The Manic Street Preachers are looking forward to headlining Indiependence in Co Cork next weekend, writes Ed Power
James Dean Bradfield is looking forward to bringing Manic Street Preachers back to Ireland. The polemical indie rock band have had a few adventures here across their 25 years.
“I remember having go at Dave Fanning at the Irma Awards one year,” says the frontman, with a grin. “I’d mistaken him for someone else and was shouting, ‘Come on then you f***er’. I’m all of five foot five and I had my top off. Security guards just carried me out.”
One performance he doesn’t seem to quite recall was The Manics’ 1994 gig at the long demolished Grand Parade Palace in Cork (they’re back in Cork this August to headline Indiependence). The Welsh quartet were touring their bracingly avant-garde Holy Bible album — an aggressive art-rock project released at the height of Britpop.
With a rowdy fanbase back in the UK, their tour manager had politely requested that glasses be prohibited from the venue, for fear his charges might be bottled off stage. In the age of Blur and Suede, and with Oasis a blip on the horizon, the Manics divided opinion like none of their contemporaries.
In the event the concert passed without incident — though bassist Nicky Edwards did his best to roil the room by repeatedly thunking his instrument off the low ceiling. In the corner, detached physically and emotionally from the chaos, stood guitarist Richey James Edwards, a ghostly figure who would vanish 12 months later and was in 2008 officially declared “presumed dead”.
His disappearance was of course hugely traumatic for the Manics. It also pushed the remaining trio of Bradfield, Wire and drummer Sean Moore into a radical reinvention, with their 1996 album Everything Must Go becoming one of Britpop’s biggest hits. I mention to Bradfield a photograph doing the rounds of him posing with the Spice Girls at the Brit Awards of 12 months later — quite a distance from the Manics’ upbringing in the post-industrial rustbelt of south Wales.
“That picture tells a million stories,” he says. “It was a discombobulating time. That was when we won the Brit for best album and best band for Everything Must Go. You’re backstage and all the other Brit winners are there. You’re having pictures with people. I was like, ‘This is weird’.
“Shortly after that we were on Top of the Pops and Robbie Williams came into our dressing room — I remember him looking at Nick wearing a dress. He was saying ‘What are you guys doing?’ We told him we were preparing to play Glastonbury and Reading. He was like, ‘Oh I wish I could play festivals’ — and he did... shortly afterward. Another occasion Chrissie Hynde came up to me and said, ‘You’re quite handsome…in an ugly way!’”
Amid the rollercoaster of emotion that following Edwards’s disappearance and their subsequent chart success, the band never lost sight of who they were and where they came from. The Manics wrote anthems as catchy as those of any of their peers — yet, courtesy of lyricist Wire, they also communicated a specific world view.
Here were Guns ’N Roses- worshipping, working class Welsh outsiders in a sea of middle-class Britpoppers. Their music could be dark but it was never cynical or knowing. They believed, genuinely, in rock ’n roll and the fervency carried through to Wire’s lyrics, which quoted Orwell and addressed topics such as the Spanish Civil War.
“Things have changed since then,” complains Bradfield. “I feel the middle classes have taken over the taste-maker role. They are suspicious of any kind of emotion — or music that lets itself go. They see blood on the tracks and don’t like it. Everything has to be so ‘art’.”
It used to be different back when the notorious British music press fulfilled the role of gatekeepers he feels. Say what you want about opinionated publications such as NME, Melody Maker and Select. They at least understood that rock and roll stood for something.
“The real difference is that some of the people on those magazines were middle class, some were even posher and some were working class. It was a real mixture. Even the posh ones knew we had the best vision and the best time. They wanted to emulate us. Now, the middle class want to take control — to tell us what to do.”
With an average age of 48, the band nowadays have more prosaic concerns. Their long-time HQ at Faster Studios in Cardiff was recently demolished for a block of flats so they’re setting about securing a new base. They’ve also started on their next record, while recently overseeing the tenth anniversary reissue of one of their finest ever LPs, Send Away The Tigers.
Nostalgia is a tricky subject for the Manics. They’ve toured several of their classic albums and Send Away The Tigers was re-released several months ago in lavishly expanded form. At the same time, if you continuously gaze into the rear-view mirror there’s a danger of turning into your own tribute act.
“It’s great that we can celebrate those anniversaries,” says Bradfield. “But we’re in the lucky position that we are also writing and recording new albums. I used to think that bands that just tour their classic works were in danger of becoming museum pieces. You have to be careful. Do that too much and you’ve nothing new to offer.”
“We’ve all have families and life is harder,” he continues. “You can’t be narcissistic or nihilistic — the way you were when you were a rock star. You’re bottom of the food chain when you’ve got a family. Things become more difficult and, at the same time, it feels as if more is at stake.
“That’s strange because a lot of the old pressures are no longer there. You haven’t got the peripheral pressures of having to have a hit single or being on the cover of Melody Maker or Select — though, of course, were never f***ing got a Hot Press cover. I suppose, when you are older you are closer to the end than to the beginning.
“So the stakes seem higher somehow. That’s a nice feeling — it’s good to know, even now, it’s do or die every time.”