As the Manic Street Preachers prepare for a festival headlining slot, James Dean Bradfield gives some clues to Gavin Allen about the band’s new album and reveals all about a fundraising project close to his heart.
The Manics play Newport Centre on Thursday as a warm up for their headline set on the Radio One stage at the Reading and Leeds festivals next weekend.
It’s exactly 11 years since the band last played at the Welsh venue and Bradfield is aware of the historical echo.
“Funnily enough the last time we played there in 1997 was a warm up for Reading,” he says.
“Newport Centre reminds me of all the great bands I used to go and see there and of Newport’s history, like the apocalyptic Smiths’ gig there that was front page news. (On October 19, 1986, Morrissey was pulled off stage by fans and had to abandon the gig for hospital treatment. A riot ensued).
“Newport has TJ’s as well as Newport Centre and for a period in the ’90s it was known as Seattle In Wales because of its influence in Britain, so it’s always good to go back.”
That gig, on August 22, 1997, was the Manics’ only Welsh date of the year and sold-out the 2,024 ticket allocation at the rate of 20 per minute, with queues forming around the block when they were put on sale.
That hunger was generated by the band’s commercial apex, Everything Must Go.
Their return to the venue finds them on a similar, if slightly reduced, footing after their eighth album, Send Away The Tigers, fired them back into the public consciousness.
But the period between the two gigs has been filled with personal and professional struggles for the trio, and for Bradfield the most significant of them was the passing of his mother Sue in 1999, which is why the band are donating around £5,000 from the ticket sales to Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff.
Bradfield spent many hours at his mother’s bedside at Velindre and even wrote a song about the experiences; the single Ocean Spray was named after the fruit juice drink he would take to her when he visited.
“The staff conduct themselves with such dignity and they took my mother’s mind off the pain she was going through,” says the Velindre patron quietly.
“So it’s not a depressing place, it’s actually quite uplifting.”
In the period that followed his mother’s death, the Manics tailed off. Their albums Know Your Enemy (2001) and Lifeblood (2004) did not provide the success to which they had become accustomed and the band needed lifting.
Send Away The Tigers reinvigorated them but did Bradfield ever doubt the band’s festival headline status in the interim?
“I understand where that question comes from because we did have a misadventurous period, when we experimented with the band to its near death,” he says.
“But no I didn’t. We are a strange beast of a band and we have had a lot of crisis events in our career, like Richey (Edwards, their former guitarist) disappearing and our first manager dying.
“But there is an element to the Manics that thrives on the dramatic.”
In recent years they experienced brief separation when Bradfield and bassist Nicky Wire recorded solo albums, and this year Bradfield further branched out by scoring a new play, Revelation, by Wire’s brother Patrick Jones.#
“It’s like being commissioned without being paid,” he jokes.
“Patrick has a way of focussing on one issue, writing his piece, and then handing it over to you and he doesn’t ask for empathy or personal experience of the issues.
“That’s very different to being in the Manics because when Nick gives you a lyric you are being asked to believe something.
“It’s quite freeing but the more I do away from the Manics the more I value them.
“I am an institutionalised Manic Street Preacher and I like the fact that we are quite despotic about sticking to an idea once we have it.”
They are doing just that with their new album, a work Bradfield described as “more punk, less anthemic, something... twisted” on our last meeting.
“I stand by that but I don’t want to talk about it in any more detail because sometimes the more you talk about an idea the more energy it loses,” he says.
“We have a history of talking something up and then going off in a totally different direction.
“We have demoed nine or 10 songs at the moment and have about four more to come and we are looking to record it later this year.
“But it’s definitely got an edge of The Holy Bible to it.”