Fresh from a Number 1 single and "thingie-stripping" BBC documentary, the Manics gingerly begin their UK tour.
"It's quite corny," James Dean Bradfield allows, contemplating Manic Street Preachers' September tour of the towns that rock forgot. "We're going to places we haven't played before - for the kids, man."
Post-gig on the tour bus parked behind Chester's Northgate Arena, he jests and sort of means it too. But then he admits the provincial relaunch is also "because we're nervous. We wanted to try things out first in smaller venues" - with the full-monty agitprop poetical light show omitted from this excursion, they move to the big rooms like Wembley Arena in December. And the show that climaxed 30 minutes earlier did evince signs of rustiness.
The trio, plus keyboardist Nick Nasmyth, walked out into a roar of hope and fraternity. Their indefatigably serious passion had the building blitzed in moments. Kevin Carter was hard as sculpture, La Tristesse Durera a pop pleasure, venerable Motown Junk a punky destructo-celebratory rave. Selections from This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours - out only three days earlier - were received With, at worst, chin-in-hand concentration.
But then it all went wonky for half a dozen songs. Keyboards wandered painfully off-key. Disoriented, Bradfield's guitar and vocals followed, only for this cacophony itself to be overwhelmed by a massive PA thrum. Finally, relief came from Bradfield's brief solo acoustic set. Chatting to the audience with unprecedented jollity - they chanted "Wales! Wales!"; he chided, "Now then, there's lots of English people in. We've got to accept them," — he conjured the sweet clarity of My Little Empire (from the new album) and Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky. After which the electrics behaved through to a flag-waving crescendo: Everything Must Go, You Love and A Design For Life.
On the bus, towelled down but still buzzing, Nicky Wire is variously distracted by Bradfield suddenly calling him "Nicky" ("Don't call me Nicky! You never call me Nicky!"), appreciative of a fan who's given him a customised "Home Is Where the Hoover Is" T-shirt, and fretful about BBC2's Manic Street Preachers Close Up documentary, set for screening just after their September tour concludes.
"I've watched bits of it, some with the sound turned off because it winds me up so much," he says. "I didn't realise how personal it was going to feel. It strips thingies. But it's a good piece of history."
However, the Manics did enjoy a less grand historical mark chalked up when If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next became their first ever Number 1 single.
was definitely a vindication," grins Bradfield, "Although it wasn't the massive release I expected, I did feel a lot of things unfold. There again, playing Top Of The Pops brought me back to earth. I realised all those kids in the studio had been hoping that Steps would beat us to it. They were thinking, 'Why the fuck are these four old blokes Number 1?"
The bus is revving. Bridlington beckons. But Wire is game to tackle the "sell-out" accusations implied or stated in some reviews. From sympathy vote over Richey Edwards' disappearance to hostility in one, the Manics reckon. Whereas, says Wire, trenchant in his characteristically droopy way, "Shit like Beastie Boys, Beck and U.N.K.L.E. will always get 10 out of 10 reviews when all three of those albums are the ultimate form of style over substance..."