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National Treasures - Q Magazine, November 2013

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Title: National Treasures
Publication: Q Magazine
Date: November 2013
Writer: John Harris, Keith Cameron, Niall Doherty, Simon Price
Photos: Alex Lake, Tom Sheehan, Ed Sirrs, Kevin Cummins, Mick Hutson

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Twenty-five years after the release of their debut single, the Manics are as relevant as ever. Over 16 pages of exclusive access, they guide us through two decades of triumph and tragedy.

A Design For Life

How did four situationist punks from South Wales become one of the most important British rock bands? John Harris introduces our special...

What do the following people have in common: Stephen Hawking, Lenin, Shaun Ryder, Madonna, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Lennon, George Orwell, Morrissey, Johnny Marr, Richard Gere, Joan and Jackie Collins, Myra Hindley, the Duke of Cambridge, Richard Nixon, Pablo Picasso and Adolf Hitler?

Answer: they have all been mentioned in songs by Manic Street Preachers. It's a pretty good indication of some of the qualities that have always made them unique. A few other questions only underline the point. Who else could have written songs with such titles as (I Miss The) Tokyo Skyline, Motorcycle Emptiness, Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier, (It's Nat War) Just The End Of Love and The Intense Humming Of Evil? Is there other rock group whose catalogue contains a piece of punk rage as furious as Motown Junk, a Number 1 hit as elegant and poised as If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next, or a pop song as perfect as Your Love Alone Is Not Enough? And how many of their early peers are still with us? It is a long time since we heard from such early-'90s indie talents as Five Thirty, Slowdive and Intastella. The Manics are now on to their 43rd single and 11th album, with a 12th following soon next year.

And then there is their actual story: James Dean Bradfield (singer), Richey Edwards (guitarist), Sean Moore (drummer) and Nicky Wire (bassist) decisively hoved into view in January 1991 when Heavenly Records released Motown Junk. They were in the habit of playing to audiences who would often turn hostile (this writer once saw them at the Marquee club in central Londan, somehow holding their own under a 25-minute hail of beer cans) and critics who would habitually sneer: "a school play about The Clash?'was among the more generous verdicts.

They were much better than that, of course - but also completely out of step with wider developments, and proud of it. Their chosen touchstones included not just the best British punk, but Guns N' Roses and Public Enemy. While other musicians remained fond of saggy casualwear, they wore their mums' blouses and stupidly tight white jeans. "We're of eyeliner and spraypaint/DIY destruction on Chanel chic," went Stay Beautiful, single which stalled at number 40. No matter: they told anyone who would listen that their intention was to sell 16 million copies of their first album and then split up.

Instead, they carried on, from Generation Terrorists, through the uncertain, slightly awkward Gold Against The Soul and on to the jaw-dropping record they titled The Holy Bible, which is among the most lyrically ambitious albums any rock group has made. As well as evoking the more awful aspects of modern history, it explored the deep torment suffered by Richey Edwards. Five months after it was released, he disappeared from his West London hotel, and the Manics' Story became not just about music, lyrics and live performances, but profound personal tragedy.

For a time, it was unclear whether they would come back. It is part of the terrible drama of this period that when they did, they had recorded probably their single greatest achievement. A Design For Life was released in 1996 and a dazzlingly ambitious glimpse of the fate of the British working class. Its success was based on both its lyrics, and thrilling music - Aneurin Bevan meeting Phil Spector, which was some combination. That it tumbled in amid the giddy superficiality of Britpop was all part of the triumph: as ever, despite the fact that their early rage had been superseded by more mature emotions, the Manics remained absolute outsiders.

Seventeen years have gone by since that single made them stars. As they themselves acknowledge, on occasion, things have not been easy. From the most positive perspective, you would describe such albums as Know Your Enemy and Lifeblood as "transitional": looking back, Nicky Wire has claimed that they spent some time "on the verge of nothingness". But even on those records, there are plenty of reminders of who you're listening to. And in any case, any lingering disappointments were avenged by Send Away The Tigers, released in 2007 - which somehow sounded like a group playing to their mast obvious strengths, while still moving on. By now, there also a clear sense of the Manics ageing along with their audience, and the primary colours of yore being replaced by new subtleties and nuances. There again, just to prove that they were the same reckless spirits they ever were, they returned to Richey Edwards's lyric-book for an album titled Journal For Plague Lovers, an album so uncompromising that it contained no singles.

Their latest is Remind The Film, by turns tender, strange, angry, and impossibly sad. It is full of acoustic guitars, whereas a companion album that will be released next year is apparently "spikier and shinier". According ta the band, the reference points far this record Include Bob Dylan, Werner Herzog, Virginia Woolf, ABBA, the Welsh poet RS Thomas, the contemporary classical composer Max Richter, and - but of course - Rod Stewart. As ever, there is no one even remotely like the Manic Street Preachers, and there probably never will be.

Off Duty With Nicky Wire

The Manics bassist is so house proud he once collected a Brit in a T-shirt pronouncing "I ❤ HOOVERING". Today he shows Keith Cameron round his home and admits that middle-aged life isn't sitting easy with him.

There isn't a crumb out of place in Nicky Wire's kitchen. At least, not until Q starts to eat the Sainsbury's croissant the Manic Street Preacher has kindly provided for breakfast. Despite our best efforts, a doughy flake evades the plate and spirals to the floor, it sits like an indictment on the otherwise spotless carpet, next to a mug of coffee (Fairtrade, organic, instant). Tucking into his own strawberry jam-filled pastry, the host waves a reassuring hand, "Don't worry about making a mess," Wire says. "I'm looking forward to giving the place a good clean later."

Amid troubled times of flux and recession, it s reassuring that some things turn out exactly as you expect. This notoriously house-proud rock star's home does indeed smell faintly of bleach. The all-pervasive tidiness is especially impressive because two children also live here, though as Wire indicates, 11 year-old Clara and six-year-old Stanley have decamped with mum Rachel to Tenby. They've been enjoying a week on the beach while dad commutes daily to the Manics' studio in Cardiff, rehearsing for a forthcoming tour. Sean Moore will arrive in an hour to give him a lift, Wire can't drive. "I should have learned," he says. "With kids, I had so much grief about it - I just couldn't do it. I failed my theory three times. I used to cancel lessons and wander around here for an hour, I despised it so much. Luckily, the kids are getting on a bit, I think I've dodged the bullet now."

Nicky Wire is 44, though aside from becoming a parent and buying this detached house in Newport's sole "posh" suburb, his life isn't much different from 20 years ago when he and Rachel married. He still spends most of his time and money on books and music - precisely shelved, organised by subject - consuming culture in order to make sense of his place in the world. An art collection is his one extravagance: he displays originals by Tracey Emin and Jamie Reid, though the large Damien Hirst was a present from Rob Stringer, the Columbia Records boss who signed the Manics in 1991. That the band have existed for three decades is one factor behind the contemplative tone of their new album, Rewind The Film. By his own admission, Wire's struggling with middle age, a time when youth's raging certainties become clouded by intimations of mortality.

"I'm not as sharp, outwardly, as I used to be. I've been trying to learn German - and I can talk about county cricket or Welsh rugby from 1972, yet gaining new knowledge is getting harder. Not to learn it; but for it actually to stay in your head, I find that disheartening."

Wire dons a pair of Crocs and leads Q outside the main house to his work space annexe, where he's dispatched by the family to paint or make noise. The Manics archives are stored here, in meticulous order. There are thousands of photographs, press cuttings and letters sent by band members to each other. An ongoing programme of catalogue reissues mines its source material from these chronologically labelled boxes and files. "When James ever brings anything over it's in a fucking bin-liner," Wire laughs.

Feeling so connected to the past raises the stakes for the Manics' ongoing future. One lyric on Rewind The Film finds Wire admitting he's, "So sick and so tired of being 4 Real." Their principles, both personal and collective, bind in often contradictory ways: the band agonised over licensing A Design For Life to Sainsbury's during the 2012 Summer Paralympics for £40,000 - and ended up giving the money back. "Then we just looked at each other and went, 'Why are we feeling guilty about it?'" Wire says. "Next time we're asked to advertise something, does anyone give a shit anymore if we say, 'Fuck it'? It's the same with awards. I'm always of the opinion that I'd rather us get it than some other fucker."

The only award on show in Wire's house is an Ivor Novello because, Wire explains, "It's solid bronze and actually worth something." That, and the fact he received it for songwriting (for A Design For Life in 1997): a craft his ingrained South Wales work ethic won't let him neglect. The next Manics album is already made. Wire proudly gives Q a taste of its Berlin-recorded Neu!port avant-pop with Europa Geht Durch Mich, a bilingual duet between James Dean Bradfield and German actor Nina Hoss. "I've got this obsession with being a band and not an artist," says Wire. "Artists just satisfy themselves, they don't really want to communicate. When I describe myself as an 'artist' you'll know the fight's over."

He picks up a framed photograph from his bedroom. It's Wire, Bradfield, Moore and Richey Edwards crammed onto a sofa like giggly truants, with their current manager Martin Hall and his late brother (and former Manics manager) Philip sitting on the floor. He smiles. "I always look at that and feel it would be a betrayal not to keep pushing on."

Manics Mementos

Nicky Wire delves into the Manics' vaults and talks Q through their 10 most treasured souvenirs.

1. Brit Awards
The Manics won Best British Album and Best British Band in 1997.
"It was pure joy because it felt like we were the ultimate cult band who went over - that whole night was a genuinely fun evening. I made this mad speech about comprehensive schools and boxers. I remember playing A Design For Life and thinking, 'There's 12 million people watching this!'"

2. Gold Against The Soul notes
Ideas for the band's 1993 second album.
"Recording Gold Against The Soul was just a really flat experience. There's four classic singles but it's so bloated. I think we were desperate to prove our chops. I have to say some of the best guitar solos ever in the '90s are on that album. We'd really moved on as musicians."

3. Suicide Alley lyric note and sleeve
Their debut single, released in 1988 shortly before Richey Edwards joined.
"Richey couldn't really play so he took the photograph for the sleeve. I remember walking through the streets of Blackwood with the most ridiculously tight white jeans. There's something about a clichéd gang mentality that always really suited us. It was just a really nice feeling of delusion in ourselves that we were gonna do something important."

4. James Dean Bradfield's balaclava
The BBC received a record number of complaints after Bradfield wore a terrorist style balaclava on Top Of The Pops in 1994.
"The day after, Sony were saying 'it's the most amount of complaints ever' and 'you'll never get on Top Of The Pops again', all that kind of stuff. That era was the closest thing to Apocalypse Now; it did feel that fucking dark. I felt like I was gonna have a heart attack every time I was onstage."

5. Original lyrics to Motorcycle Emptiness
An early draft a of one of the Manics' best-known songs.
"It's one of the first songs me and Richey wrote together - it had so many different gestations. We were obsessed with writing a cross between [1983 movie] Rumble Fish and a Jesus & Mary Chain biker song. We worked quite scratchily trying to piece everything together. It's hard to explain to anyone how good those times were. Some songs just flow but that one shows sometimes you really have to dig in to get something everlasting."

6. Programme from gig at Karl Marx Theatre, Havana, 2001
The trio met Fidel Castro when they became the first major Western band in over 20 years to play Cuba.
"I feel like I wasn't there, if I'm being honest with you. It was like an outer-body experience from the moment we left London. I don't regret going but I wish we hadn't wasted about £300,000 doing it cos it put us into so much debt. It was half rock'n'roll fantasy and half trying to show the better points of Cuba. When we came home, all our phones were clicking all the time. There was some weird shit going on when we came back from there. Undoubtedly.

7. Richey's guitar & setlist from 94 Astoria gig
The remains of Edwards's instrument from his last ever show with the band.
"That gig shows that sometimes hatred and nervous breakdowns can make for really compelling art. It really felt like the end of an era. It was a really strange feeling because we'd never even planned to smash anything up. When someone told us it was £26,000 of equipment gone, we were in shock. At this time we just had no money anyway, we didn't make any money until Everything Must Go. That guitar is what Richey played his only chord on record on, the little chord in La Tristesse Durera. That's probably why he smashed it!"

8. Motorcycle Emptiness picture disc
Rare version of the 1992 single.
"Releasing Motorcycle Emptiness really felt like a step up. It was the point when we suddenly realised we couldn't hide behind the polemic forever, which was quite a frightening experience really, especially for me and Richey."

9. This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours song board
The list of songs recorded for the triple-platinum follow-up to Everything Must Go.
"It was a disgraceful decision to leave Prologue To History off that album. Even for the lyrics alone it should've been in. Recording This Is My Truth... was bliss, it was fantastic. We knew we had these massive singles. It just felt like were being treated as a mega proposition on all levels, which is what we'd always wanted."

10. Birthday card from Richey to Sean
New Art Riot, the title of the band's 1990 EP, is scrawled onto the front of the card.
"It just shows all the tenderness, really. We were all fanzine kids and the idea of a Pritt Stick, a couple of magazines and making a card for each other...we still do it now and again, taking comfort in those tender moments?'

In The Studio With James Dean Bradfield

He's never sent an email and scowls at PJ Harvey accepting an MBE. Can the Manics' reformed control freak make peace with life in the modern age? Niall Doherty finds out.

A week after the Manic Street Preachers played at London's O2 in 2011, James Dean Bradfield felt mostly relief. The frontman had led the band through a celebratory set that took in all 38 of their singles, but not long after a sort of emptiness started to take hold. Bradfield has never been the rock'n'roll dreamer type and for this stoic pragmatist, they were standing a little too close to the sepia tint of nostalgia. That indie band with the punk roots who'd brought glitter-and-lipstick smear to arena-rock, what happened to them he wondered?

"It felt a bit too triumphant for my liking," he says. Bradfield is sitting in the control room of the Manics' Faster Studios, just behind the industrial hustle of Cardiff train station. It's here where he retuned himself into the band. In between short stops around the world as part of the continued promotion of singles compilation National Treasures, here Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore plotted their next move. Slowly, their singer started to reconnect. "For 14 months, it just felt great to be in this band that no-one else knew about, doing this record that no-one else had heard," he says. That predominantly acoustic new album Rewind The Film is stripped of Bradfield's guitar blasts and features a high number of guest vocalists is telling. It's almost as if to rediscover his place in the band, Bradfield had to remove his own trademark characteristics from it.

By his own admission, he used to be a control freak in the studio. That ended some time around the release of 2007's Send Away The Tigers. It was a line in a documentary about Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign - "You've got to believe something can happen in the room when you're not in it" - that hit home.

Perhaps he's just plder ("not wiser"). He is 44. The only member to move to London after the success of 1996's Everything Must Go, he now lives a quiet life just outside Cardiff with his wife and two-year-old daughter. He moved back here in 2010 because he was coming to see his dad all the time, to record, to rehearse, to watch Cardiff Blues, his rugby team, to go to Welsh internationals...a lot, basically. "It was getting ridiculous," he says, "So I came back in the end," His affinity for Wales and the Valleys is deep. He feels as if he's owned by it and owes it something. "It's good to feel as if a place shaped you," he says, "cos straight away it obliterates a massive part of your ego."

Many of the Manics' best moments are fuelled Bradfield's holler but there's a peaceful eloquence to him when he talks. Often, he'll close his eyes for two or three sentences, carefully picking out the right words. His days now don't revolve around propping up bars in West London but reading and taking his dog for a walk. Push him for a hobby and he'll say The Guardian's Quick crossword. He is a technophobe: he's never sent an email and doesn't know how to switch a computer on. "I'm so divorced from the modern world and it's not because an active, arch militant Luddite;" he says, "I just can't be bothered to learn anything new. I can be bothered to learn something new within music or by reading, but not by using a fucking computer."

The reason the band are still going is because the three of them "absolutely fucking adore and love it". That's why they've been working on two records at the same time - Rewind The Film's Krautrock-inspired follow-up will be released next year - and why they put themselves through what Bradfield describes as the "pure tension" of releasing record in 2013. There's too much "chatter", he says: about what music means now, about new models and old models. He wonders where a band who once sang, "Repeat after me/Fuck Queen and country" fit into a world where it's OK for PJ Harvey to accept an MBE. "I love a lot of her records but...Having a soft affinity with royalty doesn't tend to matter in the music world any more. It's completely different place that we release a record in these days." The band?s own ecosystem is reassuringly the same, though. They're still a gang, but never in the pub - they spend so much time in each other's company that going out drinking together isn't necessary. On a personal note, he says he's not so different to the young singer who marched around Blackwood with his bandmates in tight white jeans 25 years ago. "I still have a healthy dose of irrational dislikes and an equal measure of sense of wonder," he says, He could be describing the Manics themselves, but that's because you suspect it's Bradfield who keeps the band's delicate balance in check.

The Last Days Of Richey Manic

Richey Edwards was the creative force behind the Manics' early years. A fierce intellectual who could barely play guitar but plotted the band's every move, he disappeared in 1995 after a period of mental health and alcohol problems. Those who were close to Edwards and the band tell his tale.

22 DECEMBER 1967: Richey Edwards is born in Blackwood, Gwent. In 1988, he joins Manic Street Preachers, a punk band formed by his friends Nicholas Jones ("Nicky Wire"), James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore. A campaign of gigging and letter-writing begins.

Bob Stanley (Journalist and Saint Etienne member who in 1991 released the Manics' Feminine Is Beautiful EP on his own Caff label): The first time I came across Richey was when he wrote off to buy my fanzine, Caff. Most people put "Dear Sir" on their letters, which I suppose they'd been taught at school, but it always looked quite daft, Richey just wrote his address, and "Inspire me".

John Robb (Journalist): I was sent a Manics demo when they were just starting. It came with a long letter from Richey, about, the bands they hated and loved, and how they hated indie music. It was a great diatribe, a Biro manifesto, and you couldn't help falling in love with them before even listening to the tape.

Martin Hall (Manics manager, 1990-present): My brother Philip [Hall] and I drove down to see the Manics rehearsing in a school classroom in Pontllanfraith, and the first thing I saw was Wire bleeding out of his forehead because he'd whacked himself with his bass. And I thought, "Fucking hell, what have we got here?" Richey, though, was doe-eyed with a shy smile: "Hello, would you like a cup of tea?" We went out for dinner afterwards and regardless of their music, Philip was convinced they would get a shitload of press because they had their agenda mapped out so strongly.

Terri Hall (Their landlady when they lived on her and husband Philip's floor in West London. Later, their PR): Richey was such a fragile beauty. However, I fast discovered he was also hugely ambitious. With Richey in the band, their success was a given. Underneath that polite facade was quite a steely, assured young man.

JANUARY 1991: after an early single and EP on smaller labels, the Manics release Motown Junk on indie label Heavenly.

Dave Eringa (Producer): I was the tea boy on Motown Junk. We worked very late that night, and Richey went for a kip in the van where they all had to sleep. At 3am he came up to the studio to say he'd been sick in the van„and I was struck by how sweet they all were to him about it. I'd have been so pissed off, but they just rolled up their sleeves and dealt with it, like proper family.

John Robb: I interviewed the band for their first-ever front cover [for the 26 January 1991 issue of Sounds], sat on amps in the back of a freezing transit van outside Heavenly Records. Richey did most of the talking, saying the most dangerous stuff with a doe-eyed innocence. He was young, good-looking and with rough skin, a classic underfed rock'n'roll dreamer. Instead of having qualms about "selling out", he was thinking big.

MAY 1991: The band sign a multi-album deal with Sony. They release debut LP Generation Terrorists in February 1992.

Caitlin Moran (Writer and television presenter): I interviewed them in Portsmouth and they were still so new that he and Nicky were sharing a bedroom in a pretty shabby hotel. They were only the 10th band I'd ever interviewed - I was 17 - and I was struck by how charming they were: opening doors for ladies, pouring tea, insisting on sitting on the floor, while I sat on the bed. We all put on make-up together, and talked about council estates, and Guns N' Roses. It was like hanging out with two older teenage sisters. There was no sexy frisson. They so weren't lascivious rock star cocks„ It was definitely girly.

Wiz (Director of four Manics videos, including Love's Sweet Exile and You Love us): In the videos I made, Richey and Nicky were very happy to be encouraged into homosexual flirtations, as I think it appealed to their iconoclastic imaginations. However, I don't know how much they understood the effect we were creating, I think they were quite sexually inexperienced.

JUNE 1993: Gold Against The soul, their second album, is released.

DAVE ERINGA: I always used to smile when we were doing demos for Gold Against The Soul and Richey would wake up in the morning having drunk vodka and orange all the night before, saying, "Oh God, my head hurts. I think I must be allergic to orange juice. I'd better have Coke With my vodka tonight!" I'm also very proud of the fact I'm the only producer that got to record Richey's guitar. I got him to play the power chords in the chorus of La Tristesse Durera (Scream To A Sigh). He was really nervous about doing it, but I think pleased that he had.

DECEMBER 1993: Manics manager Philip Hall dies after a two-year battle with cancer.

Terri Hall: After Philip died, Richey was among the people I talked to at length. Mainly on the phone, always at ungodly hours of the morning. Either he'd call me at Askew Road[the Halls' house in West London, where the Manics had lived for several months] or I'd call him at whichever London hotel he was staying. I guess we both knew the other would be awake at 3am, hurting from Philip's loss. Bizarrely, Richey was a huge comfort at that time. As were all the band.

Pete Paphides (Journalist): Our social circles overlapped around 1993-94, and even though he was warm and friendly, I was scared of his intellect. I never really lost that fear. He was a good listener - embarrassingly good - but you always felt that anything you could say he'd heard it all before. He had this powerful presence. Everyone who met him either loved him, or wanted to impress him somehow.

Terri Hall: Richey and I spent a week at a health farm a few months after Philip's death. Martin [co-manager and Philip's brother] and the band felt he would benefit from the break. One night we watched Apocalypse Now in his room. He was obsessed by the film. He showed me a little journal with pages and pages of notes on it. I said he wasn't going to find "the answers" to his questions through that film, and jokingly told him to bloody throw the notes away. He laughed, "You're right. No wonder I'm so fucking depressed!"

Caitlin Moran: When the Manics came on [Channel 4 TV show] Naked City to be interviewed, he was wearing his sailor outfit, which made him seem like a slightly camp, slightly lost sea cadet, and in the interview, he was as sweet as always, but barely present.

JULY 1994: Richey is admitted to Whitchurch psychiatric hospital in Cardiff after a suspected suicide attempt, later transferring to The Priory, Roehampton.

Pete Paphides: I once put it to him that there had to be something that made him happy. He thought about it, and said, "You can buy a magazine and enjoy looking at the pictures...but it only lasts for a minute.' He was quietly, doggedly determined not to shift from his worldview.

John Robb: The Last time I saw him he was really close to the end, in the hotel he would last be seen in. It was a strange interview Richey was drinking heavily throughout. There was all that stuff about vodka helping him sleep, and things were quite dark.

AUGUST 1994: third album The Holy Bible is released.

Caitlin Moran: On tour with The Holy Bible in Wolverhampton, I took all my family to see them, and we stayed in the same hotel. James, Nick and Sean stayed up, and socialised, but Richey would go straight to his room after the gig. In the morning, Richey sat apart from everyone, in the lobby, sitting on his pile of suitcases, huge headphones on, drawing in a notebook. He was very, very thin now. He'd cut his hair short, and was wearing an inexplicably alarming beret. The beret seemed to herald doom.

Pete Paphides: I went to Paris to interview him in November 1994. As always, he was fiercely articulate, but this time he had an air of deadpan fatalism. When he talked about going to the doctor, and being told to get more sleep, he gave this half-smile and said, "I guess if my doctor says it, it must be right..."

Terri Hall: The last Lime I saw him was probably when he turned up at our office in Shepherd's Bush. He stood outside for a while, just looking in the window at us. It was quite a shock when we looked up and noticed him there. I'm sad to say I cannot recall the finer details of the meeting, which haunts me now. I was just so taken aback at how pale and gaunt he looked.

Dave Eringa: I was with Richey two nights before he went We'd been doing demos for what would become Everything Must Go. He seemed in very good spirits, and there was real feeling of less tension in the band. They'd started taking the piss out of each other again. I felt they'd turned the corner. That last night, I had a bunch of cassette copies to make, and the rest of the band went to bed but he stayed up with me and we watched the Richard Burton movie Equus together, which he loved.

1 FEBRUARY 1995: Richey leaves the Embassy Hotel, London on the eve of a US promotional trip. His car is later found at a service station near the Severn Bridge. Despite several inconclusive sightings, he is never found and is officially presumed dead in 2008.

Martin Hall: When I think of Richey now, I think of my brother as well, because Philip dying and Richey disappearing happened one on top of the other. I'm not sure that he's sat on a beach in Goa playing an acoustic guitar, I can't imagine that. Sometimes I do dream of him. It's usually him turning up at a Manics gig unexpectedly, a bit awkward. "Hi guys, I'm here!" It's always a happy dream: him at his best, being his best.

At HQ With Sean Moore

The trio's quiet man is happiest behind his drumkit...but did you know he is a motor racing fiend and once took up shooting? Simon Price pulls up a chair.

Sean Moore is hiding in plain sight, For a founding member of a band who have had chart-topping records, won Brit (four in total) and accumulated an army of rabidly obsessive fans, the Manic Street Preachers drummer has done remarkable job of remaining anonymous. He is the band member about whom least is known, a deliberate policy on his part. When he turns up at the band's Cardiff HQ dressed in a flamboyant red, white and blue tartan suit, though, you realise nothing is quite so straightforward with Moore. He's wearing it in honour of the Lions victory, around which the rugby-mad Manics co-ordinated their recent Antipodean tour.

Moore is actually entertainingly indiscreet company, as waspish and bitchy as his notoriously loudmouthed bandmate Nicky Wire. The difference between him and Wire is that he doesn't like doing interviews. "I find it a bit self-indulgent," he says. "I don't like to talk about myself."

Sean Moore was born in 1968 and grew up, like the others, in the South Wales mining town of Blackwood. As teenager, he helped his mother in the pub she ran. Pouring the dregs out on a Saturday afternoon left him with a lifelong loathing of the places. "It was during the time that all the miners had been laid off so they had money to spend," he says, "and after six months of sitting in the pub they had none left."

A classically-trained musician, he was the youngest trumpeter with the South Wales Jazz Orchestra. It's a skill he occasionally puts to use with the Manics: it's him playing the trumpet on 1996 single Kevin Carter and new track Show Me The Wonder.

It doesn't take much time in his company to realise that the band's intellect and eloquence stretches right to the back Of the Stag. "Other drummers might be a bit more Neanderthal, if I can use that word. For me, it wasn't about drink and drugs and women. Maybe a bit of fast cars..."

Very fast cars, if his cousin James Dean Bradfield is to be believed. At a Rock am Ring gig held at Germany's Nürburgring racetrack, Bradfield quipped that Moore had set the 22nd fastest lap time at the circuit in an Audi RS4. It's a rumour Moore himself refuses to confirm or deny. A devotee of the Charlie Watts school of modest, unshowy drumming rather than the Keith Moon raiser archetype, he's never felt the appeal of extroversion. "I understood from the start that the only drummers that came to the forefront were usually the mad ones. And that's not me."

Instead, he lives a quiet life on the outskirts of Bristol with his wife Rhian and their three children. He would be a tough contestant an Through The Keyhole: there are no discs on the wall or hints of his day job there. "I don't play our music or take the kids along to concerts," he says.

He has few hobbies outside the band. He once took to shooting because, he says, "it was a thing I should understand rather than fear" but the pastime that has endured is the shopping habit which Bradfield affectionately mocks during gigs. Invariably, it involves hi-tech gadgetry. His most recent purchase was a Sat Nav-DVD-DAB-Bluetooth unit that does "everything except drive and park the car. I wouldn't say I love technology, but I approach everything as a problem that requires a solution. So if I'm given something, I see it as a challenge."

This, it appears, is Moore's role in the band. "I'm just a problem-solver," he says. "My job is just trying to make sense of it all. The one who ties it all together." Without him, the Manics would unravel. And there's the irony. If Sean Moore wasn't there, maybe we'd finally notice him.

The Real Best Of Manic Street Preachers

The band pick their favourite hidden gems from the past 25 years.

1. We Her Majesty's Prisoners
B-side 1991
Nicky Wire: "It's the first of our great anti-monarchist ballads, really. You can feel the energy of four people together thinking 'Let's throw everything we can at it.'"

2. Condemned To Rock'N' Roll
Generation Terrorists 1992
"It's got a bit of Zep, bit of Guns N' Roses, bit of shite metal. It's an amazing Richey lyric. I love the menace of the intro"

3. Comfort Comes
Life Becoming A Landslide EP 1994
"The bridge between Gold Against The soul and The Holy Bible, It's stripped-down and miserable. You can see how we're getting disenchanted with stadium-rock."

4. Archives Of Pain
The Holy Bible 1994
"One of Richey's greatest ever lyrics - a pro death penalty lyric in the age of wonderful libertarian Britpop and Blair's Britain. How great is that?"

5. Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier
Everything Must Go 1996
"One of the lyrics Richey left and I had to complete. This was a key track on EMG cos it felt like us joining the dots."

6. Prologue To History
If You Tolerate This...B-side 1998
"It's a tragedy we left this off This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours! We were trying to sound like the Happy Mondays but didn't think it fitted in."

7. Freedom Of Speech Won't Feed My Children
Know Your Enemy 2001
"It's Krautrock-y, it has Kevin Shields guitars on it, David Holmes production and a fucking nihilistically scathing lyric".

8. 4 Ever Delayed
Lipstick Traces 2003
"I have no idea why we didn't release this as a single. It feels like a Doves record or something. It's another one that got away."

9. 1985
Lifeblood 2004
"Probably the best opening track we've ever done, lyrically and musically. We tried many times to sound like either Joy Division or New Order and we pulled that off in a muscular rock way."

10. Welcome To The Dead Zone
Your Love Alone Is Not Enough B-side 2007
"If this had been on Send Away The Tigers instead of the track Underdogs, it would've been as perfect a rock album as we could wish to make."

11. Marlon J.D.
Journal For Plague Lovers 2009
"It's such a brilliant hybrid of disco stomp and Richey's amazing lyrics, I think he'd have loved this song."

12. Golden Platitudes
Postcards From A Young Man 2010
"A caustic, anti-New Labour lyric. I just felt like the lasting legacy of New Labour became every city having a Costa coffee and a shit version of the London Eye."