Every group has had one: the hapless, well-meaning soul who can't play properly and makes goonish faces in the photos. It's either the band or them. They simply have to go. Meet music's nearly-men...
It's the oldest story in the history of rock'n'roll bands: there you are, thick as thieves, young guns living, breathing, partying, puking and playing together with the Common aim of worldwide domination - us against the world. But something's not quite right. And, as is about to become all-too apparent, that something is you.
You're a weak link, your play in-a-day skills are letting the side down. Or you just don't fit in - you don't get the in-jokes, you haven't read the right books and your inability to get with the ideological programme is, frankly, an embarrassment. Or, you're just a bit of a wanker who gets on the singer's tits.
And so you're out. The kick-up-the-arse can come in many forms. A discreet call from the manager telling you up. Or the other members are never in when you call. Or you cant be bothered to make that Sunday morning rehearsal. Or they tell you they're breaking up only to reform instantaneously - without you.
And as they hoist themselves up from the stinking pit from whence they came to achieve everything they ever dreamed of, you can be sure that, in the obligatory Stalinist rewrite of history, you will be not just a has-been, but a never-was. Not just history, but non-history. And you'll see their proud mums and dads about town. And your mates will put their hits on the jukebox to wind you up. And it will be a bit shit. The archetype for such tales is, of course, Pete Best. Committing the cardinal errors of detracting female attentions from John Lennon and Paul McCartney, keeping his teddy-boy quiff as the others went moptop, and being a bit quiet when the others were turning into speed crazed, livewire lunatics, he clearly had to go. It was 1962. Bad call. A warning to any Bests-in-waiting: don't stand on the right...
Manic Street Preachers
Miles Woodward: the man who could've been Richey
The fact that the title of the new Manics album 'This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours', quotes legendary Welsh socialist Aneurin Bevan signals the group's current preoccupation with distinctly Old Labour notions of class identity. It's strangely fitting, therefore, that a founder member of the Manic Street Preachers has, for the past 20 months, been manning a picket line near the group's hometown in Blackwood, South Wales.
Miles Woodward - known in his teens as 'Flicker' - is one of 31 CWU members sacked by Critchley Labels factory in nearby Oakdale for going on strike over union derecognition. But, as his personal snapshots show, he is also the original fourth Manic Street Preacher.
Considering the shock tactic pyrotechnics of the Manics' first years of fame, it's perhaps surprising that the photos show Miles out-punking the other three. True, it's cartoonish 'postcard' punk, but compared to Nicky, Sean and James - looking every bit the Class of '87 sixth-formers with their pleated trousers, flat-tops and shaved sidey bits - he looks like a rock ‘n’ roll monster.
The 30-year-old Miles, who lives in Blackwood with his parents, knew the others from school (Miles was in the same year as Nicky and James, Sean was a year older). The band formed in late 1985 while they were all studying at Cross Keys College. 'Nick was writing lyrics, and he'd given them to James who could already play guitar quite well," Miles remembers. 'We put them to music and started to tape them. I took a tape home, listened to it and thought, that's quite good, Like - a bit like Billy Bragg."
The embryonic Manic Street Preachers ("I think it was James who came up with the name") rehearsed in a shed in Nicky's garden. With Miles on bass and Nicky playing second guitar, James was even then shouldering the musical weight. The music was inevitably "just basic three-chord punk played on crap guitars with crap amps," and featured Sean playing two 'drums standing up, Like Bobby Gillespie in the early Jesus And Mary Chain. "Everybody thought we were crap," he recalls. "There was a lot of abuse at the gigs."
Early covers included the Mary Chain’s 'Just Like Honey', the Pistols' 'God Save The Queen and 'Pretty Vacant, Stiff Little Fingers' 'Alternative Ulster' and Blondie's 'Union City Blue'. Miles recalls that initial lyrical concerns were, not unreasonably, 'about growing up and being a teenager - there was nothing particularly political in the lyrics then. I remember ‘Anti- Social' was one song title... "
Fine times, obviously. But by 1987 the demon that is 'musical differences' was lurking. "We used to like a lot of the same groups," he says, 'but the others were also into indie while I liked a lot of heavy metal and American punk. They were going more pop - I just wanted to go more hardcore.'
And so Miles 'Flicker' Woodward left the Manic Street Preachers, just as they were starting to rehearse 'Suicide Alley' (an ignored single that resurfaced as a B-side on 'Little Baby Nothing'). The Manics' carried on as the now familiar three-piece before recruiting another member, a quiet loner from down the road called Richey Edwards. 'I never knew him that well," says Miles. "I knew him to say 'alright' to, but that was all."
Miles hasn’t set eyes on Nicky or Sean since about 1990 and only spoke to James four years ago after a chance meeting in a local pub. There's no bitterness, mind you: although the recent songs are too quiet for his punk-metal tastes, Miles says, "I do feel very proud to have been a part of it. Mates do have a bit of a joke with me when a song comes on the jukebox, saying that it could have been you, but I’m not that bothered.
They were great times, I suppose. The best times I’ve ever had. That feeling you get from being in a great band - it really did feel like us against the world"