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melody maker_20/06/98
There are precisely 11 days and six hours to go before Stereophonics play the most important gig of their lives, and here in the venue grounds of Cardiff Castle, the Cwmaman trio are about to discover yet another reason to be nervous as hell. "Is it just me," queries drummer Stuart Cable, peering across the lawn in the direction of the castle ruin, "or can everyone see those police frogmen in the moat?"
There are, indeed, frogmen in the moat. Not only that, there are also hordes of camera crews, a squad of police vehicles, a team of - possibly armed - security guards and Mrs McClusky from "Grange Hill" (who, incidentally, is quietly reading a book and in no way involved in the operation, but worth mentioning the same).
"So you want to know what they're doing, do you?" says a passing police officer, helpfully. "Well, don't worry yourselves, no one's drowned - they're just looking for bombs, that's all." "Oh right," nods singer/guitarist Kelly, as the policeman wanders off out the earshot. "That's f***ing reassuring, isn't it?"
History is about to be made in Europe's youngest capital. In less than two weeks' time, Cardiff will not only stage the biggest pop event to be held in the castle since Queen last rocked the landmark back in the Seventies. It will also become the focus of the world's media as host of the EU summit '98. "Bloody politicians," tuts Stuart, as he flops down onto the grass. "They're all so f***ing paranoid."

Stereophonics are only the fourth band ever to play Cardiff Castle, more than 20 years after Status Quo, 10CC and Queen. But they are without doubt, the first band ever to promote a concert of this size with the slogan: "Cwmaman feel the noize." As anyone with more than a passing interest in the band will know, the Stereophonics struggled for 10 years before finding themselves in the position they are today - capable of selling out a 10,000-capacity homecoming concert in just eight days. To the casual onlooker, however, it may read like a fantasy success story. Eighteen months ago, they were second on the bill in a dingy toilet-sized venue in North London. Then, in seemingly less time than it takes to correctly pronounce Cwmaman, let alone locate it on a map of South Wales, they'd been signed to V2 (Richard Branson's new label), had a handful of hit singles, a Top 10 debut album and were picking up the Brit Award for Best Newcomer of '97 with an acceptance speech of "about f***ing time".
After years spent performing cover versions in local working men's clubs (then as Tragic Love Company), forever being questioned by locals as to why they still bothered, their determination (and, let's face it, plenty of practice) finally paid off. They are a band people are now interested in. If occasionally a little too interested.
"I went home to my mother's house the other day," recounts Stuart. "And there were two guys from the BBC sat in the lounge. They said they were making a documentary and had come to interview my mother. The thing is, she's so proud, she always gets the old photo albums out. It's so embarrassing."
As if on cue, one of the camera crews, apparently bored of filming the frogmen, suddenly looms overhead. "Hello, we haven't met, but I interviewed some of your cousins the other week," chirps the lady reporter to Stuart. "Can you spare us five minutes, in a little while, seeing as you're all here?" He nods bemusedly and she turns to go. "Oh, and by the way," she adds, "Happy Birthday for last week. I think your aunt told me, ooh, I could have sent you a card."
In the run-up to the big event, the band have been taking it fairly easy, keeping busy (Kelly has spent the last few days at Peter Gabriel's studio in Bath working on their second album) or drunk (Stuart and bassist Richard Jones have been mainly in their local pub) as a distraction. Today though, they've travelled 20 miles from Cwmaman to Cardiff to have their photo taken and look around the site before it's completely transformed and swarming with fans (as opposed to squawking peacocks). "It looks quite small, actually," remarks Stuart, taking a good look around. "But then again there's no perspective is there? When the stage is set up and the lights are on and all those crazy bastards are in here... it's gonna be f***ing mental."

Fast forward to the morning of Friday, June 12. Showday. In order to provide a definitive account of the whole event for Melody Makers readers, the band have allowed us to pretty much "stalk" them the entire day. They are, however, sure to be nervous and stressed and very busy taking care of girlfriends and families, and so, for the most, we're happy to simply spy on them from the distance. And so the day begins....

12:00 Band arrive at castle, looking fresh-faced and relaxed. After yesterday's hectic schedule of interviews and soundcheck, they chose to go home to rest and be driven back this morning. Tonight, with expected celebration in mind, they have sensibly opted to stay over the road at The Angel Hotel, stumbling distance from hospitality.

13:00 Band go onstage for an hour-long soundcheck. Fans outside treated to free muffled racket.

13:10 Smoke is seen rising above castle walls.

13:13 "Castle fire" turns out to be burning sausage, as a group of fans make a day of it by having a barbecue on the grass verge outside the gates.

14:00 Band are instructed by council to stop soundchecking mid-way through "She Takes Her Clothes Off", as court across street goes back in session.

14:15 Subcircus arrive to Stereos' delight. Big fans of each other, apparently, but haven't crossed paths in a year.

14:20 Warm Jets arrive, passing Stereos on their way out.

14:25 Having been driven the few yards across the street to the hotel, the band are now sitting in the hotel bar, deciding whether or not to have a quick drink. Just to pass the time y'know. There's not much else to do is there? "I just remembered our manager has booked us into a health club today," says Kelly, looking slightly disturbed. "I don't know why because none of us are particularly healthy." "No. It's not a health club," attests Richard. "It's an elf club. With little people in it." "Oh, an elf club," smiles Kelly. "Well that suits me down to the ground that does. I'll be the tallest one there."
Stuart returns from the bar. How are you feeling? "Not bad actually. A bit nervous, but I thought I'd be absolutely shitting myself, to tell you the truth. I expected to be constantly on the toilet all day and have to have a toilet strapped to my arse when I walk from the dressing room to the stage. But there's still time for that."
There are many bands, considered to the equal, if not better, position as the Stereophonics who could not pull off an event of this magnitude. Outside, tickets are changing hands for £60. Fans have been queuing since early this morning to secure a good position at the front. The atmosphere is pure revelry. What do you think it is about you? "I think we've got a reputation for being a good live band," shrugs Kelly. "To be honest with you, I think the crowd gets something out of it. We're very energetic on stage, and I think they pay money to see something - get something out of it, and I think in a silly way we give that more than other bands do. It's the only reason I can think of. " He glances around the table, maybe in case the other two have something to add. Stuart does. "At the end of the day," he follows on in football-manager style. "It's down to the songs and the songs are always gonna come through. If you've got good songs, you're always gonna stick around, you're always gonna sell records and that's what it comes down to. At the end of the day, like it or don't like it, we're still gonna be in people faces."
"Just one more thing," asks Kelly. "We're trying to give up swearing in interviews too. Can you explain that when we say f*** it's just a part of our language?" It's expressive." "Absolutely," squawkes Stuart. "It's like Billy Connolly says 'you can't say, "Go away", you have to say, "F*** off.' People really know what you mean when you say, 'F*** off'. 'Go away' just doesn't have the drive to it that 'F*** off' does." "Anyway," says Kelly, realising he's just inadvertently kicked off a swearing bonanza. "If you can just explain that to my mother, because she gives me an awful lot of stick about it."

15:00 Band leave bar to go shopping. After successfully managing to avoid the streets of Cardiff for the last 48 hours, they decide to sneak out of the hotel, with two hours to go 'til doors open and take a browse around the shops.

15:08 Decide to leave them to their madness and check out Acid Casuals - the Super Furry Animals shop, upstairs in Royal Arcade. No Furries about, but bloke with big lips from "Twin Town" is serving behind counter. Buy super furry pouch a bargain at £6.

15:30 Band have allegedly abandoned shopping trip and gone back to hotel to eat. Food unknown.

16:00 Eager for distractions, they have a quick game of World Cup '98 on their Play Station.

16:15 As Wales didn't qualify in the World Cup they are not represented, the boys can't decide who to be. Game dissolved.

16:30 Attention turns instead to live match on TV, Denmark vs. Saudi Arabia. "I love watching Brazil most," decides Kelly. "I want to be Brazilian, then I wouldn't have to play this gig and shit my pants. I'd be playing in the World Cup instead and...shitting my pants even more probably."

16:45 Bar is packed. Band leave bar.

17:00 The drawbridge is finally lowered (just keeping with the theme) and fans are filtered through into the grounds.

17:15 Band turn up in hospitality. Join in a kick-around on the grass with the lads.

17:20 Band stop, realising they should probably preserve strength for big important gig.

17:45 Band return to hotel. Rest period.

19:00 Band return to castle in time to watch Subcircus. They attempt to sneak onto Disabled platform at back of field unnoticed.

19:01 Band get noticed. Disabled platform besieged by screaming fans.

19:05 Band attempt to hide on grass verge.

19:15 Band return to dressing room.

19:18 Time to corner the band for one more interview in effort to help distract them from growing nerves. Speaking to some of the fans out there, and the amount of flag-waving going on, it's clear people are viewing today as a celebration of Welshness. It's certainly a massively socially significant event - much so that The Maker has produced, for the first time in its history, a special Welsh edition - something the band are extremely chuffed about. How important is being Welsh for you? "Of course," spits Stuart. "But there's always been that strange stigma, you're not proud of saying you're Welsh. Five years ago it was never like that, if you were Welsh and in the music scene you'd get called a sheep shagger or a welly-wearing bastard. The Scottish were always proud and the English were always proud, but now it's come full-circle because everybody like ourselves and the Manics and Catatonia and SFA speak about the nationality and I think that's brilliant. Wales is a brilliant country and it's about time it was put on the map."

20:00 James Dean Bradfield - just one of a list of celebrity attendees that includes Catatonia, Super Furry Animals, 60ft Dolls, Rhys from "Twin Town", Huw of "EastEnders" and, er, the Secretary of State for Wales - arrives in a field of 10,000 over-excited Welsh people.

20:15 Band disappear and don't appear again 'til showtime.

21:25 Band take slow walk from the dressing room across castle grounds to stage.

21:30 Lights go up, band step out. Kelly says, "Hello Cardiff". Cardiff goes crazy. Band go into "Looks Like Chaplin".

21:35 Entire field has transformed into massive dance floor party. The crowd sing along to every word. At the back of the stage, at it slowly gets dark, the castle and old main building are lit up in green and red. Band say very little, bar song introduction, but they don't need to, not when three men on a stage this size can project enough power and emotion to unite 10,000 people. Four new songs, most of which tend towards the band's trashier side, are slipped in with ease, and compare favourably with even the more feverish moments of "Traffic", "Not Up To You" and "A Thousand Trees".
22:30 Band return for the encore. Kelly delivers marriage proposal on behalf of fan. "She'd better say yes or he'll look a complete twat." Apparently, she did.

23:00 After a second encore of "Raymond's Shop" and the almighty finale of "More Life In A Tramps Vest", it's all over, leaving us in no doubt that Stereophonics at Cardiff Castle has successfully become the Welsh equivalent of the Roses at Spike Island or The Verve at Wigan Haigh Hall. And you didn't even have to come from this side of the Severn Bridge to feel part of it!

01:00 At the aftershow party back at the Angel Hotel, the boys are deservedly getting pissed with their friends and family, and by the looks of it the whole village, too. So Kelly, were the entire population of Cwmaman here to feel the Noize? "Pretty much," he laughs. "There were quite a few coaches full. Actually we were planning on going back there and robbing all their houses, you can be sure there was no-one f***ing there."

Looks Like Chaplin
Check My Eyelids For Holes
Bartender And The Thief
Same Size Feet
Too Many Sandwiches
Not Up To You
T-shirt Suntan
A Thousand Trees
Carrot Cake And Wine
Is Yesterday Tomorrow Today
Goldfish Bowl
Last Of The Big Time Drinkers
Local Boy In The Photograph

Acoustic Set:
She Takes Her Clothes Off
Wouldn't Believe Your Radio
Bill Davey's Daughter

Raymond's Shop
More Life In A Tramps Vest