Welsh lungs really are some of the very best lungs. Tom Jones, Kelly Jones, Shirley Bassey, Katherine Jenkins. James Dean Bradfield. And on our very first trip (poor form, we know) to see the latter, at Bristol Sounds on the harbourside, we’re in awe of the ease and tremendous soul with which he still belts out the songs written for a voice some 25 years younger.
Bright-eyed and full-hearted right from the opening gambit of Motorcycle Emptiness – a tune capable of filling its audience with euphoric nostalgia even on the very first listen – we wholly embrace the catharsis of second song Everything Must Go – the band’s bittersweet ode to fans, four albums into their career, asking them to forgive them for the shift in sound and style that came in 1996. Continuing along the hit parade, our next encounter, with Your Love Alone Is Not Enough, sees an anthem perfectly executed by all concerned – but namely bass player Nicky Wire and Bristol-dwelling drummer Sean Moore, with JDB comfortably filling in the female vocal parts originally sung by The Cardigans’ Nina Persson, in addition to his own.
While there are the inevitable footy jokes from the Blackwood-formed collective, alluding to the historic Bristol-Cardiff rivalry, and the nerves usually felt upon crossing the water and entering our fair city, both band and audience know this is an evening of togetherness and unity through music as the first bars of Walk Me To The Bridge, from 2014’s Futurology, ring out, followed by Indian Summer – belonging to 2007’s album Send Away The Tigers.
You Stole The Sun From My Heart recaptures the attention of those purely and unashamedly there for the hits alone, while other highlights include The Second Great Depression – before which JDB apologises in advance in case he slips up on the lyrics and reminds us that this gig is the first in several months for the band.
Not that the die-hard Manics fans down at the front – some of whom have been at the venue since the small hours – need reminding. They’re more than enough to keep the band buoyant, despite the somewhat static yet also still jubilant Bristol crowd in general. JDB regales us with memories of Bristol venues played to crowds countable on one hand, back in the early days, as the kids on the Amphitheatre steps in front of us fastidiously count the swears on their own fingers.
Speaking of bairns, If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next – always meaningful but feeling particularly poignant presently – precedes a change in tone as electric guitar is swapped for acoustic to allow for intimate versions of 30-Year-War and Ocean Spray; pure and crisp mariachi trumpet cutting through with a sound both harmonious and discordant. Showing the versatility of their back catalogue, the lightly punk-laced You Love Us signals the beginning of the end as we approach strict council curfew, with “wedding reception tune” Show Me The Wonder hot on its heels before the band make themselves the envy of many a musician and close with a tune of such epic, cinematic proportions – Design For Life, duh – that an encore, luckily, really is unnecessary.