For the past 15 months the story of Manic Street Preachers has been dominated by the disappearance of their guitarist, Richey Edwards. In that time the band have finally managed to move on from the tragedy with current hit single ‘A Design For Life’, and a new album ‘Everything Must Go’. Stuart Bailie found the band still puzzled and in shock, but fighting fit and ultimately optimistic.
Nicky Wire was at home, outside Cardiff, when he learnt that ‘A Design For Life’ had debuted at number two in the charts. He was happy enough, and planned to celebrate with a Sunday tea round at his Mam’s. His neighbours had taken to waving at him now, more friendly than before. In the past they’d seen this odd figure cabbing it up the valley from town at the finish of the band’s tours - exotic and exhausted. Nicky would frantically mow the lawn for a couple of days and then disappear again. Now they could appreciate his job better. “See you on Top of the Pops, then,” they would remark, smiling.
Manic Street Preachers were big-time now. Why, the band and their painfully rich history had even made the cover of the South Wales Argus. As if prompted by this, the guy next door approached Nicky. He’d heard of the group’s personal problems, and was offering to assist.
“I hear that you’re looking for a new keyboard player,” he said ” Well, my brother-in-law might help you out. He plays on the ferries, you know.”
But Nicky had a more pressing matter to deal with. As planned, he rang up Sherry Edwards, mother of Richey, the band’s missing guitarist. He told her of the band’s good fortunes in the charts, and she was glad for them. After 15 months of endless anxiety - of false sightings, upsetting letters and then the depressing business of setting up a trust fund for her missing son - this was a welcome respite.
Over in Bristol, Sean was ironing his shirts. This was a job that he preferred to do himself, and since the band was getting busy again, he’d need to stock up on fresh clothes. Later on, he figured, if the weather was right, he might even creosote the fence.
Sean, like Nicky had found a kind of contentment with his “amazingly boring” lifestyle. Here was a Generation Terrorist who enjoyed DIY, as well as amassing loads of of hi-fi and computer ware. It the song ‘A Design For Life’ was written about the control of the masses - keeping the proles down with economic and political constraints - then Sean took some satisfaction in the knowledge that he was bucking the financial trend by spending his way out of recession.
Even so, he didn’t think the band’s success (94,000 copies sold in a week - only 7000 behind the leader, Mark Morrison) was worth a special celebration. When his Mum had told him earlier that she’d bought a bottle of champagne, Sean told her she should only pop the cork if the record went straight in at number one.
So it was up to James Dean Bradfield to mark the occasion properly. By his own admission he was “a bit of a boy” and based himself in Hammersmith, west London for the night. This area was frequented by a tight gang of Manics friends - management, press, record label people and musicians. Many of these pals were like family, directly connected to the band’s original manager, Phillip Hall, who had died of cancer in December 1993. Phillip had been a good time bloke, always up for a party when it presented himself. He also had a zen-like manner about his business dealings, allowing him to suffer difficulties with a cheerful demeanour. The band’s high profile was a tribute to his style.
James was drinking whisky and coke in a bar called Gasgoignes, taking it in his stride. Terri Hall, Phillip’s widow, was also knocking back a few drinks, and would feel unwell the next morning. But it was the band’s current manager, Martin Hall, who got drunk enough to make a memorable night of it.
He started doing the moonwalk in the bar, a squiffy version of Michael Jackson’s most famous dance. Then he took to publicly battering his younger brother Michael, in an amusing display of childhood rivalry.
By the time James took him to an after hours club called Antonio’s in Westbourne Grove, Martin had mutated (in his mind) into Bobby De Niro in Mean Streets, saluting the old Mediterranean gentlemen in there with his gangster impersonations. When he greeted a scary gent called Lucky with his Little Italy routines, they all decided it was time to split.
Perhaps James had decided in advance to let Martin do the partying for them all. Because on the following morning the singer was needed for a tricky job back up in Cardiff. He was to meet up with Sean and Nicky in a hotel room in town, and together they’d engage in the first band interview since 1994. They’d have to voice many awful extremes of rage, angst, sadness and nostalgia. They’d also be asked to talk about their new music, and they would have to be careful here, that they didn’t sound dismissive of their past- and Richey in particular.
For the first time in public the Manics would be asked to cover a unique and terrible rock ‘n’ roll story. One that kicked off on the morning of February 1 1995, when James asked the porter of London’s embassy hotel to open the door of room 516 and he discovered that his friend Richey Edwards had gone missing.
Outwardly the Manics are chatty and polite as they pour tea and talk over the weekend’s sporting events. When the subject turns to music, you find that they are still obsessed with the minutiae of the indie scene; with the little bands and the journalists, and the ever-shifting politics of the business.
At first they briefly allude to themselves and the unenviable time they suffered in 1995. For a group that was so famously brazen in the past, they often talk in euphemisms now - referring to Richey’s ‘thing’ or his ‘whatever you call it’ - when mentioning their friend’s breakdown. Nicky even blushes on a few occasions, as though he feels uncomfortable talking about this at all.
You learn, almost by accident, that Nicky has been treated for a stress-related illness. His Welsh doctor recommended that he undergo some bereavement counselling. On other occasions, he was offered Temazepan pills, but he declined. A Harley Street doctor examined Nicky and then advised him to make sure to wash the skins of fruit when he was abroad. Cheers for that, Wire thought.
Sean is mainly quiet, only butting in when he feel that his friends haven’t expressed a point as accurately as they might. James is more sporadic and emotional - you feel that he’s been the most frustrated member of the band. Without a steady partner and a domestic lifestyle, he’s the one that goes pinballing around London parties - a gifted musician who has most to achieve from travelling and playing plenty. In cold print, James’ outbursts occasionally seem cold-blooded, but that’s not the deal at all.
We start by mentioning the success of ‘A Design For Life’. Six years ago, the Manics were ridiculed by many people in the industry - laughed off as a provincial folly, an out-of-time aftershock of the punk era. They drank Babycham! Wore women’s blouses! Said they would sell 20 million copies of the debut album! How the cynics sneered.
But not even the headline believers - the mascara-rimmed weirdos, the malcontents, the rockers and the mentally frail souls who mad up the Manics congregation in the ensuing years - would have predicted such an outcome as this.
So how does it feel to have made it thus far? Is there much joy in such a success story?
James: “I feel slightly bittersweet. It taints it. Lyrically, there doesn’t appear to be much to that song, but the lines are so concise. As soon as I got those words I thought ‘I’ve got to write the best tune ever’. This was one of the first times in a while when I read a lyric and it sent a tingle up my spine. To transfer that to a Number Two position - that gives me a sense of fulfillment on behalf of all of us.”
Since the Manics went away in 1994 we’ve seen a new type of fan emerging - the Britpop kid. Did you worry about how you’d fit in with this changing audience?
James: “I just though that we might become like Manic and the mechanics.”
Sean: “Young people are more accustomed now to guitar based music.”
Nicky: “Or we could have been accepted on the Radiohead album-selling ethic. I couldn’t tell which we’d fall into. It’s quite a mature sounding record really”
Do you feel confident?
James: “I wasn’t.”
Nicky: “I’m always confident about our songs, always have been. I’m always the one who says ‘Hey, transatlantic Number One!’ and stuff like that. As if it means anything.”
James: “I was confident that we’d get our nominal Singles of the Week in the press, but beyond that I thought ’11 or 12 in the chart will do me. Or 15 or 19.’ I went through so many different stages of not having confidence.”
Nicky: “We purposely supported bands earlier this year because we wanted to be anonymous; to ease our way into it. The fact that our own fans might be there made me nervous.”
Wouldn’t it have been better to play a small warm-up show instead?
Nicky: “To be honest, we didn’t want to face our own fans that early. The emotion of that. We wanted to see if we could still do it. We hadn’t done a gig for a whole year.”
Sean: “It’s much harder in a small gig anyway, you might recognise a few faces.”
James: “I didn’t feel that I could give or receive anything - in an emotional outburst, or bond with an audience or anything. I didn’t want to see people in the front row going [he makes a weeping noise]. It was funny walking around onstage in Dublin as the Oasis support. There were loads of little girls at the front and you could tell that they were looking at me and thinking ‘Is that a roadie?’ They didn’t have a clue who I was. It was a bit more fun.
Nicky: “Obviously, in Cardiff there was more recognition. We were coming up to the hotel, right by the arena, and there was this gang of four Welsh boys and they started singing ‘Where the fuck has Richey gone?’ That was kind of good humoured.”
James: “It made me anxious, but he just laughed, I suppose it was quite funny, on some level...”
Nicky: “But the actual fans down the front - I’m sure we’ll get a lot of that Richey thing.”
And have there been many encounters with fans in the street?
James: “Two months ago I was out having a drink in London. And someone says to me, ‘How can you be out having a drink?’ I say, ‘What the fuck are you on about?’ He says, ‘If I was you I’d be in my room chopping myself up by proxy for Richey.’ People think they know how they’d react if they were his friend. But I don’t feel that I’d been Richey’s friend at that point, because you didn’t have a clue what had happened at all. There were no equations.”
Nicky: “That’s what hurt as much as anything - the fact that perhaps he just didn’t like us anymore.”
James: “That’s the worst thing. He left us completely and utterly in...nothingness.”
Sean: “From the day he left us we know nothing. Absolute zero.”
James: “Perhaps one morning he just woke up and said we’re a bunch of dickheads, fuck off. That would be really upsetting wouldn’t it? He was adept at dramatic symbolism and stuff. You would expect something, just a little tiny thing. But at the end of the day, no matter how many little lies were going around about what’s happened, there were no clues.”
NME last interviewed Richey Edwards in September 1994. He’d just been released from the Priory Hospital in Roehampton, south London, which specialises in ‘acute psychiatric problems’. His particular problems involved anorexia, alcohol abuse and self mutilation.
All of these aspects of his personality were documented in his lyrics, most unflinchingly on the 1994 album ‘The Holy Bible’. Richey’s practice of cutting his skin was part of rock lore: on May 15 1991, he decided to answer a skeptical journalist by slashing ‘4 Real’ on his forearm with a razor, requiring 17 stitches.
The Priory doctors weren’t tolerant of such behaviour. Richey’s treatment require him to stop drinking and to adopt a 12-point recovery plan.
Shaun Ryder had been treated under a similar system in 1993 when his appetite for crack and heroin had precipitated the decline of the Happy Mondays. One of the 12 points asks you to recognise that there’s a higher power than yourself - a God of some description. Shaun used the image of his grandmother to represent the good aspects of life. Richey had a lot of trouble with this. He couldn’t use the image of a person of a favourite pet, because they would die on you. So what else was there? He was still working on that conundrum when we left him.
James, Nicky and Sean had offered Richey a non-touring role in the band. He could stay at home writing lyrics and designing the Manics artwork instead. But Richey couldn’t agree to that - he felt he would be shirking from the toughest part of the job. So he toured with the band in France, supporting Therapy? for 11 French dates through the end of September, into October. There were few distractions - hardly anyone spoke English, and it was fine.
Richey was still following the 12 points, reading out stuff he’d taken from the hospital that sometimes embarrassed the others. Nicky said they sounded like prayers. But when the band embarked on a UK tour in October, Richey was losing his way again. He started identifying with the Dennis Hopper character, a crazed photojournalist, in Apocalypse Now, even buying the same model of camera that Hopper used, and wearing it around his neck much of the time. Nicky remembers some other aspects of his dress with unease.
“It’s a well known fact that anorexics try to cover up their condition with baggy clothes all the time. And on the first day of the British tour, Richey walks in and he’s wearing the tightest pair of girls leggings that I’ve ever seen in my life. He still wanted the rest of the world to know that he was completely fucked up. Everyone knew already. I said ‘Why are you doing that? You haven’t got to prove that you are whatever you are.'”
And then he began writing LOVE on the knuckles of his hand. Why was that?
James: “That’s just bollocks. Priory stuff.”
Nicky: “We all think the Priory filled him up with a lot of shit. All the things the Priory stood for, in one way or another, Richey had ridiculed viciously in the past. You can’t expect someone to come around to something like that. Sometimes, I think that one of the positive things he’s done is that wherever he is, he knew he’d never become the person the Priory wanted him to be. Deep down, he knew it was just crap. It’s pseudo-religion anyway. If he’d become a born-again Christian I think it would have been better.”
James: “Whatever happens, I do think you come back a completely different person. They destroy their self, so to speak. They just want you to be another person, and that’s their job.”
Nicky: “Richey said that to me anyway. He said, ‘I can’t do anything I want to any more’. He really missed drinking. The one constant in his life which he enjoyed was drinking. The fact that it put him to sleep. He’d drink on his own - not a social thing.”
Sean: “It was a companion.”
Nicky: “When we were recording ‘The Holy Bible’, that was a really good time, honestly.”
James: “It was a release in that we knew what we were doing and we had the courage to actually go to a crappy studio and do it. So we were really happy that we’d taken back control again. Me and Richey would go out after in Cardiff and have a really good drink and stuff, have a good laugh.”
Nicky: “And Richey had just bought his flat. He’d come into Soundspace studios (in Cardiff), collapse on the settee and have a snooze while we did all the recording. Then he’d say, ‘Oh, I’ll drive you home now, boys’.”
James: “Me and him would go to the dodgy disco and we’d have a good laugh. A bit of ‘pullage’, all that kind of stuff. Try and get girls. Really ordinary things.”
Nicky: “Thailand [in April ’94, when Richey slashed his chest with a knife] was the first time that I felt something was going wrong. And then we went to Portugal and things were going awry. It’s not as if it was a matter of time, but I did feel something was gonna happen.”
James: “Portugal is a bogey country for me. The first time we went there, we heard that Philip [Hall] had died. The second time, we were shrouded in...uuurgh, it was horrible. Richey was involuntarily crying all the time.”
Nicky: “We had to put him to bed one night cos he just burst out crying in the car. And then he phoned me up at about half-three in the morning and you know those terrible commercial presentations you get? Some American twat showing you how to flatten your stomach or summat? He phoned me up and we were watching that together, and it seemed so bleak and nondescript. We didn’t have a row or anything, but he kept yapping and I was really tired. The next morning, he comes up to me and he says, ‘Here you are, Wire’. And he gave me a fucking Mars Bar, as a little present. Which was really nice, but did feel that we were taking it so far with the record, and some of the lyrics were so self-fulfilling for Richey. Like ‘Die in The Summertime’, I’m sure he felt that, ‘People are gonna say I’m a fake if I don’t do something about it’.”
The European tour with Suede, starting on November 7, was an appalling experience. James would stay up all night drinking - the rest wouldn’t see him until 7 p.m., just before show-time. James figured that was OK, because he thought they disliked his company anyway.
Meantime, Richey had read an interview in the music press with Welsh band Dub War, who’d supported them on the UK tour. The band mentioned the Manics’ guitarist several times in what seemed like a dismissive fashion. They said that he wasn’t drinking half as much as his reputation suggested, and that Richey and Nicky used to swan around their hometown of Blackwood like stars. These weren’t deadly accusations, but it worsened Richey’s now-crumbling morale.
Nicky had lost his suitcase, he was missing his wife, Rachel, and he was in poor health. He flew back to Britain after a week to see a specialist and by the time he rejoined the tour, Richey’s decline was manifest. He was breaking up pieces of chocolate on a plate demonstrating to whoever was watching that this was all the nourishment that he needed. He was also developing a large thyroid cyst on his neck, possibly as a result of the pills he was taking.
Generally, Richey didn’t care about his lack of guitar skills. James would give him lessons, but there wasn’t a great improvement - and besides, James said he always envied Richey for his cheek-bones. Wasn’t it as important, James argued, to take a good photo as to take a cool lead break?
But Richey became intrigued by the life and death of Def Leppard guitarist, Steve Clarke. He was a good player, but he’d become terribly fraught before a show - once even breaking his knuckles on a wash basin, so he wouldn’t have to go on. In the same spirit, Richey used to dream about chopping off his fingers. Then he went out and bought himself a butchers cleaver.
The Manics played a terrible show in Amsterdam and everyone was depressed, except Richey, who was oddly cheerful. Afterwards, Nicky pulled up his friend’s shirt to discover he had carved a vertical slash down his chest. “I feel - alright now,” said Richey. Nicky was in bits, but since there were journalists over to see the band, Sean took them out to a club, pretending nothing had happened.
Hamburg was the last date on the itinerary. But some of the business people suggested that they add shows at the end, Prague and Vienna. Richey was all for continuing, but Nicky and Sean couldn’t take any more of it. Therefore a bunch of friends and associates from London flew to Germany to gauge the mood of the band.
On December 14, Nicky woke up in Hamburg to find Richey outside the hotel, banging his head against the wall. Blood was running down his cheeks. The tour was over.
Richey had three last shows to play with the Manics - at the London Astoria on December 19, 20 and 21. There was a lighter mood at the time - they could go shopping in the capital and there was the prospect of resting up over the holiday season. This would be an enjoyable way to close a bad year.
Strangely, there was a problem with the sound system in the venue, and for three nights in a row, the band suffered spontaneous nosebleeds. Every night the crew turned the speakers and monitors down, but there was no change.
The band would walk off at the end of each gig in a state, so there was a very special sense of expectation about the final show.
Nicky: “I was so nervous every night, that the end was just a relief. That last five minutes of the last gig when we smashed eight grand’s worth of gear and lights were five of the best minutes I’ve ever had in my life. It was just brilliant. We were transported back to the days of ‘Motown Junk’. Beautiful. It meant more than any of the songs. Until we saw the bill...And then Sean drove back with Richey the next day.”
Sean: “Quiet and calm, had a nice Christmas.”
Nicky saw quite a lot of Richey over the holidays. He’d come over to the house and they’d exchange presents, like always. Then, one night, as the four band members sat watching a video of the Clapham Grand gig in March ’94 - when the Manics played with Suede’s Bernard Butler - Richey asked for a bowl. He proceeded to crumble two bars of chocolate into the bowl, before scoffing the contents up. The old anorexic routine again.
Nicky: “He didn’t have to do it in front of me. I knew he was fucked up.”
James: “Among us we’d take the piss out of it, and you’d laugh. It still had an edge to it amongst us, as four people. And he would take the piss out of himself as well. So it-wasn’t all po-faced. I mean, it there was ever a little crappy film based on the life of Richey, that kind of scene would be transferred into him getting a bowl and chocolate and we’d be going, [melodramatic American accent] ‘What the fuck’s wrong with you, man!’ That’s how Alex Cox would do it if we we’re ever that big. But it was funny, y’know?”
Nicky: “It was macabre. shall we say. That’s the word. He knew what he was doing to us and we knew what he was doing to himself. It was just a terrible situation.”
Did Prozac bring about a change in Richey’s personality?
Nicky: “To be honest, I don’t think it did. It could have worked, but I don’t know if he would have let it work. He was determined to show that, ‘I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer, I spat out Plath and Pinter’. I mean, you can look back at Richey and say there are so many cues, right from day one, and think, ‘Oh something’s gonna happen’. But it’s pretty hard. The first thing I ever said in an interview with the music press was ‘We’re going to set fire to ourselves on Top of The Pops‘. You don’t say things like that for shock, there’s some sort of sub-consciousness. I worry about ourselves, as people. If you looked at our book and video collection when we were about 18 it’s virtually all the same. It all centred around alcoholics. Romantic drunks. Suicides...”
Early in January 1995, the band spent five days rehearsing at a place called The House in The Woods, near Cobham in Surrey. They’d been asked to record something for the Judge Dredd soundtrack, and the new songs they played were generally more stirring and melodic than anything on ‘The Holy Bible’. And Richey was at his best, which in retrospect, the band find scary.
In these last weeks leading to his disappearance, every detail has been gone over in the search for significance and symbolism. Just as they were leaving Surrey, Richey presented them all with little presents: The Daily Telegraph and a Mars Bar for Nicky, a CD for James, something personal for Sean. And of course, there was the matter of some lyrics he presented to the others before going off...
James: ‘Yeah, but we’d seen them before. They were lyrics we’d been working on for ages.”
Nicky: “He never chucked anything into the river. That’s just not true. He didn’t have a passport with him. He left that behind in Cardiff. And there was lever a ritual burning of lyrics or anything. Those were just rumours that built up. He gave me lyrics first, and I said, ‘Oh, why don’t you give them to Sean over Christmas?’ Sean had them and then he did photocopies.”
James: “And loads of those lyrics had been around for a while anyway. No music has been written to any of his lyrics since he’s gone missing.”
Nicky: ‘We didn’t feel comfortable with that. There’s about 50 songs in there. To be honest with you, they’re no more horrific than ‘The Holy Bible’. You can’t get any more low than that, can you really?’
However, Nicky was now looking forward to touring America - their first time there since May ’92. If the happy mood they’d enjoyed in Surrey lasted, they’d go down really well. So he left for a break in Barcelona. When Wire came back to Cardiff in mid-January, James told him he couldn’t find Richey. His mother thought he was in London, but he wasn’t. Then he turned up a day later and said he’d been to Swansea. Richey’s dog, Snoopy, had died, and he’d shaved his own head, possibly as a sign of grief.
A week later, on January 23, Richey dressed in striped pyjamas, assented to his final interview with a journalist for Japan’s Music Life, Midori Tsukagoshi. It was a ghoulish testament.
So what of the sentiments expressed in that interview? Did Richey ready take the death of his dog badly?
Nicky: “He did love his dog - that was a Manics thing. We all had dogs. We used to stroke each other’s dogs.”
James: “It was like, Lucy, Dixie, Suki and Snoopy.”
Nicky: “And they all died.”
James: “I wouldn’t make too much significance out of it - he was always adept at too much symbolism. It wasn’t a breaking point, to be honest.”
Nicky: “He was well on his way before then. It certainly didn’t help, but something was gonna give. It gave in the summer, and it was just a question of whether he was gonna change it or not. He didn’t seem to get enjoyment from many things by the end. He was upset, but I felt good, actually. When he cried naturally, it was nothing to do with the Priory, it was just his pet had died.”
James: “All of the bad things that happened to us in the past were almost like arbitrary disasters. That was a dog that had had a long life, a natural thing.”
Nicky: “It made him feel a real emotion, he was sad again. So he said.”
And what of the girl he mentioned in that interview?
James: “That’s personal.”
'Nicky: “He had a relationship with a girl over a few years. That’s the only girl he had any feelings for and he did really like her but...”
James: “He never talked about it so there’s no point in us talking about it.”
Nicky: “I can honestly say that the five day at The House in The Woods was the only time when I thought he was back to being Iggy/Keith Richards, as opposed to Ian Curtis. But that could have been because he was going. It’s so hard to speak about it, because for all we know, he could have gone insane. The morning he left, for all we know, he could have gone mad.”
James and Richey checked into the Embassy Hotel on Bayswater Road, London, on the evening of January 31, 1995. They were en route to America, where they were scheduled to do interviews, prior to the Manics’ US tour. They were given adjoining rooms and James said he’d knock on his pal’s door after they’d had a chance to freshen up. That was another Manics characteristic - sitting in each other’s rooms yapping away, old gossips the lot of them.
When James knocked half an hour later, Richey put his head around the door. He was smiling, in the middle of taking a bath.
James asked him if he fancied going out, down Queensway - a favourite area for browsing. Richey said no, “I’m thinking of going to the pictures”. James said, “Well, if you wanna do that, I fancy it.” And he said, “Oh, come back in half in hour.”
But around 8.30pm, when James knocked again, Richey said he was going to stay in for a while, and that he’d call him in the morning. So James strolled out to meet a friend for a bit, and went to bed at 11:30pm.
In Room 516, Richey parcelled up a box and left it on his bed, addressed to the girl he’d mentioned in the Japanese interview. It looked like a belated Christmas present. The band got a look at the contents afterwards, but they say that, contrary to rumour, there was no special book in there - rather, a collection of reading material. As far as they know, there were quotes written on the sides of the box and videos of Naked and Equus in there too.
So there was nothing significant in the box?
Nicky: “It’s just like the lyrics he gave us beforehand. I went through a phase when I was just looking over and over cos there was collages in there and stuff. Me and James saw this picture of a house and it was like, ‘Is that where he is? It looks like a mad house in Bavaria.’ We were going, ‘Perhaps he’s there’. You can go in his flat and you can look at every book, everything. At the end of the day, you haven’t got a clue.”
James: “If you want to be that cryptic about it you could spend half your life investigating everything.”
Nicky: “Well, the front cover is Bugs Bunny, so I thought perhaps he’s in Disneyland. We went to a private investigator straight away, to try and track him down. The only grey area is me service station.”
After leaving London at 7am on February 1, Richey drove to his flat in Cardiff, where he left his passport, a jar of Prozac pills and some papers. What he did in the ensuing two weeks is still completely unknown. The next piece of definite information is that his silver cavalier was identified at Auste service station, near the Severn bridge, on February 14.
After contacting Richey’s bank, the band’s management discovered that while Richey had not used his account after January 31, he’d withdrawn £200 per day on the previous 14 days. This is one item of information that suggests Richey wasn’t contemplating suicide.
There have been many supposed sightings of Richey since then, but most have been quickly disproved. Some theories are more enigmatic. For instance, a taxi driver named Anthony Hatherhall picked up a young man from the Kings Motel in Newport on February 23. As requested, he drove him around the scenic roads of the Gwent valleys and Blackwood, before dropping his passenger off at Auste services. The cab fare was £68. The other intriguing feature of Richey’s last known movements is the fact that no-one knows exactly when the car was left at the car park.
Nicky: “The car was discovered on February 14, but they really don’t know how long the car was there. If it had been there from the day he went missing, then I think it’s pretty likely that he’d be dead, to be honest with you. But I don’t think it was there that day. Otherwise, it would have had a ticket earlier. By the end, it had a ticket. The police were going to tow it away.”
So if he’d parked the car on February 12, then you reckon he’s still out there?
James: “You would think he was alive.”
Nicky: “For me, it would mean that he’d been driving around for 12 days, so why then decide to jump in the River Severn? The battery was flat, because he’d been playing tapes and everything. He’d been sleeping in there, obviously.”
James: “The conclusion you come to from that is that he couldn’t have used the car much more. So if he left it until the 12th and the battery was flat...perhaps he just walked off and hitchhiked. There’s a myriad of options.”
Nicky: “A lot of the signs do point to the possibility that he’s dead. I’m not denying that. I’ve been to my doctor and he said, ‘You’ve got to face the fact that he’s dead - you should go to bereavement counselling’. But it’s impossible to do that without a body, don’t you think? How can you go to bereavement counselling when you don’t even know if someone’s dead?”
James: “Once and for all - all of the stories that are going around: we haven’t got a fucking clue. We swear on our lives. We’ve had journalists going up to Martin [Hall] saying, ‘We know where he is’, and it really upset him. And there’s still the same level of skepticism.”
Nicky: “There was a rumour the other day on one of the local radio stations that he was living back home. There’s also this mythical taxi ride that he had up the valleys. . .”
James: “It looks like it wasn’t him, ‘cos the bloke had shoulder-length hair.”
Nicky: “I speak to his mam and dad and sister every week. His sister’s been doing loads of ‘missing’ programmes. They thought they had a sighting of him in a hotel in Switzerland two weeks ago. There was one in New York - one story said that he’d done a tour of the death camps in Germany. There’s lots of things like that...He could be in a sewage works in Barry, for all we know. Done a Reggie Perrin...”
James: “That’s more plausible to me. Something that’s very mundane. Rather than some kind of pilgrimage. To do something in isolation.”
Nicky: “Having watched all these ‘missing’ programmes recently and having spoken to Richey’s sister about it all, it’s not hard to go missing and completely change your life. There’s so many people that do. One bloke moved from Middlesborough to Newcastle, and he wasn’t seen for 18 years. They all thought he was dead - and there’s only 5 miles between the two places. Who knows?”
So basically, you’re keeping an open mind?
Sean: “We’re waiting for the next clue to come along.”
James: “I’m not even waiting for that. I just don’t know, and I’ve tried to blank it out, to a certain degree. I won’t give anybody the illusion that I’m sitting here waiting, ‘cos we’ve all nearly fed ourselves up over it and I’ve developed some kind of immunity towards it. I’d rather be shocked than wait on something now. Because I can’t wait round any more.”
Sean: “Obviously if he is alive, he doesn’t want to be found.”
Nicky: “Wherever he is, he’s made his own choice. Unless he’s gone insane, he’s made his own choice and he’s doing what he wants.”
James: “It’s hard for me to sit around and think about it because...I can’t imagine him ever wanting to get in touch with us again. If he did, then...”
Nicky: “The barriers that he’s put there are so great now. They say that’s the worst thing about trying to get back in touch with people. The longer it goes on, you’re just building up...”
James: “I couldn’t be friends with him again. Just for the sake of us three. If it went off again, just imagine how much it could fuck you up. It’s my biggest nightmare - what would I do if Richey turned up and wanted to know me again? It’s really scary.”
Nicky: “If he turned up and said, ‘Hey, I’m back and I’m feeling great’, I’d be searching his body to see if there were any cut marks - looking for flasks of whisky and drugs. It got a bit like that towards the end. When he went to bed every night, I’d say, ‘Pull your top up - let’s have a look’.”
James: “I would feel for his parents. ‘They’ve been through hell.”
So what do Richey’s parents make of the band recording and touring again?
Nicky: “His father wanted us to do it as soon as we could. He said it might flush his son out. And we see his sister a lot. We’ve also set up a trust fund so that all Richey’s royalties go into this account under his name. If he ever turns up, he’s got his share. That was really depressing, doing all that legal shit. You’ve gotta wait seven years until he’s declared dead. We were signing - all these forms. We wanted everything to be proper. So if he ever turns up, it’s all there for him. But doing that, it just makes him seem like a number. It was really sad.”
James: “That seemed like the most final thing. It seemed like we were signing any reconciliation away. And we were mixing ‘Everything Must Go’ at the time...”
By May ’95, Nicky, James and Sean had begun playing together again at the Soundspace studios in Cardiff. They vowed not to perform any old songs for a while, but to concentrate on the stuff they’d been trying out with Richey in January. Regarding the more recent sheaf of Edwards’ lyrics - those were definitely not to be touched...
Richey’s older lyrics were used on ‘Elvis Impersonator’, ‘The Girl Who Wanted’ and ‘Small Black Flowers That Bloom in The Sky’. The latter was inspired by a TV documentary in October ’94 that presented the tedium and decay in municipal zoos. Richey had rung up Nicky when the programme was over. They’d both watched it, and were staggered at the images of gorillas smearing themselves in their own excrement. The song’s closing line, “Here, chewing your tail is joy“, will, of course, be regarded as being emblematic of Richey’s own ‘cage’.
The Richey song ‘Kevin Carter’ was based on the life of a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer. His most famous image was a picture of a dying child in Rwanda. A vulture stands nearby, anticipating easy meat. Kevin Carter couldn’t stand the celebrity that the shot brought him, and he killed himself. A fifth Richey lyric ‘Removables’, dates back more than three years. They could never get it to work. Then someone suggested a vibe more like the Nirvana ‘Unplugged’ record. It worked well, reminding everyone the night that Kurt died, the Manics were recording ‘Archives of Pain’ in Brittania Studios - the same place where Joy Division’s Ian Curtis had made his most pitiful recordings.
In contrast, many of the lyrics Nicky was writing took on a more positive aspect. A lyric like “everything must go” became a call for resolve in the face of black experience - the resulting anthem also became the defining mood and title of the band’s fourth album.
The song also addresses the Manic Street Preachers’ fans, anticipating that a percentage of them will regard the band’s continuation as a ‘betrayal’ of Richey. “I just hope that you can forgive us,” James howls in the chorus. But today, no-one in the band is apologetic about going back to the studio.
Nicky: “It would be over-dramatic to say that it was the hardest thing in the world to do, because it wasn’t. We decided not to do any old songs.”
James: “And we weren’t gonna try to write any music to the lyrics that were left. We would do songs that were already written - they were Manic Street Preachers songs, and Richey had heard them all in some form or another. We created ourselves a safety net, and once we’d got in there it was pretty easy, to be honest. I wouldn’t break down halfway through a song and go ‘I can’t do it anymore’.”
Nicky: “It was more easy than just staying in and waiting by the phone. Just worrying...”
Sean: “Which we’d done anyway, for a couple of months.’
James: “From then on, it was just like normal itinerary really, thinking of a producer and writing songs, just getting on...”
Was there a problem finding the right tone and themes for the record? And were you subconsciously not writing about Richey?
Nicky: “I think certain songs are, subconsciously or not, written about him anyway. The thing that’s been glossed over is that people think l don’t write lyrics anyway. They think Richey wrote everything.’
James: “People come up to me and say, ‘What are you gonna do now - how are you gonna write songs?’ I just say, ‘Well, before ‘The Holy Bible’, Nicky wrote half of the words anyway.'”
Nicky: “The cover of The Guardian‘s supplement read: ‘Can Rock Lyrics Kill?’. It was a picture of Richey and the lyrics to ‘This Is Yesterday’, and they are all mine. I thought, ‘I haven’t killed anyone, have l?’ But they thought it was all Richey’s. The thing that no-one grasps is that we don’t wake up and go ‘Fuck, our lyricist and guitarist has gone.’ It’s just the bloke we knew for 15 years our friend. It’s friends before anything.”
And what about the band’s fanbase? Is there a distinction between Manics fans and Richey fans?
James: “There’s definitely a real hardcore.”
Nicky: “From ‘The Holy Bible’ more than anything. It was the cult of Richey, wasn’t it?”
James: “I do find them a bit cracket-esque, now and then.”
Nicky: “To be honest, some of those fans and their letters and fanzines have upset me, really. They seem to expect us to do the same thing. l’m not gonna chop myself up and become an alcoholic.”
James: “And then professing that they know him. I hate that.”
Nicky: “Richey was lonely and sometimes he’d latch onto someone and just talk all night. I don’t think he’d mean anything, but a lot of those people think they know him.”
James: “About two years ago, when he was going out in Newport all the time, he’d get pissed and go out with a girl and things. He’s the kind of person, if he was asked a question, he would yap and yap. Then these people would turn up in the press, and go, ‘I’m a very good friend of Richey’. Fuck off, you wanker! You’re not one of his friends. You had a drink with him - he probably tried to pull one of your friends. I hate that. When we were heckled by those Welsh boys in Cardiff it was better than some 4st 7lbs, obsessed person coming up to Nick and giving him an apple.”
Nicky: “About four weeks before Richey went missing, we were chatting. We had so much poetry off anorexics and a lot of it was so shit even Richey was getting fed up - not another pile of this again. I said, ‘Look, I’m gonna have to write a song taking the piss out of their poetry’. And he was laughing, he said, ‘Yeah’ - even though he was one. Or at least half anorexic, he could still see what I meant. He’d go, ‘Oh no, not another fucking poem about eating an apple in the morning! Even though he was suffering, he still had it - the cynicism.”
Taking encouragement from their rehearsals, the Manics headed for Normandy in the summer, to Chateau De La Rouge Motte, near Caen, where they worked with producer Mike Hedges. The first day in the studio resulted in ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ for the ‘Help’ album, an uncannily carefree song.
The next track they recorded was ‘A Design For Life’, which was already shaping up as a majestic tune. Mike Hedges was adept at this kind of a vibe - the band had heard his stuff with McAlmont & Butler, and Nicky also loved the swoonsome strings on the Everything But The Girl oldie, ‘Baby The Stars Shine Bright’.
‘A Design For Life’ was finished by September and mixed by Christmas, the string section added at Abbey Road in London. It had achieved what Nicky was looking for, “a sense of melancholic victory”. The song isn’t, as some critics think, about the end of the world. It’s about the resilience of the working class - how they get cheated and manipulated, but still prevail, according to Nicky. “It is a kind of heroic, working class song. We always fight back and we produce brilliant things. Even with something like Oasis, it’s obvious to me that they are the best band in the world. Liam is not very eloquent or anything, but you’ve just got to look at him and you know he’s the business. He could have only come from where he came from.”
But don’t the working class also give us Alf Garnett and Millwall supporters?
Nicky: “Exactly - I know that. I don’t pretend otherwise bigotry exists everywhere. But it’s the way that the working class is patronised a lot these days. Working class imagery is taken by the middle class people.”
So what does Nicky make of Blur’s Club 18-30 tribute, ‘Girls And Boys’?
“That’s the exact opposite. That’s patronising. Quite a few of those songs were the inspiration for writing ‘A Design For Life’. Not just Blur songs, but other bands, who shall remain nameless. It’s a good song, but I find the imagery a bit false.”
The line in ‘A Design For Life’ that goes “We are not allowed to spend” makes you think of interest rates and inflationary measures. How the ordinary person’s economic behaviour is controlled by city analysts and politicians.
James: “That’s exactly what I got from the song. I’ve done a bit of damage to the band - me being in London, a bit of a boy around town, and stuff. And when I got those lyrics, I actually felt part of where I came from for once. I actually felt the disillusionment which I’d deferred by getting pissed for a whole year. That track actually put me back on track a tiny bit.”
Nicky: “I was listening to the group Gene on the radio talking about ‘Sleep Well Tonight’, and the singer was going, ‘Oh, we’ve taken all this video footage of people spilling out of pubs and beating themselves up and it’s so terrible,’ and I thought, ‘What the fuck do you expect these people to do when they’ve been working in a factory for 20 years?’ Those people will start a revolution - not the Martin Rossiters of the world, who just stay in reading Morrissey lyrics all their lives. It’s really wrong to patronise all those people. Obviously, I don’t think violence is great; you beat yourselves up, destroy your own class. But I can stand back and understand why it goes on. I can understand why I used to walk in Blackwood, dressed up like a New York Doll, into a pub full of rugby players who’d call me a silly poof. I didn’t think, ‘Oh, those people should be killed’. That’s the inspiration for the song.”
There are no real precedents for what the Manics have experienced over the past two years. Other bands have lost colleagues, of course, and musicians have gone missing for short periods of time in the past. But when Richey made his exit, he set off on a course of action that may never be fully revealed.
While they assent to talking at length about Richey, they are adamant that their return to music shouldn’t draw on the image or reputation of their absent friend. On no account must it seem like they’re exploiting this story. Hence their reluctance to do any press interviews in advance of the single’s release, and the fact the promotion of the band uses graphic images rather than photos of the remaining three members. This self-effacing style is partly a result of the band’s growing old - they don’t want to be dressed in combat fatigues or sailor suits any more. But as hyper-literate pop fans, they also know that there is one band who dealt with the loss of a focal member in a similar fashion.
Ian Curtis, singer with Manchester’s Joy Division, hanged himself at his family home on May 18, 1980, just before an American tour. After his death, his lyrical despondency and crooning requiems took on an almost unbearably bleak import. There were copycat suicides, and the cult of the young boy outsider became a suffocating phenomenon for the band and British music generally.
Joy Division changed their name to New Order, slowly and perceptively reshaping their music into something less introspective. They used abstract designs on their covers, and only barely referred to Ian in the few interviews they conducted. No-one could have accused the band of cashing in on misfortune.
I mention some of this to the Manics because there’s a startling similarity between the metallic sleeve of ‘A Design or Life’ and New Order’s debut, ‘Ceremony’. Could this be a coincidence?
Nicky: ‘We decided to use Mark Farrow, who’d done work for M People and the Pet Shop Boys. We tried to make it...not New Orderish as such, but we definitely wanted to go for that non-image.”
Nicky: “Yeah - that was a conscious decision.”
James: “Not that we want to be reborn in any sense, but. . .
But you can’t really fault Nicky, James and Sean for wanting to change their situation - choosing bouts of normality over chaos, plugging for optimism rather than self-immolation. Behind them lies an awful, unanswered lyric: “from despair to where?” Part of their job now is to respond to that poser.
The French thinker, Jean-Paul Sartre came up with a neat line about this conundrum 50 years ago. “La vie commence a l’autre cots du desespair,” he wrote. Life begins on the other side of despair. Way to go.