You sent us the questions and we got the answers. That's right: the Manic Street Preachers tell us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the...Oh you get the idea.
"It's amazing to see so much handwriting! And people say the post is dead, eh?" Manic Street Preachers bassist Nicky Wire has quite possibly been described as a man of letters on previous occasions, but rarely can it have been in such a literal context as this as he sprawls on a sofa surrounded by garishly-scribbled missives from the underground, aka Thornton Heath and beyond.
And the reason for such bulging postbag palpitations? Nicky, along with James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore have joined forces in an office at the west London headquarters of their press company to trawl through the questions sent in by you, the fans, at the band's glorious behest last month. Good timing it is, too, as this very week Manic Street Preachers' latest single went straight in at Number One, the first time they have ever topped the singles chart, and in the midst of demands from photographers, tabloids and Top Of The Pops, Nicky Wire is proving that not only is he a man of letters, he is a man of numbers, too.
For example, did you realise that 'If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next' is the longest-titled record to get to Number One since Scott McKenzie's 'San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)' slopped to the top in 1967? Or that the Manics are the first Welsh act to clamber up to such giddy heights since Shakin' Stevens with 'This Ole House', 'Green Door' and - of course - 'Merry Christmas Everyone', between 1981 and 1985? Or that '...Tolerate...' sold 176,000 records in the first week, a mere 6,000 copies ahead of those sneaky Steps tykes?
And these are just the statistics! Imagine how the Manics actually felt when they first heard the news!
"Weeeell... We were told about it on Sunday morning and James was so hungover that he just said, 'Oh, we're Number One'," shrugs Nicky, immediately adopting a coolly dismissive stance. "No I didn't!" yelps James. "I just didn't want to get all emotional and start hugging people."
"Well I had some champagne," concedes Nicky, "so I must have been emotional."
Some more figures? Why not. Over 400 readers took the opportunity to send in questions to the trio via Postman Pat and, uh, Eric e-mail, which ranged from the weird to the frankly ridiculous. Some 'questions' were in fact essays the length of lead album reviews. Others were
cheeky one-liners enquiring about the Manics' pie intake. After much head-scratching we finally whittled the pile down to 50 questions (still roughly 48 more than we usually have) which suitably stretched right from the early days as a punk-hued panda-eyed quartet up to
the release of the new, fifth album, 'This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours', taking in a huge variety of subjects along the way. Most unexpectedly, some of the 'serious' queries were dealt with in the space of a couple of sentences, so well-versed are the band when it comes to talking about, say, missing guitarist Richey Edwards. Conversely, some of the lighter topics elicited a surprisingly volatile response from our men in the nice shirts. Just ask the manager of the England football team.
One last point: we did seriously consider putting your questions in some sort of sensible order. Then we thought, 'Bollocks to that'. Let the chaos commence...
Is there any item of clothing from the early days that you regret wearing? (Matthew Czyzyk, Stockport)
James: "Yeah, probably my pair of really tight, white silk trousers that I wore at the Diorama gig. I haven't really got the hips for them. I wore a crochet top with it as well. That was my last attempt at any flight of fancy."
Sean: "I suppose having long hair, really, if that's an item of clothing. I wish I'd never had long hair."
Nicky: "It was your Lars Ulrich look! Ha ha ha!"
Do you think that you have a responsibility as spokesmen for a generation? Or do you not think about their implications once the song is written? (Adam, Northants)
Nicky: "The only people we speak for is ourselves. We write about the things we are interested in, and if we weren't interested in the things we sing about we wouldn't sing about them. We don't do it to make a certain point, it's just the things that drive us and the things that inspire us. We don't see ourselves as spokespeople."
Not even when it comes to a subject like the Hillsborough disaster, as dealt with on new album finale 'SYMM'?
"No, I don't. I was just watching the telly and an episode of Cracker came on - 'To Be A Somebody' - and I thought it was one of the most fantastic pieces of drama that I had ever seen. It's kind of about the emotional fallout from Hillsborough more than anything else. I was driven to write a song about it."
People do seem to hang on to your every word, don't they?
James: "Yeah, but I know the way we feel when we write songs. I think we appease all our own emotions and never, ever think of anything outside of that, ever. I think if we did there would be one or two songs that we wouldn't have written if we'd thought of the implications outside of the band itself."
Sean: "Especially a lot of stuff on 'The Holy Bible'. I feel that it's done a lot of harm rather than good in some cases, just in terms of self-abuse."
Nicky: "If you become a spokesman you'll end up coming out with shite like 'Mandela Day'. Richey never wrote for anyone but himself."
What effect does it have on you when people say that you have forgotten Richey? (Karen S, South Wales)
James: "We feel as though those people are stupid. They should shut their mouths."
Nicky: "It has no effect. It doesn't make me feel angry at all. I have no opinion on those people whatsoever."
Who were the stars of the World Cup? (Fiona, London)
Sean: "Paul Gascoigne. He had a good couple of pints, didn't he?"
James: "Campos, the Mexican goalkeeper. I just loved the way he wore his top."
Nicky: "But he's useless!"
James: "Oh, I know. I admit he's not a great goalkeeper, I just liked his style."
How do you feel about David Beckham?
Nicky: "I feel as though he is an incredibly overrated player, and most of the England side are. The thing is that at the end of the day this supposedly great nation can't even beat Romania! I wanted them to do well, but they were incredibly poor."
James: "Glenn Hoddle is a cunt. He's a fucking wanker.
Nicky: "The thing is, Glenn Hoddle was my hero as a footballer. I bought a video, The Glenn Hoddle Story, and I was thinking, 'Here we go, all the goals with Ardiles against Manchester United in the quarter final of the cup' and there wasn't a single goal there, it was all about him being a Christian!"
James: "He never admits to doing anything wrong. If journalists asked, 'Glenn, do you think it was the right thing to leave your wife and kids?' he'd go, 'Well, emotionally at that time it was the right decision to take'. He's a wanker! He's a complete cunt!"
Nicky: "I thought Salas (Chilean player) was fantastic. He ran his out heart out."
If you could headline the ultimate gig, who would be your support acts? Would you have you supported by yourselves from five years ago? (M Mullins, Birmingham)
Sean: "They'd be too good. They'd blow us offstage!"
James: "Big Flame, that would be good. I'd like some Big Flame."
Nicky: "The June Brides, maybe? Beat Happening at their peak. And Liam Gallagher solo, berating everyone in the audience. Ha!"
If the band finished tomorrow, what would you do career-wise? (Craig Brownlie, Glasgow)
James: "I would take a year off and then try to convince them to carry on. I think I'd wait until they'd spent all their money first."
Sean: "Stay indoors."
Nicky: "You'd always have the chance of opening up a second-hand Dixons with all the goods you have."
Sean: "I could become sales manager of Dixons."
James: "Or maybe you could open up a technical consultancy firm, like 'How To Use Your Gadgets'."
Sean: "Yeah, I could do that!"
Nicky: "See, I'm one of the few people who actually love being bored. I can never understand why people say, 'Oh, I'm bored out of my fucking head, I wanna get wrecked', or whatever. I absolutely love the contentment that comes with boredom. I don't think it would be a problem for me."
Is this your feline streak coming out?
"I see it more as a canine vibe, an old doggy vibe. I just love being bored!"
If Richey suddenly turned up and said, "I want to start playing again," what would happen? (Sarah C, Dublin)
Nicky: "I don't think he'd say that. If he turned up and asked, 'Can I have a cup of tea with you?' I'd have no problem. But if he turned up with a Telecaster under his arm, I don't know..."
James: "If he turned up like Robert Johnson when he went off in the wilderness for a year and he became the most amazing guitarist in the world we'd go, 'Right! The next LP is all yours'. That would be cool."
Old and new fans - how do you feel about the friction between them? (Julie King)
Nicky: "I don't think it exists. You get gigs like at Manchester Nynex when the button-down shirt brigade turn up and there's a bit of pogoing and, yeah, a few elbows go into a few faces, but we would never want to do a gig without that physicality. If everyone sat down or just stood there mouthing the words I'd be bored."
What do you think of Marilyn Manson? (S Jones, Llanelli)
James: "I think he's made some of the most fucking amazing metal records of the decade - I love them. His book's a good holiday read, as well. You realise that 90 per cent of it is all lies, and it really could only happen in America. I listen to his stuff on the headphones when I come home at night."
Sean: "Puts Nine Inch Nails in the shade."
Do you ever regret that you did not stick to your decision to 'end the band' after making your first successful album or earning the band's first million? (Tim Bradford, Market Rasen)
Nicky: "I think the most interesting thing would have been if we had actually sold 16 million albums would we actually have had the guts to split up? The fact is we sold 250,000 in Britain and that seemed quite good at the time, but it would have been nice to think that we would have had the guts to split up."
James: "It may seem obscene in retrospect that we didn't, but it would have been a shame if we hadn't carried on and made 'The Holy Bible', y'know?"
Nicky: (taking the piss) "Oh yeah, it would have been a real shaaaame!"
Do you feel strange if you hear your music being used to accompany sports footage on Radio 5 Live or BBC1? (Terry McCormac, Dublin)
James: "When we recorded 'Australia' we had problems getting it right, and we had to have it remixed in the end by Dave Eringa. I said to him the only way I could see it working was to make it as shiny as possible, make it like it's playing when they're showing the goals on television."
Did it work?
Sean: "Well, they played it last night on Nationwide Football League Extra."
Nicky: "One of the best moments ever was when Australia beat England 76-0 at rugby. I was happy enough anyway, but when they played 'Australia' afterwards..."
'What is the most unusual thing you've ever been sent by a fan? (Carys, Swansea)
Nicky: "A bag of dirt to throw on my carpet and Hoover up. I like the idea of that. And some Mr Men pants."
James: "I once got sent a spatula."
Kate Moss or Sophie Dahl? (Polly Flynn, Gosport)
Nicky: "Sophie Dahl."
What did you do on the day of Diana's funeral? (Chris Hodgson, Northallerton)
Sean: "Went out. Didn't want to watch it on telly so we went to Weston-Super-Mare and walked along the seafront."
It must have been quiet.
"Very quiet. It was perfect, really."
James: "I stayed in a hotel with my girlfriend. I got out of London away from all those people."
Nicky: "I stayed at home and did what I normally do. It was a bit frustrating because all the sport was cancelled."
James: "I will say that was annoying, because if Liam Gallagher had died I'd have understood them cancelling the football 'cos I think it would have affected more of the people."
Nicky, can you ever see yourself getting involved in politics? (Mrs Wire, London)
"Sometimes I think I would love to, but other times I think I'd have to control myself so much it would be a waste of time, although having met Mo Mowlam (before their Slane Castle gig last month)... "It's so time-consuming, that's the other thing. There would have to be certain parameters, like being allowed to watch six hours of telly a day and never having to travel outside of Wales. Otherwise being Welsh Minister Of Sport And Culture sounds perfect."
Nicky, does your wife advise you on your eyeliner and dresses? (Fiona Carr, York)
Nicky: "No, she's too beautiful. She just laughs at me."
Do you think Ian Brown is having a midlife crisis? (Bizzo, Lancs)
James: "Yes. It's down to too much weed."
Is Sean ever going to get a sensible haircut? (Colin Berry, Southampton)
Sean: "It's quite sensible now, but it was quite sensible on the last album. It's just a pity I spoilt it all early on."
Has anyone tried to ruffle your hair?
"Uh, maybe, on occasion."
Nicky, do British citizens need a Bill of Rights? (Darren, e-mail)
"I think British citizens are too lazy to demand one anyway. I really do get sick of people moaning about politicians and then going, 'Oh, I didn't vote'. I think people should make their own decisions - if you travel you soon realise that Britain is one of the freest democracies in the world, there's no two ways about it, the way people dress, the way people exist, the way the police don't have guns... Of course, there are levels of control and there are things we shouldn't be happy about, but I've got just as little respect for people as I have for politicians. And look at European Law - you get the Bosman ruling which has totally ruined football!"
What do you wear in bed? (Jennifer Wilson, Dewsbury)
In the light of the death of the Socialist movement in this country, what forms of working-class resistance will there be in the future? In short, where do we go from here? (Kurious O, Bath)
Nicky: "I believe in a form of Socialist Existentialism where you make your own choices. Basically, you have your own rules within a Socialist framework."
Do eccentric goths and middle-class punks get on your nerves? (Daniel Ward, Swansea)
Nicky: "I think the bastardisation of punk is one of the most criminal things I have ever experienced in music. You've got all these terrible, terrible bands whose idea of punk is The Exploited and GBH and the creativity and the coolness of it has been totally eradicated."
James: "What was it that Rancid said? 'We're gonna hunt you down like hyenas and we're gonna kill you!' What these people don't realise is that punk was one of the most non-violent forms of music in terms of people who actually made it, and they're just fucking stupid." So that'll be a yes, then.
Nicky: "No! I don't mind people or whatever. It's just that certain qualities have been completely lost, such as intelligence. Punk was supposed to be the ultimate form of self-expression."
James: "It was always the middle-class goth girls that I fancied when I was young, though."
Nicky: "Oh there's nothing wrong with goths, is there?"
How do you stay sane and beautiful on your big showbiz tours? (Julie, Swansea)
James: "They're hardly showbiz tours. We do the same things every time because we're part of the eternal cycle of life, and we try not to justify it and we try not to be ashamed by what we do."
Nicky: "Touring is very important to us. For me, I feel like a completely different person onstage. It gives me so much energy which I severely lack in the rest of my life."
James: "It's the one time of my life where I feel like I've done a day's work."
Nicky: "I love going to a new hotel, checking the swimming pool out, remaking my bed just how I like it, drying a few clothes with the hair-dryer, washing a few undies in the sink."
James: "I like to find a café in every city in search of the best egg and chips, and I never get bored of that."
Sean: "It just gives me an excuse to shop. I can honestly say I've shopped in nearly every city in the UK."
Nicky: "Sean does this thing where at the start of every tour he says, 'Oh, I couldn't pack last night, so I've only got one bag with me!' Then, by the end of the tour he's got two brand new suitcases packed with stuff. Every tour!"
Does your fans' enthusiasm and commitment ever make you feel old and disillusioned? (Sean P, Leeds)
Nicky: "Not for me. Actually, I feel like a vampire, because they give me life. Sometimes you get blasé about it and think, 'Oh, why are you doing that fanzine or whatever?' but then you think back to when you were young and it's one of the most essential times of your life."
Nicky, what would you do to Spurs? (Doug Crouch, Staffs)
"Well, I have to say my interest in football has severely dwindled over the past five years. I wish I did have some interest, but I think the standard of football is incredibly poor: defenders can't defend any more, no-one can win the European Cup... The grounds may have been shit and there might have been loads of hooligans, but at least they won loads of things in Europe in the '70s and '80s."
James: "They're going on about the European Super League, but when was the last time Manchester United won the European Cup? Nottingham Forest won it, and Aston Villa won it, and then clubs like United and Liverpool and Arsenal decide that they have the power to exclude those teams which have actually won the cups."
Nicky: "Arsenal have never even won the European Cup! Ever! They haven't even made it to the semi-finals! I was watching the athletics recently where Britain had nine European champions being paid absolutely fuck-all. Y'know, imagine if we had nine football teams who had won European competitions! They're all hamstrings waiting to happen, as they say about Les Ferdinand. Ramon Vega and his stupid fucking suit! He can't even head the ball, but he's in his Armanis all day long down the Met Bar!"
Does it bother you when you're criticised? (Sarah, 17)
Nicky: "For a couple of seconds. Sometimes I think criticism is good, it can have had a positive effect. We've never been one of those bands who get a bad review and go, 'Send the security round and kill 'em!'"
James: "Sometimes I've felt like being nasty when someone's been really nasty to us, but I always think, 'Is it fucking worth it?' I'd just be reciprocating in all the nastiness. It won't get me anywhere and I'll just look like a dick."
Is there ever going to be a live album or a greatest hits collection? (Kieron, Chorley)
James: "There will never be a live album. At least, I hope not. Live albums are always rubbish, they're rip-offs, they're contract fillers."
Nicky: "And live albums don't even count on your contract, either! Ha ha ha! The only good one is 'The Song Remains The Same'. There will be a greatest hits album, though, except we've got too many. Nineteen consecutive hits."
Sean: "That's more than Madness."
James: "Problem is, I don't ever want to fucking hear 'Revol' again. It has to be one of the worst records anybody has ever made. It's absolute dogshit."
What makes you feel physically sick? (Helen Robinson, Haverfordwest)
Nicky: "Mayonnaise. Chips and mayonnaise."
James: "Potato salad."
James: "Burgers should just have onions and ketchup, and that's all."
How would you have reacted to a girl wanting to join the band? (Pen, Staffs)
James: "We did have one once."
Nicky: "We changed our name to Betty Blue for a couple of weeks and got this girl singer in and we went for a Primitives sort of thing in 1986."
What is your answer to the criticism that you're now just another bloated AOR band and everything you railed against when you were starting out? (Tony C, Balham)
Nicky: "We never railed against that! We were railing against the Monarchy! We were more anti-Slowdive than any AOR bands."
James: "Just because you're not punk or you're not fucking shit or everything doesn't go at 100bpm doesn't mean to say you're AOR. That's a complete load of bollocks, and I believe that with all of my heart. Just because a song is slow doesn't mean to say it's AOR."
What do you think about the States? What are your chances of ever breaking big over there? (Sarah Anderson, via e-mail)
Nicky: (joyfully) "Zero! We are the smallest-selling band in the history of the world in America."
James: (brusquely) "After the first album we were well past the point of realising that it wasn't happening for us, and since then we've been resigned to not being fixated on it and not concentrating on it."
Nicky: "I can't say it's my favourite place on Earth anyway, so I'm not really that arsed."
Aren't your US record company 'arsed' about your records, though?
Nicky: "We haven't got a deal at the moment. We're 'between' deals!"
James: "Which lays waste to the rumour that we left some tracks off the new album because our American record company didn't want to release them - we haven't even got a fucking deal."
Nicky: "I like American sitcoms, and that's about it. As long as I can see Frasier every night on the Paramount channel I don't need to fucking go there."
What are you scared of? (Fluffy, Aberdeen)
Nicky: "Loads of stuff. Everything, really. Getting up in the morning I think I'm going to pull my back or crick my neck and everything I do is going to cause an accident."
James: "Superstitions becoming reality. Letting my guard down."
Have you ever been offered money to model anything? (Sue Long, Liverpool)
James: "I got a free Paul Smith token once. We've been offered stuff, but we can't be arsed to follow them up."
Nicky: "I still like buying CDs, books, clothes, all the things I bought when I was young, but now I can buy more of them!"
Would you rather guest on The Simpsons or South Park? (Doug Crouch, Staffs)
Nicky: (outraged) "You LOVE The Simpsons!"
James: "I've gone off it. I'm bored as fuck with it."
Nicky: "One of the banes of my life is adult cartoon comedy. It's shit! I hate it! We argue about it."
James: "Not everything I watch has got to have some kind of intelligence to it."
Nicky: "Oh, I love Men Behaving Badly, and it's not because it's intelligent, is it? The thing about The Simpsons is the fact that everyone puts intellectualism into it, every pop star or whatever goes, 'Did you see Bart last night? Doh!' What? He made a joke about a smell? How intellectual."
James: "Sounds like Men Behaving Badly to me."
Nicky: "Well, do I try to make out that's intellectual? No!"
James: "But they don't try to intellectualise it!"
Nicky: "Everybody intellectualises The Simpsons. Everybody!"
Sean: "You've never seen an episode of The Simpsons, anyway, so you can't comment. I like King Of The Hill..." Aaaaaargh!
Are you likely to split on a musical high, like The Jam? (Stephen Jackson, Oldham)
Nicky: "Yeah, I'd like to think so. It's the one thing I'd like to hang onto."
Sean: "As long as James didn't make a solo album within five years of us splitting up."
Don't you think that debut album 'Generation Terrorists' looks incredibly pretentious in retrospect? (Hamja Shsan, London)
James: "Yeah, that's what set us apart from all the bands we were playing gigs with at the time, like Mega City 4 and Senseless Things and The Family Cat, that pretension and ambition."
Is there any point in having a social conscience in your records when the industry is increasingly opting for style over substance? (Chris Guzzwell, New Zealand)
Nicky: "I think what the industry is doing is very scary. It's all about targeting younger and younger kids and dampening their imaginations and giving them heroes who are useless. They are pretty and well-formed and they are sad fucking thick bastards. Put all those boy and girl bands together and you'd struggle to get a brain cell out of all of them. We had Johnny Rotten and Morrissey to make us feel less awkward about ourselves, and I hope we had that effect on people when we were younger. I haven't heard Clinic at all, but the fact that they wear surgical masks makes me want to buy their record. It might be a crock of shit, but it's very rare that anyone makes an effort any more."
And, after an hour-and-a-quarter of free form jazz-style interrogation, the Wire man has still got a point. Apologies to all Manics movers who asked about autographs, Hoovering tips, backstage passes, rooodie dooodie things with James, white Les Pauls, what-are-your-favourite-books, who-would-you-torture, signing to Sony, Simple Minds and, of course, when will you be playing Singapore/Israel/South Africa/Finland/Italy/Hong Kong/Canada/Brazil/Greece/Russia/Australia/Pontypool Bandstand, but time is once again the NME's enemy and Manic Street Preachers are whisked off to one of those incredibly important 'things' that you have to go to when you're a Number One act with a string of vital statistics to link together. It's how Leo Sayer still lives his life. And you simply cannot interfere with big stuff like that.
Regrets? Yeah, just the one: nobody asked them where they got their bloody name from...