Preaching To The Choir - Rip It Up, 24th June 2013
Interview: James Dean Bradfield - Manic Street Preachers
24 June | Tim Gruar
Manic Street Preachers play New Zealand for the first time ever at the Vector Arena on Tue 02 Jul. Groove Guide had a quick chat about life, the universe, and everything that must go!
Finally… it's taken a British Lions tour of the Great Southern Land to inspire UK's greatest pop antagonists to make a trip to our shores. Next month, as part of an Aussie tour, Welsh band Manic Street Preachers will play Vector Arena.
The band formed almost as a reaction to the late 80's stench of Thatcherism with its miner's strikes, harsh economic measures and class wars, to become one of UK rock’s most enduring musical entities. For three young Welsh lads from Blackwood, Wales, class and gender politics, literature, art and glamour were red rags to the proverbial bull of teenage frustration. Formed at school bassist Nicky Wire, drummer Sean Moore and lead guitarist/vocalist James Dean Bradford had a plan to kick against the pricks using these very same elements, turning the monster upon it's self. "Yeah, we did," claims Bradford, on the phone from his home in Blackwood. "We saw art and literature as being owned by the people. They weren't high and mighty, elitist things."
In 1988 Manics made their name early as anti-establishment upstarts with their first single 'Suicide Alley'. It set a template that blended their trademark blend of glam rock pomposity, Bowie-esque flamboyance, and highly poetic, thought provoking lyrics. Early records were distributed through independent labels and music journals but it wasn't long before they attracted the attention of the big time sheets like NME and Melody Maker. Recently Q magazine named them 'National Treasures'.
"Ah, yeah. Now I feel old. It's funny how you bang away knocking down everything, only to replace it yourself." I suggest that the phrase "National Treasure" feels more like an obelisk in Trafalgar Square and he laughs in agreement.
The early Manics adopted every attention-seeking tool at their disposal, spray-painting political slogans on the shirts. Their first EP, New Art Riot (1990), attracted as much media interest for its attacks on fellow musicians as for the actual music. It spawned the self-effacing single ‘You Love Us’, which continues to be a beloved live number. After recruiting the brilliant lyricist and rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards they created a debut double album (Generation Terrorists), which was a full on assault against banks ('Natwest, Barclays, Midlands, Lloyds'), gender politics, schooling, and fashion. The album, now celebrating its 20th anniversary borrows heavily from philosophy, literature and even poets like Patrick Jones ('Motorcycle Emptiness’). The album even included a duet with former porn star Tracy Lord (‘Little Baby Nothing'). Their agenda was closer to the Clash but they played like Guns N' Roses.
Edward worked closely with Wire on lyrics and the band's image. "They were the creative engine, Sean and I did the music and rhythm,” Bradford reminds me. Edwards was famously documented for carving '4 Real' into his arm with a razor blade after his sincerity was challenged by an NME journalist. Edwards' mental health had been in question around the time of their third album, The Holy Bible, which tackled topics like anorexia. He even spent time in rehab.
Strangely, Edwards disappeared mysteriously just prior to going on tour in February 1995 and was never seen again. Does Bradford still miss Richey? "Yes, we all do. Many times we write almost as if he's there. Nicky, writes his lyrics sometimes as if he's got Richey looking over his shoulder. He reads books that Richey was reading, like he was recommending them."
Almost to prove that point, he reminds me that in May 2009 the band had released an album based on Richey's work. Journal for Plague Lovers, which featured features lyrics left behind by Edwards. "We had this sort of 'responsibility' to do his lyrics some sort of justice, and to keep him alive." Edwardswas declared presumed dead in November 2008.
And speaking of releases, the band is up to its 11th/12th, having announced back in November last year that they were recording two albums simultaneously in very different styles.
"We are finished and we'll have something out soon. Two albums, one will be a folk sort of thing; softer, more acoustic and gentle, lots of horns. You know a real Atlantic soul thing. But the other is more anathematic: more spikey, lots of (electric) guitar. Back to our usually yelling and stomping!”
While he's still not revealing the title, Bradford notes that one of the songs to be included, ‘Four Lonely Roads’, features Carmarthenshire psych-folk singer Cate Le Bon. "She has a great voice. We've worked collaboratively before so I wanted to try her out.
"The group have been recording around South Wales and in the Hansa studio in Berlin, where David Bowie created Heroes. "Yeah, that was interesting. I was reminded of my early penchant for military uniforms," he jokes remembering his fashion choices around the release of Gold against the Soul(1993).
I commented that when Morrissey was here recently, his band all wore the uniform of the All Blacks. Being a keen rugby supporter perhaps he could adopt the uniform of his favourite team? "I don't think I'd fit the Blackwood Juniors Jersey any more!"