From the unrelenting bleakness and horror of 'The Holy Bible' to the disappearance of Richey, the second instalment of our three-part Manic Street Preachers history charts the band's darkest days
"Gold Against The Soul" had been a pretty downbeat album, to say the least. "The Holy Bible", released around the time of their Reading appearance in 1994, made its predecessor seem like "Abba Gold" by Comparison.
As Nicky Wire explained to The Maker's Taylor Parkes, they'd recorded "Gold..." in a £2,000-a-day studio with all mod cons. "Snooker tables, swimming pools...and thought, 'Shit, I'm turning into Primal Scream."' This time, they returned to a more familiar milieu, a "shithole of a studio in the red-light district of Cardiff"', wherein they did nothing but work and listen to old Joy Division albums.
The results were beyond gruelling. if "Gold..." had seen them staring bleakly over the precipice into the void, here was where they took the plunge. With 70 per cent of the lyrics written by Richey, it wasn't hard to make autobiographical connections, especially on "4st 7lbs", his paean to anorexia, in which he imagined a girl systematically starving herself. "I choose myself, I starve to frenzy...Legs bend, stockinged, I am Twiggy/And mind the horror that surrounds me... I've finally come to understand life/Through staring blankly at my navel" When Richey had been admitted to hospital, he was on the verge of anorexia.
Although the straight-ahead, full-on, hard pop/rock sound they chose for this song seemed to sit at odds with its harrowing sentiments (ditto "If White America Told The Truth ForOneDayItsWorldWouldFallApart", a weird hybrid of Guns N' Roses and Noam Chomsky), Parkes was right when he observed that the album "sounds as if it was created under so much f***ing pressure that songs that would once have been fat, rampant anthems have buckled, been crushed and flattened, broken down, emerging as thin, white-hot strips of purest vitriol".
"Archives Of Pain" made for especially distressing listening, with all of Richey's scathing, negative energy now gnawing in on himself. "Yes" ("There's no part of my body that has not been used) was a worrying indicator of how physically spent both Richey and Nicky felt. With Richey too ill to be interviewed, it fell to Nicky to articulate things.
"I've never felt so much f***ing contempt for everyone and everything in my entire life," he said. "We've reached a point where we've prostituted ourselves so f***ing much, just given and given, that we've given everything away and got nothing left of our own. I remember dressing up as a sperm for some Italian fashion magazine. That was our credo; say yes to everything... we always thought that deep down, we were in control. We weren't. We f***in weren't"
These feelings arent uncommon in aspiring rock bands in the second or third flush of their career -a sense that they've over-exposed themselves, that they've fallen into the wrong hands,that they've burnt out. The difference with Nicky, and especially Richey, was how keenly, how painfully they felt it
Explained Nicky of his absent friend: "He always had this vision of purity, of perfection, a kind of childlike vision, that became completely obliterated. A misprint on a lyric sheet would just upset him so much and he got to a stage where he just couldn't stop himself from doing anything."
Added James: "H's strange. Richey never had so many setbacks as a kid as me, he's more acutely intelligent than me, he's more beautiful - and yet he has more problems. Problems that I'd just snip off with f***ing scissors in two seconds flat really get to Richey."
It was around now that James began to come more into the picture. He'd referred to himself self-deprecatingly as a "Roger Daltrey" figure, a "simple man who enjoys a simple pint", who'd kept a low profile in interviews, while Richey and Nicky gushed forth. When interviewing him, however, Parkes remarked that he was "one of the most intelligent men I've ever met".
With his declared hero-worship of Aneurin Bevan ("the greatest figure in British history"), a Welsh politician who dominated the Labour Party with his inspirational rhetoric before his untimely death, James brought two new sources of energy to the Manics mix that hadn't been that discernible before- working-class pride and Welsh patriotism- as well as a less delicate personal constitution than the band's lyricists. His strength would become more of a visible factor in keeping the Manics going.
By September of 1994, however, Richey had checked out of the clinic and in December, while touring with Suede across Europe, he granted The Maker an audience in the eerie darkness of the back of a tour bus. Richey refused to blame his depression and self-mutilation on the difficult lot of his life; he acknowledged that he didn't have any of the day-to-day stresses of regular 9-5 people, no worries about bills, mortgage, etc.
"I think people who get through the day, every day, are far stronger than me." He acknowledged the arbitrary nature of his affliction, refused to accept it was his lot as a Tortured Artist "A lot of of letters I've got have said, oh, it's natural, it happens to poets', which is f***ing bullshit When you've been in places I've been in, the first place especially there, Richey was referring to Cardiff psychiatric hospital], it's just any occupation. Housewife, bricklayer, plumber, somebody who works for South Wales Electricity Board, whatever. It doesn't choose people who pick up a pen."
However, he gave a hint as to the ambient torments of his time in hospital."In communal wards, nobody sleeps. They can give you as many drugs as they want, but the noises in there are pretty horrendous. Then the next day, you wake up, have your drugs and sit in a big, communal room and. ... then, if you're like me, you just try to keep out of everybody's way. Know your place. Don't get in anybody's shadow."
Richey also revealed why he cut and starved himself-to exercise a defiant control over his body, having no other feelings of destiny or control over his life.
"It's about detesting the body. That's why you choose to mark it Knowing you can do something which the body does not like... I'm weak, all my life I've felt weak compared to other people, if they want to crush me, they can-but I know I can do things that other people can't
"The best thing is knowing that no one can do f***ing anything about it People can't actually hold you down and force food into your mouth. They just can't do iL And someone can't be near you 24 hours a day to stop you doing something to your body. And ultimately they can't because it's your body."
Finally, he admitted why he was condemned to be lonely- because, in his vulnerable egocentricity, he was incapable of giving himself to anyone else in a relationship. "I think everybody's first love is themselves. Some can divide themselves and give something of themselves to another person, which I've never been able to do because I've never trusted another person - I couldn't cope with the rejection if they left me. I would not allow myself to be used like that."
The photo session accompanying this feature took place in the Paris catacombs. Against the backdrop of close-packed human skulls, Richey stared into the camera, doe-eyed, sheepish, skeletal. He'd been a bit freaked about going into the place initially -"I don't mind, so long as I don't have to touch the skulls"- but then, minutes later, he could be seen pushing his face against one of the lifeless jaws, smiling to himself and kissing it.
Three months later, on February 1, 1995, on the eve of the Manics' American tour, Richey checked out of the Embassy Hotel in Bayswater in west London. Frantic attempts to trace im during the rest of that week drew a blank. Then, on February 7, his silver Vauxhall Cavalier was found abandoned on the English side of the Severn Bridge. His passport, credit cards and some anti-depressant pills were found back at his flat in Cardiff.
Richey Manic had disappeared and thousands of lives were about to be turned upside down.