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Stronger Together - International.Wales, May 2018

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Title: Stronger Together
Publication: International.Wales
Date: May 2018
Writer: David Owens
Photos: Alex Lake, David Rawcliffe

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It's two years since Manic Street Preachers released the official Wales Euro 2016 anthem Together Stronger. Here WalesOnline's David Owens and Manics' frontman James Dean Bradfield - look back on how the single was created, how it found a whole new audience of its own and how the band revelled in Wales' glorious campaign.

When Manic Street Preachers released their official Wales Euro 2016 anthem Together Stronger (C'mon Wales) on May 12, 2016, they hoped it was the song that would fire Chris Coleman's team to footballing immortality in France. The single, in aid of Welsh charities Princes Gate Trust and Tenovus Cancer Care, opened with the emotion-wracked commentary of BBC Radio Wales' Robert Phillips following Wales clinching qualification to their first major tournament for more than 50 years against Bosnia.

A suitably stratospheric riff from the guitar of James Dean Bradfield heralded in Together Stronger (C'mon Wales) - a song that served as the soundtrack to Wales' glorious appearance at Euro 2016.

The stirring, string-laden anthem with its suitably rousing chorus which name-checked Wales' star men Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey — and lyrics courtesy of sporting oracle Nicky Wire, did what many football songs had failed to do, it captured the collective consciousness of a nation.

For the Manics it was a case of finally being able to release a song that had endured so many false starts.

"It had always been on the cards," said James Dean Bradfield. "We had recorded the initial song which was going to be Can't Take My Eyes off you with re-written lyrics. That got shelved because we couldn't get the publishing for the music to change the lyrics.

He added: "Nick had written lyrics for a song during previous campaigns, but of course, they'd all bitten the dust.

"It was the Belgium home game where the cogs in Nick's head started whirring when we knew it was game on and we had a great chance of qualifying."

Rock 'n' roll and football have never been the easiest of bedfellows. Music history is littered with the detritus of embarrassing collaborations and even worse songs, something the singer is more than aware of.

"You always wonder if you can actually pull off a football song, because let's face it there have been so many bad ones out there," he said.

"We've got to admit that the benchmarks are Three Lions and World In Motion - they are two great football songs."

However, James was always confident the Manics could pull it off - chiefly thanks to the knowledgeable sporting prowess of their bass player.

"I thought we had a good chance be-cause I knew that Nick would write such a well-informed lyric - there would be so much history in there," he said.

"It's something he just knows about. It's been indelibly connected to him since he was seven years old.

"He's always been such a sports addict, whether it be rugby, football, cricket, boxing or athletics.

"The golden rule with us is that whenever Nick gives me one of his Al top lyrics, or whether it was Richey in the past, you always knew that you had the chance to create some amazing music.

"As soon as Nick gave me the lyrics I knew we could create a good football song."

The video to accompany the song, which was produced and directed by award-winning film-maker and regular Manics' collaborator Kieran Evans, wove a rich narrative that was both tragic and redemptive — from one ignominious failure after another to the glory of Wales' finally putting to bed the ghosts of the past.

"There's no point being subtle with a football song," said the singer.

"Kieran's brief between him and Nick was to create a narrative that spoke of the heartbreak we've endured over the years, but that ultimately ends with the fiery phoenix rising from the ashes of failures.

"People don't associate Welsh football with that feeling of glory, so we wanted to convey that."

"But we also wanted to show what a hard road it's been for Welsh football fans and for the Welsh football team to get there."

The video also featured a memorable appearance from the whole Wales squad who look incredibly comfortable in front of the camera - and most importantly seemed to be having a great time. The lead singer confirmed the squad were naturals — with all the players bouncing up and down together in unison in one clip like the most ardent of football fans.

"That moment happened when Kieran said to them 'come on this is the last take, go for it' and one of the players shouted 'let's have a tear up'," said James.

"Everybody laughed and they were just enjoying themselves.

"They'd had a full day of training and we felt a bit guilty asking them to do this at the end of the day, but it didn't feel awkward.

"All the players were great and went for it.

"It felt like a club mentality. It didn't feel like a fake brotherhood. They were all so comfortable with each other."

When the song was released it immediately struck a chord with young and old. "We were absolutely happy with n. In fact we were delighted with it to be honest," said James.

"It felt brilliant because we managed to get historical content in there, it felt like it had a sense of longing, and it didn't ignore the habitual failure of Welsh football, but it celebrated qualification and the glory of finally getting there. There was a lot of detail In the song and we were so happy with it.

"Immediately after we put it out it became obvious that kids up to the age of 15 loved it," he added. "Kids were coming to up to me in the street going: "HAL ROBSON KANOOOO".

It was weird but it was great," he laughed.

"Then there were blokes, let's call them the potential tote-bag wearing, buying an album a month, aged around 35 plus crowd who thought there's a decent football song at last.

"We never expected it to be picked up by that audience in the middle of that age range, that live on downloads, that live on trying to find the perfect grooming implement for their beard, who want to find the filthiest of the burgers we knew we weren't going to appeal to those people right in the middle."

The singer said the band revelled in the Together Stronger ethos that reverberated through qualifying and Euro 2016 itself.

"It was being part of the collective spirit of it," said James. "l went to a lot of the qualifying games. The one thing that struck me around two games into the campaign was that all four corners of Wales were coming to these games in Cardiff. You know what games were like in the '80s and '90s. There was a disconnect between fans from the North, the West, and East.

"That was always a shame for me. I remember at the Wales Romania game in '93 there were a few scuffles between some Welsh fans. This time from early on in the campaign, you felt that esprit de corps, that togetherness, that ability for people from Barmouth, Pwllheli, Llandudno Ynys Mön, Swansea, Saundersfoot, Newport, or Pontllnafraith - to be in pubs together and stadiums together and for there not to be that tension that we used to have, especially in the '80s and the '90s with different geographical sets of Welsh fans. It was gone. It was astonishing and it made me feel so happy and so proud. Finally that was gone. We all got on board with each Oother and we wanted to be part of that with the song.

"We all watched qualification with so much trepidation, which turned into expectation which eventually turned into joy.

"It was so uncomplicated, it was so beautiful."

As for the finals itself, James said that he refused to be dragged into the hype around the England game and that the opener against Slovakia was such a massive game in so many ways.

"I disengaged myself from everything around the England match because for me, the first game was the most important. If we won that it was game on we were in the competition. You thought we could afford to lose that England match and still go through. I didn't want to get into the complications of what England v Wales meant, I wanted to ignore all that. There were a few questions marks over the game plan Chris Coleman had for the England match. But what we had to remember about this Welsh team and Chris Coleman and Osian Roberts, was that they were still learning on the job. It was their first tournament. From game to game you could see them learning.

The Russia game in itself was pretty startling and by the Belgium game, fuck me, they had learned so much.

I was in the pub for that Belgium game and when the second goal went in, at least three pints went over my head. It was incredible for everybody."

It obviously didn't end there for Welsh fans with Wales' exit in the semi-final against Portugal, there was still the little matter of the homecoming in Cardiff. For the fans and the Manics themselves, who performed at the Cardiff City Stadium as Chris Coleman's squad was paraded around the pitch, it was an opportunity to say thanks - even it signalled something of a first for the band.

"It's the first time I've played a concert where the whole area in front of the stage was empty," said James. "That felt a tiny bit strange for me, but I didn't care. "Coming from a band that is quite cynical and quite scared of showing emotions sometimes, to actually be a part of something where you felt the need of the fans to say thank you to the team and the coaching staff was so important.

'As we get older we all get a tiny bit more sentimental, but it was great to say thank you because the whole campaign was amazing."