Quite a lot, actually, as a surprisingly uncynical Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers explains to Stephen Dalton
Ten years ago, at the dizzy peak of Britpop, the all-star compilation Help went from recording studio to No 1 in a week and raised more than £1.25 million for War Child, the charity founded to help children affected by war in Bosnia and other conflicts.
Next week the stars will come out again, and with the same aim of recording another War Child best-seller in a single day. Alongside young contenders, including Razorlight, Bloc Party, Kaiser Chiefs and Keane, A Day in the Life will also feature three Help veterans: Manic Street Preachers, Radiohead and Damon Albarn of Blur, this time in his Gorillaz guise.
Of the three, the Manics (from left above, Nicky Wire, Sean Moore and James Dean Bradfield) are perhaps the most unlikely rock do-gooders. The Welsh trio have long been critical of woolly-headed liberal causes but, according to Wire, their lyricist and bass guitarist, War Child has a practical humanitarian effect.
"It's not necessarily trying to change the world," he says. "It does give people help on an individual basis. There's building schools, for instance. You do tend to forget the kids left after a war, which War Child focuses on. It's always appealed to me on that level."
Wire and his fellow Manics will contribute a politically slanted new song, Leviathan, to A Day in the Life. For the Help album they covered Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, the first song they recorded after the still-unsolved disappearance of their former lyricist Richey Edwards, and a personal turning point. "It was a liberation," Wire recalls. "It opened us up from being psychotic and doom-mongering, so I kind of feel a debt to War Child."
In addition, the project has a reputation for musical quality almost unequalled in rock charity projects. Wire says recording a track "feels less stupid than some charity event", mainly because "the bands are almost anonymous".
Superstar causes such as Live 8 are virtually guaranteed to rattle Wire's cage, but although he says he found July's jamboree "underwhelming", he praises his fellow War Child contributors Razorlight for their showmanship in Hyde Park. "They were the indie Queen," he says. "No politics, they just played their best songs the best they can. That's the way to go about it."
Wire concedes that Live 8 achieved some practical good, even if he remains ideologically opposed to Bob Geldof's free trade agenda. "For all the admirable sentiments of Make Poverty History," Wire sighs, "it's one of the prime tenets of capitalism, to exploit poverty."
War Child itself has not enjoyed an unblemished history. In 1999 it was shaken by scandalous revelations about management perks, and the Charity Commission had to replace the trustees. But Wire has no qualms about this. "With all organisations there is always a can of worms," he shrugs. "But when you actually see a nursery that's been built in the middle of Bosnia -it's hard to
be cynical about that."