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Preach Out - The Dubliner, 23rd September 2010

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Title: Preach Out
Publication: The Dubliner
Date: Thursday 23rd September 2010
Writer: Tanya Sweeney
Photos: Dean Chalkley

TheDubliner230910-01 (1).jpg TheDubliner230910-01 (2).jpg

Manic Street Preachers and Tanya Sweeney ruminate whether an old dog needs to learn new tricks.

"There's that perception [of us], isn't there? That old dogs need steroid injections and walking canes. I'll say it out loud so you don't have to Tanya, don't worry"

Before I even allude to the notion that the Manic Street Preachers might be past their prime, frontman James Dean Bradfield cuts to the chase in an endlessly good-natured way.

"It doesn't bother me, when people say that: says Bradfield. You can't get too precious about these things. At the outset of our career, Nicky (Wire, bassist) and Richie (Edwards, original guitarist) wanted us to be lice Sex Pistols, to come out with one phoenix-like album and then burn out, whereas I wanted a career, and to be like the Stones or The Clash."

The lifetime achievement awards have been coming in thick and fast in recent years too: "Yeah, it's the gold carriage clock moment; smiles Bradfield. "We got the Godlike Genius award from the NME, which was pretty much our bible when we were young. I did feel the fear; that it was a golden handshake of sorts. Emotions will invariably rise out of awards like this But you have to realise they're not meant to be a backhanded compliment. They're meant to be celebratory."

Yet herein lies in the delicious irony: the band's tenth studio album Postcards From A Young Man - their third in four years - hints at a band with more to say than ever. There's a glimmer of the bolshie, leftie firebrands that released the striking Generation Terrorists in 1992. Yet far from tampering with what they do well, they're celebrating their big noise roots. Album opener 'It's Not War (Just The End Of Love)' bounds out of the traps with fierce intent, all swagger and swelling strings 'There's plenty of life in these dogs yet, steroid injections or not. In a previous interview, Wire had announced, in typical sweeping fashion: "We've always been about infiltrating the mainstream. It was a conscious decision this time to want to hear ourselves on the radio. Our mantra at the start was, 'If you've got something to say, say it to as many people as possible."

Adds Bradfield: "For our tenth album we said we'd either totally reinvent or celebrate, and it seemed fitting to celebrate what we do best. It's not like we were going to switch a button on and suddenly become radio friendly We'd always had an element of radio friendliness; there's been spikiness, lyrically, but we've subverted it all with music. We wanted to pay homage to the album as an art form. Some bands just want to end up on an iPod advert."

Predictably, Bradfield feels a chasm between his own outfit and the new guns that are rising in prominence. Yet far from adopting a "It-was-all-fields-round-here-in-my-day" stance, Bradfield is chiding rock's newcomers for failing to pick up the political baton.

"There are lots of new bands I really like - Deerhunter, Clyro, Klaxons - but nowadays there are lots of bands not writing songs that are critical to the age were living in he enthuses. "We've been through world wars, a massive recession, and no-one is writing about it. So as a band, we're fit for purpose in a way. I guess [newer bands] have a different mindset - they'll go on a march, but aren't prepared to put it in their art."

Shades of the guns-blazing band that formed in the Welsh industrial town of Blackwood in 1986 still exist The four members - Bradfield, Wire, drummer Sean Moore and Richie Edwards, who famously vanished in 1995 - all met as young children, bonding over their mutual love of Sex Pistols, the Clash and Guns 'N Roses.

In a happy quirk of fate, some of their boyhood heroes ended up on Postcards From A Young Man. Former Guns'N Roses bassist Duff McKagan makes an appearance, as does John Cale and Echo & The Bunny-men frontman Ian McCulloch.

"It's the scariest thing, asking these people to effectively play in your band. With Duff we'd been thinking of asking him, but then it was like, 'God, he's from one of the biggest bands of all time. But we met him when he was presenting us with the Mojo Lifetime Achievement award, so that was when we plucked up the courage. He was like, 'Admit it, you need me!' John Cale is a massive deal because you'd be listening to the Velvet Underground and realising that there was a Welshman on the record. It was a massive gateway for young taffs like us. And oddly enough, Richie, Nicky and I all saw Echo & The Bunnymen in the mid-1980s, so I don't think I can convey how great it was to have him onboard."

This boyish enthusiasm for music seems key to the band's longevity; I venture.

"Yeah, that and we grew up together," muses Bradfield. "We've pretty much known each other since we were born, so if there's a mid-season lull, and it seems like there are more troughs than peaks, you realise that you can move past them together."

At the nucleus of the band, too, is the yin-yang relationship between Wire and Bradfield. Says Manic biographer Simon Price: "A lot of the time Nicky goes public with these bold statements and when it comes down to it, it's up to James to try and back them up. That's a lot of pressure to put one person under and sometimes I'm positive James is at home half the time going, 'Oh no, what have you said this time?"

"I never try to temper what Nicky says," counters Bradfield. "I just think Nicky has always had the ability to articulate what he wanted to say in a great soundbite, an ability I've never had."

Now gearing up for a UK tour, the trio are first making a pitstop at Dublin's Arthur's Day celebrations, where they'll take their stadium sound to a much smaller - and yet to be determined - pub in the capital.

"There's a different set of challenges when you play a surprise pub gig," muses Bradfield. "You can smell and see the crowd, see the minutiae, and they can see if you've made a mistake. You need to hold your nerve a bit more."

Of Dublin's pub culture, he adds: "I used to go out a lot in it when I was younger. I think I spent 10 years of my life going out late after shows. But now it's got to a point where you need to concentrate on the job at hand. Journalists used to take me to pubs in Dublin, and I fear they've probably disappeared by now. Nowadays, drinking goes hand in hand with the rugby. I come to Dublin for all the Ireland Wales matches and there are often too many pubs to recount'