Well it is, isn't It? You expected to be confronted by a group of palace-torching, system-smashing situationist art guerillas and you wind up having a quiet drink with four shy Welsh blokes. "We're just a bit useless, really," The Manic Street Preachers confess to Tom Hibbert.
With a jungle cry of "Phwoaaaaar!!", a burly roadie with the full complement of burly roadie's hair comes striding into the dressing room, Exeter University, and brandishes a trophy: an electric guitar which can no longer call itself a guitar because onstage auto-destruction has transformed it into kindling. With a further yelp of triumph, he slams the pieces – neck and body and splinters – down upon a table.
This is very much what one has been led to suppose happens after a show by The Manic Street Preachers. We have read all about their appetite for anger and mayhem and beating up their instruments in fits of Welsh working-class pique and here, in the form of a wreck on the table, is the evidence. But no: this ex-guitar, this matchwood, is not the property of The Manic Street Preachers at all. The group of 20/21-year-olds-Richey Edwards and Nicky Wire and James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore – are sitting silently in the corner, gazing at the floor and sighing a lot and taking little interest in proceedings.
It is the support band, a group called The Whitehearts (one of whom used to be in Dogs D'Amour which means they're not much good), who are making all the noise and drinking all the beer and gloating over the "statement" that is a guitar rendered useless. Richey Edwards, looking all sullen and wretched despite eyes caked in mascara, glances up at the brouhaha and, in his soft and lilting Welsh accent, offers a sullen comment. "It's all really pathetic, isn't it?" he says.
There were stage-divers aplenty at the show tonight, young men clambering onto the stage and into the arms of roadies who promptly threw them off again as The Manic Street Preachers (the group who always said they wanted to sound like The Sex Pistols and look like Duran Duran but who turned out more of a cross betwixt The Skids or The Ruts and young men in shades and bouffant blouses and make-up who once saw a New York Dolls LP cover and considered it cool) cranked through noisy punky anthems for the 1990s. It was quite a bracing show, really; Richey Edwards and Nicky Wire all a-pout in skinny white jeans whilst the drummer Sean and the lead guitarist James made quite convincing "musos" of themselves. It was the sixteenth show of the Generation Terrorists (name of their LP) tour and the audience, 300 or so, seemed to quite like it which is their prerogative. The Manic Street Preachers, meanwhile, had long reached the conclusion that "rock'n'roll is dead".
If all the reports are to be believed, the Manic Street Preachers are just the most "notorious" and brattish and berserk rock'n'roll band anywhere, ever since the last one. The sound of young Britain's writhing anger (what is that sound?) and the biggest kick on the shins of Corporate Rock since...Sigue Sigue Sputnik or someone. They squeal snottily "controversial" things like "Fuck Queen And Country!" and they make an invigorating din in fake-fur leopard spot coats. They are hugely pissed off about most things, they mean it (maaan), they are the real squawky voice of disaffected tinies – ergo they represent the wind of change.
That is how the argument seems to go. But it can now be can exclusively revealed that this is all a lot of rot and that The Manic Street Preachers are simply four shy and quite charming young men, from a crummy town called Blackwood in South Wales, who happen to have landed up in one more pop group.
The Manic Street Preachers (just The Manics to their fans), on the clues provided by the oft weedy Generation Terrorists LP, seem unlikely to change the world or even the smallest bit of it. They know they can't do this anyway because they know that "rock'n'roll is dead".
Before the show, the rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards (who is happy to admit that he doesn't play on the records because he's hopeless at it) was in the dressing room wearing a red T-shirt upon which he'd scrawled, in biro, the cheery slogan Bored Out Of My Mind. He was bored out of his mind as he talked to two nervous young fellows from student radio and told them how boring it was being in a rock group because it was all "routine" and dull. "Rock'n'roll is dead, really," he said. "But...," stumbled one of the earnest interviewers, "but...the message in your music – isn't it an important one for today?" "I don't know," replied Richey. "We're just a bit useless, really."
The bass player Nicky Wire came in. He had just been filmed for some student video network. "It was really pathetic," he said. "They wanted me to go all like this!" He stuck up an index finger and performed a punky sneer.
"It's pathetic," said Richey. "It's like when we do interviews for Japanese magazines and they get all upset because they want us to be all obnoxious and we aren't, really. We actually get faxes from the record company in Japan saying, Please tell The Manic Street Preachers to spit on people. It's just sad. That's what people want. It's pathetic..."
"We are the sad victims of 20th-century culture," Edwards, a political history graduate, explains later back at the Exeter hotel, in the bar. Polite to a fault, he is talking in a near whisper so as not to disturb fellow guests' enjoyment of the grisly seeping muzak playing herein. "The cinema in our town, which is the poorest and most boring town in the country, closed down when we were eight, so what do you do? You go out and get pissed and have fights, or you stay in and get on with your boredom. We were happier to go along with the boredom."
Sean Moore and his cousin James Bradfield shared a flat in the late '80s and schoolfriends Richey Edwards and Nicky Wire (real name: Jones) were always around there reading music papers and watching hopeless programmes on the telly. "I like Bullseye," says Edwards.
Well, you can't beat a bit of Bully.
"You can't. You can't. Nick tried to get Jocky Wilson's (stout Scots "arrows" maestro) autograph once and Jocky just went, Fuck off! Nick's quite proud of that. We all loved the darts on the telly and things like Pebble Mill At One. When that closed down we shed a tear, we did. But the most exciting thing was sitting around reading the rock press. When NME said things like, Eddie Cdchran is an anarchist, we went, Yeah! We fell for all that because our lives were totally boring. And we read all the books about The Rolling Stones and Kiss and now the saddest thing is that we do all the things that every band does but we get no pleasure from it at all. It's not glamorous. It's not exciting. It's not like being in a Who documentary at all. We had millions of groupies in Cardiff last night but it's not as good as reading about it in the Kiss On Tour book. And seeing Mick Jagger jumping about doing 'Jumping Jack Flash', that was the most important thing in our lives. Isn't that pathetic? I'd like to do something worthwhile like Nick's brother who helps people who are dying from cancer – but none of us could ever do anything like that because we'd always be whining, Ooh, I want to watch a video, put the telly on. We're a bit useless, you see, and we just feel sad that there are no groups like The Rolling Stones anymore. We are here at the complete death of rock culture. It's the death of pop and rock and all we want to do is read about Guns N'Roses' drugs problems or play computer games."
Rock'n'roll is dead. Welcome to the Nintendo generation.
"Computer games are much more exciting than bands. We had our Sega Megadrive when we were down the studio making our record and we were spending hours a day playing with the Sega because it's so engrossing. You feel involved, which you can't feel with music anymore. It's much better than travelling in the rain to see a band. But it's so sad that the best human minds on the planet are just trying to invent characters called like Sonic The Hedgehog. It's bad, really..."
They have tried so hard to live up to the kind of things they read in books. Last May, Richey got in such a frightful bate with a "thick" journalist, that he decided to carve the message 4 REAL into his arm with a razor blade (don't try this at home, readers) and ended up in hospital for his pains.
"It's pathetic, isn't it?" says Richey turning his Panda eyes upon the scars. "But this journalist was really upsetting me so I did a shitty and stupid thing. But people like it if you do that sort of shit, don't they? They think it's glamorous. It's sad. I just got very frustrated and..."
James speaks up in defence of this hopeless interlude of self-abuse. "Self-mutilation in pop," he says, "well, you can trace it through from Iggy Pop to Julian Cope but they just wanted to be seen as mad fucks, whereas Richey is the least violent person I've met in my life and what he did just showed that as soon as a person is prepared to turn violence on themselves as a statement, people become totally shocked – but they can go out and beat somebody up and that's all right. It doesn't make any sense."
James has also been known to exhibit violent tendencies: the minute he got a Gibson Les Paul guitar, he trashed it.
"It was one of the only things I'd ever longed for. I had it for two concerts and then I smashed it up. By impulse, really. I did regret it after, I've got to admit. And then I got another Gibson and I smashed that up. I did feel quite ashamed because it was like my father's accumulated wage for about four weeks. I was just showing off and I felt ashamed."
So many rock'n'roll cliches. So much shame. After all the bluster about making one LP, changing the face of popular music, splitting up forever, after all the hype about being signed to Sony for half a million quid, et cetera, The Manic Street Preachers seem positively apologetic about who they are and what they are. Rock'n'roll is dead. They're bored. The stage-divers love 'em (but stage-divers would be possessed, probably, with any old band that endured such antics: even Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine will not put up with such barmy capers nowadays). But what is the point? They don't even like their fans very much.
"It's a bit depressing, really," says James. "You get these fans who are all called Jeremy. They think they're being really rebellious because they wear smelly jeans and have matted hair. And then you get the Welsh ones who think you're trying to do something good and important for Wales. Why do they bother? We've never said good things about where we come from. All we've said is, We're from Wales, from a town where there's nothing to do. We've never felt any sense of pride in where we come from. Of course, if we were Irish and saying this, we'd be crucified for it. That just makes it all the more, er..."