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 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.”