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melody maker_14/02/98
Voted Best New Band in The Maker's Reader's Poll, Stereophonics are set to seriously f*** up 1998. We join them in Berlin and hear how they fought the law, teachers and anyone else in their way.

The odds must be astronomical. Sky-high? You'd have more chance of finding a Ladbrokes on the moon. On a chill January evening, the Stereophonics double-decker tour bus is parked outside The Loft at Berlin's Nollendorfplatz. Capable of thawing ice on the pavements with their white-hot blast of soaring pop, it would seem this Welsh three-piece have put the bookies to shame. Sort of.
"I know it's never going to happen in reality," laughs Stuart Cable, the band's affable drummer, "but Wales do keep winning the World Cup on the old PlayStation. There's nothing like watching Neville Southall picking that cup up and running round the field."
Except picking it up yourself, perhaps, which is exactly what Stereophonics have done since their debut album, "Word Gets Around", dived head-long into the Top 10 last August: Kicking off 1998 where they left off in 1997, the three lads from the tiny Welsh village of Cwmaman have already charmed audiences on a sell-out tour in the UK and their new single, "Local Boy In The Photograph", is about to dent the charts quite considerably. And after that? Oh you know, the world and oysters thing. Which begins in Berlin with the first date of their debut headline tour of Germany.
Barely three songs in and the sell-out crowd - packed into a venue not unlike London's Garage save for the mirrored ceiling and orderly queue at the bar - are smitten. A fantasy World Cup Final for Wales one minute, a real-life victory the next. The full house moves as one, the mirrors mist over, broad smiles fill the room and fans amble unhindered across the stage into the dressing room afterwards to congratulate anyone who happens to be around on a great show. "Thanks," we say graciously, "glad you enjoyed it." One-nil.

In the grand scheme of things, Stereophonics aren't your run-of-the-mill late Nineties band.For once, their ascent has been a gentle one. The album has gone silver, by far outselling many of the bands perceived as their peers. Relentless touring has turned them into an exhilarating live experience. And this season that experience looks set to procure more silverware for the Stereophonics' trophy cabinet. Unthinkable odds for the three lads from a sleepy Welsh village? Of course.

Let's start at Aberdare General Hospital where drummer Stuart Cable was born on May 19, 1970: singer/guitarist Kelly Jones was born on June 3, 1974, and bassist Richard Jones was born a week later. Kelly and Richard met at nursery school, aged four, Stuart and Kelly lived eight doors apart on the same street and the local comprehensive saw all three of them pass through its doors.
"We were talking about school today," grins Kelly in the tour bus lounge. "It's weird, because this feels like a completely different lifetime, and then you realise we were all in the same school, we were all hit by the same f***ing teachers, all had the same blackboard dusters thrown at us."

This close childhood becomes apparent in a bar round the corner from the venue after the show. It's a dingy drinking den with wooden pillars on the bar carved into bones topped with skulls. Around the pool table in the backroom, Kelly, Stuart and Richard hold court, surrounded by their road crew, the table's black baize cowering as Stuart takes on all-comers - and beats them all. Everyone is clearly family-close. Quite literally in the case of their tour manager - Kelly's older brother, Kevin.
"We always wanted a family atmosphere," adds Stuart. "We never wanted it to be like The Band and The Crew. Even if the band goes stupidly huge, I'd still want to travel with the boys like we do now." "Touring's weird when you think about it," picks up Kelly. "A lot of our friends back home have nine-to-five jobs, and they save all their money so they can go on the piss abroad for two weeks a year and we get to do it almost every day." "To this day, we still look at each other when the fridge opens and we see all those cans of Becks," beams Stuart. "If our mates were here, that fridge'd be f***ing empty."

The bus travels overnight to the small town of Halle some 180 km south of Berlin, while we catch a train the next morning for a glimpse of the former East Germany. Except, even when the mist finally lifts, there's nothing to see but barren landscapes, huge piles of rubble, and every now and again the merest hint of civilisation.
The East is still undergoing a radical transformation. Berlin has pretty much been a building site since the wall came down, yet the speed of the historic city's transformation is supersonic when compared to the development of the other former East German towns like Halle. Even Kelly and the boys - no strangers to small-town life - would be hard pushed to entertain themselves. Not that it seemed to be a problem back in Cwmaman.
There was an outdoor swimming pool in the park opposite our house," begins Kelly, "where everybody used to meet. I wrote a script about it once, about a girl and everything she was going through - the BBC gave me some money to develop it, but then the band got signed. It was called "The Pool". It's all I can remember as kids. Lying on the pavement in the summer because they got really warm and when we got up we'd all be as black as f***." "The three of us have always done everything together," rewinds Stuart. "If you saw one of us, the other two were there."
"I cut my leg open one summer," adds Kelly, "and I couldn't walk, so Richard pick me up and dip my head in that swimming pool to keep me cool. I took him on holiday to thank him. We went to some place just outside Barry Islands."

"There's loads of stories from growing up that you could put into scripts," offers Kelly. "Like our street got flooded when I was 12. That's what 'Chaplin' is about. The cars were underwater with boats going about above them. I remember putting a punch-bag up against the front door to stop it caving in. I remember having a piss in our hallway, just because I could."
"There was this Pentecostal church which had a van parked outside and we found out you could actually start it with a lollipop stick, "grins Richard. "We'd drive it down the street 300 yards and reverse it back and park it in exactly the same position so nobody would know we'd nicked it. I was involved in stealing a car once, too. It was the first stolen car I was ever in and we got caught! I've been in and out the old cells five or six times. It was just growing up and getting into stupid fights. I always got caught, because I was usually the last one there when the police turned up. Stuart and Kelly were involved in different kinds of trouble, growing up and nicking other people's girlfriends."
During his time in Cwmaman, Kelly had a number of pops at fame. At 10 he was a boxer, winning all of his five fights, and after that he played football at county level. At 16, he went to art college where he gained an HND in film-making. After college, he went on a six-week script-writing course. Spotting an obvious talent, Kelly's tutor introduced him to the BBC who gave him some money to start writing a script. He bought himself a computer, but before he'd even plugged it in, Stereophonics signed on the dotted with the fledgling V2 label. After playing in bands since he was 12, his foot was on the first rung of the ladder.
"I did my first gig at the working men's club at the end of the street," he says matter-of-factly. "I was in a band called Zephyr, with Stuart playing drums. We had words, so he f***ed off with another guitar player and for three years I was in a band called Silent Runner, playing stuff like Journey and Blue Oyster Cult. Somehow, me and Stuart got back together and started a band called 'Tragic Love Company'."

Meanwhile, Richard was in another band doing covers "out of boredom. We didn't play any gigs, I was just waiting for an opening." Tragic Love Company already had a bass player but when he went on holiday, Kelly and Stuart asked Richard to jump in for a week or two. He never left.
"We had a tape in Holly's Demo Hell and she actually liked us," says Kelly. "It had a full-band version of 'Billy Davey's Daughter' on it. It was rare as f*** for her to say anything nice." Still is. "I remember thinking 'F***ing hell, I wish we'd never sent that tape because she used to f***ing rip into everybody," recalls Stuart. "And then, in the space of 18 months, two years, we're on the cover of the same paper we were buying every week!"
But Demo Hell wasn't the first time musical success had beckoned for the Jones family. When Kelly's father was in the early twenties he had a record deal with Polydor and his manager also looked after The Hollies. "The Hollies took off and the manager was only interested in them," explains Kelly. "My father went on to do clubs, he was the biggest name on the circuit for years. He had two children at the time and that's why it all went pear-shaped. He doesn't talk about it a great deal, but it definitely rubbed off on me. I used to go with him to shows at the weekend when I was bored and he'd pay me a fiver to carry his speakers. His guitar player first started to teach me how to play. We've had a lot more in common since this has happened to me, it's really brought us together."

With the sun well over the yard-arm, we venture into the venue for the soundcheck. It's a stark contrast to the cobbled paths, high-rise apartments and rows of rickety, shuttered houses we passed earlier on the way to an interview at local radio station, MDR Sputnik. The Easy Schorre on Philip-Müller-Strasse is surprisingly modern - a spacious venue with high ceilings, Sid Vicious "My Way" steps leading to the stage from the dancefloor and cocktail bar-style stools everywhere.
Despite touring like there's no tomorrow, the band have been busy writing their next album (recording starts in May and should, if the band get their way, see daylight in the autumn) and already have around nine new songs. Not ones to waste any time, they use the soundcheck to run through five new tracks. Good practise for them, a rare treat for us...
"The new songs are more in the style of 'Same Size Feet', 'Traffic' and 'Not Up To You'", Kelly had explained earlier. "The most difficult part about our band is we're so varied it's difficult to know what our audiences like. I'm sure there are people who just like 'Tramps Vest' and 'Drinkers'." Which are probably, their two weakest tracks . Don't like 'em, I 'fess. "Neither do we," sys Kelly, shaking his head. "And that's not where we're going. I always loved the Beatles for doing 'When I'm 64', 'A Day In The Life' and 'I Am The Walrus', you've got a rock'n'roll song, a story song and a cabaret piece. 'Tramps Vest' and 'Drinkers' are simple songs that anyone could relate to and they just fitted at the time. It's where we were, at that point." "Last night, the crowd went f***ing mental when we played 'Tramps Vest'," says Stuart. "It is something we worry about." "On the good days," picks up Kelly, "you can play the new stuff and think 'F***, it's going to piss all over the first album, but then you're playing a song some nights and you look at the people's response and wonder if they're going to get the new stuff in the same way."

The songs in question have a new-found maturity about them. They are still very Stereophonics songs, yet they have an extra glow and a justifiably confident skip in their step. "Just looking" is as slow and measured as "Traffic", yet it has the edge when it comes to raw emotion. Think "The Bends" and then turn left. "T-shirt Suntan" bursts and swirls taking turns to rattle the walls and whisper a tender apology. "Half The Lies You Tell Ain't True" is a glorious late-night ballad - so rich and deep, even the hardest of men will be weeping openly into their beer. The other two, as yet untitled, are chugging riff-monsters with choruses to die for. They stomp and strut, riding on a wave of confidence. For a moment, East Germany melts away, and in its place, a summer's night headlining Reading shimmers into view.
It's not difficult to imagine. Nor, for some, are the Manic Street Preachers comparisons which are already flying. "We've spoken to James quite a lot since all this stuff started and he introduced us to Kylie the other day," says Kelly. "We've never been that impressed with the Manics thing. The only stuff I've ever heard was when 'Everything Must Go' came out." As for comparisons? "Well, there's three of us. We don't come from that far away so maybe we've got similar attitudes. But I've never said a word to Nicky Wire or Sean. And the things they write about are utterly different to what we write about. They tend to write about things which don't happen around where they are."

New Manics or not, the 'Phonics are clearly on a roll. Both musically and lyrically. "Half The Lies You Tell Ain't True"? Think about it. There's obviously a very bright mind at work her.
"I've always liked sayings which turn around on themselves," smiles Kelly, back on the bus after the soundcheck. "There was one in a fortune cookie the other day....'People who are late are often more annoyed than the people waiting for them.' We've been going through all these stupid puzzles recently, like 'a cowboy comes into town on Friday, he stays three days and leaves on Friday. How?" You think about it for f***ing hours and hours and then you realise....nah, work it out for yourself.
The amount of people who think 'A Thousand Trees' is about Greenpeace or rain forests is incredible. I first saw it on a box of matches when I was about 12. It took me years to find a story to go with that f***ing phrase. It's sarcasm, that's the way we speak where we come from but a lot of people don't get it." Let's give them a hand then.....

"Check My Eyelids For Holes"? "When you 're out with your mates, the first one to flag is always the ponce, right? When their eyes are closing it's like , 'You f***ing ponce, you're sleeping', and their response would be...." "....I'm just checking my eyelids for holes,"chorus Stuart and Richard. "But the song's about the things that keep you awake at night when you should be checking your eyelids for holes. 'Gotta lose weight', everybody's thought that at one point in their life. 'I swallow honey' is about having a bad throat when you're a singer...and the blow job part is about whether you should go back with someone and whether her giving you a blow job changes anything. Why is it you always end up having more sex when you've broken up than you did when you were going out? And doesn't she always look incredible the first time you see her after you've broken up? It just means you've got to stop and say 'No, I'm not getting back', but you've just f***ing done the job, what are you then?" F***ed mate.

"Exactly," Kelly concurs. Musically, the 'Phonics also have some erm...interesting ideas. "I've always thought of albums in colours because of AC/DC covers when I was growing up," says Kelly. "If I think of 'Back In Black', it is black, 'Highway To Hell' is red, 'Dirty Deeds...'is grey, 'TNT' is yellow. A happy album would be yellow. Our album? Well the cover is loads of different colours, kind of rainbowy and the songs are varied as well. I try and make lyrics as unpredictable as possible. I've always hated songs where I know what the next line is going to be. And boring song titles like 'Addicted To Love' really bug me. Where we're going lyrically, I dunno, but I don't think it's going to be small-town Cwmaman, because we're not there very much any more."
Isn't that the truth? Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Norway, Switzerland, Austria, Holland, America and, later this year, Australia and Japan. Not quite world domination but they've certainly taken a healthy chunk out of it. The 'Phonics, however, have never played Halle before and nobody's quite sure how the evening will unfurl. Evidently the people of Halle know better as, once again, a curious crowd turns into a seething mass within three songs.
That'll be two-nil and we're barely out of January. Looks like it's going to be rout for the Stereos. Oh, almost forgot - the cowboy's horse was called Friday.

ONE BIG FAMILY - The Stereophonics' family of noise:
KEVIN (tour manager): "He'd never tour managed in his life until last year. He's brilliant to have around. Even though he's Kelly's big brother, it's not like a brothers thing when they get on the bus. It's a good crack to have him around."
SIMON (guitar tech): "We lost him when we went to France. He was as pissed as a fart and he went wandering just outside Paris. He got drugged, kidnapped, had the shit kicked out of him, everything. Interpol found him three days later in a French hospital."
DAVE (sound engineer): "Dave used to be a hairdresser and his missus is a firewoman. Can you imagine him going to her Christmas party? All these burly firemen going, 'What do you do for a living?' He's a perfectionist is Dave, anything he does has to be right. He's very neat, a bit of a David Niven."
CONNER (monitor engineer): "We met him at the same time we met Dave, he was doing monitors at places like Blackwood's Miners' Club. He never say anything. He's really quiet, he's like the Terminator, you don't hear a peep out of him."
ABBISS (lighting tech): "We call him The Abyss. He's the kind of person who'll tell you a story for 20 minutes and you're waiting for the punchline and there isn't one. He's the only man we've ever seen who massages his own feet before he goes to bed. Foot rub, the lot."
JULIAN (odd job): "He used to drive a van for us but now he sells T-shirts, takes pictures and films everything on his video camera. He's always got a bottle in one hand and a girl's shoulder in the other. You couldn't trust him with your grandmother. And he never takes his f***ing hat off."
SWAMPY (drum tech): "Swampy is the f***ing scapegoat, believe me. One day it'll probably be like ‚'Full Metal Jacket', we'll find him with a shotgun waiting to kill the f***ing lot of us. The first time he ever came to Europe with us, we nicked his passport. Every time we went through border control we made him go in the toilet for half an hour. He doesn't believe a word we say now, not one f***ing sentence. It's like having a kid with you, but he's brilliant...even if he is the fattest, ugliest, laziest, c*** on the crew. Hahahahaha."