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Heart As Big As Liverpool - Liverpool etc, 13th May 2016

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Title: Heart As Big As Liverpool
Publication: Liverpool etc
Date: Friday 13th May 2016
Writer: Tom Carroll

Manic Street Preachers are in town tonight. The town is a place they love, too, as the band’s affiliations and affections with Liverpool go back a long way. Libraries may have given them power – but it was this city that gave them their inspiration.

Back in May 1997, Manic Street Preachers played the Hillsborough Justice Concert at Anfield. Riding the crest of an unprecedented (for them) commercial wave, they didn’t need to play the gig in order to sell records and no-one would have questioned their absence… but play they did. Liverpool has loved them ever since and it’s fair to say that the feeling is mutual. Nicky Wire, the band’s mouthpiece/soundbite generator, recently tweeted that this city is “beautiful-brave-proud”.

The Manics have been long-time supporters of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and have addressed the cover-up candidly in their art. On ‘S.Y.M.M’, from 1998s ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’, Wire wondered “… South Yorkshire mass murderer, how can you sleep at night?” At the time, this was labelled “in bad taste” by South Yorkshire Police’s assistant chief constable, Ian Daines. The truth leaves a funny taste, does it? More recently, in 2013’s ’30-Year War’, lyricist Wire lay the blame firmly at the feet of the ‘old boy network’: “It’s the longest running joke in history, to kill the working classes in the name of liberty, the lies of Hillsborough, the blood of Orgreave.”

The links to Liverpool don’t stop there – it can be argued that most of Manic Street Preachers’ formative musical influences (The Clash aside) come from this city. Top of the list, musically and aesthetically, is Pete Wylie and his various incarnations of WAH! The sweeping scope of much of 1996’s ‘Everything Must Go’ (more on which later) has a direct lineage stretching back to WAH!s 1982 single ‘The Story of The Blues’ and its 1983 follow-up, ‘Hope (I Wish You’d Believe Me). In 2011, James Dean Bradfield even joined Wylie and the Justice Tonight band in Cardiff for a thrilling run-through of 1984’s ‘Come Back’.

Echo & The Bunnymen also loom large in the story of the Manics – singer Bradfield’s first gig was watching the Bunnymen in Bristol and, in 2010, the band even released a duet, ‘Some Kind of Nothingness’, with Ian McCulloch… Mac even joined the band for a live version of said song when the ‘Postcards From A Young Man’ tour arrived at Mountford Hall later that year. The band are big fans of Michael Head, too. When asked to think about a song that represented his thoughts on turning thirty, many years ago, Bradfield opted for Shack’s ‘Comedy’: “I don’t know if this says more about me turning 30 than the actual song itself, but the one that really sticks in my mind is ‘Comedy’, by Shack,” he told Drowned In Sound. “There’s something traditional about bands that come from Liverpool, they have an innate respect for pop music, or, for great music, and Shack’s ‘H.M.S. Fable’ is just another of those records that fuses orchestration to amazing songs: lush, melancholic, drones… absolutely stunning.”

Tonight, then, Manic Street Preachers are back in Liverpool for the first time since 2010 – bringing their ‘Everything Must Go 20th Anniversary Tour’ to the ECHO Arena. ‘Everything Must Go’ is an album that elevated the band to the big time, but it wasn’t actually a radical sonic departure from the style they’d honed on their debut, ‘Generation Terrorists’, or its follow-up, ‘Gold Against The Soul’: big, brash choruses, underpinned by loud guitars and deliberately commercial production.

It was a massive leap in style from its predecessor, however, in 1994’s ‘The Holy Bible’. That was an album so dark, despairing and claustrophobic (in both lyrical content and sound), ‘Everything Must Go’ sounds like it was made by a completely different band. After lyricist/guitarist (and principal architect, pun intended, of ‘The Holy Bible’) Richey Edwards went missing in 1995, the band decided to carry on as a functioning entity – but the lyrics Nicky Wire started to write in Edwards’ absence demanded a completely new (old) sound. The band turned to Mike Hedges to produce – he had previously worked with Siouxsie and the Banshees and, crucially, WAH! on ‘The Story of The Blues’. The song they worked on first was ‘A Design For Life’ and, once recorded, it was then they knew that the decision to continue as a band was completely justified.

Opening with one of the all-time great lyrics (“Libraries gave us power… “), ‘A Design For Life’ is, at its heart, a pop song with a great Motown backbeat… and a pop song that announced the Manics’ arrival to the masses. The album spawned four hit singles and set the band on course to be the biggest band of the late nineties and with those number one singles, albums and sell-out stadium shows to prove it.

Now, twenty years later, they’re taking ‘Everything Must Go’ back on the road and returning to the arenas that its success unlocked for them – the album will be played in full, followed by a second set of hits, fan favourites and curios. And it all starts tonight… in Liverpool. Where else?