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Wales Euro 2016 Song: From Vietnam-Bound Troops To France - BBC News, 13th May 2016

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Title: Wales Euro 2016 Song: From Vietnam-Bound Troops To France
Publication: BBC News
Date: Friday 13th May 2016
Writer: Chris Wood


Vietnam-bound soldiers drinking in a Pittsburgh bar and football fans in France this summer may sound like two groups sharing little in common. But they are linked through a song which captures the hope and despair of Wales' quest to reach a first major football championships since 1958. Manic Street Preachers release their Euro 2016 song Together Stronger (C'Mon Wales) on Friday. Yet an oversight meant the process of recording it nearly ended in failure. The song has its roots in the build-up to a match 23 years ago, when a team which included Ryan Giggs, Ian Rush and Mark Hughes was on the verge of qualifying for USA '94. "Back then, the only chant fans had to sing was (to the tune of) an outdated John Lennon song that went 'all we are singing is give us a goal'. "It sounded desperate," said John Morgan, then head of promos at BBC Wales. As a do-or-die clash with Romania approached, he wanted to find a tune that would "capture the imagination of a nation" and turned to an unlikely source - 1978 film The Deer Hunter.

"People remember the Russian roulette scene near the end, but I remembered a brilliant song sung by Frankie Valli in the film," Mr Morgan said. "There is a little sequence with soldiers in a Pittsburgh bar about to go to Vietnam. They are all singing along, letting their hair down, before facing the terrible thing. "It stuck in my head and I thought that would do it." Andy Williams' version of that song - Can't Take My Eyes Off You - was used in television adverts and came to symbolise, for a generation of fans, the agony of a missed Paul Bodin penalty and a 2-1 defeat. "I can remember walking up to the stadium and suddenly there was not that fear in the crowd, just jubilation," said Manics singer, James Dean Bradfield. "Obviously we know it was misplaced now, but the crowd was singing this song and you could hear it all the way down Westgate Street."

For lyricist and bassist Nicky Wire, his "personal introduction to Welsh forlornness" was the 1-1 draw with Scotland in 1985 that denied the country qualification for the 1986 World Cup. A "dodgy hot dog" which gave him food poisoning and the death of Scotland manager Jock Stein after the game helped create a sense of despondency around such occasions. "I've written lyrics before when we have had playoffs (Wales lost to Russia over two legs for a place at Euro 2004), but then chucked them away," he said. "For the Israel game (a 0-0 draw in September 2015 which left Wales close to qualifying for France), I was in a Welsh mini-skirt and scarf ready to post a message saying 'happy days'. "But that selfie is still on my phone ready to go."

When qualification did come, courtesy of a Cyprus victory over Israel in October 2015, attention turned to how the Manics would mark it. The answer was simple - Wire lyrics set to the tune of Can't Take My Eyes Off You. According to Bradfield, their version would "retain the spirit of the original" with Everything Must Go era "produced trashiness". As they started recording, Gavin Fitzjohn from Cogan joined the band to record trumpet and saxophone parts.

"I've said a million times how incredible this scenario is. You're getting on with your stuff day-to-day and it pops into your head that we've qualified," he said. "I'm going to hear this (song) a lot probably, so it is a bit nerve-wracking. I need to make sure it's bang on." They duly recorded a "great version" that Wire said the band was happy with, before they "hit the wall" in December and the dream appeared over. "Like the complete numpties we are, we hadn't checked with the publishers that we could get permission to actually use the song but with our written lyrics," said Bradfield. "(They refused) then we were left with nothing."

In January, Bradfield said "a phoenix arose from the flames" as he had an idea for putting the words to a new tune. "It's not A Design for Life or If You Tolerate This but they came to me in 10 minutes flat and so did this," he said. "I dashed from the house to the studio and had a really good old bloke moment, thinking 'I can still do it'." He praised Wire's words for giving him a "great template" to work from. These used the 1958 World Cup quarter-final defeat against Brazil - Wales' last appearance at a major tournament - as a starting point. "There was a lack of a cultural impact in that era which was really sad as it was still such a great achievement," said Wire. "To lose to the world's greatest player (Pele) and world's greatest team (Brazil) 1-0, in modern times, you would have lived off that for decades." He tried to get as many names into the song, but said it would then have ended up as "just a list of the greatest Welsh players".

One name that did make it was that of former manager Gary Speed, who died in 2011. "As a player, he was amazing," said Wire. "I remember against Russia (in the Euro 2004 play-off), he tried to drag the whole Wales team up akin to David Beckham versus Greece, saying 'Come on this is it'." The band met up with the Welsh football squad at their Vale of Glamorgan base to record the song in March. Wire described it as a classic Manics "romantic tragedy" with good doses of Welsh melancholy and enthusiasm. That is not to say it will not provide an upbeat, sing-along soundtrack to many Welsh people's summer. As Bradfield said: "If New Order, who were Joy Division, can get away with it, then we can get away with it."