. We wanted to do it as a double A-side with them, but it never came to fruition.”

Bradfield accepts that neither band's song will be chanted from the terraces in France. “At the end of the day, Zombie Nation is still the one the fans are going to fucking sing, haha.” He's referring to the fact that rave classic 'Kernkraft 400' by German techno act Zombie Nation has been adopted as Wales fans' semi-official theme tune ever since a mass singalong broke out when it was played over the PA system at the away game in Belgium last year. Prior to that, 'Can't Take My Eyes Off You' by Andy Williams was adopted in a similar manner, after being used in BBC Wales trailers for the 1994 qualification campaign, and the Manics subsequently covered it live (as well as incorporating lines from it into “Together Stronger” itself).

Having become a father for the second time in December, Bradfield admits that it's going to be difficult to actually get out to France to support the team. Wire, however, is hoping to make it to Wales' first game, against Slovakia. “That's the key game, isn't it? I don't give a fuck about the England game. Fuck it. I wish we hadn't drawn them, and I'm sure they feel the same way. It's too much emotional baggage. But if we beat Slovakia, we're probably through, because of the way the system is, with the best third-places going through to the next round. So that's probably the biggest game since Brazil in 1958.”

The World Cup of 1958, held in Sweden, was the last time Wales qualified for a major tournament. A team containing all-time legends John Charles and Ivor Allchurch made it to the quarter-finals, only to be knocked out by a second-half goal from Pele. “I have got a book called When Pele Broke Our Hearts,” says Wire, “by Mario Risoli, a Welsh-Italian football journalist. I wrote the foreword for it, and Mario got every surviving player – I think only one had passed away at the time – to sign it for me. And it's always stuck with me. I remember my dad telling me about the '58 quarter-final. There are plenty of bigger fans, who've travelled to more matches than me, so we're not going round saying we're the biggest. But we are fans, and James went to all the home games, etc etc. And it's always been waiting there, in the heart.”