WHEN Manic Street Preacher James Dean Bradfield took a break from music he planned to travel to China, build a guitar and learn a new language. But instead the Blackwood rocker spent hours watching old sport re-runs and news bulletins which he says drove him crazy!
James, whose debut album The Great Western is released tomorrow, confessed he’s not very good when left to his own devices. The Manics decided to take a two-year break at the end of 2005 and James admits he found himself with very little to do. He said: “I had all these plans. I was going to learn a different language, build a guitar. I thought perhaps I could go and do some of the Silk Route in China, but it never came off. “I just sat in the chair watching sports channel ESPN Classic for like a month. Bad TV for me is just watching Fox News. I watch American news commentator Bill O’Reilly every day. He’s just such a perfect way to wake up. He gets your blood boiling and, even though I disagree with everything he says, I just can’t stop watching him because he’s so entertaining. “Bad TV can also mean stuff like The Ultimate Fighter on Bravo, that’s really bad TV. It’s cheap as chips. And The Cookery Channel, that’s a good one.”
But it didn’t take long for the couch potato lifestyle to lose its allure. “That first month sent me insane,” he says. “I became a completely dysfunctional, miserable person, completely uncommunicative and aggressive. I realised I’m an institutionalised musician. I’ve been making music solidly since I was 15 and I can’t really exist without it.”
The cure was James’ solo debut, The Great Western – his chance to try being the lyricist for a change. “At first I found lyric-writing hard. I realised that in former member Richey Edwards and Nick’s lyrics you hear the first line from a song and you know what the song’s about. “They make grand sweeping statements, but then they’re writing from a complete position of understanding of the subject they’re writing about, whereas mine were different. Mine were sometimes thoughtful, and sometimes more exploratory in terms of actually admitting I’m not understanding what I’m writing about but I hope I get there in the end.”
James believes his album – along with Nicky’s debut solo effort I Killed The Zeitgeist, out later this year – has given the band a new lease of life. Their last album Lifeblood, which was released in 2004, was the least successful yet, stalling at No 13 before quickly dropping out of the chart. By the end of the last tour the band knew they needed a break. “With Lifeblood I was trying to find something new in the Manics. I was always discarding the first or second ideas and instead working on the third. I’d lost perspective on what made the Manics good and that was our instinct together as friends and musicians,” said James. “But we had a moment of clarity on that last tour. Me and Nick realised we’d been in the same band for 21 years and our audience had been coming out to see us all that time. “We just thought, God, they could do with a break actually.”