Nicky Wire of Manic Street Preachers fame talks to Robert McMillen about the songs and the people that have made the outfit so popular...
Next month Belfast goes manic one more time with a return visit from the princes of Wales, the Manic Street Preachers.
Nicky Wire the artist formerly known as Shirley due to his penchant for ladies’ blouses James Dean Bradfield, and Sean Moore are attempting to better the performance in the city last year when they rocked the Ulster Hall to the rafters.
This time it’s the King’s Hall doing the honours a venue that has happy non-musical memories for Nicky.
“Yes, playing in Barry McGuigan’s old stomping ground,” he recalls, speaking of the Clones Cyclone’s boxing exploits in the 80s.
“I think those contests in the King’s Hall are ingrained in everybody’s mind, they were great fights.”
In a recent interview, Nicky said the Manics had become ‘the people’s band’.
“I think it comes up during the best bands’ careers when the critics have a go at you because you have become so popular and I think we have reached that time and it is something I can’t say I’m unhappy about because of the success we’ve had over the past two or three years. There’s so much joy in playing songs for all those people who know all the words, people who have so much passion.”
The band was born in the mining town of Blackwood, south Wales in 1986.
“We were always outsiders looking for something to hang on to, and when we saw a video of The Clash from 1977 doing Garagelands this is in 1986 that was the thing that galvanised us. They looked fantastic and they said brilliant things, and it didn’t seem that hard to do what they were playing so we knew that was what we wanted to be,” says Nicky.
And so the mysterious process of musical cross-fertilisation that led to the Manic Street Preachers began with The Clash, Public Image, and The Sex Pistols, through Echo and the Bunnymen and The Smiths.
“We wanted to be like them but much more technicolour,” says Nicky.
If the musical character of the Manic Street Preachers is fired by punk and new wave, their songs are heavy with political messages. Nye Bevan, the Spanish civil war, the miners’ strike make their way from the school text book into the anthems of the Manics, but the band are no dilletantes dabbling in politics for the sake of a headline.
“I only try to write about things I feel qualified to write about. I did history and politics at university and I did a lot on the Spanish civil war.
“And Nye Bevan lived up the road from me, and I did a lot of research on him so I don’t want to come across a bit pompous, writing about things I knew nothing about.”
Another historical event that left its mark on Wales was the miners’ strike of 1984.
There aren’t any mines left, after having 135,000 people employed in mining about 12 years ago, there’s now about 6,000.
It had a catastrophic effect, even if we didn’t realise it. had a big psychological effect, but we are coming out of that now, and the past three or four years have seen us finally coming out of that, and we’ve got our confidence back, and our cultural identity.”
The band nearly broke up in 1995, when the band’s fourth member Richey Edwards, suddenly disappeared on the eve of a promotional tour of the States.
The previous year, Richey had been treated for problems related to anorexia, alcohol abuse and self-mutilation.
On February 1 1995 he left the Embassy Hotel in Bayswater. Sixteen days later his car was found near the Severn Bridge. There was no sign of Richey. The disappearance still haunts the band.
For three months the band put all notions of playing music out of their heads, until Nicky gave James the freshly-written words of Design for Life. After a while the three members came together for a practice “it was easier than just staying in and waiting by the phone, just worrying” and slowly the life came into the band again.
“We used to have these Stalinesque five-year plans crop irrigation, the lot but we just don’t do that now, so many things have gone pear shaped over the past 10 years.
“I definitely think we are in transition, these current gigs and this last album are the last in a certain stage of our career. The next album will be much different much more experimental and much harder,” he says.
Manic Street Preachers have always been a super confident band knowing their songs ‘would always stand the test of time.’
“If you can’t write a song... so many bands take, like eight years to write an album. That’s the advantage we’ve had over them, we’ve been fairly prolific,” explains Nicky.
Indeed they have, with almost an album a year since they formed in 1988, and the greatest hits will pack the King’s Hall for one of the most eagerly awaited gigs of the year.
“The last time we played Belfast was probably one of the best gigs we’ve ever done. If we can better that, it will be something special.”