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It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us, Bach - GQ, April 2001

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Title: It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us, Bach
Publication: GQ
Date: April 2001
Writer: Stuart Maconie
Photos: Chris Floyd


After ten years, the Manic Street Preachers are still Wales' angriest export. We can all profit from their rage.

With some people it's Catholicism or the Labour Party or Manchester City or the former Soviet Union. With me, it's the Manic Street Preachers.

Though it's been only ten years,the bond is dyed in the wool. This must be how dewy-eyed old socialists feel about Mick McGahey, the NHS or mobile libraries. Clearly,this is no way for a grown man to think in this inverted-commas era, where other grown men ride kids' scooters to work. But I can't help it. And With a new Manic Street Preachers album hovering into view, the old stirring in the breast is there again.

It's a case of "my country, right or wrong."

Mostly I love their demagogic Workers' Education Authority stadium rock, and even on the rare occasions I don't, I keep quiet about it. I was silent on January 2000's instantly deleted, rabble-rousing chart-topper "Mass Against The Classes", until I'd learned to love it. And it's not hard to love a pop record that boasts "additional lyrics by Noam Chomsky and Albert Camus." In a milieu where Robbie Williams qualifies as Oscar Wilde and Bono as Bertrand Russell, the Manics are the group whose lyric sleeves you can read between choruses without ruining your IQ.

The Manic are bona fide working-class autodidacts; scholarship boys burning with righteous indignation. When the NME ran a student special in the mid-Nineties, most of the then crop of indie flotsam offered jokey advice about stealing traffic cones and rolling Camberwell carrots. Richey Edwards, the sneer audible even in newsprint, reminded the freshers among the NME's readership that they were there to learn, not to goof off, and advised them to familiarise themselves with the lay out of the library.

Stuff like this makes them treasurable, although they have been aware of the pitfalls of self-parody right from the beginning. Back in the days when the four of them sat in a bedroom in Blackwood, planning world domination and discussing Rumble fish and Hanoi Rocks,James Bradfield was aware "of the clacking of high heels on the pavement below, wondering if we shouldn't be out there having a good time too."

Of course, the Manics' notion of a good time has always deviated subtly from hoary rock myth. Terri Hall of their Hall Or Nothing management and PR company remembers the days when the fledgling band would sleep on the floor of her London flat."There would always be four pairs of white Levi's in the washing machine and bottles of Babycham in the fridge." What could be less conventionally rock'n'roll than that little prancing deer logo and that sweet, fizzy Seventies shop-girl tipple?

Of course they can afford gestures on a larger scale now, and their latest joyous act of idiosyncrasy was to launch their new album not merely with two different, simultaneous singles "So Why So Sad" and "Found That Soul" - but with a gig in the 5,000-capacity Karl Marx Theatre, Havana. Of course, this being the Manic, this sojourn was more than just a blast of winter sun and a chance to refill the cigar box. For Nicky is the last place that holds out against the Americanisation of the world." The show was the first airing of the new Manic album, the enticingly named Know Your Enemy. "It sounds like a Manic Street Preachers album should - it's fast, sleazy, loose and effortless," says Wire. "It's just more of an adventure, more of an experiment."

The title is comfortingly confrontational after the worryingly conciliatory implication of This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours. Hopefully, some new targets will be added to a list that has included zoos, high-street banks, indie music, Michael Stipe, the royal family and metropolitan media types. "They have no idea they never sit down to a proper Sunday lunch and they can't keep a pet properly," as James Bradfield once told me with barely disguised disgust.

If all this sounds a little too domesticated, there is a dictum of Gustave Flaubert's that I still hope will find its way onto a Manics' sleeve one day. "Be regular and ordinary in your life, like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work." The Manic Street Preachers have given us ten years of violently original work and bolshie good fun. Uncork the Babycham for their return.