From gigs with cider punks in limerick to playing for Fidel in Havana and from the low of Richey’s disappearance to the high of performing before Wales’ victory over Italy – life has never been boring for the Manic Street Preachers. Stuart Clark listens intently as Nicky Wire discusses their defining moments
The Levellers, Mega City Four and their crusty mates.
"The indie rut that existed at the start of the ’90s was really soul destroying. Apart from Suede who came a bit later, we were the only alternative band saying, ‘We wanna be big, we wanna be glamorous, we wanna sell loads of records!’ How we ever managed to tour with The Levellers… there were more dogs-on-pieces-of-string than fans! The mad thing now is that they’ve allowed one of their songs to be used for a fucking pension advert. Which we’ve never done. Every car company in the world has tried to buy ‘Design For Life’ off us. I can never understand why Blur handed ‘Song 2’ over to Peugeot. French cars? Evil!
The brilliant thing about that time was we had songs like ‘You Love Us’ – insanely melodramatic statements that you’ll end up loving us whether you like it or not. I always remember a review of the single in the NME saying, ‘Manic Street Preachers are secretly the band everyone wants to be in’. That’s what we felt like. This madly deluded army traipsing round trying to convert people."
The first Irish tour
"The maddest gig was Limerick. It was us, a cider punk support band (Paranoid Visions) and 100 or so kids squeezed into a fucking skittle alley-cum-smack house. Next up was Coleraine where we played to three people and smashed five grand’s worth of equipment! We came off stage and said, ‘What did we do that for? There weren’t even anyone there.’ It was just a real experience going up to Belfast and having this DJ bloke we were staying with, Johnny Hero, show us the sights. All the murals up the Falls Road and the Shankhill… frightening but at the same time amazing to see first-hand. Then we ended up in Dublin and I smashed my ankle to pieces. I twisted it and it swelled up to about ten times the normal size. Our tour manager nearly got swept away at the Giants’ Causeway. It didn’t matter ’cause back then we were bulletproof."
"Sometimes you get caught up in the mythology that there’s nothing but darkness surrounding the Manic Street Preachers. I’ve just been through 20,000 or so pictures for a book we’re doing and what struck me about the ones from the early days is that we usually had smiles on our faces. Having been friends from the age of five, we were incredibly confident and comfortable together. We also had an evangelical spirit that made those first six months to a year better than anything that’s come since. Not that we weren’t nihilistic. The night before a January 1991 photo shoot, me and Richey decided we should have love bites on the cover of the NME. When I pulled and he didn’t, he took a compass out of his pencil-case – bizarre I know but we all had ’em – and carved HIV into his chest. Because he was doing it in the mirror it came out ‘VIH’!
"‘4 Real’ might seem shocking to other people but for us it was this wildly extravagant, fantastic gesture that we all felt good about. Part the reason we had to try so hard is that for the first two years every headline had a fucking terrible Welsh cliché - "Dai Hard", "You Sexy Merthyrs", "Meek Leak Manifesto"… If it’d been done about another ethnic minority, there’d have been discrimination charges flying all over the place.
Twatting Dave Fanning
"We weren’t that much into getting out of control at the time but it was the IRMA Awards in Dublin and the alcohol flowed... James actually tried to pick a fight with the wrong bloke! Gerry Ryan made some smartarse comment about us when we came off stage, but being bladdered James thought it was Dave Fanning. I looked around at one point and there he was, minus his shirt, being restrained by 30 tuxedoed bouncers. Who, seeing as he was going through his Linford Christie bodybuilding phase at the time, had their work cut out! Honour-bound to join in, I lunged at ’em in full drag. The only reason I didn’t get the shit kicked out of me is that they thought I was a woman! The night ended with me being thrown out of the Berkeley Court Hotel for wearing my boxer-shorts in the bar. All I remember is afterwards my mum and dad being terse with me on the phone: ‘Nicholas, what’s all this about?’."
"I used to be a Dorothy Perkins man, but now I love Claire’s Accessories."
Tony Blair and his political chums
"Class traitor or not, he’s a hundred times better than the alternative. I look at the Conservatives and think, ‘Oh my God, I grew up with fucking 12 years of those slimy upper-class cunts.’ It’s just phenomenal that people voted them in. You look at them now and it’s still all the old phobias and all the old prejudices.
"Having a degree in politics – like I do – gave the band strength when we started, but it’s become an irrelevance since. Current affairs nowadays is Liam and Nicole walking their baby through Hyde Park. You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody under 30 watching Newsnight, which is my favourite programme."
A ‘Greatest Hits’ as opposed to a ‘Best Of’
"The one track we’d all have put on Forever Delayed if it was the latter was ‘Yes’ from The Holy Bible. I think it came in the top 3 of the fans’ vote as well. ‘No Surface Or Feeling’ off Everything Must Go is another one we’d like to have included."
Lost Manics gems
"The closest we’ve been to becoming corporate whores was recording a song for the Judge Dredd movie. It was a mad techno-punk number that just happened to be the last thing we did with Richey. There’s a Forever Delayed title-track that didn’t in the end make it onto the album, but might surface as a single in February. There’s also a B-side – ‘Donkey’ which was the flip of ‘Little Baby Nothing’ – that I wanted to re-record but they weren’t having it! Manic Street Preachers has always been a democracy. People say that The Holy Bible was ‘Richey’s album’, but he’d be the first to point out that I wrote 25% of the lyrics and James and Sean came up with all of the music."
Wales 2 Italy 1
"It’s one of those nights that has to be cherished ‘cause we don’t get many of them! We played two songs – ‘You Stole The Sun…’ and ‘Design For Life’ – in the centre-circle while Giggsy, Johnny Hartson and the other lads were warming up. Then John Charles came on the pitch and, well, it was top! Now that we’re the lucky charm we’re going to have to go to Azerbaijan as well!
"Are Wales the new Ireland? I hope so. Tactically, Mark Hughes is pissing over Sven. You’re never going to win anything in international football playing 4-4-2. As for the Mick McCarthy/Roy Keane debate, I have to be honest and say I don’t think much of either of them. Bottom line is that Roy Keane let his country down when they needed him most.
"I’m the biggest sports obsessive in the world. The two forms of working-class expression for me as a kid were kicking a football and picking up a guitar. Luckily I’ve been able to mix both of them. The headlines were all about us and Fidel, but what really blew me away last year in Havana was meeting two of their Olympic legends, Felix Sabon the super-heavyweight boxer and Alberto Juantorena who did the 400 and 800 metre double in ’76. There was a real glory to amateurism back then."
That gig in Havana
"Cuba is one of the last places in the world with a totally different political system and we wanted to see it. It wasn’t a carte blanche endorsement of Fidel Castro, although I have to say there were some things, some remnants of human spirit which seem to have disappeared everywhere else.
"The thing about the Cuban revolution is that it was so iconic. The hiding out in the mountains, the riding into Havana on donkeys… it’s all on film. Half, maybe three-quarters of it was a romantic gesture on our part. Somebody asked recently, ‘What would you have been like parachuted behind enemy lines age 19?’ and I said, ‘Fucking useless!’ I’m always self-critical about my lack of urgency. It’s alright for me to sit around being a thinker, but Camus and Orwell actually put their bollocks on the line and went to the front in the Spanish Civil War.
"It wasn’t from the higher echelons, but two weeks before we flew over a fax arrived asking, ‘Do you think Nicky will be wearing a dress on this trip?’ It was a good communist subtle hint! Not feeling the need to be a revolutionary among revolutionaries, I settled for a feather boa instead!
"The gig itself was majestic. It was like 1972 in Sacramento watching The Eagles. You had people playing air guitar, black girls disco dancing to us, and Fidel and the boys looking like a cross between ZZ Top and The Clash. The disquieting bit came afterwards when you realised that the propaganda machine was in full swing. You realise who you’re dealing with when you say, ‘Sorry, we can’t come to lunch because we’ve got to fly home’, and he goes, ‘We’ll hold the plane!’ I don’t know if he’s well briefed or just takes a keen interest in everything, but Fidel was completely on the button. There were lots of things – like him knowing the subtle differences between England, Wales and Scotland – that impressed me. He also serves a mean slice of cake!"
The Manics splitting up
"If we ever felt we were irrelevant, that’d be it, cheerio. We don’t want to be one of the bands who continue just for the sake of it. Whether it’s going to Cuba or playing before the Wales-Italy game, there’s still stuff that stimulates us. The person I most admire is Paul Simenon. He could have happily been ‘ex-Clash’ for the rest of his life but instead he’s moved on and become a successful artist. Compare that to Joe Strummer still trudging round playing ‘London Calling’ at every festival going. It just doesn’t seem right."
The next album
"Every lyric is based on a city, so there are songs called ‘The Dublin Lag’, ‘The Cardiff Afterlife’, ‘Stockholm Alone’. We want to do a record like Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska – really stripped back, acoustic, wintery and glacier-like. Maybe just go to America with Steve Albini and bash it out in two weeks."
The chances of Richey still being alive
"You think you’ve learned how to deal with it and then something comes along that takes you right back to the start. Especially this year when his feet were apparently found on the banks of the River Severn. We read it in the papers while we were recording and, well, it was a real body blow. I don’t even try to second-guess what he could be doing. It’s hard to explain, but dead or alive it’s the same thing – he’s completely unreachable at the moment. If Richey’s in a sewage works in Barry and he’s happy, that’s fine. I obviously wish he’d drop a postcard to his parents to say, ‘I am okay blah blah blah’ because I think people could just about accept it.
"The saddest part for me was Richey not being around when we became successful and having that platform to become an even bigger icon. You look back at the ’90s and, besides Kurt Cobain, he’s just the coolest person there was. I still admire him deeply as a lyricist and agent provocateur. Bands like The Datsuns may have a lot going for them musically, but the lyrics are no better than Will Young or fucking Gareth Gates. They’re utter tripe. There are no John Lydons or Ian McCullochs pushing the boundaries any more.
"The only thing that gives me comfort is that, whatever he did, it was his decision. You can’t take that away from anyone."
"I’m not sure about Hot Press, but every music magazine in the UK physically has less words than 10 years ago. Q, NME… they’ve all become so soundbyte-y. Articles can’t be more than a page, programmes can’t be longer than an hour. What happened to getting really stuck into things?"
Being a dad
"We’ve an 11-week-old baby girl called Clara who’s wonderful. Unlike certain terrible rock stars, I’m not going to write a song about her and embarrass myself. I don’t feel a need to. It’s an amazingly beautiful, private experience that I’d recommend to anyone. I’m very scared about going away for three weeks to Europe ’cause I’ve managed to be at home most the time. We’ve got proper nannies, i.e. relatives, so I’m sure we’ll muddle through whatever."