“It seems like quite a strange time now, I think its almost like we felt like we were coming out of something and now we are going back in. There is like a strange kind of energy out in the world. A lot of people are struggling its just the unknown really.” Reflects Patrick Jones on the current period of lockdown.
“What’s interesting in is this division between the maskers, the anti maskers, David Ike giving his opinion.” he continues “The Tories are loving it probably because its divide and conquer. Going on twitter sometimes, I have to pull myself away because its so conflictual and vitriolic. So its about trying to find a bit of inner peace and be calm amongst it all really and try to focus on what’s important. If that’s doesn’t sound too Buddist!” he laughs.
Blackwood-born Patrick Jones is author of the plays Everything Must Go and Before I Leave and poetry collection My Bright Shadow (Rough Trade Books) published in 2019. As well as his various projects he is working on his role as writer in residence with the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Wales.
“Who strummed and sung to dreams and injustice/
Victor Lidio Jara Martinez”
Released earlier this year Even In Exile is Manic Street Preacher‘s frontman James Dean Bradfield‘s second solo album, a vivid and elegiac impressionistic tribute to Chilean activist and musician Vitor Jara, but its lyrics began life in Patrick Jones’s writings on Jara a few years earlier:
“When I started writing about Jara in 2016, Trump had just been elected, the Tories were in control and were seeing Tommy Robinson everywhere, the rise of the right is just endemic we haven’t got army on the streets yet although we do have that in America,” he explains
“There’s also that resonance there even 47 years on ‘Recuerda” where I tried to blend a bit of Welsh history in there, there were a few other verses that were a bit more hamfisted that we didn’t get in there. That was all going on in my head, just look at the world now what we are living through. Those little things how you see how all of a sudden almost over night you had army on the streets and planes attack the Presidential palace in 1973, if you look at Brazil where Bolsonaro is running that country like a maniac. We also just wanted to tell a human story we didn’t want to be Chumbawumba hands in the air kind of sloganeering.
“I didn’t think it would ever get published, I was doing it as an escape from my own personal grief because my dad was ill and my mum had just passed away at the time, it was almost a different trajectory to write about a different subject.”
Jones talks fondly of the mutual creative process he struck up with James Dean Bradfield.
“We had the Sunday night rendezvous of tea and toast, which is not very rock n roll! I am always showing James things I have written and he always sits and listens, which considering the success he has had is always very kind open of him,” he remembers.
“One evening I told him about the Victor Jara piece and I emailed him some poems so that’s how it started. So we got the idea, it was the sense of a road movie documentary that I was trying to put together as a script because I had no right to write a biography of him at all it was just this expressionistic response to all that I had been inspired by his work.”
It was a creative process of give and take.
“I sent him some poems then the next Sunday he came back we got talking about it deeper and he started writing a few songs and they grew into that, the lyrics had a sort of a journey through it all then, it wasn’t just random expressionistic approach then, we did hone down some themes we wanted to approach and explore.” He continues “The creative process would be a poem not a wild poem or anything then I started writing more distilled and rhythms and James would remove a few things that wouldn’t quite work and he would chisel a line and would give them back to me and just say “could you hone that chorus for me”. At one point we were going to try and get to Chile but then my mother passed away and then the pandemic hit.”
Possessed of a striking epic, almost film score sound, Even In Exile sonically shifts from chiming epic new wave flecked singalongs ‘The Boy from the Plantation’ and ‘Without Knowing the End(Joan’s Song)’, to the foreboding pianos of ‘There’ll come a War’ and tender Spanish guitar of ‘Under The Mimosa Tree’. There are prog laced instrumentals of ‘Seeking the Room with Three Windows’ and the moving Spaghetti Western sounds in ‘La Paritda’ and widescreen closer ‘Santiago Sunrise’.
Bradfield sounds on top form his voice full of experience and fire, his guitars spiralling and multi faceted, perhaps the most adventurous they have sounded in his career. Yet this is a recorded threaded through with one mans enduring story of a man cut down in his prime who never stopped fighting for justice and his people.
Influenced by records and artists as diverse as Rush’s Moving Pictures, Kamasi Washington’s Heaven and Earth, The Welsh Connection by Man, John Cale’s Walking On Locusts, Pink Floyd’s Meddle, and the music of Alessandro Alessandroni, I Cantori Moderni and Violetta Parra, Even In Exile was played almost entirely by Bradfield and recorded at Door To The River Studio in South Wales.
“I was trying to get what I wanted to say about it and what James would respond to. The way he created these pieces sonically it would just blow me away,” explains Jones.
“It could be seen that I passed over the poems and James wrote a song to them, but it wasn’t that it was more a back and forth and I was trying to get to what worked as a song structure so they became much more distilled. James gets inspired by very precise things like the one photo that inspired the track ‘Seeking a room with Three Windows’.
“Parts of songs were wrtten from different perspectives on the album, I particularly wanted to write from his mothers point of view and that was ‘The Boy from the Plantation’ so it was very theatrical in a way it wasn’t all me it was a sense of creating different voices.” Jones details “Like looking at Violete Parra she came out in the research we thought we wanted to capture her story and Joan Jara (‘Without Knowing The end’),” he enthuses.
“It was really liberating to try these different voices all from that core story, from just the utter tragedy of finding out about how he died and tracing his life back and what he could have been further than being 39 and 40, it was such a waste.”
Victor Jara was tragically tortured and killed at just the age of 40 during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Still a potent symbol of struggle for human rights and justice, referenced by the Clash, Bruce Springsteen and Simple Minds amongst others in music, Emma Thompson was working on a film script about his life.
Jara’s words, music and life still resonates down the decades and through popular culture.
James Bradfield says of him: “Victor’s story chimes deeply – then and now – because as with so many other politically active people’s stories from that era, it results in death. The idea now that freedom of political thought might end in death is still too shocking to contemplate, yet we live in an age where oppositional politics leads to untold bitterness and a total lack of empathy, compromise or respect. It is so destructive, I think this period of history points to so much that’s relevant right now. And again and again, his voice returns. Through reinvestigating his music I’ve learnt that music that is politically motivated doesn’t necessarily need to be polemic punishment, it can be poetic, personal and musically transcendent”
“He wouldn’t just write the songs he would go on marchers he would participate in debates. He said “my guitar is not for the rich” he would go and participate and perform at the meetings he was just a potent symbol for social change, you could say Punk was like that or Red Wedge or rap music started off like that. It wasn’t just Victor Jara either in the mid 60s and mid 70s there were a plethora of artists in Chile that I didn’t know about, so all those things came together like you open a box and its treasure to explore.
“At our age we are looking at that personal narrative a little bit, that was the inception that one person’s story and how he was cut short and his ripples in where we are now and across the world. And you saw in Chile last year where there was a protest at and they were all singing Victor Jara songs. Does that happen in Britain I wonder do we sing and have our folk heroes, obviously Dylan comes up but that isn’t British.”
He continues, “that name has always been there but I never really dug deep into it in the past couple of years to really go into it but that’s’ part of life you find out things along the way and how stories affect you.”
“It was really quite a gentle process now and again James would do a version that was happy clappy and he would have a furrowed brow” He laughs “but then I would send him lyrics and he would never reply but that’s just the way he works but then he would come back with something. its a lot easier creating ten songs than a book of forty poems that about bloody twenty people will read.”
Jones explains it was a risk for Bradfield a well known member of a legendary rock band who have sold millions of records to step outside of his previous work.
“It was a risk for him it could have crumbled its different to anything else he has done. Its different to the Great Western, which has some beautiful songs on it but this was different. as we go into it we just realised there was a good creative buzz going on. Its a rare thing sometimes as you get older. Overall people seem to respond positively to it.”
In a recent interview Bradfield said, the difference between Patrick Jones and his brother Nicky Wire’s approach to writing is: “Pat arrives with the blaze of an eccentric professor, things falling out of files; Nick arrives with an alarming alacrity of organisation and order’.
“I did smile when James said that in a way Nick and I are like that life wise he will write lists every day whereas I am frightened of lists I am a bit more haphazard. Nick being the younger brother as I was the older one I should have been the more disciplined one. I am very disciplined writing and creating, but they have worked together for thirty years(in the Manic Street Preachers) so its a more structured approach but Nick has always been more formulaic and self disciplined one I am a bit more that poetic tumbling out kind, and that sometimes gets me in trouble. We are very different but we came from the same household, but its what works creatively I tend to be a little bit free with things and go with that moment,” Jones admits.
“I suppose deep down I am used to working with myself until you get in a rehearsal room with actors or directors. With myself I just chisel away at my articles an pieces so I haven’t really got a filter.” He concedes “It was good to have a filter and a bit of a regime James is like a workaholic beast with it once he got his teeth into it. It’s just the way individuals work.”
“I think I worked on thirty or forty songs we had written and there’s nine with lyrics on the album and three instrumentals. I don’t want to sound like Radiohead because they often sound very noodling when they talk about their process, with ‘Santiago Sunrise’ he rung me up and he was like I think we need just one more lyric. it was like where do we go next and it really fitted beautifully it was finished on the hoof with that one. it was almost like the Chile and the world we have now can we take everything we have learned now and go forward. There is a documentary about Victor Jara’s death but its almost like CIS, its a story that needs to be told but its quite a bleak documentary and its a story that needs to be told like who killed him. It was quite a liberating process and made me realise I’d like to do something else.”
Working on the album has given Jones a new insight into the power of music; “It made me realise how poetry and music differ my album with John Robb a few years ago, which was poetry set to music which we were happy with but it hardly got any reviews,” he admits.
“It is just the power of music, we need music I know we need poetry its more personal sometimes and hits you in different moments.”
Charting at number 6 in the UK chart was a surprise to the pair.
“I don’t think it was just about the politics there is a demographic that will buy James’s album so its not just about the politics but we still need music it has a power. We need that new album a package to download or stream its a little world we enter, its an escape especially at the moment. But still with poetry I think its different, I think it was Adrian Mitchell said “most people ignore poetry because most poetry ignores most people.” There is still that elitist quality to poetry sometimes. there are poets who break all that down but there is a sense of if you don’t understand it its your problem.”
Jones is finding his own solace in music and poetry in during these times of crisis and grief.
“I am still a music lover, I am still obsessed I still buy CDs on ebay. I have been listening to post rock recently Godspeed you black Emporer, Explosions in the Sky, I listen to them in the car that kind of music creates pictures in your mind I find that quite centering. And Rush I revisited a lot of their stuff its a bit of nostalgia going back to when I was 16/17 comforting when the world is too much.”
“I find myself reading more female authors lately I used to be into big society poets like Ginsburg. But lately I’ve been reading Anne Stevenson, Mary Oliver, Gwendolyn Brooks, they’ve left us a lot of these poets. Anne Sexton. Quite deep dark psychological pieces. I have been enjoying their work its my own age I’ve needed to find more sustainable pyschological armour. I find female poets tend to go into that more maybe, I haven’t found the male ones that do that too yet…”
He explains the other things that help keep him sane during a pandemic.
“I’ve also appreciate creativity in nature, gardening and sea swimming they give your brain a slight rest from all those poems, and rants and raving. I think a lot of people have been saying that in lockdown. I realised I didn’t need all of that stuff all the time so I have been distilling myself down. I try to keep things more simple now. I did treat myself to a wet suit. Talking about grief and mental health and how we keep going really I have been diving into those kinds of things to escape.”
“I am wondering if this current situation will have an explosion mental health wise after this Covid pandemic,” he worries. “Just that anxiety we have all become a bit paranoid, am I going to catch it if I touch something. You might catch something, if you touch something you might not think about it every day but its still there. And I don’t think our mental health system is geared up for it, they might have to readjust things. It needs to be on a parity with physical health its as simple as that. It needs to be a prevention before it gets to crisis. There will be a lot of grief and loss coming out of this too.”
“There’s a book called ‘the Body Keeps the Score’ its just talking about how all throughout our life we accumulate all of these things and we battled on and they can affect our physical side and how we think. It’s got me thinking about all of those patterns we hide away those scars and we can reboot the way we think about things. There’s a piece in that book about people who have experienced trauma how you almost get into a pattern how your body fires on that way of fight or flight which is a draining way to live it can make you anxious and depressed, but he argues we can retrain yourself which is powerful to read. ‘
Jones stepped back during the promotion campaign for the album acting more as a cheerleader only undertaking a few interviews of his own
“It’s James’s album and really I just wrote the lyrics really and James did everything else really. I was quite happy with him doing the interviews, it keeps things really linear in a way as well. Elton John works with Bernie Taupin, I quite like the recent Rocketman film. Anyway you don’t hear from Bernie when they release a record its Elton John’s album just like this was James’s album, it didn’t need me to be involved. I felt more comfortable like that When I was younger I would be out there shouting about it but I am a bit peaceful now and calm, I was quite happy to sit back and let James do interviews and they were really beautiful he is very articulate.”
Jones hopes people connect with the record and explore Jara’s life and w and its a source of inspiration as music and literature was to him growing up.
“So with the album and the podcast James did, concerning the times we live in we tried to create a moment and get people talking about it and people said they were going to find out about Victor Jara now. I’ve often thought of the people who inspired me when I was younger they would always reference other writers, when you are twenty growing up in the valleys and listening to the Clash and the Jam reading Ginsburg and Kerouac and you hear about Rimbaud you can open up little portals to new learning because that’s how I started when I was young innocent and naïve.”
Jones recently had a run in with Sleaford Mods on twitter: “It was a bit of fun I started off with its just a phrase we always use in the valleys “oo your hard”, and he came back with that strange thing about being famous and with quite nasty. Its interesting a lot of Sleaford Mods have this edge to them this macho attitude, it was interesting psychological as well, I try to keep it reasonable. I did used to like them but I found this entrenched macho-ness in a lot of his interviews and that and it didn’t do it for me. There are bigger things to focus on but sometimes it was a bit of a distraction. Their fans come back with this pigeon chested attitude, they were talking about my hair and my skin and I was like, ‘god…’.”
“Social media is like a little bubble it does suck you in purposely, I will try and do something on my site rather than tweeting. a tweet has just gone and you think think why did I give away that line?” he explains.
“Its hard because you get sucked in we all crave that immediate reaction its like that sugar burst its gone within an hour and you need a next fix that’s how capitalism works constantly being bombarded with adverts and promotions that you don’t even realise. Adam Curtis’s documentaries are really good and all that goes on. Its almost like a music video with in-depth analysis he connects things from different time periods and places. In the one about Afghanistan he turns up trying to carve it up and you think up my god he is president of America now. All we can do is keep strong in our tribe of minds and try an correct people and form a bond of souls and thinkers but it feels like there is a tidal wave of lunkheads.”
Jones currently has various projects in the works.
“I had a play in 2016 about about a choir who were living with dementia, I am playing about with it and I am trying to adapt that to a filmic version of that. I have written things more for the era we are living in, digital ideas. It would have been a play but I was thinking what if you do it more like a podcast or zoom, like a Black Mirror sense where people could interact. Its challenge me into new ways of writing there is nothing tangible yet but I am just exploring. I do love Black Mirror there are some great ideas in it, Bandersnatch where you could allegedly chose the plot ending,” he reveals.
“I do love theatre, it’s so real and visceral and you spend days thinking about it afterwards I struggle to watch theatre on a screen I struggle to believe it. I am writing poetry at the moment I am just doing it for myself I am not sending it to magazines, my book last year was about my mams death it was a witness statement of he life and trying to find some feeling, I struggled to read those in public at the time but maybe distance will help, it was just a collection I had to write.”
Jones stresses the importance of art and culture during this time of struggle and loss.
“There’s a huge need for plays, new books and albums that tell us something about the human condition right now. My favourite quote is by Arthur Miller he said ‘he wrote plays to make people feel less alone’, I think those are two really important words ‘less alone’ we need to feel less alone with our suffering and struggle those are two words we will need as we come out. I think artists have got a bit of a responsibility we don’t want to have Blu Tack on the wall or the light flicking on and off like some artists do, we need guts, bravery and connection again.”
As well as his various projects Patrick Jones is working on his role as writer in residence with the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Wales.
Even in Exile is out now. James has also produced a podcast series about Jara’s work and its continuing resonance.
Photo credit Lucy Purrington