Glamorgan, that is... If the Manic Street Preachers are the world's most post-modern, clued-up, moralistic rock four-piece, how come they've never been on The Late Show and other groups refuse to play on the same festival bill as them? After a whirlwind year involving The Black Crowes, Michael Stipe, and Nicky Wire's liver packing up, the hills are once again alive with the sound of clever heavy metal that lives at home with its parents. Now there's revolutionary 4 you.
“Family fills is with dread. This album is the best thing we can do. If it fails, we deserve it, we'll be totally humiliated."
Bad reference, probably, but there's a Pavement line that goes "I was dressed for success. but success it never comes". It's the saddest thing you ever heard. In a 40 Minutes documentary recently, the bereaved Ernie Wise had us all believing that yes, he and Erie's showbiz star was simply preordained.
Slippery blighter, fame. Most don't get within sniffing distance of it, and the few that do are in grave danger of being consumed by it. Can a true nihilist hunger for celebrity? Yes, because, as the Manic Street Preachers' Slash 'N' Bum' correctly pointed out, 'You need your stars, even killers have prestige, access to a living you will not see". And, among their many other accolades the Manics are, without a doubt, the world's cleverest band. So post-modem they're proud of not all playing on the records, so cool they picked quotes from Nietzsche, Camus, Larkin, Confucius and Chuck D for their first album sleeve, so reasonable they like Suede and so glamorous they have never taken Ecstasy.
"It's too designed to make you happy," explains occasional guitarist Richey Edwards. "People I know who've taken E just want to be friends with everybody! I've got much more respect for people who stick a needle in their veins..."
Bingo! Two minutes into the interview and Richey's said something controversial already. That’s what we pay these boys for isn’t it? Isn’t it?
The Manic Street Preachers were dressed for success. From Blackwood, in depressed South Wales they came, four school chums In small girls' blouses with "punk" slogans sprayed onto them, a mess of bile and cynicism, the names of a thousand icons dropped in an accent forever discredited by Ruth Madoc and Mr Cheeseman on Dad's Army. 1990, Madchester fever, and these boys were the antidote.
They were the "Glam" in Mid Glamorgan. And they claimed, in that voice, that they'd laughed when Lennon was shot. The rest is history: 'Motown Junk', a golden handshake from corporate globe-straddlers Sony, Richey carving "4 REAL" Into his left arm to prove some ill-thought-out point, the debut album going gold, that poignant *M*A*S*H cover entering the Top Ten, and bassist Nicky Wire's liberal-baiting "Let's hope Michael Stipe goes the same way as Freddie Mercury in 1993" at their triumphant Kilburn show in December. Success, in many of its strange, aromatic forms, came. The Manic' star was preordained. They were born to...what, exactly?
To run? Well, the Americans only bought 35,000 copies of their album, although it went gold over here, but there's still some territory uncovered, shall we say. The June-release follow-tip, 'Gold Against The Soul' - a single album, thankfully - has a lot of work to do.
To die? Well, the Mastics' self-destruct button remains unpushed. Although they arrived in a dust-storm of braggadocio, Insolence, stupidity and bold claims (like, well split up after our first album... yeah, right) the new Mimics are a healthier prospect, confident enough to drop their guard a little, halve the make-up budget, and swap the flouncy trimmings for a little Black Crowes swagger.
To be wild? Possibly. If playing computer games, working through the night and making collages for the wall of where they're staying is your idea of wild. In truth, the Manics are a rare bird indeed. Let's just say, to ponce a line from one of their own great songs, they were "born to end"...
We find them at Hook End Manor, a live-in studio in the glorious countryside near Reading, finishing the album. Or at least the ones who sully their hands with such tasks are finishing the album. Singer James Dean Bradfield and his drumming cousin Sean Moore do that tricky stuff. As is now legend, Richey and Nick write the words, conceive the art-work and, yep, keep those baying journalists sated with VFM quotes. As if to illustrate this revolutionary demarcation process, while we three adjourn to a remote, godforsaken pub with all the country charm of a dairy for chit-chat, James is beavering away back at the control centre with first-time producer 21-year-old Dave Eringa on some extra guitars and vocals. Don't wait up now!
Nicky hasn't had a drink for eight months, due to a "dodgy liver, or Gilbert's Syndrome, brought on by a bout of glandular fever which, due to a missing enzyme in the liver, leads to jaundice. "My brain cells are the only thing left on my body which function correctly," he half-laments, half-boasts, "and it's the one thing I've got an advantage over everyone I meet Physically, I'd always lose M a fight." Let's hope Nicky doesn't go the same way as Insert Name Of Dead Rock Star Here in 1993, eh? Meanwhile, we really ought to clear up that Stipe jibe. Was it planned as a sort of stop-gap rent-an-outrage, and do you regret it, young man? "No. It only caused a fuss in the press because it was about someone so revered in their own industry. It was like being at a Red Wedge meeting!"
"It's an upside down view of morality," Richey adds. "I was really, genuinely shocked - outside London that would've got no reaction at all!"
To bury this one forever, yes, it WAS a moderately silly thing to say in public, but no more than we have come to expect, and the furore merely exposed certain rock hacks' hypocrisy, one minute egging the Panics on for a snatch of "good copy", the next disowning them for the same trick. Humbug.
Among their other may accolades, the Manic Street Preachers are the world's most moral band. Big on family values, they all still live with their parents in Wales, travel back there whenever possible, and, in fact, form a tight, impenetrable four-person unit themselves - "It's like an Enid Blyton nightmare!" says James.
Their reputation for being unsociable (a kind of anti-Blur) has not endeared them to the near-Masonic rock fraternity.
"Everybody in bands wants to be friends," moans Rich, "they just assume that because you're in a band you're gonna have so much in common - this great artistic community of musicians - it's quite patronising. If you had two bricklayers in a pub they wouldn't go, Yo! Let's talk bricklaying. Just because you play guitar doesn't mean you're soul brothers.
We're shy people. When we go back home we haven't got this list of friends. It's not like, Waheey, the boys are back! The four of us have always been really close, we never saw the point in meeting any-one else really.
"Nicky states, "I can't think of a single band in any interview who've said they like us... And I'm really proud of that. We can't get summer festival slots because bands don't want to go on before us or after us. The minute we get added to a bill, every other band says, Can we play on the Friday?"
Ask the Marks what they want and it's not money, fame, immortality or wanton dog sex.
"Respect," whispers Richey.
Who from? Your peers?
"Not from our peers. (He thinks about it) Although a little bit wouldn't go amiss."
It's worth noting that they supported heroes The Black Crowes in Rotterdam and Dienze, Belgium last year, having been offered the entire European tour at a sadly inconvenient time. Somebody's taking them seriously. No matter. They feel they have been "rewritten out of history". It's a Stalin job, reckons Nick, referring specifically to Select's 'Britishness' feature, in which they read the same homespun/glamour/stardom manifesto they were peddling two years back: "We didn't even get a line!"
SELL-OUT! SELL-OUT! (I’M JUST CRYING IT FOR YOU.)The Manic Street Preachers are taking a keyboard player out on tour with them next time! It's Dave the producer, and his contribution will be to mercifully 'fill out' a sound notoriously undisturbed by Richey.
"There's no way I'd be allowed to be in any other band in the world!" he exclaims.
Among their many other accolades, the Manics are the most honest band on the planet.
"James would never ever come into my bedroom and say, I think you should play your guitar a bit better.”
Nicky: "We have these discussions about cracking America, y'know, We've got to be better! And you know that Richey’ll never ever practise for more than half an hour in the day!"
The dynamics of James carrying the band live (especially on a riff-dependant showstopper like 'Motorcycle Emptiness') actually makes for captivating entertainment, watching him suffer, as it were. But it is Richey's astute comment on Riot Grrrl that brings the whole thing into perfect perspective: "
A lot of Riot Grrrl bands are people like me and Nick, with no one there to write a song for them. If you haven't got someone with a true desire and talent for music like James and Sean, you're lost, you'll end up just saying slogans."
BOYO! GIRL! REVOLUTION! Now! Perhaps.
James, 24, is the genius lacking In Huggy Bear. Nick describes him as the best young boy guitarist In Britain by a mile". As befits a genius, James doesn't like doing interviews (remember who domes do the talking in Suede...) However, after much coercion and whisky in twos, he is convinced, three weeks after the Hook End tapes, to give Select a piece of his mind in a Shepherds Bush pub.
"A lot of it's down to bone structure..." he muses, trying to explain how his two "wingers", as he calls them, contribute as much as he does to the Manics effect. "It's just being intelligent about what we do, and not letting our egos get in the way. A band should be a positive division of labour, people should do what they're best at. I'm not going to let Richey try a solo just because I think it'll do his self-esteem a load of good, because he can't do it..."
Apparently Richey plays "some light stuff' on this LP, but James becomes enraged about the muso accusations that forever fly.
"One poxy journalist said we were playing live to a DAT! What's that then? A DAT with mistakes on? Fucking twat! Richey's not miming, he's playing very quiet guitar.”
"Richey and Nick never rely on me to look aesthetically pleasing, and that's a pressure in itself. When your frontman goes out there not looking remotely pretty, that's a big gap to fill too. Our music has always been a vehicle for the lyrics."
On 'Gold Against The Soul' the lyrics are more disciplined and focused. Gone are the explosions in a situatlonist's flat, replaced with thematic, haunting prose that peaks on a remarkable track, 'Symphony Of Tourette', about Tourette's Syndrome, the disturbing random-ticks-and-cursing disease that only this band would/could write a rock song about.
The image that's imprinted on my mind from the Hook End Manor visit is of a recording studio at four in the morning, James on the other side of the glass, lights off for feeling, repeating over and over and over again the central passage from that song, no other sound but his splendid, tortured voice:
"Children can be cruel she said/So I smashed her in the fucking head/I’m sorry dear, that's the nature of Tourette/Childnm can be cruel she said/So I smashed her in the fucking head..."
Sure shames all those impotent, snobby criticisms of the Mantes being a joke band. James worked till six. He was tip the next day at eleven. This is quite an album we're talking about here. Forget the disparate, unsure excesses of 'Generation Terrorists'. Forget the blouses. Forget the forearm. This is a band at the crossroads, making big, serious, political music for the world market. They care about the looks rather than the lifestyle, and they have a driven man at their core. They have, to Richey's chagrin, never been on The Late Show.
Actually, the "driven" bit causes James to laugh his big, self-effacing laugh. "My Dad's a carpenter. He's a driven man!"
To get a feel for what James is really like, just listen to him passionately berating London life.
'People in London hardly ever have Sunday dinner in the house. People in London think it's a big deal to take you out for a meal. They don't know what it's like to have a proper pet! People in London think it's a bind to go out to Putney! I used to walk two miles to Nick's house with my guitar and amp. It wasn't a bind! Nick's mum said she'd never want to live anywhere except for Wales. I said, why? The prices? The people? No. She said, I'd miss the hills! I thought that was funny. None of us have bought a place in London, and that's all we need to say really." They could take you home to their parents. PJ O'Rourke. Bill Hicks. Mark E Smith. The Manic Street Preachers. People who are supposedly "outrageous" or 'revolutionary" but in fact contain a core of home-pride good sense that ought to shame us all.
BORN TO END. THLS STORY HAS TWO ENDINGS. The first involves lying on Richey's plush four-poster bed in Hook End Manor, listening to 'Suede', and attempting to get some more truth out of him before the night slips away down the neck of that vodka bottle. He rekindles the image of Sid Vicious in the Pistols film DOA, where the old sleaze nods off during an interview. Nancy is prodding him, and a voice off-camera says 'Sid. Sid!”
When did you last have sex, Richey? "11.12.92."
Ever regretted the ‘USELESS GENERATION' tattoo?
"Nah, because it's better than my Dad's DIY tattoo of an eagle, done when he was in the parachute regiment. He doesn't like mine at all, thinks it's too childish. Bernard's the coolest in Suede."
You are all heterosexual aren't you, Richey?
"Maybe. I've been homo for a long time."
He's fading fast. Homo what, Richey?
"Fuck knows, I don't know. I know what you're trying to say. I know what you mean. Is that homo-erotic? (Points to picture of Iggy Pop in 1979 on the cover of one of his archive music papers) What I like is, even the colour, black and white, that L7 piercing cover doesn't mean anything to anyone does it? It's not the same thing is it?...12 per cent...why do you need to do that? Steve Lamacq knows what he's talking about...(begins to slur and giggle, yawn and repeat himself) You too can he in a bed like this... you too...(going) Very Morrissey...don't hate 'em at all...bit too reverential about Suede...(going) Forgive Suede...forgive themzzzzzzz."
The other ending. Ooooh, it involves a Thursday night central London grunge disco called Rockit, three weeks later, oblivion, and vomiting in the fire-place of the band's rented Shepherds Bush flat. You don't want to know about it.
A poignant moment arose, however. Talking away to Richey that night, gassin’ on. getting 'em in, it suddenly dawned on me: Neither of us played on the Manic Street Preachers' records!