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melody maker_07/11/98

Cwmaman have a go...


ON the road with Kelly's conquering heroes

Horse: Robin Bresnark, Hound: Tom Sheehan

Bottle-throwing rock pig antics, groupies, metal...We met Stereophonics on tour in Scotland and get to hear the best album of next year.

"I'm a cowboy/On a steel horse I ride/I'm wanterd, dead or alive" - Bon Jovi, "Wanted dead or alive"

Imagine the wanted poster: "Have you seen these three men? 10,000 screaming fans did last June at Cardiff Castle. Countless thousands have all around the world, dampening their drawers in places as far flung as Europe, New Zealand, Japan and America. They've been up on the podium at the Brits ceremony, winning 1998's Best Newcomer gong. They've been up in the Top 10 with their gold-selling debut album, 'Word Gets Around'. And, when it comes to kicking rock ass, this Welsh three-piece are unquestionably up there with the best.
Yeah, you've probably seen Stereophonics, which means you'll already have claimed your reward: the knowledge that you were in at the start, before their impossibly powerful anthems and unbreakable resolve catapulted them to a level of success only Bill Gates could sniff at. That's still to come, of course, but the sound you can hear is the megastar catapult being primed as The Maker joins Stereophonics on their first UK tour since January. No question, this'll be the last time anyone gets to see the whites of their eyes before they check in to the Stadium Hotel as permanent guests. It kicks off in Aberdeen, but we kick off - quite literally - with that steel horse...

They're no cowboys, but Stereophonics are wanted all right, especially here in Scotland. "They do love us here," smiles singer Kelly Jones, as the band pose for snaps by an enormous equine sculpture incongruosly plonked beside the M8 between Edinburgh and Glasgow. "Scotland's dead similar to Wales, actually, so we always have a good crack here. It's a bond, innit?"
Kelly probably doesn't realise the significance of the photos, but - especially on new songs like the dry and dusty "I Stopped To Fill My Car Up" - there's more than a touch of the Bon Jovis to Stereophonics' tobacco-stained ballads. Ditto Aerosmith, ditto Guns'N Roses, ditto countless embarrassing poodly goons best left in history's junk cupboard. But Stereophonics have taken rock's untouchable gift for melody and dynanism and dragged it kicking and screaming into "our world". Basically, they've made rock cool again - that steel horse is also a Trojan horse. They don't look rock, they're famed or not acting especially rock, but right down to their adoration of AC/DC, Deep Purple and Lynyrd Skynyrd, Stereophonics are rock.
"I love AC/DC," beams drummer Stuart Cable. "What's the point in citing cool influences just to look cool? I mean, who gives a f***?"
"We've never listened to Happy Mondays," spits Kelly. "And I couldn't even tell you a Stone Roses title! I'm not slagging 'em off, but I think they're the most f***ing boring bands on the planet!"
"But he's not slagging them off!" titters Stuart.
"Cool disappears," continues Kelly. "There's only so long an 'aircut can stay in fashion. Music won't. That's the difference. And just because we have a rock background, doesn't mean we've got to play in front of mini Stonehenge! With us, you get the passion of it, but not the moves."
What? None of the moves? Isn't there a TV-snorting, groupie-trashing, drug-throwing, hotel-shagging rock side to you?
"We f*** about, sure. We've been out on the roof of the speeding tour bus, getting hit by trees and all sorts of shit like that. We've chucked bottles out of fifth storey windows onto the support band down below."
Really? Who?
"The Crocketts, in France! They were walking out of the restaurant below our hotel and I tried to tip some beer over them,but the top was still on the bottle. I knew I'd miss 'em and the street was empty, so I lobbed the whole bottle down behind 'em! Plastic? No, a f***in' glass Heineken bottle! They were like: "Whaaaaugh!!!" So Swampy, or drum tech, started throwing a few more and they were landing on cars and shit. They called the police out and everything!"
That's pretty rock.
"Yeah," Kelly grins. "But, if those bottles had landed on somebody, it would've killed them. So I felt like a right twat the next day, to be honest. It was a dead stupid thing to do - I could've got banged up for 25 years for manslaughter! Alcohol is the stupidest, f***ing thing in the world, isn't it?"
Are you laying off then?
"Alcohol?" he giggles. "F*** no! But I wouldn't wanna go to f***ing jail, like!"

The first gig in Aberdeen's imaginatively titled Music Hall is astounding. From the opening roar of the staggering, whiplashed newie, "Roll Up & Shine", to the communal terrace-isms of Stereophonics' classic single, 'Traffic', the sell-out crowd react with utter love, with their screaming voices, with their bouncing bodies, with their pounding, exhilarated hearts. That kind of feverish celebration is par for the first-date-course when it comes to big bands, but tonight's hungry, attentive reception for the new songs is unique - and that's the difference between Stereophonics and Oasis, or the Manics, or Prodigy, or whoever. The crowd know their boys are on the brink, and they're gonna learn every f***ing word so they can play their part when Wembley beckons.
Of course, it helps that these new songs are - without fail - drop dead classics, exactly the kind of material Stereophonics needed to ensure their second album, 'Performance And Cocktails', tops every end-of-year-poll come the Milennium. Funny title, though.
"It just sums up life, really," explains Kelly as we settle down in a nearby vodka bar after the show. "It's named after a slogan from this bar in New York we played called Shine. After our set, they put on this show with people dressed in devil suits with next to nothing on, breathing fire and doing all sorts of seedy, f***ing shit. The final act was gonna be this woman coming on in a pig's head, pissing on this other one - but it got pulled cos some people were gonna be offended. It'd be the best support act ever. That's what 'Roll Up And Shine' is all about actually, that night."
There's an astonishing lust for life in your new songs.I was expecting something more introspecitve and muted.
"The rock songs are a lot, lot bigger," he beams, slipping away from the vampiric throng of fans brandishing tickets and pens. "But there is a lot of mid-tempo stuff on the record, too. It'd be nice if it was 'Morning Glory' to 'Definitely Maybe', or Black Crowes' 'Shake Your Money Maker' to 'Musical Companion'. That step from your first record to your second record - which doesn't really happen any more. Cos most people's second records are shit, or their first album was shit. But we'd never release a record with a single filler on it."
Have you surprised yourselves?
"Yeah," he answers, his voice dropping to a reverential whisper. "I have. I was f***ing surprised."
You will be, too. In the two days The Maker spends with the 'Phonics, we get to hear all but one song from from 'Performance And Cocktails'', all gleefully belted out during gig-standard soundchecks. There's the tunefully triumphant, Oasis-y "Pick A Part That's New", for starters, or the twisting, strolling acoustics of "I Wouldn't Believe Your Radio". There's the flashgun brightness of "T-Shirt Suntan", the explosive "Just Lookin'", the smoothy satisfying "Plastic California", and there's the swooping, aching "Is Yesterday Tomorrow Today?" - a song so heartrendingly simple simple it's rivalled only by the stunning, "High And Dry"-like "Hurry Up And Wait" probably Kelly's best song to date. Fill in your poll sheets now - this is easily the album of '99.
Have a listen to the taster single, "The Bartender And The Thief", if you need proof - a raucous, frenzied song about crime, booze and lesbian nookie. Single of the year, no messin'. And video of the year too, ripping off - and practically ripping apart - "Apocalypse Now", all Big Explosions, Thai landscapes, hovering choppers and ...well, the gayest-looking army ever.
"They were dead camp, yeah!" giggles Kelly. "But they were real soldiers from the Thai army."
"Actually," blushes bassist Richard Jones, "we had to clear loads of jungle for the shoot. We just said: 'Here'll do', and we came back the next day and all the trees had gone! It's funny really, one minute we're playing V98 and signing this thing for Greenpeace, the next minute we're clearing a f***ing jungle!"
Almost as rock as singing about girl-on-girl action on a sure-fire hit single, Kelly.
"Yeah," he sniggers. "I thought that was quite an achievement! Daytime play on Radio 1! Good, innit? And it's dead loud as well! Anyway, fancy another vodka?"

Hangover? Bad thing. Stereophonics? Good thing. But sod that - hangover, really bad thing. Ouch. Head hurts. Still, the 'Phonics' fettles are just fine, as we cruise down the motorway to Glasgow the next day for a couple of TV and radio interviews.
Kelly's telling us about his favourite Scottish thing, the way the chips shops sell chips'n'cheese (We were like: 'Cheese? With chips? What's that, then?' and the bloke just goes: 'You're f***ing jokin', right? They're chips with cheese on!' Obviously!"). Stuart's talking about his impending stag night ("You know how you have inflatable sheep at English stag nights? At Welsh ones, we shag real f***ing sheep!"). And Richard's bitching about midget-man Bono's high heels ("Having said that, Kelly used to stand on f***ing breeze blocks for our photoshoots!"), A quick bit of media manipulation and we're off again, headed for the Motherwell Civic Theatre and tonight's gig.
Desperate to soak up last night's booze, the band dash backstage for some grub upon arrival, but the minute they're seated, a swarm of fans starts gawping through the canteen's glass double doors, desperate to pop back and say hello. Most of them are girls. Some of them are rather pretty. All of them would appreciate it if the Stereophonics were beer-swilling, sex-mad rock monsters.
"Ah well," shrugs Kelly. "We are, we just don't tell anybody! If they wanna see that side of us, they'll have to come on a day off. I'm not gonna be in a gossip column for some f***er's pleasure. Being in the public eye just magnifies your problems. You're all waiting for us to do something now, aren't you?
Everybody's waiting for us to do something really f***ing obnoxious."
Don't any of those girls out there get upset when you turn down their offers of hot groupie sex? Do you not have a duty to them?
"It's all been done before," objects Richard. "And they don't get disappointed, cos we don't just go: 'F*** off!' We're nice about it, polite."
"You do get offers," adds Kelly." But that doesn't mean you've got to take them. In Japan, I even had girls wanting to feel my eyebrows, cos they'd never seen a pair of eyebrows like these before!"
A wry smile passes over Stuart's face. "I just say: "'I'm very, very sorry, but I have a girlfriend.' And they'll just go: 'Ah, never mind, then', and go away...and ask Richard instead! And then they'll ask Kelly! And then they'll move in on the crew! Swampy actually laid a girl because he said he was part of the Stereophonics!"
"He laid a girl in America," cackles Kelly, "cos he told her we were Oasis! Hahaha!"
Can't you understand that, though? Didn't you ever want to shag Debbie Harry when you were young?
"Oh yeah!" purrs Stuart, absentmindedly doodling Black Sabbath logos on a serviette. "Debbie Harry was f***ing sexy!"
So wouldn't you have been really upset if you'd gone up to her and she said: 'Nah, I don't do that sort of thing'? And wouldn't it have been brilliant if she'd had said: 'OK, let's get it on, baby!'?
"It would, yeah. It f***ing would!" Right! So don't you think you owe it to them? "Hahaha!" Right now! "Hahahahaha!" On this table! "Hahahahahahahahahaha!!! Erm, um...you've got a good point there," he blathers, somewhat bemused by The Make's impeccable logic. "A very good point. You'd better go and bring one in!" Ladies and gentlemen, Stereophonics are now rock pigs. I thank you.

The Motherwell show goes off like a Semtex firework, like someone's spiked the Tennents pump with Viagra. It's downright dangerous down the front, the moshing mutating into murder the second Stereophonics strike up with their big-noise, small-town tales of suicide, murder, loneliness and shame. Glasses are thrown, punches are thrown, but, all in all, a big f***ing party is thrown. Astonishing.
Backstage, after the show, Kelly's wired with adrenaline, bragging about the boxing trophy he once won with the same glint in his eye as when he talks about his Brit, or the BAFTA awarded to BBC Wales for their 'Phonics documentary, "A Family Affair". Pulling some De Niro in "Ragging Bull" shapes for The Maker's camera, he muses about winning an Oscar some day. "I'd love to write a script," he says, recalling the career he gave up to pursue the band. "And, if ever it got to the stature of winning an Oscar, then obviously that's f***ing amazing. But I'm doing all right as it is!"
Of course, violence outside the ring or moshpit's another matter entirely. A few months ago, Richard was brutally attacked after somebody accused him of spitting on his car. "Having my face beaten against the floor was pretty, f***ing weird," he shudders. "I got a broken nose, ribs, cheekbone, fingers, wrist - stamped on and everything."
Fame and success can't soften every blow, right?
"No," he nods, "it can't. It just magnifies everything when you're in public eye."
Not that that's going to stop Stereophoncis reaching for stars even the Hubble Telescope has yet to see, of course. "We're prepared to work like dogs," gabbles Stuart, ordering a Bailey's and coffee night-cap upon hitting the hotel bar. "When you're playing sold-out venues like this, it's the easiest job in the f***ing world! Kelly could walk on stage and fart in the microphone and they'd go f***ing mental! But it's not like this everywhere. Not yet. Take America, where you go into a radio station and someone telling you: 'This is the guy's name - be nice, lick his dick.'"
You licked any dicks?
What if someone said your album would go multi-platinum on the condition that you just licked one dick?
"No! F*** off! Not an American cock! I'd lick a Welsh cock, but I wouldn't lick an American cock! Stinking, dirty, filthy things!"
Licking or no licking, you're on the brink of the big-time, aren't you?
"I've been on the brink since I was 18!" shouts Kelly. "Are you on about brink now, or drink?" quizzes Richard, cheekily. "I am on the drink! Nah, we'll keep working at everyone until we wear 'em down. I've always known we were gonna make it, I've never doubted that."
And those small-town tales of suicide, murder, loneliness and shame will take you all the way, right?
"Exactly," he says, winking his way off to bed. "Everybody wants to hear shit. Shit sells, baby!"

"Bartender is the night-watchman" - that stereophonic booze/crime axis in full

Cocktail recipes?
Kelly: "The Kelly cocktail, eh? I used to drink a lot of gin, but now I drink a lot of vodka. I dunno, how about a strawberry Slush Puppy with white spirit in it? That'd be pretty good."
Richard: "You know those freezy pops you get, those triangular ones? Sun Lollies or something. Well, chuck one in your blender and throw in some tequila - brilliant! The only problem is they f*** up your blender and you can't have 'em any more!"
Stuart: "Mine would be called 'Up Yer Arse', and it'd have Bailey's, Campari and Lucozade! Hahahaha! With an umbrella, something for the laydeez!"

Ever stolen anything?
Kelly: "Yeah, I shoved this shitty 'Deep Purple In Rock' tape down my balls when I was shopping with my mother in Woolworths. But then she took me over the road to buy some jeans and I realised I had to try them on wit this tape down my pants! I never nicked anything after that, cos I was in such a predicament in the changing room!"
Stuart: "Might as well read the paper cos Richard'll be here for about an hour!"
Richard: "I weren't a big thief! But I got involved with a car theft once, and I was pretending to be asleep in the back when the cops stopped us. Didn't work! They had to phone my mother from the police station, cos I was underage. So my parents turned up and my father's like: 'Ah. leave 'im to f***ing rot!' And my mother's like: 'Nah, take 'im home an' give 'im a hiding!' I'll stay here, please!"
Stuart: "I pinched this Black Sabbath tape from Woolworths once, but I got caught. So I got taken upstairs for questioning and, while this store detective was waiting for the police to come, this f***ing bee came in and stung 'im on the hand! He f***ing threw the tape across the room! I was f***ing laughing! It was worth pinching the tape just to see that happen!"