It may have escaped your attention somewhat but on last month's most talked-about Late Late Show ever (and I'm not referring to the boring lovefest which was Gaybo's farewell) there were one or two musical items, not least a stirring solo performance of If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next by James Dean Bradfield. Time was when Manic Street Preachers attracted controversy and outrage as a matter of course (wearing balaclavas on Top Of The Pops and verbally attacking Dave Fanning - whom they mistook for Gerry Ryan - at an IRMA Awards ceremony are just two which spring to mind) so, after five superb albums and a decade in the public have the band - whisper it - mellowed?
"Not at all." says James. "Of course we're obviously older and a lot of what we did and said in the early days was a product of still being in that flush of youthful mischievousness, that feeling that we at last had the platform to put into action all those things we'd talked about for years when we were striving to be a real band. We're no less driven now, it's just that we know how best to get our point across but I've no regrets whatsoever about anything in our past."
Last year's This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, the Manics' fifth album, saw James, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore change musical tack from 1996's Everything Must Go, the record made following the disappearance of Richey Edwards and the one which propelled them to major league popularity in the UK and Europe, helped in no small measure by the epic Design For Life. It's certainly a darker, more sombre collection than its predecessor (although nothing like as harrowing as The Holy Bible which many have viewed as a suicide/farewell note from Richey) but James feels no need to apologise for shift.
"If you look back at all our albums," he says. "the next one's always gone in a different direction. We certainly weren't going to make Everything Must Go - Part 2 even though it had been huge and opened up a whole new audience for us. We've always been true to ourselves, and the people who've followed us and supported us appreciate that. If we started trying to second-guess ourselves just to achieve sales we may as well give up. And. funnily enough, This Is My Truth has actually sold more overall - so who's to know how these things work?"
Certainly not the Americans, that's for sure, For nearly a decade the Manic Street Preachers have been consistently creating songs which combine diamond-hard tunes, passion and blinding intelligence, yet they've never made the slightest impression on that continent. Does that count as a disappointment for James?
"Well, yes is the simple answer," comes the reply. "I don't mean that to sound as if we're feeling sorry for ourselves but when you're a teenager dreaming about being in a band American success is obviously part of that
dream - the whole Beatles at airports thing is etched in your mind. I think we've only ourselves to blame in many respects because when we first went to America with Generation Terrorists in 1991 were more concerned with
jumping around and looking cool rather than playing our instruments properly, and one thing you learn is that Americans like to hear a good show rather than just see one. The Holy Bible wasn't even released there. Everything Must Go kind of escaped and we were told that If You Tolerate This wouldn't be played because DJs don't like long titles. I'm sure we could crack it if we were prepared to spend the best part or a year there, but we're not. Nicky and Sean have family commitments and that kind of schedule can pull bands apart, not to mention having a serious effect on your writing."
So, despite his Late Late appearance - and a wonderful version of Last Christmas on TFI Friday three years ago still sticks in my mind - can we say for certain that there won't be a James Dean Bradfield solo album in the near future?
"There'll be nothing of the sort," he says emphatically. "I've been with Nicky and Sean since my childhood. They're my best friends and we're a gang as much as a band. And I like being in a gang."