State Of The Union - The Guardian - 15th February 2008
Nicky Wire reflects on the musical tradition of his home country - Wales Interview by Caroline Sullivan Friday 15 February 2008 00.15 GMT
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Shares 0 There's a lovely Welsh word, cynefin, which means "habitat". It's the idea that there are factors in your environment that have an influence on you even if you don't realise it - your art, your language, even your religion. The Manic Street Preachers have been very influenced by our environment.
It's hard to assess Wales as a whole in terms of music. We're from south Wales, which is mining and valleys - it's a socialist area, and that's affected us a lot, as opposed to pastoral west Wales, where the Super Furry Animals are from. The atmosphere in south Wales when we were young was militant and highly charged and morbidly angry - there was a chip on our shoulder that's still hard to get rid of. But one thing about our domain of south Wales is that everybody can sing. That's our national identity.
Every Welsh rock singer can sing beautifully - Cerys Matthews, Gruff Rhys of the Super Furries, James Dean Bradfield, obviously. It goes back 200 years, to something spiritual, the churches and the Baptist fervour. It sounds an absolute cliche, but the emphasis on singing is almost like a trade here. People's first participation in music wasn't writing songs or being in a band, it was singing. That's why a lot of singers went into showbiz, such as Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey. I have a tape of Paul Robeson visiting miners in south Wales; he's singing beautifully and they're singing beautifully, and he's saying to them, "You're great."
So Welsh bands have always been able to do that, but you get a singer from some hot band in Manchester - Ian Brown or someone - and they can't sing; with them, it's all about attitude. Richey Edwards and I were absolutely useless at singing, but it didn't matter, because we had James, who'd been to choir and was also a great guitarist, and Sean, who was classically trained in brass bands. So it was good we had them behind us.
The only Welsh band to influence us when we were young was Badfinger. They were a missed opportunity, a glorious failure, suicide, disaster, unfulfilled promise - all those Welsh traits. They influenced the Super Furries, as well. But in all honesty, no Welsh bands really influenced us, partly because when we were growing up, there weren't any. There was a Welsh scene then, which was recently compiled into an album called Welsh Rare Beat, which was lots of Welsh-language protest poetry and left-wing and folky stuff, but it didn't apply to us. If there's a quintessential Welsh band, it's the Super Furries, because they're bilingual, intelligent and gorgeous. They sum up the whole of Wales much better than we do. They're imbued with something - well, I hate to say "cosmic", but, yes, they're cosmic. Whereas we've always been cynical and miserable - we embody the destructive working-class thing, mixing stupendous intelligence with nihilistic destruction.
There's a north/south divide, though it's really more of a north-west/south divide. If you look at us and Stereophonics and even Goldie Lookin Chain - the southern bands - and then at the north and west, which includes Badfinger and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, there's much more beauty and contentment in their songs. They're more pastoral and about nature, because it's such a beautiful landscape they live in. The south Wales valleys are lovely now, but growing up, when it was all mines, it was a weird place. The music reflects the mines and heavy industry we used to have down here - it's much more of a rock thing. It's Lostprophets and Bullet for My Valentine and Funeral for a Friend. The more west and north you go, it's folk or Welsh-language stuff, and a lot of pockets toward Liverpool are dance oriented.
Back before 1990 it was very hard for Welsh bands to get anywhere, because there wasn't a great history of success. We had great singers and great entertainers, but nothing was happening in rock. I don't know if we're responsible for this, but since us, there are a lot more bands coming out of Wales, and I'm happy about that. Since the Manics, Welsh bands are described outside Wales as Welsh, whereas before you weren't. When we first went to Japan and America, people would say, "So, what's it like living in England?" That's changed now; people know where we're from. I'm not a nationalist, but I am from Wales, and I want people to get it right.
When success comes, the Welsh find it very hard to cope with. When our Oasis-at-Knebworth moment came - around the time of This is My Truth, Tell Me Yours in 1998, when we were selling out the Millennium Stadium - we didn't enjoy it like we should have. We asked, "If we're this popular, does that mean we're shit?" Something in the Welsh psyche rejects success: there's a self-destructive streak. The place is littered with people like us.
But even in Wales, we were so out of place when we started. We were so different to everything that was cool. The place is made up of tiny villages with a lot of enmity between us, and it took a while to convince people how good we were, because we were laughable at first. A lot of bands tried to build up a local following, but we rejected that, because we wanted to be the biggest band in the world, not the biggest in Wales. There was a cul-de-sac culture then: musicians would think, "If we can do it and survive in our own local area, then that's enough." There was a lack of ambition. I'm glad we came from here, because it's given us such a work ethic, such a desire to prove ourselves.
I feel a surge of pride now when a Welsh band breaks. It's healthy for the country, and it's an easy way of conveying to the rest of world - without ramming it down people's throats - that we're really good at making music. John Cale, who was one quarter of the Velvet Underground, one of the most influential bands of all time, never used to talk about being Welsh, but he does now.
·Nicky Wire is bassist and a songwriter with the Manic Street Preachers.