Writer Isaac Lock waits In line with his fellow Manic Street Preachers superfans
In Wolverhampton it's raining and the temperature Is just a few degrees above freezing. It's barely midday, but I've already puked from travelling too early on nothing but an Upper Crust coffee. In comparison to the 20 or so dedicated Manic Street Preachers fans who are queuing outside the Civic Hall already for a gig that evening, I'm foolishly unprepared. They're are all doing fine and some of them have been here since 5AM. A lot of them have sleeping bags, umbrellas and plastic emergency sacks to sit in. Two of them have full size, fold-out camping chairs with drinks holders in the arms.
Many of them don't wish to talk. I've tried with some of them before - hey, wasn't I standing behind you at the Manchester gig, too? - but I've always found that interruptions to their focus on the band, or to leaning on the barrier before the band come on, doing their make-up and playing Candy Crush, are not welcomed. Hey, wasn't I standing behind you at the Manchester gig, too? Yes.
Today, the fan at the very front of the queue tells me she's had bad news so doesn't want to do my story. The next one tells me that he suspects that the last writer he spoke to was a fake, that he wasn't writing a story at all.
The next fan - a woman with brilliant peroxide blonde hair - agrees to speak on the condition that I don't write her name. I've seen her before, moving with a smooth efficiency as she queues right up against doors waiting for them to open, power walks to the barrier, points, sings and dances in unison with her fellow fans.
"I mean, I really doubt I'm that interesting," she says, gently. "But we can talk " She tells me she's been to every show that the band have done since 2002, and that she queues all day at them because she still enjoys it. "Everyone needs a hobby," she says. "People go and see the same football team over and over again even though as far as I can see basically the same thing happens every time. If you love something, I don't see why you shouldn't be dedicated to it. Do you know what I mean?"
I do, because as a teenager I was a superfan myself. I've seen a girl pee her pants on the barrier at a festival, during a set by the Beautiful South, so as not to lose her spot for the Manics who were up next. and I've thought, fair enough, I'd do the same should needs must.
At 13, I'd write different lyrics from the Holy Bible, the band's seminal album that had come out a few years earlier, In 1994, on myself every day. and I would carry around a tiny, lilac fun-fur notebook full of pictures of Richey Edwards - the bands staggeringly beautiful lyricist, creative force and guitarist, who had gone missing - in case an emergency required me to gaze longingly at his face.
Discovering the intelligence and anger of the Holy Bible and the unrelenting glamour of the band's aesthetic made , me feel suddenly understood, and soon enough I was meeting other superfans - of the Manics and other less successful (and without exception terrible) gram indie bands that were having a moment at the time. I was in a Geocities and pen pal community of exciting, queer kids around the country who all had a sense of devotion in common. By the time I was 14-and-a-half, all my friends were superfans.
In Wolverhampton, the blonde fan is telling me how, actually, following a band for a whole tour can be pretty reasonable, cost-wise, if you're willing to split a Travelodge room six ways, when her friend. another long-time queuer who has gone off for provisions comes back loaded up with Sainsbury's bags. The blonde asks her if she's ok. "No." she says. "No spuds."
I introduce myself and she agrees to talk on the same condition that I don't write her name. 'There's a Spudulike here in Wolverhampton and it's the best thing about the place," she says. "And they didn't have any bloody spuds." "What do Spudulike do if not spuds?" I ask "Well," she says. "Well."
She's being going to shows for 24 years, since she was sitting her GCSEs. She tells a story of meeting her blonde friend and third friend of theirs, who doesn't queue any more, at a festival. "She didn't have any food with her!" she says. "And I gave her a right telling off. It's three days! You'll die!" "She brought a lolly," the blonde one says. "No sustenance!"
She tells me that she doesn't consider herself the most dedicated fan. "There's loads of people who go to all of the shows and don't queue. We're just crazy. We just like sitting in the street." "When I first started queuing we'd just turn up with a bin bag to sit on, and we'd queue over night," the blonde one says. Because it was necessary then to get the spot you wanted? 'Probably not!" the other one says. "Well, there was this whole competition with the Finnish girls," the blonde says. "Friendly competition though. We used be in a friendly competition with a group of Finnish girls." "Well. we're friendly now." "For me," her friend says, "queuing is Just about making sure I get to the place were I can See everything." "There's nothing between you and them." "You can see everything with no interruptions. And in our case, you're experiencing it right next to your best friends. It's euphoric!"
Next to those two in the queue there's a woman in her forties who comes over from Japan for most of the shows, but doesn't speak much English and spends most of the day sitting silently, alone. Next to her, there's a girl in a tartan kilt doing the same thing. Next to her there's eight or so younger fans - aged between 17 and 22 - who have been queuing for as many Manics gigs as they can since they all met at one at the O2 Arena in 2011. Well a lot of us met on Tumblr," one of them, called Rossy says. "But we met in person at the O2."
They're all from different places - mainly in the UK although there's a brother and sister here from Hungary - but found each other through their fandom. "It's not like we all loved each other at first sight," one of the younger ones says, tuning to Rossy. "You hated me at first.' It's not that I hated you," Rossy says, "it's just that I thought you were an annoying baby. A big, annoying, sloppy baby." 'Oh and there's a difference, is there? "Sure. One is hate, one is just you being a big sloppy baby. The difference is pretty clear. I love you now!" "Well I'm glad that's cleared up. You learn things all the time being a Manics fan."
A trio of even younger fans arrive - ghostly white with matching bits of blue hair and glitter, and one of Rossy's friends starts telling me about Manics fan fiction. She says there is a website called Manic Street Imagines. "Some of the things on there are crazy. Definitely crazier than waiting in a queue to actually physically see the band." "People will write fan fiction about anything, though," Someone else says.
True. On my sixteenth birthday, for example, I received a brown A4 envelope covered in ok but not great stickers, easy to find Hello Kitty -addressed to me in that bubbly kind of handwriting with little fat circles as dots for the 'i's, and it was full of fan-fiction about me. It was from a fan-friend, a pen pal, who had recently moved to university and, for reasons unknown, had picked me as her muse for her creative writing class. The superfan serpent had started eating its tail and, suddenly, I had a superfan myself. She a hundred pages of handwritten stories in which I appear alongside her, as some kind of little brother-lover hybrid.
In one of them she finds me, deathly thin, bleeding out in her bathtub. into the glitter and petals of a Lush bath bomb. "Even as he scratched desperately towards his final hours," she wrote. "he insisted on being bathed in beauty."
In another, I murder my parents, and in another still, she drags me from a blood spattered hospital room screaming, "you can't keep him here against his wig, he wants to be with me!", while some kind of nurse-Terminator hybrid says "Don't worry, he'll be back."
In amongst the fantasies of my demise, she had included real life information about things I had only confided to her because our shared fandom made me feel safe. All my difficult secrets were there, and from that point on I started to withdraw. I decided it might be better to spend time with people who only like things, like, a bit.
Since then though, I wondered. and still wonder, If I was missing something by not being a fan: the sense of community, the joy of cynical devotion to everything to do with a thing, even the parts that are a bit shit. As if to demonstrate the first point, in Wolverhampton. the 24-year-Manics-veteran is handing out cookies to her blonde friend and a couple of others. "Oh, no. I'm ok, thanks, one of them says. "Oh just have it, it will do you good," she says back, bossy, maternal and lovely.
Simon Price, the Manics biographer, who is DJing at that nights show, turns up. He's in a knee length leopard coat and chunky heels, and he teeters up and down the queue a couple of times like the ballerina hippos from Fantasia, before a couple of the youngest fans go over to meet him. I'll have to add that to my list of achievements," one of them says later. "Meeting Simon Price."
Beata, a Polish woman in her early thirties arrives with a sign she's made. On one side it says God Save the Manics and on the other it says God Bless Richey 4 the Holy Bible. "People think I come over from Poland for the shows," she tells me, "but it's not true - I live here." She tells me about a pilgrimage to their hometown of Blackwood in Wales, and that she has learnt to speak Welsh. "People think it's strange to queue, I suppose," she says. "But I have fun. I'm from a former socialist country, remember. At least we're not queuing for meat. I remember queuing for toilet paper. This is nothing compared to that." A man in full camouflage arrives and asks her about a loved one that's unwell. "I'm horribly worried," she says. He rubs her shoulder and tells her to let him know if she needs something.
Two girls arrive speaking Finnish: the former rivals of the women I met at the front of the queue. "We don't really queue anymore," they say. I point out that the doors aren't open and that we're outside in the rain. We're queuing. "Oh this isn't queuing," one of them says. "Queuing is what we used to do overnight." They tell me about the time they skipped one of the bands' past Wolverhampton dates to get to Swansea a night early and beat the English girls, and about the times people have mistaken them for beggars. "I mean we know it's crazy to do it," one of them says. "But we're not actually crazy. We Just do it for fun." "Well, when there were the Nicky Wire solo shows I suppose we did lose our minds," her friend says. "We camped out in a field before a festival opened for 36 hours." I ask how long it was before the next people came to join the queue. "Oh," she says. "That time no one came. It was completely pointless, but it was fun!"
There's a rattling inside the doors and suddenly the fans are on their feet, neatly lined up, ready for the second when they open. The girl in the kilt who's been on her own all day is right in from of me, and she's been joined by a boy, who's come along at the last minute and jumped in front of me. Hey, I think about saying for a second some of us have been standing here all day in the rain, you know, but he's holding up a hand to show that it's literally trembling with excitement and I think, fine, you go ahead. Maybe I'll get you another time. In Swansea.