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An Artist? I'm A Polaroid Freak - The Observer, 30th October 2011

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ARTICLES:2011



Title: An Artist? I'm A Polaroid Freak
Publication: The Observer
Date: Sunday 30th October 2011
Writer: Gareth Grundy
Photos: Nicky Wire, Mitch Ikeda


For the best part of 20 years, Manic Street Preachers' bassist and mouthpiece has been collecting photos of the controversial band. As the best of them are published in a book, he tells the stories behind the shots

Manic Street Preachers began their career with the following gambit. "We'll release one double album that goes to No 1 worldwide," said singer James Dean Bradfield in 1991. "One album, then we split. If it doesn't work, we split anyway."

If the quartet from Blackwood, south Wales, didn't entirely keep their word, the part about making a chart-topping album became true several times during their turbulent, event-packed career. Other highlights include meeting Fidel Castro, headlining the Millennium stadium and writing songs for Kylie Minogue. The low points are obvious and mostly concern the disappearance of Richey Edwards, rhythm guitarist and friend since childhood, in February 1995.

All the while, bassist Nicky Wire has been collecting mementos in the form of Polaroids. Some he's snapped himself, others he's snaffled from photographers during promo sessions and on tour, with a telling selection compiled in a book, Death of a Polaroid: A Manics Family Album. Published next month, it's a gallery of jumbled memories and a highly personal visual history of the band.

"The images are part of me," says Wire. "If you order the limited edition you get an actual Polaroid and it hurt to give them away. For a while, I wished I hadn't agreed to do it, but it was too late as we'd sold 50 online."

Wire acquired his Polaroid habit as a boy, his parents handing over the camera, which seemed like a toy at the time, to him and his older brother, Patrick, during birthdays, holidays and Christmas.

"I don't think I'm an artist," he says. "I'm not a photographer. I'm a Polaroid freak who thinks that the colours and the vividness and the memories encapsulated in this art form are spectacular. Nothing moves me more."

Adding to the sense of nostalgia, the band are also releasing a 38-track singles compilation, and will perform each one at the 02 in December, their last UK show "for a few years". When Wire discusses what the Manics might or might not to do next, he uses the world "if" a lot.

"There's a clearing of the decks going on with this book, and the greatest hits," he admits. "If we're going to have one last go as a band, we need to reinvent ourselves. We won't be releasing a record for two or three years but we'll be trying hard to make one. Can we do something good enough so we keep going? We've got to do something that impresses us. We've got to do something gigantic."

A Manics Family Album - In Pictures

FROM A SHOOT FOR MELODY MAKER BY TOM SHEEHAN CIRCA 1991

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We made our own clothes early on, like stencilling shirts, because it was cheap and it was so hard to get stuff back then. Recently, this brilliant girl came up to me after a gig and she was wearing the shirt in this picture. She was about 16 years old and had paid loads for it on eBay. Meeting her made me feel like the shirt had become some kind of great rock'n'roll relic. It was definitely the same shirt - the Marilyn image is an Athena postcard I'd just stuck on and I could see it was the same one.

FROM A SHOOT FOR MELODY MAKER BY STEVE GULLICK 1993

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I'd known Richey since school but we became incredibly close when we both ended up at Swansea University. We used to write lyrics, get hammered and listen to the Clash and Guns N' Roses. He would even do some of my work for me. There was division of labour within the band. Richey and me did the interviews; James and Sean did the music. We weren't sure about being painted gold at the time, but looking at it now, it's amazing. The first couple of years of the band were the best and I like to believe Richey was enjoying himself as well. Although there was one apocalyptic tour of Germany where he drank Johnnie Walker Black Label all day, then ate a kiwi fruit to sober up. He would say: "I'm fine now! I've had a kiwi fruit!"

SHOOT FOR THE RELEASE OF HOLY BIBLE BY NEIL COOPER 1994

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This was taken at the height of Britpop, when bands were using working class culture in what we saw as a degrading way. We felt totally on our own, more so than at any point in our career, and dressing in military clothing was part of that. We were a unit and when we did Glastonbury that year, dressed in fatigues, it felt like we were in Apocalypse Now.

FROM A SESSION FOR THE SLEEVE OF THIS IS MY TRUTH, TELL ME YOURS, TAKEN BY ANDY EARL 1998

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We saw this massive rhododendron bush and hopped over the fence to get to it. It was in north Wales, in Lord Harlech's garden, although it's more like a massive estate. We had an inner confidence at this point and it's the one time we looked like a really big band, although in a slightly boring way. And we'd worked out where to stand in photos now we were a trio. James was always shoving me into the middle, saying: "It looks better."

FAN'S HOMAGE, TAKEN BY MITCH IKEDA 1998

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I almost used this for the cover of the book. Our fans are incredibly loyal. I understand why some of them might have gone off us at various points, but I think a lot of them have come back again recently. But it's also crucial that you renew your fanbase as a band, otherwise you stop growing, artistically as well as commercially. Around the time we released "Your Love Alone. . ." (2007) we had 15-year-olds at our gigs who thought we were a new band. And if that doesn't happen, you just end up withering away. I don't ever want to play to a bunch of self-satisfied old people who are only there because it's a night out.

TOKYO, TOURING THIS IS MY TRUTH, TELL ME YOURS, TAKEN BY MITCH IKEDA 1998

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This was taken in a beautiful, contemplative temple in Tokyo, near the Capitol hotel, where the Beatles famously had to be locked in for their own safety. I'm wearing a Welsh football scarf from 1974 or '75. As we travelled, I became more aware of my Welshness. We were asked to play the opening of the new Welsh parliament building around this time and we turned it down. We weren't going to play in front of the Duke of Edinburgh. That caused a furore back home, which actually made me feel good. But they must have known we were the band who sang: "Repeat after me/ Fuck Queen and country."

WITH ARTIST JEREMY DELLER BY ROBIN TURNER 2005

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Meeting Jeremy Deller was a happy accident. He’d noticed that Richey used to wear one of the T-shirts that he made. It triggered his interest in us and The Uses Of Literacy [an exhibition put on by Deller inspired by the band] followed. I didn’t meet him properly until a later exhibition in Cardiff [called Unconvention, using the work of artists, writers and painters who had inspired the band], which is probably one of the things I’m most proud of

BECOMING ONE OF THE FIRST WESTERN BANDS TO PLAY HAVANA, CUBA BY MITCH IKEDA 2001

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At the time, playing in Cuba was one of the hardest things we’d ever done, although I look back now and think it was hysterical and nuts and what rock n roll should be about. We never thought we would actually meet Castro. When he came into the room before the show he was asking us questions about Wales. Then he said, “Your drums cannot be louder than war”

CUBA BY MITCH IKEDA 2001

Cuba-010.jpg


I bought this dress in the hotel foyer [Wire sometimes wears a dress on stage]. It looked perfect on me. The room was the same suite in Havana that Al Pacino stayed in when he made the Godfather.The boxer I’m pointing to in the picture on the left is (triple Olympic gold medallist) Felix Savon, who we met because he came to the gig

SELF-PORTRAITS FOR SOLO ALBUM I KILLED THE ZEITGEIST 2006

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I wanted I Killed the Zeitgeist to be as homemade as possible. So these pictures were done in my bedroom. My daughter, who was only three or four at the time, came in while I was doing the shots and started laughing at me. The pictures are me saying, this is my aesthetic.

MAKING THE ALBUM JOURNAL FOR PLAGUE LOVERS (BASED ON LYRICS LEFT BEHIND BY RICHEY) 2009

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James had been dipping into Richie's lyrics. I was scared to revisit them; I found some of the words disturbing. What made me feel better was that Steve Albini, who Richey had wanted to work with, was producing the record. And Jenny Saville let us have a painting free for the cover.