The Holy Trinity
We’ve run plenty of interviews with The Manics, The Super Furries and the Stereophonics over the years. But to get an interview with all three together? Now that’s seriously special. Interview by Iestyn Jones
The Manics, the Super Furries and the Stereophonics - for many these three seminal bands pretty much are Welsh rock music. They pretty much were 'Cool Cymru' in the 90's. They've sold millions of records. They're some of the most creative, productive and durable of artists in the UK, ever. Armed with some killer questions we spoke to Nicky Wire (Manic Street Preachers), Kelly Jones (Stereophonics) and Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals).
Redhanded: Can you believe it's 20 years ago that the Manics released Everything Must Go? In many ways that was the album that kicked it all off for everyone wasn't it?
Nicky: We went from being one of the biggest cult bands in Britain to one of the biggest bands, full stop. It was a magical time, we were coming out of a period of misery and darkness, and at last, things were going right. At the time, the music was very conservative, tight and ‘Brit-poppy’. So, to have lyrics like we had - Design for Life, the opening lyrics being “Libraries gave us power”- lyrically, we were a million times more open than the lyrics of today. So, when we did Design for Life at the Brit Awards in front of millions of people, it was so empowering. It was a pretty spectacular period. Touring with Oasis in America was great: they were at their best and yet they were falling apart as well. at was a mad trip, watching them every night was great. Ideally, it could have been a million times better if Richey was with us.
Kelly: Everything Must Go was a brilliant album. I remember driving into the market where I was working on the fruit’n’veg stall and hearing Design for Life for the first time. Jo Wiley played it. I was sitting in my dodgy Ford Orion that I’d just bought for 200 quid; the floor was falling out of it! That was in March, and we were signed in August and playing with them at the end of the year; it was really bizarre. We did the Everything Must Go tour - four or five shows in London. The Super Furries played a few of those gigs too. We had the slot when everyone was coming through the doors. It was an amazing experience.
Gruff: The Manics were a very significant band for me as they came out fighting right from the start. They fought a lot of battles that made it much easier for bands like Super Furry Animals to break through, as it was genuinely hard to get a listen if you were from Wales at the time. But they were, and still are, a universal band and were able to throw any nonsense back in people's faces! I used to buy any magazines they were in so I could read their amazing, outrageous interviews. It was really inspiring at the start and it's been continually inspiring to see their journey as a band.
All three bands have outlasted many of their musical peers: what's the secret?
Nicky: There’s an amazing amount of longevity in all three bands - and creativity! The common denominator is three amazing singers. There’s not often you get singers who have that power and range, and intimacy, as well as, the ability to fill a stadium; we’ve been pretty blessed in Wales.
Kelly: We were very lucky. In 1996 we had some great songs and it all came about when the music scene was very vibrant. With the Manics tour, people like Paul Weller and Oasis would come to the shows. I was there the night Liam Gallagher wrestled Nicky to the stage in the Forum; I was standing at the side of the stage. We then saw all the Britpop stuff unravelling and we’d be doing shows with bands like the Who, so we had some great opportunities. A lot of the success is down to the song writing and putting in the graft. We had a big work ethic and we came around at the right time plus we’ve always tried to better ourselves along the way.
Gruff: Personally, I've no idea why some bands last longer, but we do care for each other as a collective in the Furries. We do plenty of stuff outside the band that might do each other's heads in!
Many were hoping you'd join forces to record a football anthem for the Wales team. How about a collaboration if Wales qualify for the World Cup?
Kelly: If Wales qualified for the World Cup I would yeah! I’m as proud as anybody that the football team has managed to do what they’ve done. We’ve all been through school and heard the jokes forever. If they get further and they want support from any of us we’ll be there. It’s a no-brainer, it’s never an obligation, it’d be a great opportunity and honour.
Gruff: The important thing is the football and that Wales qualified; beyond that I think it's a case of the more songs the merrier! I think it's going to be a truly crazy festival of song in Wales during that June month, so many songs have been inspired by this incredible team!
Nicky: By the end of the week, the public will know. I can’t confirm anything until then! [Shortly after our chat we learnt that the Manics had written the official Wales anthem for Euro 2016!]
What do you think of Wales' chances in France?
Gruff: The Welsh team have declared they are going there to win and beyond that we can ask for no more. We have a huge advantage over other teams in that we have very little to lose!
Kelly: If we beat England, we’ve already won the tournament! Most people in Wales would be happy with that; it was the same during the rugby. I think Wales have got it all to play for, they haven’t been in a proper tournament since 1958 so they’ve already won a lot. There’ll be more pressure on England to succeed. The psychological advantage will be in Wales’ favour. It would be fantastic to beat England and see them in the next rounds. It’s almost fixed that they’re in the same group 'cos the media are going to have a frenzy over it. I might be stretching my metaphors a bit but you could say the Welsh team's recipe for success - raw talent allied to team spirit and a hunger to succeed - has parallels with your own stories.
Gruff: Well, I'm a terrible football player and I get really agro and foul a lot! But I know it's definitely true for the most part. Matt from the great band Zabrinski was in the Swansea youth set up for a while before his head was turned by the melodies. There's definitely a link between the pop culture of football and music here and in countries like Italy. Footballers today have become our pop idols on the scale of the 1960's greats. Bale with his samurai haircut is as iconic and global in appeal as any classic rock musician.
Kelly: Isn’t it that all the footballers want to be rock stars and all the rock stars want to be footballers? Maybe it’s all about chicks’n’glory? ere must be some connection!
It’s funny how when you were at school, the weekend was either taken-up playing football or doing band practice on a Sunday. It was the only release we had. There was little else apart from joining the army or working in a factory.
Nicky: Yeah, I think there was a quote from Dan Tracey saying: “ There were two forms of working class expression: you can either pick up a guitar or pick up a football.” Football has definitely kept me sane over the years. I couldn’t survive on just music.
I gather both the Phonics and the Furries have their own beers now?
Kelly: (he laughs) That was a good laugh. I never thought I’d end up taking my dad around the Brains Brewery tasting hops. I did about six pints that day just to make sure if I had a hangover the next day. If anyone’s out there and fancies a pint – it’s worth knowing that it doesn’t feel so bad the next day!
Gruff: Speaking as an irresponsible 45-year-old - I definitely can't drink as much as I used to. I'll definitely try out the Phonics beer though.
Any emerging Welsh music talent you reckon we should be looking out for?
Kelly: The main ones are Catfish and the Bottlemen. I remember listening to them about 18 months ago and meeting the singer at T in the Park. He came backstage and mentioned that he’d been a big fan of ours since he was a kid growing up in North Wales. They don’t need much of a mention ‘cause they’re already flying – they’re a great band! That’s why we’ve asked them to perform on the same bill when we play Wrexham.
Nicky: The Gwenno album was great. I’ve been lucky enough to hear Cate Le Bon's new album too. There’s one track in particular absolutely enraptured me, I think it’s called I am a Dirty Attic... I thought Mug Museum was one of the best albums of the last ten years but it feels like she’s about to deliver another great one.
Gruff: Y Ffug from the Preseli mountains have just played some gigs with us - they are really great.
And to finish - how about some politics?! Where do you stand on the European issue? In or out?
Kelly: Erm, well. For the people of Wales it’s not good to leave Europe. It all seems like everything’s being closed down in Wales, like the Tata Steel factory in Port Talbot. The same thing's happening in the place where I’m from in Aberdare with all the TV and car factories closing-down. I think the British Government forgets that there is a country outside London so from that perspective it’s not good for Wales.
Nicky: That’s between me and the ballot box. But I must say any day when the Tory party is in such utter chaos, is a good day!
Gruff: We should stay in the EU but continue a transcontinental campaign against the corrupt TTIP trade agreement.
The Manics will be playing Everything Must Go in full at Swansea’s Liberty Stadium on the May 28, with special guests Super Furry Animals.
The Stereophonics play at Cardiff City Stadium on the June 4. Gruff's new referendum-inspired track I Love EU is out now.
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