Manic Street Preachers release their latest album Futurology on Monday. It’s a bold and brave release which came to fruition with a number of Welsh players central to its production. Here frontman James Dean Bradfield has his say on the collaborators who helped make it happen.
Futurology’s Cardiff-born, Berlin-based producer. Formerly the man who helmed the sessions for the band’s seminal album The Holy Bible. Also married to German actress Nina Hoss, whose vocals grace the track Europa Geht Durch Mich
I’ve been really good friends with Alex since 1992/1993 which was the first time we worked with him. I remember we worked together on Suicide Is Painless and just immediately hit it off with him.
We used to call him the Britalian Stallion because he’s from Italian stock but his family are from Cardiff and Caerphilly. He’s a great lad and really talented.
We worked with each other on The Holy Bible (album). He was obviously then a raw talent in terms of being an engineer and a producer, even though there wasn’t a producer credit on The Holy Bible.
We decided to go back to basics after Gold Against The Soul (album) and recorded it in Soundspace Studios in Cardiff.
I suppose that was his break in terms of engineering and production and not long after he moved to London. I was living in London from 1994 onwards for quite a while also. We stayed in touch and became good drinking buddies for a long time. Then he moved to Berlin and I still stayed in touch with him.
I actually go round to his parents in Cardiff every so often for a lasagne - his mother says it’s the ex-Pope’s chef’s recipe!
I’ve been out to Berlin just to see him socially. Me and my wife went out there for a New Year’s Eve party a couple of years ago. He works with Herbert Grönemeyer, who is a really big artist and producer in Germany and Austria.
Alex is just really talented. I remember he did lots of field recordings for Brith Gof (former renowned Welsh theatre company) back in the late ‘80s as well, so he’s got a foot in that art world, and also he was a musician himself. He was in a Cardiff band who were around in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s called Papa’s New Faith.
More than anything else he’s a personal friend that I really respect in terms of the way he works in the studio. He carries a lot of authority. He’s 6ft 2in, and a bit of a powerhouse.
It’s very strange though as people are not aware of him in Wales, especially as he’s gone on to have massive success around the world with Herbert Grönemeyer and done incredible things like film soundtracks with (photographer and filmmaker) Anton Corbijn.
I think we were curious to see whether we still had the magic together. We both jumped at the chance when we came up with the idea or working together again - and then lots of serendipity sprung from that. We said do you want to do it in Cardiff or do you want us to come to you in Berlin?
He said I work in Hansa (the iconic recording studio where Davie Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop recorded many of their albums in the ‘70s) so come over to Berlin. Of course he’s also the partner of Nina Hoss - probably one of the most famous and respected actresses especially in the art house cinema in Europe.
I knew he’d been talking about doing some recordings with her in a theatre piece he was doing. So I knew she had an amazing voice and so I shyly asked one day would she sing on this track which has a German title (Europa Geht Durch Mich). And she said she’d give it a go.
She translated the lyrics, came in, and first take it sounded amazing, which was a relief because it would have been an awkward moment saying, ‘Sorry Nina it hasn’t worked out.’ Imagine telling one of your best mate’s partner that they’re not on the record! Not that she needs us, of course. For her this is just a little extra-curricular experiment. Her career is something that is untouchable. She is an auteur, a goddess in Europe. We were so glad she put her heart and soul into it and that she said yes she’d do something so frivolous as singing on one of our records.
The Bafta-award winning West Walian film-maker has become synonymous with the recent Manics’ output thanks to his beautifully shot videos for songs Rewind The Film, Show Me The Wonder, Anthem For A Lost Cause and Walk Me To the Bridge. He also provided the stunning visuals for the band’s recent UK and European tour
I think he might be off now to go and work on winning another Bafta and one day an Oscar. Me and him were having a drink in the Urban Taphouse (in Cardiff) about five months ago - we were quite drunk and we were probably talking utter rubbish.
I remember he was actually asking about when I was young, asking me about that first magical moment when I thought, yeah, I can do this (be in a band). So I asked him the same question, when did he realise he wanted to be a film director. He described this story which illustrates why we connected with him.
He said it was a during a screening of a Derek Jarman film called The Last Of England. Derek Jarman was quintessential art house film-maker, very confrontational with his ideas. Kieran said: ‘I remember walking two miles from St Davids across the coast to the cinema. It was a wintry night, driving rain, I was 16-years old and by the time I got there, I had a terrible cold, I was sneezing, I was soaking wet. I sat in a 200 seater auditorium'.
'There was no one else in there it was just me and there was a scene with some skinheads and poster of The Queen in the film. It was quite a brutal scene, I sat there, looked around, there was no one else there, I had a raging cold, soaking wet and I looked back at the screen and thought that is what I want to do'.
I thought it was an amazing story. That commitment to walk on your own in the driving rain on a cold West Walian night to go and see this art house film that nobody else had bought a ticket for. It just illustrates that he had this drive that came from somewhere and he didn’t care that nobody else shared his ideas, he just went for it.
I like the fact he is so passionate about everything. If you’re reading a book, he’ll ask - ‘what’s that book?’ And then he’ll write it down because he thinks he might be able to turn it into a film one day.
He absolutely loves his music. I’ve had massive conversations with him about The Fall and Super Furry Animals for instance. He’s not repelled by actually trying represent things in life that other people might think are unpalatable. He’ll try and find the grain of truth in it and he’ll try and find the beauty in it.
It’s all those things. He has an acute vision and an acute sensibility that I think Richey definitely had and Nick has to a certain degree but in a different way.
I’m always attracted to that, people who just get on with things. They have laser beam artistic vision. They see things that nobody else sees and they drive towards it like a missile.
It was amazing to see him pick up his Bafta and to see him be so embarrassed when they announced his name!
The Super Furry Animals synth wizard puts his distinctive mark on two songs from Futurology - the album’s strident title track and the equally resounding The Next Jet To Leave Moscow. He’s somebody that James Dean Bradfield has known and admired for years
There were a lot of songs on the album where the keyboards had been done by us. Sean and Loz (Manics’ drummer Sean Moore and studio engineer Loz Williams) took care of that, especially Sean who was such a Kraftwek freak when he was young. But there were two tracks that I just knew where there was something else there. We tried different things, but we didn’t quite get there.
I suppose I was reminded of early Simple Minds stuff - Empires and Dance , Sons and Fascination - that kind of glacial sound, that has a certain detachment to it, but had a kind of regal power as well. I just thought Simple Minds’ keyboard player Mick MacNeil’s stuff was so distinctive and in my head I was trying to think of who was one of the most distinctive keyboard players of the last two genrations and Cian was at the front of the queue.
A lot of his stuff is beautiful. He’s got a rock ‘n’ roll sensibility coupled with a real experimental sensibility as well and that’s exactly what we needed.
Futurology has got that Krautrock driving beat and so has Next Jet To Leave Moscow. He just seemed like the perfect answer. As I say he mixes the rock ‘n’ roll and the experimental in such a brilliant way.
I think we first encountered Super Furry Animals in a pub - obviously! It was The City Arms in Cardiff around early 1995. Cian was the driving force in terms of drink back then.
We toured with each other quite a lot. We met up at lots of festivals. I remember one where we were both on the same bill as The Sex Pistols, it was the very same gig where Steve Jones signed the back of my Gibson (guitar). I also remember there was a rainstorm and Cian was looking up at the sky saying ‘come on God give me what you got’.
He was saying it in Welsh and somebody asked what he was saying, so he started shouting it in English. They was always something of the off kilter touring rock ‘n’ roll tribe about them. There are lots of memories there. In a lot of peoples opinions they are the best Welsh band ever and I understand that completely.
The Scritti Polliti singer - born in Cardiff and raised in Newport - came to prominence in the ‘80s with hits such as Wood Beez, Absolute and The Word Girl. He brings his silken vocal presence to Between the Clock and the Bed
I absolutely loved Wood Beez. I bought it that single on seven inch and I bought it on 12 inch. I’ve still got them. I was aware of (early Scritti Polliti album) Skank Bloc Bologna, which was a quintessential Rough Trade record.
I remember thinking through conversations we had between us all which bands had made the most complicated journeys from their original sound to another. We’d always come to the conclusion that it was The Clash - from the first Clash album to Sadinista, if you were an outsider you woudn’t know it was the same band.
Obviously you had early Simple Minds taking inspiration from Krautrock and they ended up being one of the biggest stadium bands in the world. They went through a massive transformation, but Green Gartside’s transformation was gigantic too. He went from quintessential Rough Trade artist to this gliding super carriage of a soul synth star. It was amazing.
How did that guy turn himself into that and not lose his soul along the way. I remember seeing him on the cover of Melody Make and he had really coiffured, Dynasty-esque hair with a chiffon top on and I remember drawing it for my art O level as part of the exam. I was always fascinated by him.
With Green I can’t remember whose idea it was to get him on the record, but myself and him we might approach singing in a very different way but we both sing in the same register. We both have quite feminine registers I suppose.
Between The Clock And The Bed sticks out on the album I suppose. It does have a shiny indie soul pop sound to it - like bands I used to love in the ‘80s such as Colourbox, Love & Money, and Orange Juice who did it a tiny bit as well. We just knew his voice would be perfect for it. He was the only choice.
There was also serendipity at play because my mate Robin Turner, who used to work for Heavenly Records, one of his main drinking buddies in London is Green Gartside. So it was a case of having connections with these people through other friends.
The Welsh Music Prize award-winning singer and harpist, brings a quiet beauty to Divine Youth - a duet with James Dean Bradfield
I think my vocal on Divine Youth is the most ‘80s thing on the record. I couldn’t sing any other way, so it was really good to have Georgia there because she gives the song a weightless logic.
She manages to float across the track but give it some kind of authority, whereas I just steam roll it in with my big notes.
With her she really optimised everything we hoped for that track when she came along and sang on it.
Nick wrote Divine Youth every bit of it in its entirety and top of your list to sing it was Georgia and it just worked out and the harp she played on it worked out too.
She’s somebody I’ve loved for sometime. I listen to radio a lot and in particular I listen to Bethan Elfyn’s (Saturday evening Radio Wales) show a lot because I know she’s going to play lots Welsh records that are not going to be played elsewhere. I also listen to Radio Cymru for new music as well.
I always like to keep up with things. I’m always in Spillers Records in Cardiff.
CATE LE BON
The singer from Carmarthen, now based in the US, was one of the key guests on the Rewind The Film album, adding glacial vocals to the track 4 Lonely Roads. On Futurology she contributes backing vocals with her partner, musician H Hawkline, to the abrasive Let’s Go To War
I’ve been aware of all her records. And I’m very aware that she can sing with fragility and can sing with a real glassy authority as well. It’s really amazing range she’s got.
On Rewind The Film and 4 Lonely Roads I knew I couldn’t do it. Even though I’ve got kind of a feminine voice, I haven’t got the right amount of subtlety in my voice.
Nick writes for the female voice very well, I just knew I couldn’t sing it. Nick did quite a good job of singing it, but we both had the same idea that we wanted Cate Le Bon to sing it.
We knew that when we sent the track out to her in LA that the track would come back perfect.. It was one of those moments where you know if she said she was going to do it, it’s in the bag. And it was.
Ultimately, with all the guests on Futurology I think we carried through our decision as on Rewind The Film to get other vocalists in because it’s really just as simple as this: Futurology is our 12th studio album, and I can’t start trying to make my voice sound different like some kind of character actor, I can’t do that.
It’s just that thing of writing music, performing it and then just at the final minute when you want to finish it, you want to change the framing of it.
I know what my voice does to a song - I know the primary colours of my voice. Sometimes you just want to colour it in. I have this feeling that my voice has done so much work within the Manics that sometimes it was underselling the song and that’s not me be self-effacing or disingenuous, that’s really how I’ve felt. I felt like these songs needed somebody else to finish them.