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10 Years On For The Mellow Street Preachers - The Western Mail, 9th October 1999

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Title: 10 Years On For The Mellow Street Preachers
Publication: The Western Mail
Date: Saturday 9th October 1999
Writer: Brendon Williams


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They went from Blackwood to being the bad boys of rock but Brendon Williams discovers the Manics are all grown up.

Ten years is a long time in rock music. Most bands only dream of lasting a decade - which is hardly surprising in a notoriously wild world where scandal, in-band bust-ups and even occasional tragedies have presided over the downfall of many a successful group. But one band has survived the worst Of everything the rock world could throw at them - and still came out on top.

And this year. the Manic Street Preachers celebrate 10 years of being together.

A decade ago, four boys from Blackwood, set out to make a name for themselves.

Now - despite the loss of one member of the band four years ago - the remaining three original members - James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore - are one of British music's biggest success stories.

And to celebrate their landmark achievement, the Manic Street Preachers will play the first major gig at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on New Year's Eve.

"That's our way of doing a tenth anniversary and there couldn't be a better place to do it," said bass guitarist and lyricist Nicky Wire.

"If everything goes well and there are 55,000 people in there to see the decade out, it will be great."

"We are not overly into celebrations. But this seemed like the perfect Way to do everything."5

"I don't know if I'm excited or ill With anxiety. We have had a guided tour of the stadium, and I can't believe how brilliant it is. You see a lot of stadiums just knocked up quickly these days and they look plasticy but I think this one is a work of art. It's so modern and forward-thinking it sends shivers down my spine."

"We're not ones to look back and revel in any kind of glory but 10 years is a long time. None of our contemporaries have outlasted us really, maybe with the exception of Blur, so it is quite a nice feeling."

While the New Year's Eve gig will celebrate 10 years of being in the band, it is now 20 years since the group's original line-up met.

Sean Moore and Richey Edwards attended Blackwood's Oakdale Comprehensive between 1979 and 1984. Nicky Wire and James Dean Bradfield joined the school a year later and left in 1985. The boys were kicking around footballs and playing in the school yard long before they ever contemplated topping the music charts.

It is that early bonding as friends, says Nicky, that has helped the group last so long.

"I think for us the thing is that we were friends before we were a band, and a lot of bands just get together through musical adverts or whatever, they just go along and they never knew the people. But with us, I had been in school with James since I Was five and having that grounding and that ability to communicate is what's kept us going."

"That's very important. With us, the communication has almost become telepathic. We don't see each other for three weeks sometimes, but when we get together we don't hug each other or anything, and sometimes don't even have to say anything. It's really healthy."

And the most important thing Nicky and the band have learned over last 10 years?

"Never do an encore. We have never ever done one in 10 years together as a band. That's probably the one main principle we have kept throughout, and above all else. It's quite an achievement seeing as how long we've been together."

"We come off stage sometimes and everybody hates us for not doing an encore. It's just what we do. We have sold all the records we have without doing one, so we're not going to start doing one now.

"It's a bit of a cliché when a lot Of bands save their greatest song until they come back on."

"We just put everything we have into the last song. To come back on stage then would be a bit of a let down."

Saving the best for last is a theme which the band seem to have lived by for the last decade.

While they made a name for themselves in Wales during the early nineties, it took some seven years after they formed to reach the heights of fame they dreamed of.

Since 1996 though. the band have steadily progressed to the forefront of contemporary music, not just in Wales, but in Britain. They know it doesn't get much bigger than this.

And for that reason. their forthcoming Millennium Stadium gig will be a poignant moment - not only will they be celebrating ten years of being together, they are also welcoming in a new millennium which they know will see the band split up.

"Another three or four years will definitely be our limit. I think people know that anyway."

"We just want to go out with dignity. while we're still on top really. I know that's the hardest thing to do, like a boxer who always thinks there's comebacks."

"I think we've got another couple of records in us, but certainly, we won't be around in ten years time."

"With most bands, you get the fame and you get the money and it's almost like a contagious disease and you just can't let go of it. Knowing the people we are, we'll know when to say goodbye."

"You can always make money doing tours even if you're not selling records and doing reunion tours, but I never want to do that. I want to get out with a bit of dignity."

"You don't want to spoil your history. We're very proud of everything we have achieved over the last 10 years and you don't want to leave any bad memories."

"As long as the songwriting is going all right I know we've got a couple more records left."

"I think it will be a desperate day and I do worry about it. Like any association breaking up after that length of time. it will be tough."

"But we have known each other for so long that I know it won't be acrimonious. And we'll still probably talk to each other every day. It will just be on a different level."

It will be a tough day when the band does go their separate ways. But, says Nicky, he will be able to look back at their time together and know he doesn't have a single regret.

"I think if you're realistic about your life there's a lot of things you'd like to change. But if you spend too much time thinking about it, it just messes you up too much."

"I really try to avoid too much regret, even though I know we've all made loads of mistakes. But that's just life. The one thing you do learn is that there just is no perfect way."

Although the inevitable split may be a few years off yet, Nicky knows exactly what he wants to do with his life after the Manics.

"I just fancy staying at home and watching telly. I live a really simple life - people don't really understand - but I do."

"I live up in the Valleys in my house and walk my dog and watch telly. I'm quite content I don't need much."

The road to fame and fortune has by no means been an easy one for the Manic Street Preachers. In December 1993, their manager. Philip Hall, lost his two-year-battle against cancer.

After seeing them play in a pub in Blackwood, Hall took the band under his wing and steered them through their early days performing in the South Wales Valleys, to a string of Top Ten albums and a huge following of fans.

His death left the group devastated.

"When Philip died of cancer it was a totally desperate time. He had mortgaged his house for us, lent us money, we had lived with him for months. It's something I'm still amazed we overcame."

Losing their manager saw the band at an all time low. But there was much worse to come.

Little more than a year after Hall's death, the band would face the darkest moment of their musical lives.

It is a moment that has haunted them for the past four years, and one that is still a hotly debated topic amongst their fans and the music world. It was the day that lyricist, singer and guitarist, Richey Edwards, vanished without trace.

He was last seen at 7am on Wednesday February 1, 1995. That morning - on the day the band were due to leave for America to give media interviews - he left room number 561 at the Embassy Hotel in London, climbed into his silver Vauxhall Cavalier and promptly disappeared.

Staff at the hotel later found a note on his bed, which was presumed to be written for his American girlfriend. It simply read: "I love you".

The car was later found at the services at the old Severn Bridge, but there was no sign of Richey.

Suddenly, the band famous for all the wrong reasons.

For the past four-and-a-half years, various theories have been thrown around, including a bust up with his girlfriend: he was fed up with the pressures of success; he owed a lot of money: and some people even blamed the fact that he was upset over the death of his dog.

There have also been a number of reported sightings, including one in Goa, India, and another, earlier this year, in the Canary Islands.

To this day though, his whereabouts, and the reasons behind his disappearance, remain a mystery.

Richey's departure robbed the group of a singer and guitarist. More than that though, it left them heartbroken.

The band had always been based on friendship and, for a long time, the remaining members wondered how they would ever carry on after the loss of a near and dear friend.

But eventually, the time came when they had to put the past behind them. The turning point for Nicky and the others was a new single in 1996.

"It was basically when we wrote Design for Life. About four or five months after Richey went we were completely in limbo. The thing people don't always get is that it wasn't just about a band member that had gone missing, it was like losing a member of your family."

"We didn't sit around thinking, 'What's going to happen to the band?' we just thought 'God, we've lost our friend."

"We were going nowhere really, but we weren't worried about that, we were just trying to come to terms with Richey."

The moment we decided to carry on was when I just happened to send some words up to James for Design For Life. He sang it down the phone and said 'I think it's the best thing we'e ever done.'"

"We just felt we had a duty - if it was the best thing we had ever done, we should give It to the public."

"I don't think you ever come to terms with losing someone that close to you. You just carry on, but there's not a day goes by that don't think about him."

For years now, the band has been used to appearing on stage without Richey. But when they take the stage at the Millennium Stadium on New Year's Eve, there is bound to be a renewed sense of sadness for Nicky, Sean and James.

"Ten years is officially when Richey joined really, in 1989. That's the time that we officially see ourselves as the Manic Street Preachers even though there were a couple of years where we just messed around before.

"I can remember the first song me and James wrote when we were 15 or 16, called Aftermath. It was about the miner's strike - sort of dodgy fifth form poetry really."

"We never really truly felt like a proper band until Richey was on stage with us. The first gig he played in 1989 was the first time we felt that we were the finished article."

"Me and James wrote songs together and James had the name hanging round in his head for quite a while and it just turned out that Sean got a couple of drums. The three of us did a few gigs and it just metamorphosed. When the four of us got together, then came the moment of clarity as they say."

From the moment Richey joined, the band began to make a name for themselves - as an angry, rebellious group of hellraisers.

Destroying the monarchy, ending religion and torching the House of Commons were all on the band's agenda, and comparisons were immediately drawn with the Sex Pistols.

In 1991 Richey admitted that the band's ultimate ambition was be hated. "Our masterplan has been to shock and provoke reaction," he once said.

As the band's spokesman, Richey was always seen as the most outrageous. He was also credited as the one who took the decision to seek fame and fortune in London, convinced that the hand did not stand a chance in Wales.

"We were only 19 or 20 years old. We still had those dreams of going away and proving ourselves. Back then we never had expectations anyway and we did very few gigs in Wales because we didn't see the point in it."

"To be brutally frank, music in Wales back then was pretty bad. There weren't many good bands around and we weren't particularly liked in Wales because we had so much ambition."

"Richey Was very much spokesman then, but we kind Of all felt the same way. We just didn't want to go round the workingmen's clubs and pay our dues. We didn't believe in that kind of ethic of just being a dodgy pub band.

The days of playing pub gigs are long gone. And four Brit Awards and a host of other accolades have helped prove that these days the Manic Street Preachers are anything but "dodgy."

But before the boys won the fame and the recognition they felt they deserved, they underwent something of an image change - both musically and personally.

There was no hint of the former punk haircuts or the infamous angry attitude when the band - on their best behaviour - collected Brit Awards for best group and best album in 1997, and again this year.

Their last two albums, Everything Must Go and This Is My truth Tell Me Yours, are undoubtedly more mainstream than previous material.

Hardcore Manics fans said the band had sold out, and toned down their image in order to appeal to the masses. But Nicky says the change was inevitable to succeed.

"Our inspiration were always the Clash. That Was who we wanted to be. They went from real early punk stuff like Complete Control and White Riot, and five years later they were doing Rock The Casbah, which was almost a disco record.

"That's what we always wanted to do, we always wanted to stretch ourselves. With This is My Truth, a lot of people said 'Oh, they've lost their anger,' and maybe we did, but it was just a decision to make something much more pastoral and beautiful. And If You Tolerate This-is one of the most perfect things we have ever done."

"I think the thing we have learned is that you need to change to survive. If you get stuck in a rut, you are finished really.

"It was not just us, the climate changed. If you look back to a song like Motorcycle Emptiness - if that was released now it would probably be a gigantic hit. But the fact was that in 1991 it was hard to be an exciting guitar band they just didn't exist really except for us and maybe Suede.

"Design For Life crystallised everything we had tried to achieve and that record more than anything just took us onto a different level. That record caught the imagination of the people."

"Most of it is down to the music itself, but certainly with Britpop and the whole guitar thing, people became more interested in bands anyway, so that helped."

It not just the music that has either. In ten years, there have also been a few personal changes. And Nicky admits the band has mellowed with age.

"Like any other human being you change radically. You keep certain principles but time does change you."

"You just learn - I don't know about getting mature. I don't know if there have been any kind of radical changes in the type of people we are, we have Just got older."

"When you're young it's all about arrogance and escaping where you come from, you want to run away and prove yourself. As you get older you want to go home more. I live a couple of miles from where I was born. I love living where I live."

"Sean has lived in Bristol for a long time, because his girlfriend was in university there and James has lived in London for quite a while, although he spends quite a lot of time at home as well."

"In terms of fans changing there are a lot who have stayed with us which is amazing really considering all our image changes and way the music's changed."

"We have got the most passionate fans in the world. There was a convention of about 2,000 recently, and we don't even go, which is great because the fans are independent minded, obviously."

"There's no doubt that the bigger you get, your fan base does change. It's no problem to me, whoever likes us, whichever country they're from, whatever job they do."

"In America, I wouldn't say we are superstars, but there were two or three thousand people turning up to the gigs."

"It's good because after ten years of not really bothering with America, it's a nice feeling."

"The good thing is that now every gig we turn up to, Welsh people are coming out of the woodwork everywhere and they have something to shout about. There are lots of friendly faces."

The band only returned from a tour of America eight days ago.

They now take two months off to prepare for the Millennium Stadium gig. And, all three of them being keen sports fans, the next few weeks will see them relaxing and watching Wales in the Rugby World Cup - a date which been in their diary for some time.

"October has been blocked off in the diary since the start of the year. The six weeks of the World Cup were always be free.

I'm obsessed with Welsh rugby and the British Lions. I'm a sports freak."

"It was getting to the point when in our lifetime we didn't think we would ever see any real success in Welsh Sport."

"I've got distant memories of the seventies and I've got all the videos, but it's not the same as having something which belongs to you..."

"To have the cultural explosion in Wales in general, the rugby, the music, the sport, is just something that we never thought we'd see, but we are seeing it now."

It is not just the sporting success of the Welsh rugby team that pleases the band these days.

Their own change in fortune in the the last few years has been followed by musical successes from bands like Catatonia, Stereophonics, and the Super Furry Animals.

Those successes mark a long-overdue recognition of the many talented groups that have been in Wales for years.

At last, it is cool to be Welsh again. And that is something that Nicky and the band can - albeit modestly - take credit for.

"All those bands are fantastic in their own right and I don't suppose they were particularly influenced by our music."

"It just needed one band like us who were a bit cocky, a bit arrogant, who could take all the flak really. We weren't shrinking violets that's for sure, we stood up and we took it.

"We had to be the band that did it, and I'm really proud that we achieved it."

The band is also fiercely proud to be Welsh. When they won best group and best album in 1997, the boys draped themselves on stage in a giant Welsh flag.

Now, following their huge success they are keen to say a big thank you to their Welsh fans, and give something back to their home country.

Rumours have recently circulated that the Manics have been looking to start up their own nightclub in Cardiff. Nicky says there are no definite plans to go into business yet, but it is a move which could certainly be on the cards in the future.

"We are always thinking about things like that, but you've got to be careful. The Beatles got messed up when they became businessmen."

"We would love to put something back into our home country, I just don't know what shape it's going to take now, whether it will be some sort of sports sponsorship or something like a club. When we have time we want to put something back, but we just don't know what."