JAMES Dean Bradfield first heard the name Victor Jara in a song by The Clash. The future Manic Street Preacher was still a teenager at the time when he listened to Washington Bullets. Back then music was often, he says, a form of education. He’d hear a name in a song and want to find out more.

Jara’s name was one he would hear again and again in the years that followed. He’d come across it in a U2 song, for example, or in an album dedication by Simple Minds.

“Subsequently, lots of people start writing about him,” Bradfield recalls. “I bought a Calexico album and they had written a song about Victor Jara. I had some records by Dafydd Iwan, who was a Plaid Cymru MP and a folk singer in Wales, and he wrote a song about Victor Jara. It was an echo that kept coming back and back.”

Now Bradfield has added his own. Even in Exile, Bradfield’s second solo record is a concept album, by turns impassioned (The Boy from the Plantation) and delicate (Under the Mimosa Tree), based on the life and music of the Chilean protest singer who was tortured and killed in 1973 in the wake of the coup led by General Pinochet against the Salvador Allende government.

Jara was a poet, a teacher, a communist and a protest singer. After the coup he was arrested and detained in the Estadio Chile. When soldiers realised who he was, they smashed his hands and told him he would never play guitar again. They then shot him more than 40 times. His body was then put on display outside the stadium.

Jara, then, was one of the earliest victims of a coup that would see the murder and torture of thousands. But his name lives on.

Bradfield’s album is the latest proof of that. Currently at home in Cardiff with his family, Bradfield has, like all of us these days, been in lockdown in recent months. “I’ve got two young kids, four and eight, so it’s mostly been centred around that,” he says.

This afternoon, though, he is here to talk about Jara, Fidel Castro, the future of the Manics and the death of the music press.

How did the new album come about?

“Around about two-and-a-half years ago myself Nick and Sean decided that there was going to be quite a big gap between the last Manic Street Preachers album and the next one. And when I realised that the gap was going to be about three years – now it’s going to be longer, for obvious reasons – subconsciously I panicked. ‘I’ve got to do something. What will I do?’

I’m a musician and I’m an institutionalised Manic Street Preacher, and when that’s taken away from me I just meltdown, slowly but surely. So, I’m walking around in a bit of a daze thinking, ‘I need something to do.’

That’s where Patrick Jones comes in, presumably?

I’ve got a routine. I live quite close to where I was born. There’s this one day a week I go and see my father. And on the way back I see Patrick Jones, Nicky Wire’s older brother. He was always the older, cooler kid.

He’s a published poet and playwright, so I’m always interested in what he’s doing. And he said, ‘Oh I’m just writing about Victor Jara, do you remember him?’

He just showed me a file. A little lightbulb went on in my head and I said to him, ‘Do you think we could turn some of this into music?’

He was very sceptical. This was stuff that was never intended to see the light of day. And, also, it was an emotional exercise for him because he had just lost his mother and his father was now very ill.

But he came around?

As soon as I put them to music, we enjoyed them.

Read More: From the archive - James Dean Bradfield in 2006

What was it about Jara that connected with you?

When you first listen to his records, the music floats over you and it’s so beautiful. It’s so ethereal. Some of it is as beautiful as Tim Buckley wanted to be. It’s absolutely amazing. But then you start hearing references to Ho Chi Minh.

It is ideological, but the form doesn’t ram it down your throat. It’s very gentle. The music to him is just as important a vehicle as the words. The music must soothe. It must heal. So, he is a protest singer like no other I’ve ever heard. And I think that’s attractive.

He looks like a dude. And then, of course, he was murdered. He hasn’t become a myth because he is the real thing, someone who embodies conviction and unfortunate tragedy. It shows what can happen if you let that political conviction guide your life and guide your art, I suppose.

What ground rules did you set yourself?

Number one with Victor Jara, you don’t try to follow someone like that. We wanted to talk about his entire life. I didn’t want to write a song about his desire for the copper mines to be owned by the Chilean people.

You make interesting musical choices here. There’s even a bit of prog rock in there.

There was definitely a prog element that started coming into the record. I don’t know where it came from, but I didn’t question it. Perhaps because everything I was writing about was so stuck in the 1970s, I started referencing the prog references that were in my head, whether it be Man, who were an old Welsh prog band, or whether it be Rush, or whether it be early Pink Floyd. I just went with it.

There’s a nylon string guitar that I write on, but I never record with. I decided to record that nylon string guitar because it’s so much in Victor’s music.

And I learned how to play double bass for the record. In a prog bed I needed to bring out the richness of that bass, I needed to bring out the acoustic nature of the bass, so I learned to play an instrument that was way taller than me.

You cover one of Jara’s songs, La Partida, an instrumental. What was behind that?

I did try to cover a couple of Victor Jara songs and it was impossible. The words made a fool of me. It just didn’t feel right. And it was made all the worse by the fact that there’s footage of Bruce Springsteen singing a cover of one of the more famous Victor Jara songs, Manifiesto, in Chile when he played there. And, of course, what does Bruce Springsteen do? He makes an amazing job of it. You believe his interpretation of it. He brings richness to it.

What happens when I try to sing one of Victor’s songs in the studio? It’s awful. The words just didn’t sound believable and that left me quite crestfallen.

And so, I was left with a conundrum because I wanted a Victor Jara song on this record. How do I do it? He did some instrumentals and obviously that’s what I did. I went for the song that gave me the most freedom to reinterpret it.

Have you ever been to Chile?

No, the closest I’ve been to Chile was about 800 yards from the border when I was in Argentinian Patagonia four years ago for the 150th anniversary of the Welsh settlers in Patagonia.

This is not your first Latin American adventure. The Manics played Cuba in 2001, a move that was hugely controversial at the time.

We wanted to do it just because we had won four Brits by then. We felt we were the darlings of the industry and what happens to a band when it feels accepted? It tries to find a way to reject everything. We were young and stupid. I remember saying. ‘Why don’t we do something outside of the record industry, just go somewhere where we can’t sell any records?’ Bam, we went to Cuba.

And suddenly we were there, and Castro was at the gig and I remember thinking, ‘I am not cut out for this. I’m a musician not a politician.’

We never knew he would come to the concert. People said we did. You think we can arrange for Castro to come to a concert? Do you think I have that power?

A picture was taken, and I remember thinking, ‘That’s it. I’m in a picture with one of the most famous politicians in world history and all that picture will ever say is, “You endorse him. Everything he stands for, you endorse.”’

So, I remember at the start of this record I didn’t want to get into a Cuban headlock. I don’t want to have to say I endorse everything that Victor stood for. I don’t want to have to endorse everything Allende stood for. I just wanted to talk about Jara’s life and the way he could not stop putting politics or social observation in his music. It’s what drove him.

How do you hope this record will speak to the moment we’re living in?

There is something to be said about the fall of the Allende government. It’s a coalition of socialists, communists, Christian Democrats, and the popular union movement. And they come to power and they all start fighting each other. And that’s when the right knows they can take over.

And I do see that a tiny bit in Britain. Not the military coup or the violence or the death. I’m on about what you might call socialist principles in Britain. How we’re so busy arguing with each other.

I think the Tory government wake up every morning and go, ‘Don’t worry. We don’t have to attack them for a couple of weeks. They’re fighting amongst each other.’

We are speaking in the week when the last ever issue of Q magazine is published? How do you feel about the death of the music press?

It depresses me so much. The music press was amazing. We were in opposition to them, we were slagged off by them, we loved going into battle with them. All bets were off when you talk about musicians who were growing up in the 1980s. We grew up with Ian McCulloch, Morrissey, Mark E Smith, people who loved to go into battle with each other, who loved to slag each other off. Those were the rules. There was a lot of sabre-rattling, there was a lot of that slightly Dorothy Parker-esque or Oscar Wildean ethic of being able to stand up for yourself with words.

We really enjoyed meeting journalists who we knew were trying to take us down. We never came close to coming to blows. You would talk your talk. You knew some of them would walk away and give you a right old kicking, but you enjoyed each other’s company in a strange way.

Sometimes a bad review can tell you something about the record you’ve just made. I just have this sneaking suspicion that musicians do not want an outsider’s view of what they are any more.

The Manics will return?

Oh God, yeah. We did a couple of demos before lockdown and we’ve started writing again I’d say we are about five songs in.

We don’t know what shape it’s going to take and, like everyone else, we don’t know what’s happening with the world.

I love playing live but if we ever play live again it will be the most unsubtle concert we’ve ever played. The first five songs will be the biggest songs we’ve got.

Even in Exile is out on Friday