The Manic Street Preachers singer on the Lions, national anthems and shorts in the workplace
[Cheery] Hello Small Talk
[Showing that this interview may have been conducted a while back] Sir Alex Ferguson has just retired!
[With uncanny foresight] It's all set up for Moyes now, isn't it? There's that cliché that managers who do well with small budgets don't do well when faced with running bigger clubs. That may be true but he's done a great job at Everton, they're consistently in the top half of the table. [Turning the tables] Who do you support Small Talk?
[Flustered: Small Talk has failed its last 84 interviews] Um...we'd like to say the game of football but it's actually Birmingham City
[Pained] Ooooh. It's tough times for you, Small Talk, tough times [chuckles].
Anyway, we're here to talk about the Lions not Nikola Zigic's threat (or lack thereof) in the air. Small Talk hears you've lined up your gigs in Australia to coincide with the Lions tour. Will Sam Warburton and chums thrash the Wallabies?
[Concerned] It's going to be tough. [Presumptively but correctly] You're a football man, Small Talk, not a rugby man but one of the things that always shocks other teams about Australia is the speed of their back line. They always play it out of the back really fast. So I think...if we do win the series it won't be a whitewash - it will be 2-1.
[Small Talk corrects its series prediction of 13-8] The first match will be crucial though, eh? Setting a precedent and all that?
Yes, and more importantly it's about the warm-up matches too. Each Lions tour the preparation time to pull the team together gets shorter and shorter and shorter. The playing sensibilities, the tactics and the team fabric itself have to come together. A Lions team never hits the ground running - it has to learn on the road. Proper rugby fans have a high degree of expectation but also nerves too about the tour.
As a Wales fan, is it odd cheering on a bunch of snooty Englishmen when they're playing for the Lions?
That's the strange thing about being a rugby fan. From an early age you're aware that there's these players who kick the [BAD WORD ALERT] shit out of each other year in, year out and then strangely come together once every four years. Since I was nine years old I've understood the contradiction in terms of what the Lions is. There's a fraternity among rugby fans, we all watch this confrontational game but in the stands, English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish fans are all quite friendly to each other.
[Ignoring the omission of Romanian fans] What's your fondest Lions memory, James?
Jeremy Guscott's drop kick to win against South Africa always brings a rush of blood to the head but Jim Telfer's speech from that tour was brilliant too.
You've written a toe-tapper or 98 in your time with the Manics. The Lions have experimented with the risible Power of Four. Have you got any other suggestions for an anthem. The Lion Sleeps Tonight? [Struggling] Something by Lionel Richie?
No, they've always had an identity - four teams coming together. You don't need a song to reinforce the Lions, it's such a special thing. The Lions fans sings songs anyway [laughs] it's weird hearing English fans singing Delilah sometimes but it's fun.
Small Talk wants your opinion as a musician. Which country has the best anthem?
Well, of course [Welsh national anthem] Land of my Fathers is my favourite because there's such a dynamic in it and it's particularly operatic. And I love La Marseillaise. The lyrics were written by a Napoleonic soldier, I think [Wikipedia reveals the soldier in question was credited with popularising the song but we'll let James off], I love that it has blood in its lyrics. My wife is half-French and from Marseille anyway, so it's sung with some frequency in my house - and I've joined in now and again.
And the Uzbekista...
[Warming to the topic] Flower of Scotland is a particularly melancholy and powerful one. And I have a soft spot for the Italian national anthem. You can sense the...militaristic overtones [uttering probably the most intellectual zinger in Small Talk history] it's a snapshot of the Janus-headed tension in Italian political culture. I love the way it starts off so bold before going into a lull before coming back so triumphantly. [Fondly] I have a lot of time for anthems at sporting events: it's when they work.
What about the Japanese one? It doesn't have the jauntiness of the Italian anthem but it does solemn very well.
Strangely enough when we played Japan last year, I went out with some Japanese friends I have over there and we went to a bar where Land of my Fathers got a dusting off. Then they sang the Japanese anthem and … it was spooky. It had a real lifeblood to it. But an inscrutable lifeblood...you couldn't get to the heart of it. [Chuckling] Especially when sung by four drunk Japanese guys.
You'll agree with Small Talk that the British one is, how does one say, crap?
Yes, and not just musically but also because of the lyrics. [Seditiously] We [the Manics] are republicans and that's the politics of it. How can a country as powerful as England have such a bad anthem? They should have Jerusalem, really but the church will always be against it because of the dark satanic mills lyrics. That's the theory anyway.
Bloody satan: always ruining things for everyone. Now, would you swap your music career for scoring the winning try for Wales in the World Cup final? It's a good try too, if that helps.
[Laughing plus BAD WORD ALERT] Fucking hell, Small Talk, you get straight to the heart of the question, don't you? It's a bit sad that a man of 44 can still go to bed and make up his own storyboards of sporting triumph when his head is on the pillow but I do. [Mulling] But I'd have to say I wouldn't swap it for being in the band. I'm in it with people I've known since I was a kid and to do a job where there's a massive brotherhood and you've wanted to do since you were a boy, it would be a big thing to give up. But in my weakest moments it would be a close run thing.
Do you think any of your musician chums would have made good rugby players?
In the band, Nick would have been good - he'd have been a good winger. Let's have a think here though. [Cogs whirring] There's a drummer...That's a good question...[Cogs continue to whir] There's a singer...[Excited] I know! Josh Homme [from the Queens of the Stone Age]! He would be a good centre: 6'2", in the Jamie Roberts mould.
Henry Rollins would be good too though, right?
[Obligingly] Henry Rollins would be a good scrum-half. He's not as tall as you'd think though. He'd have been like Terry Holmes. Henry Rollins and Josh Homme...we've got the start of a decent team there.
Are you looking forward to touring Australia, rugby aside of course.
[Enthusiastically] Oh, we toured Australia a few years ago and we loved it. The Sydney gig was great, Perth was great, Adelaide was great, Brisbane was great. [Stepping it up] And Melbourne was really great - it was stunning.
You missed Tennant Creek! Small Talk assumes you played Australia? The song not the country, although technically you played the country too.
[Rueful] Yes, and I messed with the lyrics. I'm toying with the idea of getting some Lions lyrics in there on the tour this year. It got a reaction last time anyway.
A big one to finish with, James. Australia and Britain seem to be split over the acceptability of shorts in the workplace. Are you for or against?
For me with my legs? My white legs? Never. No. But in the band, Nick has got his legs out all the time. He's got shape to them, they're women's legs really.
We'll look out for them on the tour then. Thanks for your time.
Take care, Small Talk.