Kelly's heroes: Stereophonics bassist Richard Jones
Richard Jones sounds sleepy. It's well into the afternoon when I phone the Stereophonics bassist, but his voice barely rises above a deliciously accented whisper throughout much of our half-hour chat. However, when he talks about the band's imminent return to Belfast to headline Belsonic for the second time, a mischievous grin is audible down the line.
"It's always been great craic, a really good night out," he says, "and every time we've sought a little entertainment after the show, it's never let us down! We're looking forward to coming back."
The last Belsonic appearance in 2010 came at a poignant time for the band, given that it was only two months after the death of the their longest serving drummer, Stuart Cable. The three founding members from the village of Cwmaman, mid-Glamorgan (population around 1,000) had gone to the same school, grown up together and between them managed to become one of the biggest bands in the UK. And although Cable was fired from the band in 2003, largely a result of his destructive drink and drug habits, the trio had reconciled.
Jones says that they last spent time with him "about three or four months" prior to his death that June, at the wedding of their sound engineer - and that they played music together that night. "That was the first time me and Kelly (Jones, Stereophonics frontman) had seen Stuart for two or three years, I think," he says. "We were all sitting round the same table having beers and smokes, got drunk together, kicked the wedding band off the stage and jumped up and played about four or five songs together. We had a good time.
"We were in contact with Stuart right up to the weekend he died. We were meant to meet up with him on that Monday. It was one of our friends' grandfather's funeral and we were all going there to pay our respects. But that Monday me and Kelly woke up and heard the news."
Cable's drinking appears to have been a double-edged sword - Jones clearly remembers him fondly as a drinking buddy - while fans will remember his massive smile, masses of curly hair and energy behind the kit, like Animal from The Muppets made flesh. Despite the fact that it is now 12 years since he left the band, Jones emphasises that the Stereophonics still carry his legacy. "Ever since Stuart passed, I don't think any gig goes by where we don't think about him," he says.
"He's a big part of our lives, the band's success and the energy of the band. He was the life and soul of the party and it's very hard not to think about the way he was, especially when you're doing the shows - the energy he used to put into playing and entertaining people. We've still got that with us, and as soon as we walk off stage there's still a party vibe, because that's what Stuart was like.
"It was gutting at the time to hear the news that one of your best friends has passed away at such an early age.
"He was such a big part of the band. But we always have a little drink to Stuart whenever he comes up in our thoughts."
At this point in their careers, Stereophonics, now a four-piece, are approaching veteran status - they formed in 1992, released their first album in 1997 and are preparing to release their ninth studio album, Keep The Village Alive, in September. And by the way, five of those albums in a row went to number one in the UK, a feat achieved by few other acts. So their Belsonic set should be a formidable showcase of that extensive back catalogue.
"With the festivals, you haven't got much of a control over the production side of it," Jones explains. "So you tend to strip back a little bit and use the setlist to try to entertain the crowd to the best of your ability, using your back catalogue and all those strong songs. You tend to go out all guns blazing and have a high energy show. That's kind of what we've got planned for when we get back to Belfast."
A fellow member of the old guard - Noel Gallagher - recently said that there had not been a significant influx of new, world-beating rock bands since the likes of The Killers and Kings Of Leon a decade ago. Given that Stereophonics operate in a similar, 70s-influenced rock, it's interesting to hear what Jones has to say on the matter. But unlike his Mancunian counterpart, he's upbeat about the future of rock.
"I think guitar music is probably the best it's been in the last 10 years," he says. "You've got great bands like Catfish and The Bottlemen; I went to see Drenge last weekend and they were brilliant. There's great guitar bands, they're just not getting the radio play. And I think that reflects the state of the major radio stations at the moment - they're too afraid to take a gamble and break away from pop music. But it will happen - music goes in cycles.
"The last time we played the V Festival we were on the main stage and Calvin Harris was on the second stage, but it's totally flipped around now. He's big business at the moment for the record companies. At the end of the day it's entertainment and people usually take from it what they want. We are a release for people to go and have a good time. Whether they're stuck in traffic in their car or off their faces at the weekend, it's our job to enhance that."
It's true that Stereophonics have always been much more a people's band than a critics' band. Famously, they have had their run-ins with the Press, their music often derided as 'meat-and-potatoes' and their records regularly subject to reviews that can be charitably described as mixed. It didn't help that in 1998 singer Kelly Jones accepted a Best Newcomer Brit Award with the immortal words, "about time for a bit of f****** recognition". Nor that they chose to introduce their third album Just Enough Education To Perform with a single railing against a journalist they felt had wronged them (the infamous Mr Writer).
"Mr Writer was written about one part of our lives at that time," Richard Jones explains. "We let somebody into our circle and we thought we were doing the right thing but the person went off and wrote his version of who we were and what we were doing. We didn't see eye-to-eye with the article we wrote, so we wrote Mr Writer. Ever since there's been not so much a backlash, but a certain amount of journalists didn't see it from our point of view. But it happens. Journalists have to do their jobs and sometimes it's a mismatch.
"You can't please everybody all the time."
So you're happy to please the fans and ignore the critics? "Yeah, that's kind of how we've played it from day one," he says. "We've gone out there and thrown it in front of people and they keep on coming back, buying the tickets and the albums. We'll let the journalists write whatever they want to write."
Jones isn't in South Wales any more - these days he's in the Buckinghamshire town of High Wycombe, an hour from London - but he says he gets home as often as he can, and he insists that despite the distance and more importantly the vast success and riches he has enjoyed over the last 15 to 20 years, he still feels close to his roots.
"Definitely," he says. "Our community back in Wales is unique to us. We've always felt like we've got something to prove and I don't think that ever goes away.
"No matter how many goals you manage to reach and how much success you have, you've always still got something to say and a point to prove. It's just part of who we are, I think."
On the new album, Jones and lifelong friend Kelly Jones are putting that attitude into practice. They rose to success on the back of Kelly's vignettes of small-town life on their debut album Word Gets Around, and it turns out that the title of the new album - Keep The Village Alive - is a nod to their early days, the phrase having appeared in the liner notes of that first, breakthrough record.
"It's a bit of a hats-off to where we come from and it's also a nod to all those small communities around the UK and elsewhere around the world that get overlooked," says Richard.
"When we were growing up it was something to shout about - a celebration. When you're half-cut, walking home after a good night out, one of the lads would always shout, 'keep the village alive!' - because the party was still going."
All these years later, it still is.
- Stereophonics plays Custom House Square, Belfast as part of Belsonic on Friday, August 21