"Can't remember. New Year's the worst fucking night of the year."
Where will you be on 31 December 1999?
"A hotel that takes dogs somewhere in West Wales."
'Motown Junk' was released in 1991. What do you think would have happened if you'd achieved the success that you're experiencing now back then? Would it have inspired complete chaos?
"Yeah, it would. But it would have been amazing. It would have been one of the truly great moments of rock music. I often think about this: I try and transpose ourselves back to the four of us, playing songs off 'Everything Must Go', but looking like we did around the time of 'The Holy Bible' - and I just think how amazing it would have been. If we could have played Nynex in Manchester wearing the full camoflauge gear, playing 'Faster' and 'Of Walking Abortions'... that would have been really fucking cool."
But by writing songs as extreme as that you were denying yourselves that kind of success.
"I know. But the one thing I'm proud of about 'The Holy Bible' is that we didn't do it on the back of success. If you look at Pulp and Blur, they've only made an artistic statement after they've had giant success. That isn't quite as good as doing it when 'Gold Against The Soul' hasn't sold much at all and commercially we were at quite a low ebb."
Back in the early '90s, you must have got quite used to playing to audiences who despised you. Was it hell on earth?
"No. It was fantastic. Some of the best things ever were like when we supported The Levellers. Why we did a Levellers tour I don't know - it was the only thing Martin and Philip [Hall, Manics managers] could get us. We were playing in Salisbury Arts Centre, and I don't know what came over me - I just picked up James' mike and said, 'You can all fuck off and walk your greyhounds now, on your bit of rope.' Terrible.
"Every night, something would just overpower me. We had a Russian band come on before us at the Bull And Gate once. They were bad, and I came onstage and said, 'No wonder all the fucking Russians kill themselves.' [Laughs]"
By contrast, your fondness for Oasis is well known.
"Well, supporting them in America [the ill-fated tour of autumn 1996] was one of the best times of my life. Seeing them crack up, exactly like we did, was fucking brilliant. I remember seeing Liam: I'd just come back from a shopping centre and he was going off there. This was the day before the tour ended: he was showing me his knuckles, and they were all bruised and scraped. He said, 'We had a great fight on the bus last night.' And I was like, 'Oooh yeah - sounds familiar.' [laughs]"
How did you feel about the Diana phenomenon?
"Well, it's still one of the most burning things inside me: I'd love to see the dismantling of the royal family. But I never thought about writing a song about the paparazzi, or what happened on TV: I just blanked it out. It was kind of sad, because it was reinforcing royalism in a funny kind of way. The fact that people could be that upset about it was pretty disturbing. It just made me think we'll never get rid of the monarchy - no matter how many dysfunctional halfwits they produce, they'll never fucking go. That's incredibly depressing."
The scenes at the funeral would fit into the 'Design For Life' film you used to show before your gigs.
"Yeah, the irony of it would fit perfectly."
How did the 1997 general election affect you?
"I just thought it was brilliant TV. I loved it. Maybe I'm too cynical: I never, ever, thought there'd be any radical change. Having said that, I never thought they'd do what they did to education, and charge fees. Most other things they've done I kind of agree with, but that is despicable. I would probably never have gone to university if that had been the case then. But the whole Cool Brittannia, Tony Blair thing is just a yawn. I can never understood how anyone would get caught up in it. It's actually weird that people can feel let down by the government. I've got just as much of a problem with people as with politicians."
Did you vote?
"Yeah. I always vote."
Were you approached by New Labour for any kind of endorsement?
"No. We did give quite a lot of money to the Socialist Labour Party. I just thought it was important to have that choice. And meeting Arthur Scargill was one of the great moments of Manics history. We've got this really fantastic picture of us and Arthur at Liverpool Royal Court, and he's like this [thumbs aloft]. He was into a speech within five minutes."
Do you feel as politically indignant as you did at the start of the decade?
"No. Unfortunately, everything's just better, isn't it? You can't lie about it: being alive in Britain in 1998 is much better than it was in '88 or '90 or '91. I know it's really hard for some people, don't get me wrong - but there's no radicalism. People are happy with their lot. It's simple economics.
"The thing that makes me more angry than anything else is the lack of understanding of history. People seem to have no grasp of it. That's the scariest thing: that because everything's going so well, 50 years of social struggle could be swept aside - by New Labour, by averageness. When I was doing my 'O' Levels, my history was all about the Chartists, the Merthyr Riots - fantastic stuff about class struggle - and now it's all about kings and queens and dates. That frightens me."