Was Mr Writer by Stereophonics actually about a specific person?

3 June 2020, 19:00 | Updated: 3 June 2020, 19:01

Kelly Jones took a snipe at journalists with this hit single - here's why he regretted it.

In 1999, Stereophonics were riding a wave of popularity. Their debut album, Word Gets Around, was one of the most acclaimed of the post-Britpop era and the follow-up, 1999's Performance And Cocktails cemented their status by travelling all the way to Number 1 in the Uk album charts.

So why did the music press of the day dislike Stereophonics so much?

The NME review of Performance And Cocktails took aim at the band, claiming that on the album: "the signifiers of mediocrity are all too evident - the pseudo-profundity of meaningless song, the pedestrian rhythm, and the tendency towards ooompah-chucka folkish jaunts."

Stereophonics in 2001: Richard Jones, Kelly Jones and Stuart Cable
Stereophonics in 2001: Richard Jones, Kelly Jones and Stuart Cable. Picture: Tim Roney/Getty Images

In the US, Rolling Stone compared them unfavourably to their peers, saying "Does America need a dumbed-down Radiohead with Oasis bravado? Stereophonics are as useful as a fake-plastic wonderwall."

Ouch. No wonder then, that when the time came for Stereophonics to make their third album, Kelly Jones was wary of the press.

The album, titled ironically Just Enough Education To Perform, was released in April 2001, and like its predecessor, it shot to Number 1 and spawned two top 10 singles: Have A Nice Day and Mr Writer. It was the latter that caught the attention of the music press.

"Mr Writer, why don't you tell it like it is?" snarled Jones in the lyric. "I used to treat you right, give you my time... But when I'd turn my back on you, then you do what you do".

Something - or someone - had rubbed Kelly up the wrong way. Speculation was rife as to which journalist it was written about. All the evidence seemed to point towards someone working for the NME.

Speaking to the magazine in 2010, Jones admitted that the NME had been very favourable towards Stereophonics when they started out. But, that changed. He said: "A few journalists came on the road, but wrote a different version of events and we got pissed off.

"In a gnarly way we wrote a narky song called Mr Writer and things have been a bit frosty ever since."

"Every journalist thought it was about them," Kelly told The Guardian in 2008. "It took me 10 minutes to write and 10 years to explain.

"It's just a song about a couple of people that have been around me, really. It's supposed to be a bit of a sarcastic song but, judging from some of the reviews, it seems some people didn't really get it."

The frontman and songwriter had been put out by some reviews that had criticised Stereophonics for their "meat and potatoes" musical style.

"We make music for people who work," he explained to the Irish Times in 2001. "I don't want to make music for art galleries or avant-garde people, I just want to make music that appeals to real people. And if that comes across as meat 'n' potatoes to the NME, to be honest, that doesn't really bother me. When I do a gig, and I look out and see how many people are happy listening to what we do, then that's what matters.

"You can dish it out, but if you can't have a little bit of it back every now and again, then grow up. I'm having a laugh; it's sarcasm for me."

Was Kelly Jones right? In their review of Mr Writer, the NME said: "If we really told it like it is and tried to approximate the sheer dreariness of this song, health and safety would dictate this review carried a warning about operating heavy machinery."

So maybe Kelly had a point. Maybe critical acclaim isn't the be-all and end-all.

Still, it could have been worse, as Stereophonics bassist Richard Jones told Sky magazine in 2002. Originally, he said, "The lyric went 'Mr Writer, you total fuckin’ c**t'."