Jack Gorman slips backstage at Southampton Guildhall for a chat with the Manics about their new album and Ocean Rain.
Nicky Wire is living the extraordinary. Several times this year, he has taken to the stage with one of his childhood idols, Echo and The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch.
“He’s such an unbelievable character!” says the 41-year old bassist, “I just can’t explain how surreal he is, he’ll do an impression of David Bowie for an hour and then switch on to be this great singer. I never would have thought that when I was watching him as a kid. I thought he was this cold, austere, aloof, post-punk but he’s not, he’s a real warm and slightly odd person.”
The Bunnymen singer appears on the second single, Some Kind of Nothingness, from the Manics’ tenth studio album Postcards From A Youngman.
“We just want to hear Ian McCulloch on the radio again!” laughs the Welshman.
Dressed informally and loosely in comparison to his onstage persona, Nicky begins the interview by kindly offering drinks and making sure everyone is well.
Manic Street Preachers, completed by drummer Sean Moore and guitarist and singer James Dean Bradfield, are inside the city’s Guildhall for tonight’s sold-out gig. Nicky calls it “the longest tour in decades”, that sees the band playing venues they haven’t visited for a number of years.
“We felt duty bound,” begins Nicky, “one of the things we talked about; coming from an unfashionable place ourselves, or so called unfashionable place, was to go to places like Carlisle, Derby and Lincoln, places we haven’t been to in years and years and years so I think that’s what’s made it a lot longer this time really. It’s easy to get caught up in Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff, London...we just wanted to do something different.”
With British Sea Power following the band around the country as support, the tour has been a success, if not tiring, for a band that released their debut album, Generation Terrorist, back in 1992.
“I guess we’re feeling it a little bit,” says Nicky with a smile, “It’s been a lot more draining than we thought-the gigs themselves have been spectacular.”
The Manics have had some kind of revival in the past five years. After the success of Everything Must Go and This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours in 1996 and 1998 respectfully, the band released albums that Nicky admits didn’t “work” and were “slightly lazy or slightly introverted”. That all changed with the back-to-basics album Send Away The Tigers in 2007 which included the number two hit-Your Love Alone Is Not Enough.
After their success the band released Journal For Plague Lovers in 2009, with lyrics solely written by missing member Richey Edwards who gave the group these words just before his disappearance in 1995. No singles were released from the record, yet it was still successful charting at number 3, while Q magazine gave it five-stars.
Postcards...shines with experience; the strings, that gave Everything Must Go extra bite, leave a big presence on a record that is melodic and bold. It is evident that they have the same intensity after all these years.
“It did feel like we’d reached a bit of a landmark,” says Nicky, “I have to say that because we’re on the same label, we’ve still got the same manager. We’re the same people, obviously without Richey, and nothing’s much changed. We did put a lot into it, because we thought of our contempories: Who else has got to a tenth album, without splitting up, divorcing, reforming, doing festivals and then splitting up again because they hate each other?”
“Send Away the Tigers definitely has that raw punk energy mixed with the strings and the kinda glory of Everything Must Go,” he continues, “Journal for Plague Lovers was slightly different because it is very much dictated by the lyrics and we only seem to be that band when Richey’s lyrics are involved which is brilliant and thrilling. Unfortunately we can’t do it more often. And with this album it was just obvious right from the start, the melody was coming and you can’t hold it back.”
In what Nicky, himself, calls a “great later period, renaissance”, the band have released three albums in four years, been crowned God-Like Geniuses by N.M.E as well as a strong back catalogue of greatest hits to bulk out their strong set lists.
“We can only play for like 23 songs,” he chuckles, “that’s about our limit, that’s an hour and three-quarters. That’s a lot!”
With a growing age of fans stretching from avid followers from their beginning to the younger fans only just starting to understand the group, the band play essentially a hits packed set every night.
“I know a lot of fans would want us to do rarities and obscurities,” he acknowledges, “but you just gotta remember that 80-90% of the people may not of even heard Motorcycle Emptiness or A Design For Life. So, we do feel like we gotta play the hits as well as the new stuff.”
In the build to the release of the album, Nicky claimed that this is? album was the band’s “last chance of mass communication”. A quote that he calls “a typical Wire statement.”
“But then I think it’s part of our authenticity to speak like that,” he continues, “the tour has been a gigantic success, it’s absolutely rammed every night and 99% sold out apart from a few stragglers somewhere! It’s never gonna be like it’s 1996 or 1997, I’m not pretending that we’re gonna be winning two Brit awards and doing three nights at Wembley Arena. The whole landscape in the music industry has changed. Just to get where we are and still be relevant, still be wanted that’s an achievement in itself.”
As the clock struggles just past 9.30, a sold out Guildhall crowd is making sure that the Manic Street Preachers are definitely still relevant. After walking on to Silver from Echo and the Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain (an album that Nicky calls “the template for us in terms of orchestration-it’s never been bettered”), guitarist James begins hurling himself and his prized white Gibson around the stage like it’s 1992 all over again. It’s impossible to find someone not singing along to the sarcastic valentine that is You Love Us.
Dedicating Motorcycle Emptiness to the Joiners, where a rather shambolic, younger version of the band made an appearance two decades ago, is to be expected from a band so close to their roots and history. And the rendition itself is first class, Bradfield again reminding everyone that he is one of the country’s, often over shadowed, guitar heroes.
There is simply never a dull moment. If James isn’t spinning into another electric guitar solo, then Nicky is star jumping and hanging his microphone into the crowd for that chorus of Roses In The Hospital. Even after years touring with extra musicians, the Manics still play with the same venom that made them famous.
A touching version of This Is Yesterday is played after a solid version of the latest album’s title track after a speech from Nicky about postcards that Richey used to send whilst he was studying in university in the late 1980’s. The story and the songs combined is another sharp reminder that this is a band with a passionate history and it takes a brave man to fight against it.
As the tradition dictates, there is no encore. Instead there’s a solo acoustic set from James after a loaded If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next. Taking the spotlight solo, James performs a delicate version of Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head before a riotous acoustic version of You Stole The Sun From My Heart. Who needs a full band when you have James Dean Bradfield?
The rest of the band emerge for what can basically be described as an encore, which begins with the hidden gem from Everything Must Go–No Surface All Feeling with Nicky joking to James: “You’re still my guitar hero!”
With the finale of A Design For Life under way the crowd becomes united and alive. Although many people mistake the lines: “We don’t talk about love/We only wanna get drunk” it is without doubt a song for the people.
It’s what the Manics do best, write for the common people and make that intense connection that lasts forever. The same connection, no doubt, that Nicky feels with a certain Bunnyman-Ian McCulloch.