Nick Douglas finds the Manics’ words of wisdom to be just as controversial as their glamorous Rock ‘N’ Roll image as he gels into some serious verbal banter with rhythm guitarist Richey James.
To me Rock ‘N‘Roll was always about glamour, and larger than life characters. A true Rock ‘N’ Roll band should make anyone who happens to come across them want to be in a band - they should seem to represent an escape from everyday life, and band members should be role models for a better existence. The Manic Street Preachers are all this and more. Four young friends, brought up in a small Welsh mining village that no-one seemed to care about, no one was interested in and where the idea of a band even getting two rehearsals together seemed about as likely as finding Elvis, Salman Rushdie and Marilyn Monroe standing next to you in the supermarket queue! Yet, despite the overwhelming odds, the Manics are riding the crest of a wave only a couple of years after they formed and spent their time practising, writing letters to journalists in London, and consuming a diet of magazines, books and TV in their own little world in singer James Dean Bradfield's bedroom. With a Number 18 hit single, Top 20 album, sold-out tour and more media coverage than Lady Di already behind them, the band are ready to spend the next year living in hotels, touring round the world etc. And with a new single ‘Slash ‘N’ Burn’ in the charts by the time you read this.
Having met the band before and being a fan of no small proportions, I set off to meet them at the pre-arranged time of 12.30 pm. On arriving at the hotel I was informed that their telephone line was busy and asked to wait. When there was still no word fifteen minutes later I started to get a bit worried that my trip would be in vain, but just at that moment guitarist Richey and frontman James sauntered in through the front door of the hotel, fresh from a photo shoot for an Italian magazine!
Singer James doesn‘t like interviews, so he disappeared from the lift to go his own way. Richey and bass player Nicky Wire handle promotion chores so we retired to their shared room. Nicky, however, had gone to hospital (something to do with his knees, apparently!) so Richey was left to do a solo-effort, something he seems to be perfectly at ease with....
The band had been ensconced in this not-too-cheap hotel since the end of their last tour, as they have no homes in London. Spending most of their spare time in their rooms watching TV or listening to CD’s, or reading, the lads had ventured into the bar the night before, and were none too impressed with another guest!
“There was a guy at the bar being really obnoxious to this waiter, and they‘re really polite here, it’s a really nice hotel and we were taking the piss out of him really badly. Like, he comes back with the bill and keeps the waiter waiting for about a minute, and says ‘I’ll pay it in my own good time', going through the bill. Then he asked the barman to wipe up some drink on the bar as he didn’t want to get his shirt wet, and after the guy wiped it with one of those things you put drinks on, perfectly dry, he went ‘Wipe it up with a cloth!’ and he made him go in the kitchen and get a cloth. I just thought ‘Wanker, give it a rest mate, I want to get served as well.‘ Scum.
So what does the hotel staff think of having the Manics staying there?
“Well, they asked me to leave the bar once. I was wearing a Dead Kennedys T-shirt, I'd just come out of the bath, with track-suit trousers on and no shoes and socks, and they said ‘We can’t give you a you a drink unless you have shoes on!‘ so I said I’d just go order it from room service. It’s crap!”
Since the last time we spoke the band had the through a lot; a sold-out tour, the release of their album, their biggest hit single to date and a debut live performance on Top Of The Pops. So did they enjoy doing Top Of The Pops?
“Nah, I mean it‘s the one thing you alwaysthink about doing. Anybody who wants to be in a band, it's always like the one show you watch when you’re a kid, but it’s so unexciting. You always think it’s going to be all the bands and like they escort you to your dressing room, and you never see anybody else.”
The charts seem to be dominated with these one-off Dance records these days. What do you think of those?
“I just think there’s a lot of people - especially in cities like London - whose values for cheap thrills are so minuscule. They just need to take like one ‘E’ and it doesn’t matter what’s playing. So, they don’t care what a band looks like, or what it's saying, all they need is a group going at a million miles an hour. I think there should be just a Dance chart, personally.”
The big time in no uncertain terms, playing the shots when and where they want. However, I point out that if anyone had met the band a couple of years ago in their Blackwood home-town proclaiming that they were going to be stars, very few people would have taken their aspirations seriously!
“Yeah, it’s true," agrees Richey. “And that did, that’s exactly what people did." Would Richey say that any of the Manics‘ success is due to - as many critics have said - the fact that the band are seen by some as Punks for those who missed it the first time round as they were too young?
“A lot of people do say things like that, but when you compare the impact that a band such as the Sex Pistols had, it’s so completely removed. Their records were, like, not pressed, and we haven’t had any problems like that.”
That’s true, but what about possible publicity seeking onstage antics such as bassist Nick swinging his bass above his head at a cameraman two songs into your Astoria show?
"That was a bad day. We’d been told a day before that a Japanese TV company was going to film the gig and it was the biggest gig we'd ever done. We wanted to play the best we could, and we just said ‘No - come another concert', we didn't want them all over the stage. Our managers said we had to do it. We asked them not to impede the crowd, and to keep to themselves, but within the first song there was one standing right next to me, and the one in front of Nick was telling the security guards to push the crowd back, and those people had paid £6 to go. I wouldn‘t want to pay £6 and get shoved by a cameraman in my way.”
You have a special guest on one track on your album - ex-porn actress Traci Lords performs guest vocals on ‘Little Baby Nothing’ - how did you come to be involved with her?
“We’d never seen any of Traci‘s films, we‘d just read about her. She made 42 really hardcore films, and 39 of them she did when she was about 14 or 15 so when the vice squad found out about them they confiscated all her films, and because she was America's most famous porn star it was a really big issue over there. We read about that and asked our record company to send her all our records, and she called the studios where we were working, and she said ‘I can’t promise I’m going to do it, but I'm very interested', and she wanted to meet us and see us play. So, she flew in, went to the concert and said ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’. We'd written the song, which I thought was pretty appropriate, and it turned out she had a good voice as well. She was really intelligent and articulate, really nice. She‘s doing a Disney film this summer."
The Manics have not been slow in stating their feelings about other bands. In recent interviews Richey has said that he'd rather people would die for his band than a band such as Ned’s Atomic Dustbin or Carter after one fan sent the group a letter saying she was going to commit suicide when they got in the Top 10, to make a statement! Carter was just one of the name bands which showed up at the Astoria show to watch the Welsh wonders. Would Richey consider them friends?
“We haven‘t got many friends we're very shy people. We don‘t know many people, we never have done. People are so precious about everything. There‘s so many more things to care about, like when you just watch the news. Last night there was a programme about monkeys in India and their babies. There was a bit in it about a mother and her carrying round her (lead baby for a week, things like that upset me..."
Richey pauses, then goes on about how the band had been asked to write a poem for ‘Earth Day” for a Japanese magazine, but had refused on the grounds that Japan is one of the worse countries in the world for its treatment of whales and dolphins, before adding... “I think one of the most hypocritical examples of recent weeks is the treatment of Mike Tyson. Like, Kennedy-Smith got off, and Mike Tyson is in jail. In both those trials it was word against word, and, like the well educated, well respected gets free, and Mike Tyson’s in jail. That's the sort of thing I get pissed off about. Whatever’s in the music papers doesn't matter. And even the treatment he had with the British media, we were travelling to a gig that day and we wanted to hear what had happened, and they were talking about his life and so on, and the last thing they said was ‘Mike Tyson never found much happiness with his wealth, and now he's back with his own kind, he can find some peace.’ Even in this country 90% of judges have all been to Oxford and Cambridge and public schools, and they’re the people who have got total control over people’s ’ liberty, and they have no grasp of the real world at all."
Strong words indeed, but then anyone who has listened to the Manic Street Preachers will know that they don't sit around all day thinking about love songs. Before the band got some recognition, according to Richey all they ever did was try to get the group going and play football during the day, and fill in long evenings by scribbling down letters which were sent to journalists in London the following day. Now, it’s all paid off, and the band are totally immersed in the world of press, tours, photo sessions, rehearsals and more of the same.
Just as this interview is coming to a close, bassist Nicky makes an entrance, fresh from his visit to the hospital, resplendent in fur coat, white jeans and a rather fetching pair of knackered Dunlop Green Flashes! He lifts the phone and calls up his manager to report on the condition of his ailing knees, before joining the rest of his pals in a last rehearsal session prior to the next day's beginning of tour gig! The Manic Street Preachers - condemned to Rock ‘N‘Roll!!!