Preaching to the Converted Manic Street Preachers
Manic bass man Nicky Wire goes wire-less on stage Manic Street Preachers

The rise of the Manic Street Preachers is legendary. Aubrey Parsons caught up with James Dean Bradfield's guitar tech, affectionately known as 'Deptford John', and keyboard player Nick Nasmyth...

I chose the Dome Cafe on London's Kings Road to spend some time with Deptford John, and joined up with Nick Nasmyth later at his home studio. I don't know if it was because they recognised us or they were intimidated by John's imposing figure, but at the Dome we were shown straight to the best seats. It wasn't long before John was sharing some of his trade secrets with me...

Aub: How long have you been with the Manics?

DJ: Not long, really, since 1996. It was the start of the Everything must Go tour. I worked for them in 1991 in New York where I was living, and my mate was tour manager. They asked me to do the guitars at CBGB's. So I'd see James around and stuff. Eventually a position came up and I was available.

Aub: What's James's set-up for the tour?

DJ: He's got three Shure wireless systems into an ABC box then into an AB box, which runs an acoustic pickup in his Les Paul which I had made for him in America. The boxes switch between acoustic and electric and clean and dirty. There is a Trace Elliot Speed Twin and a Fender Twin for the clean sound. A Marshall head, an Orange head, and an AC-30 for the dirty sound. There are a load of pedals in line; the Boss FZ-2, for a bit of sustain more than anything, the Boss CE-5, Flanger and DD-5, and some other stuff that I don't like!

Aub: What did they use in the studio for the This is my truth - Tell me yours album?

DJ: Well, I try not to get involved when bands are recording. You tend to be the cause of arguments. They ask for your opinions and you give it - which quite often offends. It may not be what they want to hear and causes the band to question what they've done. It's easier to stay out of the internal politics. I deal with the equipment - they do the recording. Basically everything that is used live was used in the studio, although James used more guitars and a Sitar guitar with an extra set of strings on the body which can be played like a sitar.

Aub: When the band plays live, do they use any backing tracks to augment the sound?

DJ: No. If they can't play it live on the keyboards or guitar then it doesn't get played. We don't use DATs or ADATs. There are some drum machines but only because they were used on the album. One of them is an old R-8. In fact we tend to sample the R-8 and loop it. It uses fewer channels on the rig.

Aub: What's Nicky's bass set-up?

DJ: Two Ampeg heads, one SV-2 and one SV-32 and four 8 x 10s. He plays Fender Jazz bass with an extra pickup near the neck into a wireless system into the bass stack. No effects though.

Aub: What other Roland gear does the band use?

DJ: JV-1080, SDE-330, and a 501 Space Echo. We used to use a 501 in the keyboard rack as well, so I've got a lifetime supply of tapes.

Aub: I saw the band play in Cardiff at the CIA. Halfway through the set James plays a song on an electric guitar, but it sounds like an acoustic. Was there any kind of processing going on?

DJ: There's a guy in America (but I'm not telling you who he is - it's a secret), who modifies electric guitars with special under-the-bridge pickups to make them sound like acoustics. You can then mix the electric sound with the acoustic. The sounds of the acoustics are not processed in any way. They are active and just go straight in to the rig via valve DIs called "Gas Cookers" to boost the signal.

Preaching to the Converted

Deptford John stays out of the studio for fear of causing arguments

Deptford John's nightmare gig

"There was a geeza from a band called Trouble from Chicago. He looked like Derek Smalls from Spinal Tap. I asked him what he used and he told me he would only use Flying Vs and I thought we're gonna be all right. But they were all copies and he kept saying his lead was bad and I kept having to change leads during the show. So I kept giving him the same lead back and he would say, "Yeah this one's better". He couldn't play properly and I just wasn't interested by about halfway through the gig. I didn't even ask for the money at the end of it. I just went home."

Aub: Are the strings on Design for Life real or a sound module?

DJ: They're all real. We use the same people for strings when we're in the studio or for TV. We do use samplers for gigs, but they are samples of the strings we use. We use some of the same people as The Verve.

Aub: Finally, one thing I've always wanted to know. Why the hell does James sing so high?

DJ (laughing): It's his natural pitch. He's got perfect pitch too which is really annoying. He knows immediately when a guitar is not tuned to concert pitch.

With that I had to hotfoot it down to Nick Nasmyth's spacious London home where I found him in his studio. His usual keyboard set-up is an XB-2 and a B-3. He has owned a JD-800 for years, but has recently got his hands on a VK-7.

Aub: You must be a millionaire by now?

Nick: It's a misconception. People always presume that one appearance on Top of the Pops and you're set for life. Not so. Appearing on TOTP pays the princely sum of 138.50 each!

Aub: When did you start working with the Manics?

Nick: It was just after they finished recording Everything must Go. They were looking for a keyboard player, and I was in the right place at the right time. I was approached by their management. I wasn't really doing much at the time, a bit of recording and touring with various bands.

Aub: So what is the set-up at the moment?

Nick: XB-2 and a B-3 for the big gigs. The B-3 gets hired in because it's so big.

Aub: What did you use on the album?

Nick: Loads of stuff... A nice Hammond at Rockfield Studios, a B-3 (that used to belong to Jess Yates) in the studios in France, a CX-3 which is mine, an XB-2, and a VOX - almost anything really. I also use a JV-1080 in the rig with Orchestral and 60s and 70s expansion boards. All the sampled string sounds are played in conjunction with the string sounds on the JV-1080 to fill the sound out. The Everlasting uses the string sounds from the 1080, and it sounds lovely. I use all of that set up live. And now I have got to grips with the VK-7 it will certainly be in the rig for the rest of the tour.

Preaching to the Converted

Nick Nasmyth has added a VK-7 to his touring rig

Aub: How do you compare the VK-7 to the other organs that you have?

Nick: Oh, the sounds are a lot better, but there are also a lot of other things I like. You can do a lot of tweaking of the sounds - you can really hear the tone generators working. The Leslie effects sound fantastic - great for recording and at home. It's little things like being able to spread the Leslie sounds wider or smaller which makes it sound really good. It's fun having all the other sounds on it as well.

Aub: What about those great LEDs?

Nick: I know what you mean, They're great aren't they? It's fantastic to actually see what you are doing. I'm a hands-on person. I don't like loads of editing from menus so it's great for me. The software architecture is really nice too.

Aub: What about the presets?

Nick: I've found them surprisingly good. I needed to tweak them quite a lot, but when you first get the keyboard you have really good starting points. Some of the church organ sounds will be great for the start of Be Natural and the intro for Ready for Drowning - that's where that Leslie sound kicks.

Aub: You certainly seem to like it!

Nick: Yeah. There's so much I like about it. For example you can assign the pedals to do so much - kick in distortion without having to use your hands, that's a godsend. And it's great to get that original valve sound through the leakage of the tone bars. And because there's a comprehensive MIDI spec, it makes the VK-7 just like a synth really. Being able to assign the tone bars to MIDI is great for live work. Every time the bars are moved, the movements can be recorded over MIDI. It's the kind of keyboard you can get right into and lose yourself.

With that I had to catch my train back to Swansea, leaving Nick to find out even more about the VK-7. It was great to see the people behind the Manics and to get an insight into how one of the greatest bands around really works. Preaching to the Converted

John and Aubrey wrapped well for their chat!