James Dean Bradfield
Live @ Oxford Zodiac
October 20, 2006
Interview & Photography: Steve Bateman
When Elvis Presley died on August
16, 1977, the effect that it had on James Dean Bradfield's parents,
was enough to make him stop and realise, "how music really mattered
to people and how it could be a seismic force in peoples' lives."
Little at the time did James know, that one day,
both himself, his cousin Sean Moore, and his childhood friends, Nicky
Wire and Richey James Edwards (later known as The Glamour Twins), would
go on to become, not only one of the most beloved, provocative and compelling
bands in modern music. But, perhaps more importantly, that rarest of
breeds, a cerebral, honest and revolutionary band which only comes along
once in a lifetime - and for the right person, myself included, whose
music has that uncommon capability of being life-changing!
They are of course the Manic Street Preachers, and
their story so far, is possibly as well-known to the world, as some
of their most famous songs. From their working-class Blackwood Welsh
Valley roots, to their us-against-the-world nihilistic punk glamour
and socio-political sloganeering, to their grand declarations and fierce
rhetoric as self-styled Generation Terrorists and "Media Sluts,"
to Richey cutting '4 REAL' into his forearm in the early '90s. To their
landmark - albeit bleak third album - The Holy Bible in 1994, to Richey's
deepening depression, self-harm, alcoholism, anorexia and tragic disappearance
on February 1, 1995. To their all-conquering rebirth as a three-piece,
with the stirring comeback anthem A Design For Life, and the equally
euphoric, breakthrough seminal LP from which it came, Everything Must
Go in 1996.
And in the ensuing years, even greater success was
to follow! With a plethora of Awards, the million-selling album This
Is My Truth Tell Me Yours in 1998, a pair of Number 1 Hit Singles, If
You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next in 1998 (their first),
and Masses Against The Classes in 2000 (the first of the New Century).
Along with the Manic Millennium, performing at the Karl Mark Theatre
in Havana, Cuba (in the presence of Fidel Castro) in 2001, and a career-spanning
Greatest Hits LP, Forever Delayed in 2002, to name just a few distinguishing
moments. Tellingly though, the Manics were and are, composite characters
who remain trapped by their history, and thus, every achievement is
bittersweet in Richey's absence - who has an eternal presence over the
But in April 2005, after 21 years together and having
completed their Past, Present, Future Tour, the band decided that the
time was right, to take a self-imposed 2-year break. For James and Nicky
however, this wasn't to last
Becoming "restless and twitchy" due to
his strong blue-collar work ethic, James "inevitably made a solo
album, as he just really missed having music in his life" - although
at first, this did feel like "infidelity" on his own. Notably,
much of The Great Western was written on the train journey from Cardiff
to Paddington - which also reconnected James to the Manics' past, as
this was one of the crucial first steps that the group took, in their
early search for world domination.
When speaking of his records personal introspection
and sentimental lyrical themes, James has revealed, A lot of the
songs are based around the struggle for your own identity, once you've
been away from home for a long time. There's a certain amount of perhaps
what you might call spiritual repatriation and there's a lot
of other people in those songs coincidentally, that seem to be from
those areas. That's why the album is called The Great Western. It's
because of that train journey, and because everytime I went back to
Wales, it felt like my old world was opening back up to me again.
In the initial stages of writing the LP however,
James felt that his songs were too lightweight, especially
as this was a very different experience to working on Ocean Spray, which
was a subconscious emotional reflex. But, after 6 weeks
of trying, his confidence was finally boosted after penning An English
Gentleman a touching tribute to the Manics late manager,
publicist and close friend, Philip Hall, without whom, the band may
never have realised their dream. Surprisingly, James has openly admitted
that when singing his own lyrics, he doesnt feel that different
from when he sings Nicks and Richeys words, which
even he is very shocked by.
In an official Sony Music Entertainment EPK produced
for The Great Western, James mused, I just had to find my own
style and I think the main difference between my lyrics and somebody
like Nick and Richey's, is that they write a lyric from a very high
degree of understanding, what they're talking about. Whereas when I
write a lyric, I think I'm actually writing a lyric to try and understand
the subject. Some of the lyricists who inspired JDB while writing
his long player and helped him to find his way, were John Cale (as he
deals with solid subjects in an abstract manner) and Pete Ham
Admitting that it felt scary and strange working
on his own at first, because it's easier to have doubts and it's lonesome,
you miss the camaraderie. James did however enjoy the freedom,
challenges and control that he had in the recording studio, but missed
the creative tension that he can have when working with Nicky and Sean...
although he remains obsessed and possessed with the environment
of making music with people!
Likewise during MSPs downtime, Nicky also wrote
and recorded his own debut album, I Killed The Zeitgeist, and both his
and James solo efforts have garnered vast critical-acclaim! Interestingly,
each record is completely unique and different to the other with
James taking the path of sweeping melodic rock (influenced by lots of
'70s music; Badfinger, John Cale and Elton John, which seemed appropriate
as his songs are rooted in the past). With Nicky opting instead, to
pursue lo-fi indie punk resulting in a mutual respect from the
two friends for each others personal creativity. Of Nickys
songs, James loves Goodbye Suicide and would've loved to have
covered it, or recorded it as a Manics song!
Looking at himself in 2006, James feels that he's
now "much more open to other peoples' opinions and having different
experiences." And, as he gets older, that he's "drawn to Wales
- the place he spent years trying to get away from." Simultaneously,
as he reflects on the Manic Street Preachers in 2006, he strongly believes
that "the band are at their very best, when they are being instinctual
as both friends and musicians, such as on Generation Terrorists, The
Holy Bible and Everything Must Go."
Which leads us to Friday, October 20, 2006, and James'
solo show in Oxford (where the Manics last played in 1990 supporting
The Levellers). It's not everyday that you have the privilege of interviewing
one of your greatest heroes, and James was a true gentleman in every
sense of the word! Before we sat down on his Tour Bus at 3.30pm however
(and I received the now legendary bone-crushing handshake), James greeted
fans waiting outside the venue, signed autographs, including a white
'70s Gibson Les Paul Custom Guitar (the classic JDB and Motorcycle Emptiness
one), and posed for photographs. Then, throughout the course of our
chat, James spoke candidly and eloquently about the Manics, about Richey,
about life as a solo artist, about his inspirations, about politics,
along with many other subjects - whilst of course, smoking several cigarettes!
In the past, James would often voice how he "couldn't
imagine a world without the Manics," and more recently, has even
gone as far as to liken them to "The Mafia - once you're in, you're
in" he's joked. He has also said how for him, "The best artists
can transcend any preconceptions that you may have of them," which
is exactly what the band has done right from the very start! Matched
with the extremely special bond, and emotional resonance that they have
with their devout and peerless fanbase, this is surely reason enough,
why the Manic Street Preachers and their music, will always continue
to be relevant, and shall forever burn brightly
1. I recently went back to an article which examined the Manic Street
Preachers' history, and after discussing both your career and musical
evolution from album to album, the journalist concluded that, "The
band now exist in their own creative world." But does it feel that
way for you?
"Yeah, I think I can perhaps safely say, that it does feel like
we kind of exist in our own creative bubble, and I think the reason
that I can actually say that, is because it does sometimes feel that
we're a bit old-fashioned, or that we're out-of-step. So therefore,
it actually feels like, "Yeah, we do exist in our own little space"
I suppose? I don't know whether you want to call it a bubble, or a vacuum,
or whatever you want to call it - or if it's positive or negative? But,
I think so yeah, merely because we feel (pausing), sometimes I don't
actually know if there's a place for us?"
2. You have consistently created music with a message - shaped largely
by your politicised background - and have often acknowledged the fact,
that "to write a lyric that connects with people and challenges
them, and also to give it grace, is the hardest thing to do in music."
As a band that also prides itself on using quotes from literature on
every record sleeve, do you in return, think that song lyrics are often
overlooked by the literary world?
"I do, yeah - definitely! I mean bearing in mind, that I work in
a band where I'm not a great part of the lyrical process, so I've always
been like the fan within the band, actually relishing the challenge
of being given a lyric like Yes, or being given a lyric like Of Walking
Abortion. Where initially, it doesn't seem as if they are lyrics, they
seem as if they're suited to a different art form. So, I've always been
a fan, from the perspective of it being challenging to me as a musician.
That's how it's been and how I've kind of viewed it. It's kind of strange
where (pausing), like say if you go back to Echo & The Bunnymen
- who were a completely different band to what we are - but Ian McCulloch
would've written about things in a very obscure, abstract, almost oblique
manner. But he loved his words so much - you could actually tell that
he LOVED his words you know? He loved the sensibility, the alliteration
he loved everything about what he was doing! I don't know if it amounted
to much, in terms of trying to convey a point, he just loved words."
*James' first ever gig, was seeing Echo & The Bunnymen at Bristol
Colston Hall with Sean and Richey when he was 16-years old, and he "wanted
to be in a band as cool as them - as they had the best sound he'd ever
heard in his life!"*
"I suppose that's what always really attracted us to The Clash
(pausing), you know, we've pissed and moaned and banged on about The
Clash for a long time. But kind of like, I suppose the equation is,
when you usually try and weld politics to literary devices or music,
most times - it fails, because there's actually no literary ambition
there. It's just polemic or didactic or whatever. But The Clash (pausing),
Joe Strummer always infused it, and by London Calling, he was trying
to make the political world that he lived in, somehow more romantic.
Whether it be bleak, or whether it be the vision of hope or whatever
- there was a literary aspiration to what he was doing. I think perhaps
that's what's missing sometimes, people don't actually love words. The
Clash only worked as a political band, because Joe Strummer loved words,
or he just loved phrases or whatever it was. So yeah, I do miss that
from people. Even people like John Lydon - for a 14-year old to be listening
to a lyric (pausing), you know, I'm really reducing things to a simple
thing here. But, you hear a lyric like, "We are the flowers in
the dustbin" when you're 14-years old, and it's just beautiful,
it's lovely you know (smiling)? But sometimes, you find people who are
actually in love with words, in the most unexpected places. Sometimes,
I can't help but love an Eminem record, because he can't stop writing
words - he can't stop writing lyrics! Whether it be in the first-person,
or the third-person, he really juggles (pausing), I mean I don't love
Eminem obviously (laughing). But sometimes you think, "Well, the
New Indie Community are so up their own fucking asses," because
they don't actually realise that someone like Eminem, just trashes all
3. A lot of the Manics' songs have many more questions than answers,
which you feel is "sometimes just as important," and you've
also spoken of how interpreting Nicky's and Richey's words, has been
/ is a "voyeuristic" experience for you. But are there any
specific lyrics that you hold in high esteem?
"I suppose Motorcycle Emptiness was the first lyric that I was
really, really given by Nick and Richey, where I could see them (pausing),
how do you say it? I could almost see them transcending the people that
they were, and giving themselves to words you know? The first time that
I looked at it, I thought, "Well, that's beautiful!" And,
I actually really felt that I understood what they were writing about,
and it felt as if it came from us - that they were writing about us
as 4 people, and our position in the world. And then, it transcended
beyond us as people and our experiences, and just turned into something
else. The thing I can really remember thinking was (adopting a 'Top
of the World, Mom' American accent), "This is going to be an amazing
experience, this is going to be a great trip (laughing)!" I always
kind of hold A Design For Life dear to my heart, because I always just
see it as (pausing), Nick had actually managed to reduce all of his
knowledge, and his ambitions, down to something much more concise you
know? I remember just thinking that it was quite brave, that he'd stood
back from what the Manic Street Preachers was, and he redefined it somewhat.
And then there's Archives Of Pain - I think I've gone on record as saying
that I've always loved that song, because I thought it was such an amazingly
brave thing for Richey to write. You know, to reiterate the fact, the
lyric was about coming from a left-wing perspective, but actually just
saying (pausing), Richey was saying that, "Despite my political
leanings, despite the essence and the core of what I am, I think I believe
in Capital Punishment. I believe the punishment should fit the crime."
And that was quite a brave thing for him to say I think, because he
was not a dyad in the world (pausing), he was quite a combative kind
of person, and sometimes he would disown his badge and just say, "Actually,
no - I think this!" Sorry, I'm going off track a tiny bit. But,
I sometimes think, that it would have been interesting to see Richey
around at times like this, because you know, for us, it was a big thing
when we were young. Secularism was such a big thing about the left you
know - it was the left's stomping ground. No religion has any part in
our society what so ever, and it would have been interesting to have
somebody around like Richey, because he would have said, "The right
to talk about a Secularist Society, has been stolen from the left."
And he would have gone for it you know? It would have been a really
good time to have him around - it would have been entertaining to say
the least (smiling). But then other lyrics, I just remember being astounded
by Faster. I love Donkeys as well - there's something about it which
is woefully fragile and beautiful. And also, I can see that Richey perhaps
wrote the lyrics for Donkeys, and then shortly afterwards, he wrote
Faster. Because where Donkeys is quite self-pitying, I almost felt like
he was riposting himself on Faster, with a lyric like "Self-disgust
is self-obsession." Not completely - that's not the meaning of
Faster, but there are elements of it, where he's just disgusted with
how soppy he had become on a song like Donkeys. But, I still love Donkeys!
With Nick's lyrics, I still really love South Yorkshire Mass Murderer,
and I never thought that kind of got the credit it deserved. One of
Nick's favourites, is really strange - he loves Epicentre
a stunned fox with memory loss (smiling)." And I just think that
that's such a graceful little rhyme you know (smiling)? But there are
millions actually, there are so many that I can't mention, but I suppose
they would be pivotal ones."
*After writing songs for The Great Western and "feeling happy about
seeing Words & Music by James Dean Bradfield." Subconsciously
(and having previously written Ocean Spray and Firefight for the Manics),
James thought that he may have more to contribute to the band lyrically
- but now, he doesn't think that his own songs will "transfer"
4. You almost always have a very clear idea in your head, of how
you want a song to sound, and have frequently talked of how you "try
to let the lyrics guide the music," and how you also "like
to feel that the music is brought to life by the words and can be elevated."
But when writing and recording your songs, what is the ratio between
your emotional response and your intellectual response?
"I'd say it's 80% emotion and 20% intellectual. That's about the
makeup of my body anyway I think (smiling) - pretty much more emotion
than intellect (laughing)! You have to assume (pausing), obviously I
was going through the clichéd thing of being 15-years old, and
trying to teach myself things that school hadn't taught me, and I was
into my books and my films and stuff, just like Nick and Richey were.
But, what has never been said, is that being in the Manics for me, was
like being in school you know? Perhaps I'm closer to what some of the
fans went through and to that experience, because I had to learn how
to resolve emotion vs. intellectuality - how to fit some of the lyrics
into the music, and actually grasping some of the meaning sometimes.
So its been more of a schooling for me than people realise I suppose,
and that's perhaps why I would always value the experience I had when
I was a young fan. I'd pick up like Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre, because
Matt Johnson (The The) said he was reading it, and stuff like that.
So indelibly, the Manics has improved the state of my mind (smiling)!"
5. With both yourself and Nicky now having recorded solo albums,
you've spoken of the positive effect that this has had on the band,
in that its re-energised you, and that you've "become even more
open with each other - which you didn't think was possible." But
how have you found touring / playing as a solo artist without Nicky
"Obviously I desperately miss Nick and Sean - I don't want to be
too dramatic, but I desperately miss them both
a lot! But, I've
enjoyed it in a sense that it's more of a challenge sometimes, because
the chemistry between Nick, Sean and myself, is just obvious, and there's
a telepathy there etc. etc. But trying to establish that chemistry with
other musicians, has been a challenge which I've kind of enjoyed a bit
I suppose? But you know (pausing), luckily, I picked some brilliant
people to work with - they're lovely and they're really easy to get
*James' band is comprised of Wayne Murray on rhythm guitar, James Chant
on bass, Sean Reed on keyboards and Nick Dewey on drums*
"They didn't know each other before, but I knew all of them, so
we've all managed to get a connection going, which is (pausing), yada
But, I finish on Monday and then I've got a week off, before
I go to Ireland with Nick and Sean for 3 weeks. If you get a map of
Ireland and put a dot right in the middle of it, that's where we are!
We WILL finish recording the album, and I can't wait to be honest (smiling)!"
*I ask James about the 10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of Everything
Must Go, which is his favourite MSP album*
"It was kind of like 1995 I suppose, when we were doing that, and
Nick managed to find all of these old-fashioned cassettes which had
demos on - and we'd actually taped the first rehearsal of A Design For
Life. It sounds like boom, boom, boom (pausing), it's really messy you
know? But you can hear that it didn't change that much, except that
there's no strings on there, and it's in a rehearsal room. But, we just
felt that Everything Must Go was equally as deserving of a 10th Anniversary
Edition, like The Holy Bible was, because of its status, and because
there was so much stuff there that we could use!"
*I say to James, that most Manics fans are aware that Nicky is the band's
"Archivist," and that he has "a compulsive urge to put
everything in its correct order." But, I wondered if James has
his own personal collection of rare Manics records, promos, bootlegs,
"Nick has (smiling)! Me, not so much (laughing + shaking head).
Nick pretty much has everything - he's definitely the band's historian!"
6. Do you still have plans to eventually make an album like Bruce
"It definitely won't be the next one! I would always love to,
but I think the problem is trying to meet the ambition with the reality
with that. I'm not afraid to say that our music is always quite obviously
emotional - be it The Holy Bible, or Everything Must Go, or Motown Junk
(pausing), perhaps not so much Lifeblood, but I think there lye's the
rub you know? There are still parts of Lifeblood that I love, but when
the emotion isn't on display with the Manics, I don't know if it works
as well really? So with something like Nebraska, there's a cold, icy
reserve there - there's more observation, than emotional engagement
going on. I don't know if we could ever make it work? So it's an ambition
that perhaps doesn't meet with the reality, and we always want to do
it, but we're not quite sure whether we can?"
7. Your love of The Clash is immeasurable, and they are the band
that you've most admired since you were 14-years old, because for you,
"They conquered styles of music that weren't natural to them, and
they never sounded unconvincing. They were 'Everything To Everybody'
in their career!" Did you enjoy narrating the recent Radio 1 Documentary,
Time For Heroes, which celebrated the band's 30th Anniversary?
"Do you know what (smiling), it was a disaster (laughing)!
Well, it wasn't a disaster, but kind of like, you start doing it - I
thought I would turn up with my Richard Burton voice, thank you (smiling)!
And they were like, "No, you've got to read it much faster, because
we're trying to cram it all in." So instead of building it up like
(adopting a dramatic slow-paced reading voice), "In 1979, The Clash
embarked on what was to be their most iconoclastic album, London Calling."
You've got to go (adopting a fluent newsreader-style voice), "In
1979, The Clash embarked
(laughing)." You've got to fit it
all in and it was really hard you know? But yeah, The Clash were The
*James thinks that Paul Simonon is "the coolest rock star of all-time,"
and when he first met members of The Clash, he asked lots of "boring
fan questions." James would also later mention on stage tonight,
about imitating Joe Strummer's stamping left leg when playing, and joke
that up until the age of 28, he thought that this was actually the punk
legend's real name, when in actual fact it was John Mellor*
8. At what point in your career, did you stop and think to yourself,
"We're starting to become a success"?
"Not truly until we won The Brits in 1997 I suppose? And, I think
we were always honest when we said that we wanted to be a really big
band. Because for us, some of our favourite bands had engaged with an
audience on a mass-scale you know? I understand why people see a certain
hypocrisy in having the vestiges of some sort of socialist principle
left etc. They see a certain mismanagement of ambition, with wanting
to be really big and having a certain politic - and I understand that!
But, all of the people that we liked when we were young (pausing), Neil
Kinnock lived in my street and he nearly became the Prime Minister of
Britain! So already, even on a base-level, you're just thinking, "This
man is Neil Kinnock, he's our local MP and he lives in my street - or
he had a house on my street because he represented Gwent." But
kind of like, "He's on a massive stage getting his message across
to a lot of people
or trying to!" You know, The Clash weren't
a small band, Public Enemy weren't a small band, and then, we had a
secret little indie ghetto of wants and desires, which we loved (smiling)!
But of course, they were very much indie in their ethic - the old-fashioned
notion - before the indie wars were fought! But in Cardiff, you'd go
to Spillers Records, and you'd walk past a statue of Aneurin Bevan you
know, and you'd see Michael Foot on the train going to London. These
are all people that were very socialist in principle, but, aspired to
being on a world stage of statesman trying to get their message across.
So, we never, ever saw any contradiction you know? So therefore, I didn't
really feel a massive success I suppose, in the commercial sense, until
The Brits. But, the first time that I actually felt as if we were a
band that mattered - was Motorcycle Emptiness! Motown Junk was the promise,
You Love Us was the promise, Stay Beautiful was some kind of promise
(smiling), Love's Sweet Exile (pausing), I don't know what that was
(laughing)? But Motorcycle Emptiness felt as if there was something
gestating, and we were becoming something which we could all defend!"
9. You are regarded as having one of the finest voices in the world
- but which singers do you most admire from the past and present?
"I'm not sure about that (embarrassed)? It's corny, but I've always
loved Frank - it's a singer's thing! I used to sing in choir and you
were taught how to do certain things, like breathing and stuff, and
then you forget about that, and you start singing in a band and you
do everything wrong - you forget everything you've been taught (laughing)!
There was always Frank Sinatra playing in my house, because Radio 2
was always on, which perhaps explains some of my b-sides. But there's
this thing about Frank Sinatra, where he used to try and swim under
water for as long as he could, to improve his lungs, and he had this
technique (pausing), I think Ornette Coleman had it, and there was another
saxophone player who had it. Where they could play, breathe into their
instrument, but take a breath out of the corner of their mouth at the
same time, and Frank Sinatra learnt how to do that! So instead of singing
one-half of the verse and then taking a breath, he could sing a whole
verse without taking a breath, and it would just sound like a story!
So, I've always loved Frank Sinatra. I've always loved Nina Simone,
because I found out at an early age that she has the same Birthday as
me (February 21), and that gives you some strange kind of connection
to grow from. But, I suppose it was Joe - it really was! Because he
didn't sound like he had a proper voice, he kind of shaped his voice
into something that could be used, it wasn't something that he was born
with - he actually worked on it! And, I do love Nina from The Cardigans
- I think she's the one person that kind of (pausing), when she sings
there's something, I don't know? It feels as if she's telling you a
secret, it's really strange."
*Interestingly, James "never felt completely comfortable as the
lead singer of the Manics, until The Holy Bible" - and before then,
would have "just preferred to have solely been the lead guitarist,
with either Nicky or Richey as the frontman, because they had the cheekbones
10. On a similar note, your guitar playing is equally as revered
and has often been described as, "The Heart of the Manics Sound."
Would you ever consider putting your name to a Signature Guitar?
"(Big smile) Never when I was younger! But, I think most guitarists
have a little corner of their soul, which is quite a big ego, and when
I was younger, of course the punk ethic would of have just actually
said, "NO FUCKING WAY - NEVER!" But as you get older, the
dark guitarist ego starts taking over you, and you kind of start going
to the dark side (smiling). I don't know, I'm not sure (laughing)? Bearing
in mind that in the past, it would have been like, "FUCK OFF, NO
*When James first picked up a guitar at the age of 16, it was the first
time in his life, where he actually felt that he really "excelled"
at something - and it took him a mere 6 months "to get decent."
He now owns over 80 guitars, practises in front of the TV, and thinks
that some of his finest guitar work is on The Holy Bible, as Richey's
lyrics "pushed his playing and writing skills to extremes."
His Top 7 Guitarists are: Jimmy Page, Slash, Mick Jones, Steve Jones
(Sex Pistols), Stuart Adamson (Skids-era), Peter Svenson (The Cardigans)
and Jon McGeoch (Magazine)*
11. Do you have any current favourite films, records or books?
"This year, it was The Squid And The Whale which I loved. Also,
Fateless. I think it was made by The Hungarian Film Association, and
bizarrely, Daniel Craig appears in like the last 5 minutes of it. But
all the way through the film, you don't recognise any of the actors,
because it's a Hungarian film - I'm sure it is? It's a Holocaust film,
but it's different to something like The Pianist. There's a bit where
the director films all of the people in The Concentration Camp - he
films them from above for about 5 minutes. And because they've been
made to stand at the daily role call, it almost looks like a wheat field,
it's almost like they're dancing, because they're so tired. It's just
come out on DVD actually and it's brilliant! What have I been listening
to? I don't know why, but I quite like that Midlake album, The Trials
of Van Occupanther - its got a very Fleetwood Mac, Blue Oyster Cult
feel to it (laughing). But also, I quite like that Silver Jews album
as well, Tanglewood Numbers - there's a song on it called, Sometimes
A Pony Gets Depressed (laughing)."
*I recommend Howling Bells' and The Long Blondes' albums to James*
"I know The Long Blondes, but I haven't heard Howling Bells yet."
12. Can you tell us more about the upcoming MSP Documentary / Film
- No Manifesto?
"I have no idea what it's going to be like actually? We said to
Elizabeth, the woman that's making it - it's Elizabeth Marcus and Kurt
Engfehr (www.wibblywobblypro.com) - that we find the making of it, or
just being around cameras, quite exasperating. And, you're asked questions
and you're asked questions, over and over and over and over again -
so in the end, we're talking in riddles. I found the struggle with it
for me, is that it's trying to (pausing), I think for all of the talk
of credos and manifestos and thinking about stuff, I think that intrinsically,
we've always been a really instinctual band. And when we've trodden
off the path and ignored our instincts, we've kind of gone a bit wrong
sometimes. But talking about what you do and why you do it, what the
process is like - doing that so much, just knackers me out and makes
you sound like, excuse my language, but it makes you sound like a brainless
cunt. It does! I hear myself talking when answering these questions
like, 'What were you thinking about when you were playing that solo?'
And I'm like, "I don't know? I was letting my instinct take over."
It just sounds ridiculous answering some of the questions, and that's
not her fault, but I'm starting to think that we're not really the type
of people that can articulate, or open ourselves up to be engaging enough,
to make it an interesting documentary. That's how it feels sometimes."
13. Mitch Ikeda has long been the Manic Street Preachers' favourite
photographer, and was originally commissioned to photograph the band,
way back in 1992 for Sony Music Japan. His stunning collection of images,
is by far "the most comprehensive in existence" - but what
does it mean to you, to have his photographs as a lasting document of
"I think he's definitely the only person - accept for a few video
directors and a few journalists - that's ever got through to our essence
really. Whether it be Nick eating beans and chips in a café,
or Richey with his cuddly tiger, or a picture of Richey with his parents,
or whether it be Sean with his Lars Ulrich haircut in the corner of
the dressing room. There's something I think that he's always kind of
(pausing), Mitch always had this thing where he saw us as characters!
He described Nick as "The Wisest Old Soul that has flown around
the world 500 times." He described Sean as "An Old Warrior"
- this was the first photo session that we did with him! And then, he
said Richey was "The Saddest, Most Beautiful Clown" - but
he said in a brilliant way, he didn't make it sound horrible. And then
for me, he just went (adopting Japanese accent), "You Are Dog"
(laughing)! I didn't mind that (smiling)! But, he's always tried to
look beyond (pausing), he's done some very non-standard, iconoclastic
stuff with us I suppose, but he's also done some quite quirky things.
And the way the Japanese humour sometimes translates, is actually brilliant
in his photos! You know, there's something strangely bizarre about some
of the photos he's taken of Nick and Richey especially. I think he's
probably the only person that's ever consistently understood us, in
a visual sense perhaps."
*In an interview with Art Guide in 2002, when talking of his relationship
with the Manics and about his book, Forever Delayed. Photographs of
the Manic Street Preachers by Mitch Ikeda. Mitch declared, "I want
to go on photographing them as I have done over the last decade. There
is an old saying in Japan, "Continuation Has A Power" - and
this is certainly what I think my photographs demonstrate!"*
14. Similarly, you are also a great admirer of the legendary rock
photographer Pennie Smith, and in a recent edition of the NME you stated,
"The Best Photograph Of Me Is
A Pennie Smith picture of us
backstage at the last Astoria gig. It's one of the last proper pictures
of all of us together, and we look so assured that we're a band. It
looks like the calm before the storm. It felt like we expected something,
but I didn't know what."
"Yeah, I love Pennie! That photograph is a really simple picture
- you can't tell that it's at the Astoria, it's just backstage, but
there's just something about it. You know how there's a certain mist
about some of her pictures sometimes, do you know what I mean? It's
slightly out-of-focus, but there's something about that photo that I
just love! Actually, she gave me one of my most treasured items (pausing),
you know where they do the thing in The (pausing), I think it's The
Guardian Sunday Magazine? Have you ever seen the picture of Robert De
Niro and Joe Strummer? It's round about the time when he was filming
The King Of Comedy, so of course, Robert De Niro has got an awful moustache
and a really bad '70s haircut. The Clash had kind of got to know Martin
Scorsese at the time, because they were supposed to be in the film -
it's a street scene, but the only person in it, is Kosmo Vinyl, their
manager. And kind of like, there's a picture of Robert De Niro going
to see The Clash playing on Bond Street I think? I'm not sure? Somewhere
in New York anyway. But, it's just a brilliant picture taken by Pennie,
which I saw in a magazine once - Joe Strummer sitting beside Robert
De Niro! I said to her, "Can you ever print one of those off for
me?" And she did! She printed one for me, put it in a frame and
signed it! I never usually put pictures up you know, but that's the
one that will go in my new office (pausing), well, not office (laughing)
- one of my rooms! I remember when we were in America in 1992, and Pennie
saved my life one night, because it was about 4 o'clock in the morning
and the LA Riots had just happened, and they didn't want anybody to
go outside. So, I couldn't get any cigarettes, because they didn't sell
them in the hotel. But Pennie gave me a packet of 20 cigarettes - she
used to smoke the French cigarettes, Gitanes - which was thoughtful
of her. And, I got really drunk with her one night as well (laughing)!
She's brilliant, Pennie!"
*I mention that my 2003 interview with Pennie, is archived on the R*E*P*E*A*T
website, and that she very kindly gave me a signed black & white
"Oh, I'll have to read that - we did want her to take some photos
recently, because there was something going on, but it didn't happen
for some reason? Actually, Paul Slattery, he would be a good person
to do an interview with. He's quite a character - he's mad (laughing)!
He's an old Irish photographer who used to be a friend of Philip's,
and there's a mine of brilliant pictures! He did our first tour of Japan,
and he took lots of stuff that you wouldn't have seen before. He kind
of changed his life around, but he's a brilliant photographer and he
does lots of stuff for National Geographic now. He did like 2 months
in The Taklimakan Desert in China! But, if you do ever get in contact
with him, he's slightly mental (laughing)!"
15. A quintessential part of the Manics, is playing live - which is
"the big release of emotions for you." And I know that your
first tour of Japan, the final Astoria shows with Richey in 1994, the
Everything Must Go Tour and the Manic Millennium, rank amongst some
of your most memorable moments so far. But what have been some of your
other personal highlights from the last 21 years?
"Um (long pause + thinking), I'd rather not mark those out just
*I ask James about his thoughts on the Manics receiving an award at
Cymry for the World Honours, which take place at the Wales Millennium
Centre on November 26, 2006, and pay tribute to Welsh Artists who have
made an outstanding contribution to the world of Music, Theatre and
"I think that might be off for now - I'm not sure if that's going
to happen? Sorry, it looks like we're failing now (laughing)."
16. MSP Fans, are unquestionably the most faithful in the world,
and will forever be very precious about everything that you do, because
you're such an inspiration to us. You know how we all feel about you,
and of our unwavering affinity with the band, but is there anything
that you would like to say to us?
"Um (long pause + thinking), I don't know? I guess the thing that
always bugs me a tiny bit, and it's not a big thing, but whenever you're
pitting one version of the Manics against the other - I suppose I'm
saying, with Richey and without Richey - don't assume that you know
him better than we did. It's a very bizarre thing to think."
17. As a band, although you sometimes disagree, you've made it known
how "immediately after you've written something, you all usually
agree on whether it's a single or not, as it always makes itself apparent
straight away." But of all your songs to date, are there any that
you now think of as great lost singles?
"Yeah - Forever Delayed (without any hesitation)! I can't believe
we fucking released an album called Forever Delayed, and had a track
called Forever Delayed, and we didn't put it on the album and we didn't
release it as a single!?! I think that's a great lost single, definitely!
I think Prologue To History could have been a great single, it could
have been amazing! Um (long pause + thinking), Democracy Coma we used
to think could have been an early single, pre-Sony you know, perhaps
instead of Stay Beautiful, but it eventually ended up being used as
a b-side. Um (thinking), Tsunami, the version before the one on the
album, before we slowed it down, it was fucking amazing - it was brilliant!
It's not available anywhere, only we have it, but it was just faster,
it was a bit more Manics kind of thing (long pause + thinking). I think
that's about it really."
*The first single that James ever bought, was My Old Piano by Diana
Ross, and the first band that he ever got into, were ELO. Unexpectedly,
James recently revealed to Q, that as he got older, he "incurred
the wrath of so many friends by saying that ELO were better than The
18. At this point in time, you're "not sure" if you will
ever make another solo album, but have said that if you only continue
to make records with the Manic Street Preachers, that you'll be "the
happiest person alive!" Can you tell us what we can expect from
the Manics' 8th studio album - which is set for release in Spring 2007
- along with any new song titles?
"It will be anthemic, and some of the songs have a heavier, more
physical rock 'n' roll feel to them. We've mixed 1 track as an experiment
already, and I think it's brilliant! Some of the song titles are, The
Second Great Depression, Imperial Body Bags, Winter Lovers, Underdogs,
I'm Just A Patsy (pausing), which other one sounds nice rolling off
the tongue (thinking)? Send Away The Tigers!"
* In July 2006, James told the South Wales Echo, "The Manics is
my home the solo album is a holiday...*
19. The Music Press only ever seem to write about the sadness surrounding
Richey, and solely portray him as a Tortured Genius / Icon - and your
solo track, The Wrong Beginning, is also about him and his inability
to ever find something perfect in his life. But do you have a particular
fond memory, or warm story about Richey, that you may be willing to
share with us?
"Yeah, lots and lots (big smile)! Me and Richey were in a nightclub
in Portugal once - we asked if there was somewhere late that we could
drink, and the promoter of this gig took us to a nightclub in Portel
I think? It looked like there was going to be a bit of a fight, between
some of our crew, myself, and some other guys who were in the nightclub
- some amateur fucking gangster hoods or something you know (laughing)?
And Richey kind of defused it, by doing the Moonwalk in front of them
(smiling). He was pissed, and he just started doing the Moonwalk in
front of the table, and that was quite funny - definitely! So that's
kind of strange, because they almost sort of looked at him as if, "He's
either really hard, or he's just completely bonkers, and we don't want
to find out." I suppose they started seeing some of the marks on
his arm as well, and were a bit apprehensive (laughing)! And also, I
suppose there was the time when we were doing the demos for Gold Against
The Soul, in a studio called House In The Woods in Surrey. Richey was
at the breakfast table, and he'd been drinking all night long - he was
sweating and he was just shivering at the table, trying to eat his breakfast,
and I had to carry him back to bed kind of thing. He had his pyjamas
on and he had his slippers on, and you know, he looked like (pausing),
I've said this many times before, that he was more like the character
out of Ever Decreasing Circles than people would realise - Richard Briers
you know? There was something very homely about him sometimes (eyes
and face glowing). And, as I was carrying him to bed, because he was
so ill, he was like (adopting a fragile whisper), "I think I've
drunk too much orange juice." I was like, "No Richey, it was
the vodka in the orange juice (smiling)!" So, he was perhaps a
bit more humorous, and strangely (pausing), just kind of a bit more
off-beat than we were sometimes I suppose (smiling)?"
*In the Manics' early days, when one of their ambitions was "to
make politics sexy" - Richey would often say, "I give great
quote and James gives great solo!"*
20. Lastly, chips or cream buns?
"Chips (without any hesitation)! I don't like desserts really -
I only have desserts like once a month or something. So always chips,
and crinkled chips preferably, crisp and dry (laughing)!"
*After our interview has finished, James kindly signs The Great Western
+ lots of my Manics records (including Motown Junk), and also asks me
about me, and what I do! I then thank James for his time, wish him Good
Luck with the rest of his solo tour, and with finishing the new MSP
album, and finally ask him if he can pass on my Best Wishes to Nicky
"It was a pleasure sir, and I will definitely pass on your Best
A very special thanks to James, to his Tour Manager
Angus, and to Claire @ Hall or Nothing, for all of their time and help.
Oxford Set List
That's No Way To Tell A Lie
An English Gentleman
On Saturday Morning We Will Rule The World
Say Hello To The Pope
Run Romeo Run
The Wrong Beginning
Kevin Carter (Acoustic)
Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky (Acoustic)
A Design For Life (Acoustic)
Still A Long Way To Go
From Despair To Where
Which Way To Kyffin
No Surface All Feeling
"The more sensitive you are, the more certain you are to be
brutalised, develop scabs,
never evolve. Never allow yourself to feel anything, because you always
feel too much."
- Marlon Brandon
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