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Pumping up the stereos
Where other bands moan about the music industry or spend small fortunes bringing their stage designs to life, Stereophonics like to keep it nice and simple. Or at least as nice and simple as it gets when you tour with U2, get advice from Prince Charles and see Slipknot with their masks off
Stuart Clark, 14 Aug 2002
Kelly Jones in naff velvet cap shocker!!! Sexy devil or not, the Stereophonics singer oughtn’t to be walking round in headgear that was last seen circa 1970 on Donny Osmond. Unless he’s trying to hide the fact that he’s gone the way of Brian Molko and developed a huge bald patch.
“I’ve already decided what I’m going to do if I lose my hair,” he confides. “Join Slipknot. Underneath those masks they’ve all got combovers. They were on the same bill as us last year at Reading. What a fucking load of shite!”
“Never trust a man – or woman come to that – who looks like a Walnut Whip,” proffers drummer-in-the-know Stuart Cable. “It’s obvious with all that creative combing that they’re trying to hide something. Frank Bough was reckoned to be a squeaky clean presenter type until police raided this brothel and there he was, in handcuffs and suspenders, snorting cocaine off a prostitute’s breasts. His millions of blue-rinse OAP fans were devastated.”
“And rightly so,” joins in bassist Richard Jones. “They’d invited him into their living-rooms thinking, ‘Here’s a man we can trust’, and all the time he was eyeing up their underwear. You wouldn’t get Des Lynam doing that.”
They may very well be serious individuals, but stick all three members of Stereophonics into the same room and things are guaranteed to get silly. It’s a welcome lack of pretension from a band whose last album, Just Enough Education To Perform, has sold 1.8 million copies in the UK alone. Content to leave the mask-wearing, body-piercing and other gimmicks to others, the trio’s success is down to the quality of their songs and the energy they generate when performing them live. Factors that came into play when Lord Henry Mountcharles started thinking about who he wanted to have in his garden this summer.
“We were asked to headline it a couple of years ago but couldn’t because of other commitments,” Kelly Jones resumes. “Then U2 pulled rank on us and asked 80,000 of their mates round for a private party. I tell you what, if Bono and them want to come along to our gig, they’re going to have to pay for their tickets. And queue up like everybody else.”
The last time our paths crossed – in The Clarence, appropriately enough – Stereophonics were getting ready to support U2 on the North American leg of Elevation.
“We did ten shows with them in Europe and another five in the States, which was great ’cause up till then no one had heard of us there,” Kelly continues. “The people from MTV, VH1 and radio tend to pay attention when you’re supporting the biggest band in the world. Those doors having been opened, we were able to go back and play our own gigs in front of our own fans. One minute you’re ‘the Stereowhats?’, and the next you’ve got 1,500 pissed up Americans singing along to your songs.”
Jones has already spilled the beans about the time a well-lubricated Bono jumped on the bar and started singing opera, but were there other U2-related shenanigans he witnessed?
“That I can tell a scurvy tabloid hack like you about?” he deadpans. “You just got this sense every day of the circus rolling into town. Elevation wasn’t a gig, it was an event. So much so that you’d have Kathleen Turner, Demi Moore and Sandra Bullock wandering round backstage with a beer in their hand. That’s U2’s world.
“A lot of bands operating at that level get blasé, but they send 40,000 people home every night thinking that they’ve got every cent’s worth of value from their ticket.”
“The difference with them,” opines Stuart Cable, “is a thing called ‘budget’. If they doodle a bit of stage design down on a napkin, a team of 85 highly paid employees work round the clock to make it a reality. On Planet Stereophonics, our tour manager tells us to ‘Stop being so silly and, by the way, is it Chinese or Indian take-away you want for your dinner?’ The heart and the screen are all magnificent things to do, but they cost money.”
“The sort of money that we don’t have yet,” rues Richard Jones in between mouthfuls of a Chicken sarnie that’s just been deposited in front of him by a lisping Portuguese waiter. “What seeing U2 close-up made me realise is that, if you want to, you can keep going for 25 years and still maintain your credibility. You don’t have to end up a wonky old dinosaur that everybody laughs at behind their back.”
Slane isn’t the only prestige event that Stereophonics have been invited to this year.
“Somebody from management said, ‘Posh and Becks want you at their charity garden party…as the entertainment!’” Kelly reveals. “We were on holiday so the answer was ‘no’.”
“You never told us that!” shout his colleagues in unison.
“Must have slipped my mind.”
They’re going to have to work on that inter-band communication. Kelly’s selective memory put paid to them attending the Beckingham Palace do, but what’s the ponciest invite they have accepted?
“We did a Prince’s Trust thing at St. James’ Palace because they gave us money when we were kids. We did three acoustic songs, just after our first album, as a ‘thank you’ to Charles.”
Was one familiar with one’s music?
“One was very nice, actually,” Cable enthuses. “I was expecting him to be a bit of a plonker but, no, he came over, shook our hands and chatted away merrily for five or ten minutes.”
What did he say?
“That we should put our money in the bank and not spend it all. He seemed to have a pretty good idea of how the rock ’n’ roll industry works, which surprised me. Ben Kingsley and Kevin Spacey were there too, so it was a fun day out.”
“He mentioned the Spice Girls, didn’t he?” Richard Jones adds. “‘One would like to shag them all but Camilla won’t let one!’ He didn’t actually say that, but you could tell he was thinking it ’cause of the body language!”
Having swapped confidences with her eldest, you’d have thought that Stereophonics would’ve been top of Liz’s Party At The Palace wish list.
“We turned it down because, well, it was just a bit too cosy, wasn’t it?” the bassist continues. “I think Ozzy doing that and meeting George Bush was stepping over the line. I wonder if George asked him which state England’s in? That’s what he said last year when Charlotte Church went to the White House – ‘Wales? What part of America’s that?’ Surely a basic requirement of being President is knowing where the places you’re going to nuke are?”
“‘Come on Queen, let’s get on the fucking crazy train, yeah…’” Stuart Cable yells in a very passable Brummie accent. “‘Finished with Princess Diana ’cause she couldn’t help me with my mind…’ It’s not right, is it?”
As a fellow subject – and Sabbath obsessive – I have to say, “No, it bleedin’ ain’t!” Now that we’ve got them warmed up, have the boys changed their views vis à vis Radiohead and other monstrously rich bands who whine on about how awful and corrupt the music industry is?
“While cashing their latest royalty cheque?” Kelly Jones inquires. “We can all relate to that video – y’know, having to do a hundred fucking idents for radio stations – but that doesn’t mean you’ve got to walk round and be a miserable twat to everybody. Which is what Thom Yorke is mostly. I’ve seen him at festivals looking like the world’s about to end.”
“I suspect that Thom Yorke was a moany bastard long before Radiohead,” Stuart Cable opines. “The business only changes you if you let it. They can step off the treadmill any time they want. If being in Stereophonics was effecting our sanity that much, we’d tell V2, ‘Sorry lads, we’re off on holiday’.”
“With them, you can tell they’ve never had a proper job,” is Richard Jones’ contribution to the debate. “We had to work for money, whereas they’re from well-to-do-families. They never had to get up at 7.30 in the morning and do shit. Or if they did, it was probably a part-time job so they could go off skiing with their mates at Christmas. Believe me, coming from our background, being in a band is the best fucking job in the world!”
If you’re still mulling over whether or not to travel to Slane, let me point you in the direction of the Stereophonics’ new A Day At The Races DVD. Culled from last year’s sell-out shows at Donnington and Chepstow Racecourse, it finds the band tearing through a set that includes no fewer than ten top 20 hits.
“I love the buzz you get from festivals,” Kelly gushes. “Not just on stage but behind-the-scenes where you bump into all these weird people.”
Would he care to name names?
“We did a show in Sweden with Rammstein which was like a Hitler rally! They’ve got a huge flame-thrower which shoots at least 30 feet into the air.”
“Slipknot are a strange bunch,” adds Stuart Cable. “We saw them watching Rage Against The Machine without their masks, and half of them are skate-kids with rucksacks. One’s a really straight looking bloke with a laptop and the others, like Kelly said, are in their forties. They only got scary when the masks went on, and they started running headfirst into the door of their portakabin!”
Once Stereophonics have completed the conquering of Slane, it’s back into the studio where the recording of J.E.E.P’s follow-up awaits.
“The aim was to finish on the biggest thing possible, which selling out Slane would be,” Kelly concludes. “If the songs I’ve written over the past few months are as good as I think they are, the next album’s going to be even better than Just Enough Education… And if it’s not, well, I’ll cheer myself up by snorting cocaine off a prostitute’s breasts!”