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Drags To Riches - Melody Maker, 25th January 1992

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Title: Drags To Riches
Publication: Melody Maker,
Date: Saturday 25th January 1992
Writer: Simon Price
Photos: Tom Sheehan

MM170192 (1).jpg MM170192 (2).jpg

Simon Price watches the Welsh wastrels get all tarted up for a video and gives them grief over the career move they said would never happen.

"Everybody hates us, we don't care" - celebrated Millwall football chant.

"You Love Us!" - The Manic Street Preachers.

"BLEEURGH! Bleccch! Cough! Splutter!"

Nicky Wire is suffering for his art. It seemed like a good idea at the time. At least, it did to the video director. The Glamour Twins, Richey and Nicky, are draped over an American flag and sharing the same, enormous, double-necked tandem 'Siamese' shirt, bearing the legend, 'Suicide Babies'. They're meant to be homoerotically pouting, and feeding each other oysters, to the sound of "You Love Us". Trouble is, in true "Beadle's About" style, nobody told Nicky they were real oysters. His stomach has taken a violent exception, and it's trying to evict its new, and still living, tenant. A substitute is quickly found. Thank God for Pepsi Cola.

RE-RELEASING a single doesn't seem a very Manic Street Preachers thing to do. Aren't you letting the record company play the industry games with you?

Richey: "It's a completely different version, and all that bullshit, but we had so many letters from people who couldn't get it... It only sold 3,000 first time round, anyway."

James: "It's got the big rockist ending we couldn't do the last time. We've learned to play now! We've never had any scruples about letting record companies direct things, although this was our idea in the first place."

How about your promises: have you quietly dropped the vow to split up after a year?

James: "For a start, we've got to tour with the album."

You could do that indefinitely.

James: "Naaah..."

Nicky: "All of us can look no further than one album. None of us wants to think of it as a career."

Question dodged, with the evasiveness of a cabinet minister. I mention the rumour that the Preachers have signed a five-album deal, that "Generation Terrorists" cost half a million to make, and that this video has a £38,000 budget. Columbia are gonna want a return on their investment, sooner or later. He answers with a phrase he utters almost as often as Richey says, "When we were growing up..."

"It's only Rock'n'Roll!"

YOU once said you'd be headlining Wembley within a year, but this tour culminates at Northampton Roadmenders. Is it all happening a little more slowly than you expected?

Nicky: "Our ego has always been way ahead of our bounds. We have no sense of proportion at all. But we still think it'll happen."

Richey: "We read all the classic rock books, which make everything out to be so fast. You're meant to explode overnight, but that never happens. If you want to be successful, you know what you've got to do: imitate The Wonder Stuff, dress a bit stupid, and get a support slot."

The way he says "stupid" is brilliant. It goes sort of "steww-pedd". If, as I predict, you become big, but not massive, will you be frustrated?

Nicky: "Of course. We'd be depressed if we just reached a Neds' level. But most bands would be elated! At least we're not afraid to say that anything short of all-out success is worthless. And it's true."

It's this kamikazee shot at glamour that makes me forgive the Preachers all their minor faults. They aspire to the intelligence of Sylvia Plath, and the beauty of Elizabet Taylor. Or vice versa. Everyone else is Gloria Hunniford.

James: "We were never a cul-de-sac band, like Curve, capitalising on an audience that was already there. Whereas the Neds, Carter and The Senseless Things, those tee-shirt bands, feed off each other's following, we're creating our own audience."

The Manics now have a definite glammed-up following. There's even a fanzine, the excellent "Last Exit".

What sort of people do you think you attract?

Nicky: "The bored underclass from shitty little towns, with no sense of worth, attachments or responsibilities."

Richey: "I really think that is total power. When you've got nothing to lose, and don't care for anything... That's when you're really free. We're not interested in people who care about tee-shirts. You've seen our merchandise: it's repulsive! They should make their own shirts. We get letters from people saying they were never into music until we came along."

THE others tell me that, once Richey has enough money, he wants plastic surgery to turn him into Diana Ross. I suggested an unanaethesised sex change live onstage with a switchblade, to give MM the sort of exclusive we missed with the "4 Real" incident, As if by magic, he reappears. In a wedding dress. For the first time ever, he's got more make-up on than I have. Dude looks like a lady...

I suggest that the most political, provocative aspect of the Manics is their androgyny.

James: "I think it's true. I can't go for it myself, cos my bone structure won't allow it. There are a lot of, like, rugby casuals who come to our shows, and their first reaction might be, `Fucking faggots', or whatever. To begin with, they're scared to come near us. Especially Nicky and Richey. But, after a while, we get through to them."

Richey: "The worst thing about the Thatcher years was that gender barriers were re-established. You had to either be laddish or... Sharonish. The whole Happy Mondays' thing was so sad. All the beer-swilling, lager lout, football fans we were brought up with were suddenly ultra-cool."

Historical note: Manic Street Peachers are merely the latest in a long and honourable tradition of Welsh transvestite politics, which began in the Rebecca Riots of the 1830s, when Dyfed peasants stormed English-owned tollgates in drag - a) to escape recognition, and b) to piss off the Farm fans in neighbouring villages.

What is it about Britain that two young men dressed up as tarts can still cause such an uproar?

Richey: "I know, it's the best, isn't it?"

I WITNESS one moment of absolute pop genius tonight, which may, or may not, find it's way into the final cut. While the rest of the band are miming a 'live' performance, Richey Edwards is slouching, slowly, along the catwalk, drugged on his own narcissism, trailing his guitar by the neck, with not even the slightest pretense of playing the thing. Looking up to the camera, he hoists his instrument up for one contemptuous strum before turning away. This is a man whose very existence poses as many questions about the nature of pop as T99, or The Prodigy. He considers reaching the highest level on his video game far more worthwhile than learning to play guitar, and his transformation into a classic Seventies' rockstar monster has been well documented: wearing shades after dark, cruising around Soho in the company limo, and, occasionally, dropping in on the studio to see how the album's coming along. He must be having a brilliant time.

Richey: "No, not really."

Nicky (laughing with outrage): "Yes, you are!"

It's quite subversive to behave like a pop star these days...

Richey: "When you're not one, you mean?! But we're still really lonely. We don't go to parties or anything, we just waste our money. We always wanted loads of books, but, now I can afford them, I just cut them up and stick them on my wall."

You seem pretty voracious consumers...

Richey: "You know the myth of Staggerlee, that he would kill for a stetson? The Manic Street Preachers would kill for a Sega Megadrive".

COLUMBIA tell me that "You Love Us", the Manics' fanfare for the uncommon man, will go straight into the Top 20. The very meaning of the song seems to have changed. Last year, it was absurdly presumptuous, even defensive. Now, although they're still more hated than loved, it's starting to seem like a taunt. Things are going to get more and more extreme. To keep the momentum going, next time Richey slashes his arm, it's gonna have to be live on CNN.

Sean (looking up momentarily, from his hand-held Game Gear):

"We're gonna cut Richey's head off!"

Nicky: "When Mick Jagger sang `It's Only Rock'n'Roll', straight after Altamont, that's the stage we're at already. Richey's arm was our Altamont!"

"But whatever people think," Richey insists, "when I did that, it was completely natural. I just wanted to see what happens."

Nicky: "Where we come from, people spill out of the pub, kick the shit out of each other, smash up their estate, then beat their wife or girlfriend. So, when people back home heard about Richey, they were laughing their heads off."

Are you prepared to get seriously fucked-up?

Richey: "The worst things which could happen to us have already happened."

Nicky: "It was probably those oysters!"

Richey: "Things which could potentially fuck us up just seem deserving of the Shane MacGowan school of drinking..."

As the evening wears on, Richey's performance becomes progressively more... loose. His walk has aquired a distinct wobble, and he can't hold a pose without giggling. Somebody mentions a bottle of sherry, concealed behind his white Marshall stack. Suddenly, he vanishes. Nicky bounds up to me, flashing that grin, which can't decide whether it's a Cheshire cat or an alligator.

"This is brilliant! I can't believe it. If I was ever worried that this band wouldn't split up, I'm sure of it now. This video will be the last time you'll see the four of us together on a TV screen. Look at Edwards! He's gone. He's up there with Ronnie Wood!"

He is. He's the man on the moon. The Keith Moon. When I finally find him, he's trying on a gorgeous, black velvet tuxedo, with Dalmatian-spot fur and a purple lining. It's straight out of a 1972 "Top Of The Pops".

Nice jacket, Richey.

"Yeah," he smiles "In Rod We Trust!"