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Relative Values: James Dean Bradfield & Sean Moore - The Sunday Times, 24th October 2021

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The Manic Street Preachers bandmates and cousins on bullying, bigotry and losing a friend

Sean’s parents divorced when he was ten and he came to live with us. His mum and my mum are sisters but we were more like brothers than cousins. When Mum said he was moving in I was overjoyed. That didn’t last. I’m obsessive about food and no one f***s with my Sunday dinner, but after he moved in I noticed I was only getting three roast potatoes instead of five.

We never talked about the divorce. Why would we? That was the grown-ups’ world. Looking back, I suppose there were times when I noticed that Sean was quite angry. If he was getting bullied at school you could see him start to change. I was the opposite. I got bullied loads — people picked on us ’cos we’re short-arses — but I had this weird ability to switch off stuff in my head. I never even told my parents that I was getting bullied.

Sean’s a year older than me and he was the one who opened the door to the big wide world. Whether it was Bruce Lee, the latest cartoons or a new dessert, Sean was my conduit. Music came from Sean too. The Specials, Devo and the Electric Light Orchestra. I can still see him walking into the house with ELO’s Out of the Blue, the beautiful gatefold sleeve and the spaceship. Me, Nicky, Sean and Richey [the original members of Manic Street Preachers] were mates at school and we were obsessed with music. That album was huge for us.

The idea for a band happened around the time of the miners’ strike. Margaret Thatcher was in power and she was ripping the heart out of communities like Blackwood [the South Wales town where the band grew up]. We saw massive unemployment, families living on food parcels, daily violence between miners and the police. The toughness, the drive, the empathy and the happiness we’d known in the valleys as kids was disappearing. No wonder our early songs were political.

Y’know what really surprised me when we started getting a bit of success? I won’t use the r-word, but there was definite anti-Welsh bigotry from the music press. All they talked about were sheep shaggers and Tom Jones. Lazy, lazy bigotry.

I enjoyed success. With my first pay cheque I bought my parents a VCR, and with the first really big one I bought them a new car. Unfortunately Richey wasn’t enjoying the success [the guitarist went missing in 1995 and is widely presumed to have taken his own life]. It’s difficult to talk about his disappearance after all these years ’cos I don’t really trust my memory. People keep asking us if he’s on a beach somewhere or wandering the desert. I really don’t f***ing know. When it came to the band we had no idea what we were meant to do. Would he disapprove if we carried on? He’d given us some lyrics, so we decided to use them and focus on the music. It was about the only thing we could do. [The subsequent album, Everything Must Go, was released in 1996 and went triple platinum.]

That was a long time ago, but some people still expect us to be the same band we were then. Teenage punks writing songs about social upheaval caused by Thatcher. Politically everything has changed, and we’ve changed. We’re all in our fifties, we’ve got families and mortgages. I love touring but physically I’ve taken a battering. You’re not supposed to get any older in the music business, but it’s hard to pretend you’re 18 when you’ve got backache and your knees hurt.

Long gone are the days when we used to smash all the gear on stage. And long gone are the days when I used to insist on a few bottles of whisky in the dressing room after a show. Now it’s all about the cheddar. Some nice bread, olives, sweet potatoes and plenty of teabags. Sustainably sourced, of course. And people say we’re not as angry as we used to be. How dare they!

My earliest memory of James is when we were five, playing in the garden of my parents’ council bungalow. I threw a stone at him but he ducked and I broke the bathroom window. Being a year older and much sneakier I simply lied and told my mum it was his fault.

Even before I moved in with his family, me and James spent every weekend together. Things weren’t great at home, so my mum thought it would be better if I went to live with them. It was only ten minutes up the road, so it didn’t make much difference. The only change was we were able to watch more telly and listen to more music. James had managed to become a member of the Britannia Music Club and there was all sorts of stuff coming through the post: Queen, David Bowie, Elton John. And when I joined the Celynen colliery band I was getting exposed to stuff like Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Me and a group of burly miners playing Santana’s Black Magic Woman, arranged for brass band.

Music was definitely the magnet that pulled the four of us together. Me and Richey were in the same year at school, but James and Nicky were in the year below. Nicky had an older brother and he introduced us to things like AC/DC and the Clash, which in turn helped us join the dots with Ginsberg and the Beat writers.

We loved where we grew up but we all felt slightly disconnected from it. It wasn’t easy to see gigs where we lived. It wasn’t easy to buy records. When we did play our first live shows we couldn’t even persuade any A&R men to come and see us. If we were going to conquer the world we needed money and a record deal. We needed publicity and to be in London.

When we did finally get our name in the NME, it felt like we were entering into a battle with the music industry. The anti-Welsh stuff, journalists questioning our motives. As if we were trying to sell a big lie. Richey found that hard to deal with. We all did.

Richey had some dark times but in early 1995 he seemed to be in a good place. He wasn’t drinking or taking drugs. So when he handed us a folder of lyrics he’d written we all thought it was simply a burst of creative enthusiasm. Then he disappeared and we started to wonder if the lyrics were a sort of … goodbye. Had he planned it that way? We hired a private detective to help us find out what happened, but there were no answers then and we still have no answers, which is why it gets tiresome talking about it. Even today people are coming up with new “theories” about our friend. Sorry, but we don’t want to hear them.

It was hard for us to move on from that moment, but we decided that was what Richey would have wanted us to do. When we went back in the studio we used some of his lyrics and the music seemed to come very quickly. I think that gave us the confidence to drive forward and keep developing as a band.

How long can we keep driving forward? That’s a question we’ve started asking ourselves recently. We’re older and heavier than the three blokes who made the Everything Must Go album. We still have the venom, but I can only see us carrying on for another 10 or 12 years. Much as I respect the Rolling Stones, I wouldn’t want to be hobbling out on to a stage in my seventies. When we’ve had our time we’ll bow out gracefully.

Strange habits

James on Sean
Sean loved watching Ski Sunday and would run around his garden in a pair of swimming goggles, pretending to be the Austrian downhill skier Franz Klammer

Sean on James
When we used to play Battleship, I always made James sit where I could see all his ships in the reflection of the telly screen. He could never work out why I always won
Relative Values: James Dean Bradfield & Sean Moore
Publication: The Sunday Times
Date: Sunday 24th October 2021
Writer: Danny Scott
Photos: Gareth Iwan Jones

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