The Manic Street Preachers return home to a 360-ticket Miners' Institute in Wales
The main rouad through Blackwood is closed. It's a police roadblock, the cab driver tells us. Is this because the Manic Street Preachers are playing their first gig in their Caerphilly hometown for 25 years?
"No, it's the boy racers." The community's real fame, it seems, lies not with its punk rock situationist stadium rock sons but with a different kind of rebel. Lads from as far as Manchester have chosen Blackwood's long main high street for their fast and furious antics. But of course.
We are here, however, for the real Kings Of Faster, who have convened to play a show cancelled in December after James Dean Bradfield's larynx took an early Christmas holiday. Let's not forget that their (third ever) appearance at the Blackwood Little Theatre, just around the corner, in 1986 ended in a fullscale riot. Supporters of goth headliners Funeral were so incensed by the Manics' set that they pelted the quartet ~ James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire, Sean Moore and original bassist Miles "Flicker" Woodward - with missiles. The fracas worsened when Bradfield hitched up his shirt to reveal the words "I Am Sex" painted on his chest.
Tonight's show is being broadcast by Radio 2. Stuart Maconie is here. Rock critic Simon Price is here. Manics PR/ managers Terri and Martin Hall are here. Only the absence of former members of Shampoo indicates that it is not 1991 - That, of course, and the fact that only three-quarters of the greatest rock and roll band still making great records are here.
"Richey's famous quote was, 'If Blackwood was a museum it would be full of rubble and shit,'" says Nicky Wire, laughing, as we sit in a sort of cupboardy room in the bowels of the tiny Blackwood Miners' Institute. The Institute is not, alas, a ragged-trousered philanthropic Victorian pit full of improving pictures and stern carvings; its suave black interior also hosts up-to-date local events and looks pretty sexy festooned with Radio 2 banners and Manics fans in boas (women) and faded Motorcycle Emptiness T-shirts (men)
Blackwood is central to Manic Street Preachers mythology. Tonight Nicky is wearing his Oakdale School tie - "It is actually my brother's," he points out, which is even more mythic, Patrick Jones being a playwright and occasional Manics lyricist. "At the time we were here, post miners' strike, Blackwood was just destroyed, the whole valley was destroyed. To see miners retraining at the YTS, signing on, trying to learn to type with these massive fucking hands that had been scarred and burned... To see all that and grow up with so much violence," says Wire. "Neil Kinnock's constituency home was only two doors down from James. I think it formed us gigantically. Environment is really important. You can see why Mumford & Sons are the way they are!"
It's been a reflective time for the Manics. Last year their major Welsh gig was not the huge Millennium Stadium, but the somewhat tidier Newport Community Centre, a deliberate decision to scale down.
"Newport was mega too! I was reading this interview with Ray Davies and he was saying how he felt sorry for bands nowadays because every gig has to be so special," says Nicky. "In his day he could do 200 gigs a year and only two of them were really brilliant. So it did feel like a massive amount of pressure but it did feel like a proper gig, a great stage and full volume, we blasted it out. I have to say I was pretty emotional on stage, that's why I kept my glasses on."
While Bradfield remains the passionate frontman, Nicky Wire appears to be motivated by an occasionally focused rage. Is he still angry? He hasn't insulted an audience or a famous rock star from the stage for months.
"I'm completely angry!" he yells. "Especially at the moment, the fact that there are seven Etonians on the front bench and 66 per cent of the entire Cabinet all went to public school. Sixty-six per cent! Absolutely ridiculous. Having said that, it's an anger that I really enjoy. It's total John Lydon. There's only certain people who have that kind of working-class rage. You can be a footballer or a musician, an actor. You could be Gary Oldman, or me, or Liam Gallagher." He sighs a bit. "It's my brilliant Gore Vidal quote: 'It's not enough to succeed, others must fail.' I really do feel like that so much."
As ever, the band's set is a rebellious jukebox - an extraordinary mix of hit singles and melancholy polemic. Like the cross between Joy Division and The Clash they've always been, they're still both hilarious pop tarts and totally sincere rock musicians. There is nothing else like them. James dedicates the band's first single, Suicide Alley, to early supporter and adulte terrible ranting poet Steven Wells, a man with a similar mixture of wit and rage. After the show I ask Nicky whether, in a world where rock bands rarely say or do anything provocative, he feels like a voice crying in the wilderness?
"Yeah, I do!" he yells again. "That's why we connected with the NME back in the day. Not being creepy or crawly but if you talked to people like Swells they felt the same."
They now offer a hail of nostalgia, tempered by new releases almost every year. If I was 15, should I be a Manics fan?
"It's vital to get a new intake. Without that you just wither on the vine and the and become... a musical institution?
Nicky Wire shudders at the last three words. The Manics will never be a musical institution. Even though they already are.