Still Manic

Thir­teen al­bums in and Manic Street Preach­ers front­man James Dean Brad­field is older, wiser and a lit­tle bit creakier, but the pas­sion still burns

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - WORDS BY ÉAMON SWEENEY

The pas­sion of James Dean Brad­field

Manic Street Preach­ers singer James Dean Brad­field has very vivid mem­o­ries of their first Dublin show back in the mists of 1991 that are slightly more un­usual than the love of an ador­ing crowd and quaffing pints of Guin­ness.

“We played a place called Char­lie’s Rock Bar to about 100 peo­ple,” Brad­field re­calls of their Dublin debut in a long-de­funct venue on Aungier Street. “I had to take Nick [Wire] to A&E straight af­ter the gig be­cause he twisted his an­kle. I sat with him in the hospi­tal on a Fri­day or Sat­ur­day night. All the usual vic­tims were present and in­cor­rect, plas­tered drunk with their Abrake­babras in their hands, star­ing at Nick with his panda eyes and make-up run­ning. Some­body asked us who we were. We told them we were in a rock’n’roll band. They said, ‘Well, you’re the strangest-look­ing rock’n’roll band I’ve ever seen, fella.’”

Such re­ac­tions from strangers are a fun­da­men­tal part of Man­ics his­tory. They chose their name af­ter Brad­field was con­fronted in Cardiff with the pointed ques­tion while busk­ing, “What are you, boyo, some kind of manic street preacher?”

Mil­lions of al­bum sales later and the Welsh trio are poised to re­lease Re­sis­tance is Fu­tile, their 13th stu­dio al­bum. They de­clared in 1992 that their debut al­bum, Gen­er­a­tion Ter­ror­ists, was about “culture, alien­ation, bore­dom and de­spair”. On Re­sis­tance is Fu­tile, they ad­dress more adult themes: mem­ory, loss, for­got­ten his­tory, con­fused re­al­ity, and art as a refuge and source of in­spi­ra­tion. They call it an “ob­ses­sively melodic” al­bum, which “ref­er­ences both the naive en­ergy of Gen­er­a­tion Ter­ror­ists and the orches­tral sweep of Every­thing Must Go”.

Brad­field wrote the re­cent sin­gle Dis­tant Colours, which is in­spired by the iconic Welsh politi­cian and NHS founder Nye Be­van. “It is a post-Trump, post-Brexit, post-dig­i­tal malaise and post-gen­eral elec­tion song,” he ex­plains. “It’s about get­ting to the age that I am now, which is 49, and there’s no hid­ing from that fact at all. It’s about not be­ing able to pin your colours to any masts any­more.”

Liver­pool Re­vis­ited eu­lo­gises the Mersey­side city and salutes the de­fi­ance and per­se­ver­ance of those who lost their loved ones in the Hills­bor­ough dis­as­ter, when fans were crushed to death at the 1989 FA Cup semi-fi­nal be­tween Liver­pool and Not­ting­ham For­rest.

“We’ve writ­ten about Hills­bor­ough be­fore, on South York­shire Mass Mur­der,” Brad­field says. “That was a very blunt song that delved into the grotesque in­jus­tice and ut­ter tragedy of what hap­pened. I would con­versely say that Liver­pool Re­vis­ited is about or­di­nary peo­ple’s vic­tory. It’s not about de­feat and it doesn’t delve into the pain. It’s a song about the vic­tory those peo­ple achieved against the en­tire Bri­tish le­gal estab­lish­ment. They f**king nailed them and won. It’s about or­di­nary peo­ple be­ing vic­to­ri­ous against all the odds and it’s a pos­i­tive song.”

Rea­sons to be cheer­ful

The singer pauses when asked to iden­tify rea­sons to be pos­i­tive in frac­tured times. “That’s the hard­est ques­tion I’ve been asked in the last two years,” he an­swers. “If you can still try to en­gage with the world, no mat­ter how f**ked up, con­fus­ing, in­tractable and po­lar­is­ing it is, and just hang in there, you will win even­tu­ally. The one thing you learn as you get older is noth­ing lasts for­ever, and these times won’t last for­ever. We came out of the 1980s think­ing we were born in ab­so­lutely aw­ful times with the miner’s strike and Thatcher. Where we came from in Wales, we were left with the muck and wastage of the Thatcher era. We were left with a mess, but we got through it.”

Grow­ing up in the for­mer min­ing town of Black­wood in south Wales, punk and rock’n’roll be­came the pri­mary es­cape for Brad­field and his cousin Sean Moore, who, along with their pri­mary school pals Richey Ed­wards and Nicky Wire, formed Manic Street Preach­ers in Oak­dale Com­pre­hen­sive School in 1986. Brad­field learned gui­tar from play­ing along to Ap­petite for De­struc­tion by Guns N’ Roses in his bed­room. Em­bold­ened by the brazen swag­ger of in­sur­rec­tionary rock, the youth­ful Man­ics said they wanted to out­sell Guns N’ Roses, head­line Wem­b­ley sta­dium, and split up af­ter one al­bum.

This sum­mer, the Man­ics will sup­port Guns N’ Roses.

“I know Duff McKa­gan and I’ve played on­stage with him be­fore,” Brad­field ex­plains. “We keep in touch. He is such a lovely, cool dude. I don’t use the word dude much, but for some­one like Duff McKa­gan, it is en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate. When we were asked to do these dates, we were thrilled to bits. Af­ter we made the de­ci­sion, I could hear in my head the neg­a­tive press re­lease from the hack­ing gallery: ‘Manic Street Preach­ers once wanted to out­sell Guns N’ Roses but ended up sup­port­ing them on their vic­tory lap.’ Well, who gives a f**k? We’re look­ing for­ward to it and it’s go­ing be child­like and teenage. My friend went to see them last year. All he said was Axl Rose was off-the-scale stu­pen­dous.”

Like GN’R, the Man­ics have also played Slane. They per­formed be­fore The Verve in the sum­mer This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours went ab­so­lutely strato­spheric. They were in­tro­duced

If you can still try to en­gage with the world, no mat­ter how f*cked up, con­fus­ing, in­tractable and po­lar­is­ing it is, and just hang in there, you will win even­tu­ally

on­stage by the late Ua­neen Fitzsimons, a mo­ment cap­tured in the BBC doc­u­men­tary From There to Here. Dublin’s Olympia also is a very spe­cial place for them.

“We’ve played the Olympia some­thing like six times,” Brad­field says. “It is one of those venues ev­ery­body knows and has so much af­fec­tion for. It is like a more el­e­gant ver­sion of the Bar­row­lands in Glas­gow, which is ex­actly the same as it was in 1992, and so is the Olympia. There is a com­fort in be­ing on sanc­ti­fied mu­si­cal ground. Ev­ery time I get there, I feel com­fort­able, ex­cited, and at home.”


Brad­field im­me­di­ately rat­tles off dates and places when asked what are his favourite Ir­ish shows over the years. “The Every­thing Must Go shows in the Olympia – two nights over Easter week­end in 1997 – are among my favourite shows ever. Col­eraine on the 1991 Mo­town Junk tour was sen­sa­tional. There were only 20 kids

James Dean Brad­field: “The one thing you learn as you get older is noth­ing lasts for­ever, and these times won’t last for­ever.”

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