The Manics man on his affection for the words of Lydon and Larkin - and an unexpected love for the 'Grease' soundtrack
My first album
"I could give you a trendy one but if I'm being honest it's the soundtrack from Grease, which is pure genius, especially the title track that Frankie Valli sings. It's such a great line: "Conventionality belongs to yesterday". You just don't hear that in pop music anymore."
My first gig
BIRDLAND OR SONIC YOUTH
"I wasn't a prolific gig-goer, I always preferred to stay at home really, and my memory is shady. It's between Sonic Youth, which I loved but was too loud, and Birdland, maybe, at Maesteg Town Hall, who I thought were amazing. I loved the way they looked, and even in Maesteg they trashed their gear in front of 300 people."
Right now I love
KURT VILE AND TRIBES
"I love 'Society Is My Friend', and the Kurt Vile album [2011's 'Smoke Ring For My Halo'] in general. It's a bit disappointing to find out that he'd given a song to Bank Of America but such is life, it seems like it's a rite of passage for indie heads these days. I love Tribes. If they'd been around 15 years ago I think they would've been massive, but I don't know if the kids want it anymore. They feel like a mixture of The Only Ones and Nirvana, the quiet/loud thing, but it's got real melody, it's not just grungy for grunge's sake."
My favourite lyric
'GOD SAVE THE QUEEN' BY THE SEX PISTOLS
"'When there's no future how can there be sin?/We're the flowers in the dustbin/We're the poison in your human machine/We're the future, your future", it's still so powerful, so situationist and so real. For that to come from a 20-year-old John Lydon is quite staggering, really."
My favourite film
"It goes through a life and it's incredibly sad. I was watching it on a plane and your emotions are always heightened on a plane and me and [Manics' session keyboardist] Sean Read were crying into each other's arms because it's such a sad ending."
My favourite album
'HATFUL OF HOLLOW' BY THE SMITHS
"It does change a lot but I'd go for 'Hatful Of Hollow' at the moment. That was the album when The Smiths really nailed it for me. The rest of their albums are not brilliantly produced and even 'The Queen Is Dead' doesn't have the depth of 'Hatful Of Hollow'."
The book that changed me
HIGH WINDOWS BY PHILIP LARKIN
"There's quite a few. [Greil Marcus'] Lipstick Traces: A Secret History Of The 20th Century is the book that made the Manics - if we have a Holy Bible, it's definitely got to be Lipstick Traces . But there's a collection of poems by Philip Larkin called High Windows which I bought in Cardiff for my mum when I was about 13. It was really concise, really small and beautiful. I've still got it now, I take it everywhere. It combined with Morrissey to make me feel that it was OK to be on your own, to embrace melancholia, to feel like there's a world there that's kind of safe and warm, even if you feel ostracised. I was
really good at sports, I wasn't a kid who was bullied and stuff like that, but all of a sudden I became swathed in this realisation that there was something else inside me, and Philip Larkin and Morrissey made that really vivid and true. It made the four of us think, 'Fuck, this is good, it's the four of us against the world, isn't it great to be unpopular?'"
My favourite painting
GUERNICA BY PICASSO
"You don't realise how big it is until you see it! It's inspired me a lot. In fact, there's a track on our 'Know Your Enemy' album called 'My Guernica'. It's the ultimate political art statement."