Handbags at dawn and feather boas at 15 paces! Time to line up for the Battle Of The MANIC STREET PREACHERS Fans - split between the 'weirdo' Cult Of Richey types, the new 'normal' pop kids and the sensitive, but saddened, old fans. Steven Wells follows the Manics' tour around the country and checks the mood in the moshpits.
Thus starts an article in the
Manic Street Preachers
fanzine, Young Pretty F—ed,
entitled 'Manic Misery —
A Fan Who's Pissed Off. It's a
heartfelt rant against those Manics
fans known collectively as The Cult
It coninues: "I'm sick of seeing fans with 4 REAL
carved into their arms or hearing Of shaven-headed
fans eating virtually nothing, wallowing in despair
AND ENJOYING IT!"
We are in Blackpool. It's the first British date of
the 1997 Manics tour. The Cult Of Richey are
noticeably absent. There are a few old-schcx)l
individuals in leopard print, feather boas and
eyeliner. But the typical Manics fans, 1997-style, are
bright-eyed and rosy-cheeked teenage girls in cheap
and cheerful combat clobber, shining like pearls
against a backdrop of chip-fed lads in sports gear.
And there are thousands of them.
In the beginning there were no fans. The Manic
Street Preachers Mark I — spiky. sullen and solidly
rooted in the aesthetics of ultra-unfashionable punk
rock — were hideously out Of Step with 1 991 's
fixation with all things baggy, ravey and Madchester.
"I'd see them when there were only seven people
in the crowd," claims Gill Armstrong, editor of
Cultural Apocalypse fanzine, "and six of them were
journalists. And I'd be thinking — Why aren't there
loads of boys and girls just screaming at this band?'
And here they are, the screaming boys and girls,
just six years on. Richey, the Manic generally agreed
to be the sexiest, has disappeared Gone too are the
punky trappings, the snarling situationism and the
gleeful boy-gurl blurrings. Everything that made the
Manics stick out like sore thumbs. The Manics, '97-
style, are far more Homebase than homoerotic.
"l wish they hadn't sold out," sighs Manics fan
Sean. "Nowadays they look as if they're in control
Of their vehicles — they used to 100k as if they
weren't in control Of anything!"
The band he worships aren't really around any
more. The last album, 'Everything Must Go', had
none of the chunk and thunder of the early music.
It was, everybody agrees, a 'mature' album. The
tedious 30- and 40-something rock critics Of the
broadsheet press and the Dad Rock mags loved
it. And so, surprisingly, did the kids.
Sean, extremely intense and articulate, is wearing
heavy eyeliner and a neat goatee. He's in an
"ElasticalSex Pistols" band called Bint Last year he
endured a severe bout of depression, atternpting
suicide three times. "'The Holy Bible' saved me," he
says. Sean knows the Manics' back catalogue by
heart. He is passionate about the band. He's a
Marxist, English student and he's head over heels in
love With both the band's verbosity and their
"communism" (or, as another, younger, fan put it,
"Y'know, the Welsh thing, the socialist thing"). This
is Sean's first ever Manics gig. He is totally atypical —
a fan totally in love with the old Manics.
The gig in Blackpool ends with that most typical
Of early Manics tracks — the cocky, arrogant, furious,
Wilfully perverse and agressively cynical 'You Love
us' — a song written when almost nobody did. The
back projection during this number features brilliant,
high-definition footage of the early Manics at their
sexiest, looking like the homiest girls in Christendom, attacking,
spluttering, burning and crashing. No-one is looking
at the three blokes onstage, everybody is transfixed
by the image of the four sex gods on the video
screen. And a quick 100k at the faces Of the Older,
20-sornething fans, huddled in groups of three or
four towards the back, reveals a curious mix of
nostalgia and a sense of loss. Not for Richey, but for
the old Manics. For their Manic.
Elitism is almost the defining feature of the bands
at the NME end of the pop spectrum. Almost every
band that passes through these pages and into the
lucrative domain Of Smash Hits, TOTP and
leaves behind an embittered crust
of pissed-off, whining •original' fans. This is usually
tinged with an unhealthy misogyny, leading to
confused talk of stupid little girls •muscling in' on a
music that you apparently need a penis and a
shaving rash to fully appreciate. With the Manics,
however, it is fundamentally a girl-on-girl thing. The
Old Manic Street Preachers were different. And so
were their fans.
Somewhere between the first few sparking,
spitting, snarling singles and the bleak introspection
of 'The Holy Bible', Manics fandom was a weird and
wonderful place. Eyelinered lads selling brilliantly
written and provocatively titled fanzines like Kylie
Pure As A Dolphin and Poki-Rev01ution stood next to
blia-haired women in fake leopard skin, hard-faced
groupies, second-coming punka kids and a general
mishmash of seemingly permanently euphoric teens
who knew they were witnessing the glory years of one Of
the great bands.
Jacqui and Carrie, later to become the original
'girl-power' combo Shampoo, would invariably be
slumped against a back wall, wrapped in furry white
angora coats and staring at the passing circus like
psychotic Cockernee bush babies. Fans spoke of
how the band's lyrics had led them to read Proust
or Kafka or Larkin or Plath or Marx. Straight boys
walked around in "All Rock'N'Roll Is Homosexual"
T-shirts. They argued, they posed, they wrote
appalling poetry and brilliant gut-level polemic
prose. Their 'scene' was that rare and wonderful
thing — a stylistic statement With real substance.
"The Manics didn't just make lives bearable, like
ordinary bands, " claims Colin, an unreconstructed
old fan (who claims this will be his "last ever Manics
gig'), changed them."
It Was, in short, a mushrooming Of punk style
and punk empowerment before riot grrrl, before
Green Day, before the 'new wave of new wave' or
Bis or Elastica, before every damn Britpop band
started dressing like it was 1978 all over again. The
Manics, single-handedly, changed the face of pop.
COMING FROM a Tory.•recked mining town,
burning With a genuine and furious class
consciousness, they turned instinctively towards
punk in much the same way that the kids in Russia
turned towards thrash metal when the KGB were
replaced by the Mafia. Punk was the only means of
expression that made sense and punk, back then,
more than unfashionable, it was commercial
suicide. The Manics made it fashionable. Eventually.
They and their fans mixed glam with socialism,
foppishness With crude sloganeering. They got it
exactly right, flying full tilt into the soporifically
smiling face Of their E'd-up, bacily dressed peers.
But, beyond the fans, nobody at the time was
It is easy to forget how hostile most Of the music
press was to the Manics Mark l. A stream Of
'hatchet-job' hacks were sent out With hatred in
their hearts, but they almost all came back stunned
by the beautiful chaos, babbling hyperbolic praise,
totally converted. But all this time the Manics
themselves were changing. They started sounding
less and less like the early Clash and started
sounding more and more like the 'reconstructed
rock' band they are today. The initial anger — lashing
out at an unjust and corrupt — was replaced
by a bleak mixture of nihilism and self-loathing.
In a way, the Manic Street Preachers' career has
echoed the history of the year-long mid-'80s miners'
strike that informed so much of the band's early
attitude and politics. Midway through the strike, the
mining towns and villages — some of the most small-
'C' conservative working-class communities in
something of a
revolution. As in
any long strike, many of the miners
and their families felt empowered for
the first time in their lives. They were
their Own media. their own police
force. own government — they
had to be, the official versions had
proven themselves to be totally venal
and hostile. Support came in from By
and lesbian groups, black and Asian
groups — Old prejudices and attitudes
took a battering.
Towards the end of the strike. the
women in those communities were
running things, learning more about
their own power and potential in a few months
middle—class feminism had managed to teach them
in years. People fought, argued, read books that
they would previously have dismissed as boring or
irrelevant, horizons were expanded. minds set
The miners eventually lost the strike. Excitement
and euphoria gue way to bitterness and disillusion.
Marxists claim that a strike is a microcosm Of a
revolution. It might be stretching the point but so,
surety, at its heart, is a cultural
maelstrom like punk. Whether the
scene surrounding the Manics
Mark I was a revival. a
continuation or merely a mutation
of punk is a moot point. In many
ways it was a hyper-distillation of
all that is, and Was, best in punk. It
was special. It's no wonder the old
fans are so bitter at passing.
There have been some truly sad
letters from Old fans printed in
NME in the last year. Most Of the
fans here tonight in Blackpool
know this. they see the tape
recorder and they sniff a stitching.
"What are you doing this for? Are
you going to drone On about The
Cult Of Richey? Are trying to
set the new fans against the But the truth is, sensation fans. that
Of the 58 Manics fans we interviewed
for this piece, only a handful had
anything remotely spiteful to say (even
if many of them expressed a heartfelt
contempt for The Cult Of Richey).
"l think it's great. these new fans,
actually. " says Sarah Waddington, co-
editor Of the Blackburn-based Manics
•zine Terrible Beauty (it axiomatic of
Old Manics' fandom that they all seem
to be fanzine editors). "l love all the
new fans. most of them that I've met
are dead nice. Some Of the Old fans
are a bit bitter and stuff. but you can
understand their frustration because
they've been here since '92 like I
have and they've been going around
saying. There's this
fantastic band and they're brilliant
and their lyrics are great and they're
fantastic and they 100k brilliant'. and
nobody's interested! And then, all of
a sudden, it's just like, Oh yeah.
everybody's into them and you do
feel a bit frustrated and you think.
•Oh well. Why didn't you recognise
their genius back in '93.'94?'"
NICKI, CLAIR and Vanessa are
students who have ben Manics
fans "for years".
"It's very mainstream now, " claims Nicki. "It's not like it used to be at all. When I
first went to see them it was all the goths that went
and now it's like a Mr Byrite convention, it's just
f—ing chart music. "
We're at the second gig. Doncaster Dome.
We're round the back, in 'Sad City',
where a sprinkling Of fans wait to
glimpse the Manics arriving for the
sound-check. V•/hen they arrive,
James has a distinctly hunted 100k —
eyes nicking left to right, he scowls at
the NME photographer. The last
time the band played Cardiff. James
was stared at throughout the gig by a
Cult Of Richey devotee openly
displaying her mutilated arms.
that night, as he emerged from his
iotel, the same woman threw
herself at him, screaming. "Bastard!"
and clawing at his clothes.
Nicky Wire, always to be relied on for a
provocative quote, recendy claimed that
•Everything Must GO' had been bought by both
"normal people" and the usual "weirdos". The
distasteful. breast-beating. Heathers-like. media.
fuelled hysteria that followed the disappearance of Nobody could possibly blame
them for craving a bit of space. a
sliver of dignity, a smidgen of
sanity. Some of the old fans that
remain. however, think that the
band have tossed the baby out
with the bath water.
"l wish they would show more
appreciation of the fact that
we've loved them from the word
go and we still love them." says
Gill Armstrong. "We consider
their feelings, we try to
understand what •s going on for
them and I don't think they do
the same for us, and I really wish
that they would. We know What
they've been through but that
doesn't give them the right to be
so rude. I think Nicky is basically
not a very happy bunny. I mean.
he should just be understanding
that we're all different. just
accept us for what are. that's
all we're asking. Not all the old
fans are psychos "
Lisa. Gail. Emma, Sarah and
friends (all 16) are from Hull.
They believe that Welsh accents
in general , and Jarnes Dean
Bradfield's shy onstage
mumblings particularly. are
incredibly sexy. And they all get
down the front and mosh at
At school they are despised by
their peers ("the townies, the
slags. the childish little
teenybopper trendies") and are
abused as •moshers' or •sweats' ,
taunts which they now wear with
pride. This is a story repeated
again and again by the new(er)
fans. They may not be as well-
versed in the cultural politics of
eclectic wilful perversity as the
old fans, but in their schools and
sixth-form colleges. these women
are a minoriy within a minoriy.
Within a sea of Spice Girls and
Boyzone fans are enclaves of
NME•reading Britpop fans. These
enclaves are further subdivided
into Manics fans and the rest. The
intensity of this new fandom, so
recently mushroorned. lack
the dynamics of the old-fan scene
but. for these girls, becoming Manics fans is probably the most
daring, the most empowering and
most political decision they
yet taken in their lives. They
have chosen the Manics as the
best possible intelligent
alternative to what they see as
the conformist. fake, comnnercial
And they have chosen well.
For them the Manics will never
be •just another band'. Nicky and
Richey's stark. guttural and bitter
poetry might not be analysed in
any great depth. but its brilliance
and power is recognised and
acknowledged and felt. This isn't
just another 'indie' gig for these
fans. The Manics are special. And
so are the new fans.
"l think we should set up a
school for Manics fandom." says
Sarah Waddington. "and if you're
seen not wearing a Manics
T-shirt or leopard print or
eyeliner then you get 50 lashes." I
think she •s joking.
THE BLACKPOOL show
started brilliantly. Jar-nes in his
Nicky bouncing around like a 12-
year-old, all against a background
of fast-cut riot footage. the front
few rows a sea of heavily autographed and distinctly
But it started to drag. It started
to feel like a worthy. sweaty,
plug-the-last-album rock gig,
devoid of any inspiration or
improvisation beyond Nicky
Wire •s rather lame. "Sharon
Stone thinks Dylan Thomas was
Irish. Well, what can you expect
form a dumb Yank?" And it all
ends. as usual. with the entire
audience transfixed by the image
of Richey and Nicky on the video
screen, made up like hookers.
pouting and sneering a beautiful
•f— you' at the entire world.
It's difficult not to contrast that
image with the three, sensibly
dressed. workmanlike musicians
plodding along underneath. "my
do they have to be so boring?'
moaned an Old fan.
At the heart of the Manics lies
a strucle between proletarian
arrogance and nibberty-gibberty
dandiness. Post-Richey, the
former has all but replaced the
latter. The Manics now seem to
revel in their undoubtedly
authentic plebeian ordinariness,
deliberately dressing down in the
clobber of yer aver. working.
class 20-something geezer,
publicly sneering at the shrill and
awkwardness of their old fans. It
Was an uncompromising
extremity that helped make the
Manics so dangerous. so exciting
and so vitally different, that made
them so much more that 'just
another band'. They ain't
extretne any more.
" I remember in the early days
that Sean was like a dynamo."
says Colin, wistfully, "alvnys
running furiously from club to
club preaching how great the
band was and how shit
everybody else was. Then it Was
Richey and Nicky •who were the
wild ones. And now it's Jarnes
who's the spokesman and James.
God bless him, is a sensible,
potatoes sort Of bloke. "
WAS part Of original
Manics game plan to burn out and
not fade away. But that bum-out
looks likely to end with neither
a bang nor a whimper — but with
a long. hard workmanlike slog. In
Blackpool the Manics sweated,
strove, they paid their dues. In
Doncaster I bump into Gill and
her friends. They've had enough.
They're going home rather than
hang around for a repeat of a
set they say hasn't changed for
three tours now. I join them.
giving my ticket to a lass who had
her handbag nicked by 'lad' fans
In the cab to the railway
station, the driver has Radio 2 on.
They're playing The Righteous
Brothers' You've Lost That
Loving Feelini. It seerns apt.