Behind The Headlines: Made In Blackwood - South Wales Argus, 13th January 2015
In 1986, five Blackwood teenagers shared a dream: to become the biggest band in the world.
Back then, complete with skin-tight white jeans and lashings of eyeliner, the Manic Street Preachers were a far cry from the modern day three-piece that has conquered arenas across the world.
James Dean Bradfield wrote the music with his cousin, the classically trainer drummer Sean Moore. The mesmerising Nicky Wire played rhythm guitar and wrote the lyrics, while Miles ‘Flicker’ Woodward played the bass and was the band's fourth member until 1988.
Richey Edwards, who would go on to become one of the era's most creative and intriguing figures as the band's co-lyricist and spokesman, initially acted as the band’s roadie and driver.
The Manic Street Preachers’ line-up, image, and sound would change in the following decades – notably with the disappearance of Edwards on February 1, 1995 - but there was one constant: their roots.
In a town still reeling from the devastation of the 1984 miners’ strike, growing up in Blackwood left an indelible mark on the Manic Street Preachers.
Indeed, despite the awards, record sales, and critical acclaim that followed, the town has always remained close to their hearts.
It has even acted as a muse, as was seen as recently as 2013 with the band’s video for Anthem for a Lost Cause, which powerfully depicted how the miners’ strike affected a miner's wife.
Nigel Dix, councillor for Blackwood, has lived in the area since 1993 and said that the Manics have put Blackwood on the map.
He said: “I used to work with Monty Bradfield, James’ father, who was a carpenter. He was very proud of his boy and rightly so.
“They are such good ambassadors and have put the area on the map. It proves that with dedication and determination, you can break out
“They have a very strong following in Blackwood and have always spoken about growing up here. They are proud of their working-class roots.
“They are among a select few to keep strong links and the origins of so many of their songs relate to the working-class.”
The owner of Blackwood musical instrument shop, Must Have Music, is Simon Fowler, 45, whose mother, Heather, is the cousin of James Dean Bradfield’s father, Monty.
Mr Fowler said the Manics have been regular visitors to the shop, located at High Street, Blackwood, over the years.
He said: “Lots of people visit the shop when they know we’re related. A woman came all the way from Japan a couple of years ago and we had a visitor from Denmark last year.
“They’re very good people. Nicky Wire used to come in a lot and wished us the all the best in the new store. He did a charity signing with one of our guitars and gave me an unreleased DVD of a concert they did in the Blackwood Miners' Institute in 2010.
“James came in two years ago and we had a lovely chat. He used some of our guitars and played Manics’ songs for two hours straight.
“There’s no bravado and they’re very good people. They have never forgotten their roots and they are so aware of the love and support of their fans.
“They’re very charitable and always do a lot for people.”
One of the Manics’ most passionate fans, Iain Richards, organised the Velvet Coalmine, a three-day festival of ‘writing, rock ‘n’ roll and coal’ in Blackwood last September.
Among the events featured at the festival were talks on the Holy Bible album and how the Manics influenced women, with award-winning writer, Rachel Trezise, speaking at the latter.
A Blackwood native, Mr Richards has been a fan of the band for more than 20 years and said that the Manics have been the main inspiration for the festival, which will run for five days next September.
He said: “I’m the biggest Manics' fan I know and I was the only person I knew in Blackwood to buy their first album, Generation Terrorists, on the day it came out in 1992.
“The Manics have had a seminal influence on me and have been the utter inspiration for the Velvet Coalmine.
“It was the intelligence and the influence, with those lyrical references to literature. It was a very memorable time.”
He added:”Unquestionably, they were acutely aware of their roots.
“They were shaped by the Valleys and I love the quote from Nicky Wire, when he said that Design for Life could only have been written by a band from South Wales.
“Their greatest success was that they have always been local, yet global at the same time. They never saw a distinction.
“It was beyond belief that they were from Blackwood and they proved that anyone from Blackwood can be anything.”
Among those to have spoken at last year’s Velvet Coalmine festival was Simon Price, 47, who covered the Manics for music newspaper Melody Maker in the 1990s.
Mr Price wrote Everything (A Book About Manic Street Preachers), which was published by Virgin Books in 1999. The book received widespread acclaim and, following its release, it was claimed by the Guardian's Caroline Sullivan to be the "fastest-selling rock book of all time".
Mr Price said that the Manics proved great role models for the working-class - in Blackwood and beyond.
He said: “They grew up during era of the miners’ strike and were in the heart of it in Blackwood. That hopelessness and that demeaning way those people were treated never left them. In the early days, it drove them out but it soon became a fertile subject.
“They took so much mockery and were made fun of for being a Welsh rock band. They soaked it up and proved you can be great from an unfashionable background.
“At the height of Britpop, Oasis boasted that they never read books and the Manics were far better role models for the working-class. In my experience, they’ve inspired so many teachers and writers and that’s not a coincidence.
“It was much more than music; it was a curriculum that fans could go off on learn, a time bomb waiting to go off in their minds. They were an educational band worth treasuring and their lyrics sent you off to Wikipedia before Wikipedia existed. They’re an endlessly fascinating band.”
Central to the Manics’ success has been the close bond they have established with their fans over the years.
This bond is to be addressed in a new documentary, No Manifesto: A Film About the Manic Street Preachers, which will have its world premiere at the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff on January 30.
Told using interviews with more than 100 fans across the world – alongside archive footage, intimate conversations with the band, and live performances from three tours - the documentary addresses the band’s delicate realignment following Edwards’ disappearance.
The film’s director and co-producer, Elizabeth Marcus, 43, began the project with her partner, Kurt Engfehr, in 2002. Having discovered the band in 2001, she said that the band’s Valleys upbringing had a profound effect on them.
She said: “They talk about being from Blackwood a lot and how it influenced their desire to succeed. The times were so hard growing up, with the loss of jobs.
“They speak about the Valleys with great affection and it’s very much within them, that sense of pride.
“Being so successful, they have had time to reflect on their background and to embrace being Welsh. They didn’t set out to make Wales cool, but they are happy that it worked out that way.”
Having sent a call-out to Manics' fans on internet forums, Ms Marcus also sent a short pitch tape of 20 minutes to the band in the hope that they would get on board.
The result, eventually, was a series of shoots of the band between 2005 and 2007 and Ms Marcus said that the band were ultimately supportive of the project.
She said: “They expressed an interest, but were very focused on their music and saw the film as a bit of a distraction. Their priority was to make music but when they started out, they hustled and called journalists so I did the same.
“We did several shoots and they were very co-operative with the filming and the creative process was left to us.
“Covering the gigs also allowed us to interview fans and the fan community is very diverse. There’s an intellectual restlessness, that desire to pursue individuality, in fans that the band inspire in them."
BBC Radio 1 presenter Huw Stephens, 33, from Cardiff, who began listening to the band following the release of Everything Must Go in 1996, said that the fact that the Manics embraced their roots has inspired other Welsh bands.
He said: “I think they have become Wales’ most important band of all-time. They have had a huge impact, locally and internationally, and they are so proud of Welsh culture.
“They are constantly referencing cultural icons, be it R S Thomas or Georgia Ruth Williams, and they understand the importance of culture. They are keen to promote it and they never forget their roots.
“They have done things their way and the fact that they are from Blackwood means that Pretty Vicious from Merthyr Tydfil or Catfish and the Bottlemen from Llandudno do not need to be from the city to get noticed.
“The Manics are so passionate and informed musically that I don’t think anyone will ever come close.”