Stereophonics: The band are bloody but unbowed

They have never shirked a fight, whether it's with critics, rivals or reporters
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The Independent Culture

That Kelly Jones. What a lad. In the last few weeks he's been in the headlines for boozing and brawling in a London club, and the Stereophonics frontman is still nursing the result for the late-night altercation with a bouncer who tried to discourage him from putting his head round the door of the ladies' loo. In the ruck that followed, the singer ended up with a two-inch gash in his right arm.

"In hospital they told me I'd slashed two muscles," Jones says. "They gave me stitches internally, and said it would take six weeks to recover. I won't know until I start playing guitar again whether I have fully recovered."

Although some gigs and live TV appearances were cancelled because of the injury, the release of the new Stereophonics album, Pull the Pin went ahead as planned – and duly hit the No 1 spot this week.

You'd think that, at the age of 33, Jones's street-fighting days would be behind him. Evidently not. Just a few weeks before the London incident, he and the Stereophonics bass-player Richard Jones (no relation), 33, got into another scuffle in Moscow when the two Welshmen were accosted by a drunk. Small wonder then, that when the group attended the Q awards, Kelly had a minder specially assigned to keep him out of trouble.

"We never back down, basically," he explains. "I don't know if it's just the way we've been brought up or what." It seems as good an explanation as any, especially when you consider the lyrics to some of the songs on the new album, such as the raucously rocking onslaught of "Bank Holiday Monday": "Dodging cars, new scars, fighting out in the road/ Knees me in the chest my head and arse hits the floor/ Swallowed tongue, what we done, someone's hand in my mouth/ Got to pull it back out on a Bank Holiday Monday."

It's a pretty grim tale, even before you take into account the aggravated assault that Kelly inflicts on the traditional norms of scansion, metre and rhyme. How often does this kind of incident happen to them?

"It used to happen every weekend when we were growing up," Richard says, recalling the former pit village of Cwmaman, where he and Jones first got together and started playing in a group with the drummer Stuart Cable (who has since left the band). "It wasn't so much that it was a rough place. It was more a proving ground, really."

"The 'Bank Holiday Monday' thing stemmed from when we used to play gigs on August Bank Holiday in a pub in the beer garden for about three hours," Kelly says. "We'd play cover versions, maybe some originals, get paid £150. Then from there it's just cheap alcohol, cheap speed, flirting with other people's girlfriends. You'd catch a bus to Aberdare town centre and by that time everybody was pissed and angry and then fights start. And then at half-past-10 it's a Chinese and the bus home, if you're still alive. And that's kind of how it was."

There is more random violence in the narrative of "Daisy Lane", a song with a contrastingly haunting, melancholy refrain: "Three boys in hoods/ Warm summer's day/ Stuck him and killed him/ Then ran away."

The song is based on an incident in Fulham where Kelly used to live. "I was in my flat and I looked out my window and there were about seven coppers lined up in the road, looking for a weapon. And it was a kid, about 14 or 15, and he got hassled by two or three boys on the way home from school. They killed him. It was something that happened in my street so it seemed relevant."

Other numbers, such as "It Means Nothing", inspired by the London bombings in July 2005, and "Soldiers Make Good Targets" about the media's ambiguous relationship with images of war, find Kelly pondering events both global and personal.

Kelly may have a knack for tapping into the troubled mood of the times with his songwriting, and there is no doubting the high regard in which he is held by his many fans. Earlier this month, Stereophonics won the Q magazine award for Best Classic Song for "Local Boy in the Photograph", from their first album Word Gets Around. Tellingly, it was an award voted for by readers of the magazine, not the writers: respect from critics and taste-makers has always been grudging, at best.

This probably stems from the band's background. The sons of factory-workers and building-site employees, they come from provincial, working-class stock. Not for them the metropolitan insider's world view that informs the tastes of pop's fashion police.

"The first time I bought NME was when I was on the front cover. That's the truth," Kelly says, disdainfully. "We grew up in pubs where we saw what people actually got off on. So that's what we knew how to play. We came up on the back of Britpop, and however many stages of music there's been in the last 10 years, we never fitted in any of those categories. We never needed a bandwagon. The songs did it for us and we can hold our own with anybody on stage.

"We were never frightened of anybody, but they're always trying to intimidate us. Well, I don't care whether you like it or not. We're selling more records a week than you're selling papers, so who cares? I think in the first eight years of interviews, we were always on the defence because we thought somebody was trying to have a go at us. I think that's why a lot of times we're misinterpreted, anyway."

It is ironic that Kelly's recent brawl should have netted him so much coverage in the celebrity gossip columns – "I finally got more column inches than Pete Doherty" – since this is a world that he holds in equal contempt to that of the hip music press.

"It's remarkable how easy it is to get in the Bizarre column [in The Sun]," he says. "People complain about it. But there is a back door at these clubs where you can leave without the cameramen. I think Amy Winehouse has just taken over from Pete Doherty. They're both talented – although can anybody in Britain actually sing a Pete Doherty song? But all this marketing of themselves has got out of hand."

Pull the Pin was recorded in Dublin, in a burst of creativity. It is the second album to feature the drummer Javier Weyler, who replaced Cable in the line-up after a period of upheaval during their 2003/4 world tour. Javier, 32, who was born in Argentina and brought up in Venezuela, became friends with the band and worked with them in the studio long before the possibility of joining them arose.

"The best audition for me was being able to play drums on the demo session without having any promises about what's gonna happen," Weyler says. "I thought: 'Oh great, I can play drums for two weeks instead of making tea, coffee, whatever. I can have one of the best two weeks of my life and then go back to my job.' I wasn't expecting anything. So the three of us clicked for the right reasons of making good music and enjoying it."

Weyler's presence has brought stability and a renewed sense of optimism to the group after the uncertainties surrounding the departure of Cable, who was sacked over commitment issues. Although there were some rocky moments during that episode, Kelly insists that relations with the band's former drummer have always been more cordial than is usually made out.

"It gets stirred up now and again when something comes out in the press that has probably been said two years ago, which is a bit annoying," Kelly says. "But generally when me and him are sat down, it's fine. I had a pint with him on Christmas Day, when I last went back down to Wales."

Stereophonics are still doing fine, too, provided Kelly Jones can keep out of trouble long enough to get the band's latest tour under way. The shows are selling fast and the singer is bullish about the album.

"If you line up all six albums, each of them is slightly different," Kelly says. "I try to make the band sound different on each one. That is what it's about. Some bands have only got a few tricks. We can sing in different ways, play in different ways and the albums show that. To me, this is trying to make another album consistently from beginning to end with proper songs on it, big songs with big melodies so that you can take any one track off it and it will stand alone as a great track."

'Pull The Pin' is out now on V2; Stereophonics tour the UK from 28 October to 25 November (www.stereophonics.com)

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