To launch their politically charged sixth album, Know Your Enemy, Manics bassist Wire suggested that the band play a gig in communist Cuba. The appearance of Cuban president Fidel Castro backstage at Havana's 5000-capacity Karl Marx mean was a surprise - impressed by their socialist leanings, the bearded, cigar-chomping leader had personally requested that he meet them. "That's the first time I've ever met anyone that's just larger than life," gushed Wire.
James Dean Bradfield
The Manics were one of only a handful of bands to have made the trip to Cuba - In 1979, Billy Joel was the first international artist to play a show in the country, while Burt Bacharach headed up a 'cultural goodwill' concert in 1999. Earlier in the day, singer/guitarist Bradfield had jammed with street musicians outside a cafe In Havana. His attempts to play traditional Cuban music failed to impress the locals. "You're very young," one elderly guitarist told him. "You can learn. I started out worse than you."
The world's longest serving head of state arrived at the venue 15 minutes before the band were due onstage, accompanied by several heavily armed security guards. In a backstage dressing room, the 74-year-old Castro thanked the band for draping the Cuban flag over the stage, before asking how noisy the gig would be. "It cannot be louder than war," he Joked. Twenty-four hours later, he met the band again at a cultural centre just outside Havana. "You were louder than war," he conceded.
Although Castro spoke fluent English, his countless run-ins with the American government in the 1960s saw him vow to only speak Spanish in the future. His official translator, Vera has served the President for more than 30 years - she was present in 1978 when he was interviewed by the US select committee investigating the assassination of John F. Kennedy. She recently appeared In Oliver Stone's 2003 documentary about Castro, Comandante.
Before the trip, famously down-to-earth drummer Moore insisted that he was most looking forward to driving one of the gas-guzzling '50s Chevrolet cars that are still a common sight on Cuban roads. The band's label, Sony, refused to stump up the money for the trip, leaving the band to pay for it all themselves. With tickets for the gig costing the equivalent of just 17 pence, the Manics ended up severely out of pocket. Asked how much they'd lost, Moore replied: "A lot."
What Happened Next?
From then to now in a flash.
The reaction to the Manic Street Preachers' Cuban excursion was mixed. Critics of the band found their admiration of Fidel Castro - a man whose contempt for homosexuals is matched only by his hatred of America - distasteful. "We were ridiculed for shaking hands with Castro," said Wire. "You can shake hands with Bill Clinton while the Rwandan genocide went on, but you can't shake hands with Castro. That's what I can never reconcile." Nearly five decades since he came to power, Castro remains the President of Cuba. In March 2005, society magazine Forbes listed him as one of the richest people on the planet, with a fortune of $550 million. Castro threatened to sue the magazine, claiming that the article defamed him. On 6 May 2005, US rock band Audioslave played a free open-air show in front of 60,000 people at La Tribuna in Havana - the only rock band to have played In Cuba since the Manics' visit.