Stereophonics' Kelly Jones: Talking about Stuart is hard ... all I want to say about his death is in the song
Ahead of Stereophonics' Belfast gig next March and with a new album out tomorrow, the band's frontman Kelly Jones tells Joe Nerssessian why it took him seven years to write a track about childhood friend - and the band's former drummer - Stuart Cable, who died in 2010
On the morning of September 15, Stereophonics frontman Kelly Jones was dropping his eldest daughter at their local tube station in Parsons Green, west London. Ten minutes after he departed, helicopters, armed police, fire fighters and ambulances descended on the station when an improvised explosive device detonated on a District line train.
Kelly (43) described that day as "weird, insane, surreal". And while the band's latest album Scream Above The Sounds - finished almost a year ago - doesn't directly reference that incident, it is certainly informed by recent terror attacks piercing the music world.
"Caught By The Wind was written in the aftermath of the Bataclan attack," he says down the phone from his London home. "That's when things started to come into our work environment. There's a lot of anxiety and stress in the air. People are getting constant noise from their phones and the 24/7 news cycle. People have very little time looking out of a window being bored."
The album, Stereophonics' 10th studio record, is a journey through the angst in today's world in anthemic packaging. Nostalgia and fear are very much present, but there's plenty of room for hope too. The title comes from a line off All In One Night - an intriguing observational track that documents a young man's night packed with party, police, a car accident and a woman giving birth.
The narrative, in its presence rather than its substance, is characteristic of the record. There's some brash, Tom Waits-esque freestyling, and it's obvious Kelly has been thinking a lot about his own upbringing.
In fact, he'd been spending a lot of time travelling back to Wales, and the birth of his third daughter last year prompted thoughts of how the world had changed since he was a child. And then there's Before Anyone Knew Our Name, a moving tribute to the band's original drummer and Kelly's childhood friend, Stuart Cable, who died in 2010.
Cable had left the band seven years earlier, and it took a long time for Kelly to know he wanted to pen the track. Even then he wasn't sure about including it in the album.
"It came about very late in the album process. Me and Stuart grew up on the same street. We've known each other all our lives really and I first played in a band with him when I was 12," he says.
"He left in 2003, but we were still mates - there was no arguments. He died seven years ago, but he's been on my mind every day really since then.
"I don't know why it came to me now, I don't know what it was, but it came out on a page and I sang in front of a piano and recorded it and people heard it. They thought it was some beautiful sentiment to him and they all got a bit emotional about it."
The result is a soulful piano ballad that harks back to them forming one of the UK's most successful bands of the past two decades from their coal mining village of Cwmaman.
Kelly sings eloquently of yearning to see Cable, but struggles to translate his thoughts over the phone.
"It's very vulnerable for me. It was a moment that happened to me and now it's out there. Talking about it is a little bit weird because everything I want to say is in the song," he says slowly, adding: "But he was a brother to us and a big friend and a big laugh, a big smile and a big voice."
The album arrives 20 years after Stereophonics debut and two years on from Keep The Village Alive, which landed their sixth UK number one.
Kelly regards their chart-topping track record as "not a bad" achievement, but places a higher priority on attracting new fans without marginalising those who have supported them from the start.
"This is not a greatest hits album or a greatest hits tour," he says of arriving at their two-decade landmark. "Our music is still being played on the radio, it's still being bought in the shops and streamed. And at the front of our gigs are people who are 17 or 18 next to others who have been from the first album."
But he does take some notice of the music charts. Quizzed on the much-touted theory that guitar music is dead, Kelly is dismissive and references sales of Liam Gallagher's recent debut solo record.
"Record sales are weird," he says. "Queens Of The Stone Ages got to number one with 20-odd thousand, Shania Twain got to number one with around the same and then Liam had an amazing first week and everyone's so happy about it.
"It's an indication that of course guitar music is not dead. "It's about what you're selling. If there's something people want, they will go out and buy it - it's great."
With a little more encouraging, Kelly does reflect on the band's 20-year fame and says he believes they are at the peak of their performing prowess.
"To be able to pick from 20 years of material every night .... we've got different kinds of styles and forms of songs and music - it's a great position to be in," he says. "We're always hopefully making music which is contemporary. I wouldn't want to really be a band that has relied on a formula from 10 years before.
"We feel more comfortable performing than we did when we were younger."
Although bigger sets and longer shows mean they often miss the pubs closing before they finish, Kelly jokes, the band still find time to get a round in regularly.
"I can't get it out of my system," he says. "We do love going for a beer. We're quite old fashioned as we love a pub more than a club, love a boozer.
"I still love a Sunday afternoon, watch the football on a Sunday. I come from a small, working-class town and that's what people did to relax, so I like going for a pint and putting the world to rights."
Stereophonics' Scream Above The Sounds is out tomorrow. They will play Belfast's SSE Arena on Thursday, March 15, at 6.30pm. Tickets from SSE Arena Box Office, or visit viagogo.co.uk