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Interview: Nicky Wire & Jeremy Deller - www.manics.co.uk, 20th December 1999

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ARTICLES:1999



Title: Interview: Nicky Wire & Jeremy Deller
Publication: www.manics.co.uk
Date: Monday 20th December 1999


THE INTERVIEWS TOOK PLACE AT THE UNCONVENTION EXHIBITION IN CARDIFF.

Nicky Wire Interview

In the past, dramatists used to imagine what Britain would have been like if we'd lost the second world war. You think, how would it have turned out? There's a related feeling in this the exhibition. Let's imagine we were back at the start of the Manics career, ten years ago. You could have played this mad game. What would happen if the Manics became famous? In your wildest dreams, there would be an exhibition in Cardiff, works by Picasso, Andy Warhol and stuff. Now it's actually happened, does that feel surreal to you?

Nicky: "Yeah, but my ego was big enough then and big enough now to feel justified by it. I do feel that no other band in Britain or the world could have something like this. Bands have exhibitions on their own artwork, and all the rest, but this is just something really really special."

You've already said that your favourite work in this show is by Martin Kippenberger (Vom Einfachsten nach Hause). How does he fit into the Manics' vision?

Nicky: "After 'The Holy Bible' we were looking for a single cover for 'Faster' and 'PCP'. If you remember, it was a Chinese or Japanese kid with a bottle of Coke, sucking on a straw. I'd only vaguely heard of Kippenberger before that, and I found it in a book. I thought it was perfect. And from then on, I really got into him. He's not that famous. Obviously, in Germany, he is more. But he's lived to the minute, the exact opposite to me, in every sense. It's the same idea of the cover to the Sex Pistols' 'Holiday In The Sun' - A holiday in other people's misery. "and then for 'Revol' we used one of his pictures, and for 'She Is Suffering'. He had a big impact. He's an artist of our time.

I wasn't aware of the powerful connection between the Welsh and the Spanish civil war, until I saw this show. Were you?

Nicky: "There really was a connection. About three years ago I said I was trying to write this song, after 'Spanish Bombs' by The Clash and 'Homage To Catalonia' by George Orwell. I was trying to bring it all together. I actually got sent a lot of books from university professors from Swansea and stuff. Perhaps I didn't even know the scale of it myself, the scale of the Welsh involvement. Even when we were touring America the last time, I had a really nice book given to me, and it was letters from the American International Brigade. I didn't even know there was one. So all those kind of things make it worthwhile."

We're coming up to new year's eve now. Your show in Cardiff is obviously popular, in contrast to some other high profile events. What are your expectations for the evening?

Nicky: "I'm scared to my wits end at the moment! There's gonna be an exodus from the valleys. I don't think there's gonna be anybody left up there. So much family and stuff. We're not used to dealing with that. Once we're on stage, we'll be fine, but there's a point in the show where it goes global to two billion people or whatever, so we'll probably be playing awful when we do that. But it's a great way to finish, and then we've got 'Masses Against The Classes' coming out. That feels like we haven't given up. There's something new in us. I'm really glad that that's coming out. I don't believe in retrospectives too much. We could have put a greatest hits out and all the rest of it, but we don't wanna do that yet. We still think there's a lot left."

The song 'Masses Against The Classes' seems to invoke the ghosts of old songs like 'Motown Junk' and 'You Love Us'. Is that right?

Nicky: "To coin your phrase, it's 'super-punky weirdness'. That's exactly what we went for. If you listen to it on headphones, you hear James mumbling stuff, like '1-2-3-4', and there's a Beatles lift from 'Twist And Shout'. There's a Noam Chomsky sample at the start and the last thing James says is a quote from Albert Camus. I sometimes feel that as you get older, you should strive to get into other things. But sometimes you've just gotta go back to your roots. Not just musically, but I should also be proud that I like Camus and Orwell. Just because I've liked them for 15 years, doesn't mean that I should be getting into other stuff just for the sake of it. I feel comfortable with it."

The band took some criticism in the summer. Various sections of the media will be trying to take credit for the new band style, saying, 'ah, we made the manics make a great record'. What would you say to them?

Nicky: "That doesn't bother me. Because, sad as it may seem, the NME is still a vague part of my life. It's getting more vague... But it doesn't bother me that they have to think that. Subliminally, it might even do it. Having said that, I would never do a record with William Hague, like Billy Bragg has just done. Sorry Billy, but I've won there."

The Manics' new year's eve show in Cardiff has drawn 60 000 people, each paying around £30. Most of the dance nights are charging as much as £100. Do you understand the economics of that?

Nicky: "Basically, we're losing £50 000. But with t-shirt sales and video rights, we'll probably make it back. So everyone else has gone out to make money and whatever. I think it's extremely over-rated just to sit there and listen to dance music, but then that's just me. Then again, I think the public have voted with their feet, as they say. We sold this out without even announcing a support band. Now we've got Shack, Feeder and Super Furry Animals, my favourite band in the world."

You made a comment recently about not renewing your passport. Was it flippant or were you serious?

Nicky: "Yeah, it was flippant. I mean, I threaten this all the time. It was always my idea that when the passport was up, it wouldn't be renewed. But I'm surprising our manager and the other boys at the moment. I'm very re-invigorated, I'm doing lots of artistic things and other stuff. So they're all a bit worried about me. I dunno why, but I've just about got over being 30. For a long time, about six months or so, I just felt embarrassed about being it, and then I realised that I'm a lot younger than a lot of bands."

Jeremy Deller Interview

Why did you put this exhibition together and how easy was it to do?

Jeremy Deller: "Well I did a show a few years ago with fans of the band (The Uses Of Literacy) and one of the fans sent in all the books she'd read that the band had inspired her to read. And I thought why don't I take that one step further and put on an exhibition of all the visual references that the band have made and also social and political references. Basically, I got a shopping list together of all the artists that they'd referenced in songs and lyrics and so on. And I just said to this museum, do you want me to put on this show? Get me a Warhol, a Picasso, a Pollock, a de Kooning and Jenny Saville and we did it."

Is there a lot of wrangling before you can get hold of the likes of a Picasso painting from The Tate Gallery?

Jeremy Deller: "There's a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy, especially if you're showing in a gallery that hasn't had any exhibitions before. This is a new gallery, basically. They don't really know who you are, so you have to convince them that you're okay and you're not gonna run off with the work, basically. So they (The Tate) gave us a de Kooning, a Warhol and a Picasso, three very important works for the show."

In many ways, the Manic Street Preachers are anti-establishment, and yet here we are, in a place that's got a lot of credibility, with artists that have got a lot of credibility. Isn't that a weird paradox?

Jeremy Deller: "Yeah, but you have to remember that a lot of the artists here and the photographers are also anti-establishment figures. The show is called Unconvention, so it's about being unconventional or not being establishment. So the fact that it's in an art gallery is a kind of victory for the show, and the artists i like to think."

And you've organised the show around the polarities of love and revolution, isn't that right?

Jeremy Deller: "That's right, it's a quotation by Che Guevara that goes, 'A true revolutionary is motivated by great feelings of love'. So you have this idea that to be a revolutionary you have to want to love something enough to want to fight for fight for it or die for it. And I think artists are also revolutionaries or can be in the way that they've changed how we look at the world. So it's that idea of political revolution and also personal revolution that I was interested in."

In the bigger scheme of things, how important do you think the Manics are?

Jeremy Deller: "I think they're very important. They're more important than a band like Oasis, certainly. Oasis have no cultural references apart from The Beatles. And I don't think they're that interesting as a band. Whereas the Manics can sustain an art exhibition. They are slightly subversive in what they do and that's good to be if you're a rock band, if you have that power."

Did Nicky or the other band members give their blessing?

Jeremy Deller: "I met Nicky very briefly last week, but I haven't been in contact before. I thought, I'll just get on and do it myself, because when you try and start talking to bands, you end up having to talk to record company people and management and PR. It would have taken ten years to do, rather than a year. But Nicky is supportive. He likes the show. He knows that I'm on his side."

Your previous Manics project, Uses Of Literacy, examined how the fans related to the band. Is that right?

Jeremy Deller: "It was a show by the fans, which was writing and artwork and sculpture and prose work as well. It became a book as well. That was my first contact with the band, in that respect."

'And you are also the man who gave us acid brass, didn't you?

Jeremy Deller: "I gave you that, whether you want it or not! That was a brass band from Stockport in the north of England, playing acid house music. KLF tracks and a guy called Gerald and 808 State. Real anthems played by a brass band. Great to experience it."

Do you think that your work will continue to dip into pop culture and music?

Jeremy Deller: "You can only make art about things that you're interested in, so I'm interested in music a lot. But I'm also interested in politics and the way that music and politics can meet. In the same way that the Manics are politically motivated. Acid brass was about politics as well. It was about folk music and dissent."

One part of the show deals with the Spanish civil war and the involvement of Welsh people. Where did you find this stuff?

Jeremy Deller: "There's an archive in Swansea called the South Wales Miners' Library and they've basically been collecting this kind of material for a long period of time. It's just people's personal possessions, really. They get cleared out when people die and they get given to these people. It's an amazing archive."

What piece in this exhibition would you pick out as your favourite?

Jeremy Deller: "It's not a work of art as such, but it's a memorial card for a Welshman who was killed in the Spanish civil war. It's the memorial card for his service back home. And it has quotations about who he was, and political quotations and then the words for a song that was sung at his memorial service. It brings it all back home, really, about people's struggle. It's a very modest little thing, but it's actually so important. The spirit of the show is in small things like that."

Historians normally come back to rock and roll after a period of time, and they tidy it up. You think about the Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol. Afterwards, people say that it's great. But at the time, everybody hated it. What's important about this work is that you're catching it as it's happening.

Jeremy Deller: "Yeah, so we don't have to wait 50 years to see a show like this, while it's still fresh in our minds and the band are still going. I mean, if the band had split up and we were still doing a show like this, it would have seemed a bit after the event. I wanted it to be contemporary in that respect."