Glammed up gobshites from the arse-end of nowhere, the MANIC STREET PREACHERS have, in a few short months, achieved their hearts' desires — a Top 20 placing for the re-issued 'You Love Us', raging controversy over their AOR debut double platter Generation Terrorists, and a green light to go ga-ga bonkers batshit crazy on every stage from Cleethorpes to Kalamazoo — courtesy of The Man Records (AKA Sony/Columbia).
So should we still love them? DAVID QUANTICK joins Nicky, Richey, James and Sean at large in Leicester and discovers a proto supergroup on the verge of self-destruction. Possibly.
KADADADA DANGGG!! Stripped half naked and with writing all over him, James Dean Bradfield screams through 'You Love Us'. Nicky Wire fellates his guitar and Richey James pogos excessively. Sean Moore sits behind his drums, not playing them at all.
"Did you like it, Dad?" says Nicky down the phone as Sean plays with his Sega. We are in the Hotel Dull, Leicester, watching the Manic Street Preachers' Top of the Pops debut and chaos does not rule.
"Top of the Pops is horrible," says Nicky. "They're like teachers, ordering you around… James were on it and it was like they own the BBC. Tim Booth was walking around shaking hands and everyone was going, 'Hi, Tim!"
James Dean Bradfield is very unimpressed with the performance. "Scummy underclass," he says, mysteriously. "We were scummy underclass."
Leicester University is not an exciting place. The Manics are playing a nice paneled room full of students who all sit cross-legged on the floor before the show. I find Tom, Trev and Nick, students all. Why are you here, Tom, Trev and Nick?
"Something to do, innit?" says Tom.
"It's punk," says Trev. "They're revving it".
"Tom's a Cure fan," says Nick.
My attention is diverted by three girls in crazed attire stealing all the posters and cardboard displays. Nicky, Camille and Sarah are slightly more keen on the Manics.
"They're brilliant!" they rant. "They're the only band who say anything at all! They don't like anybody! Slowdive and Chapterhouse are all f—ing shitty bands who don't mean anything! They just look at their feet and go on about f— all!"
"Everything they say is true, about having nothing and society… I hate the Queen anyway. She wears shit clothes and sits on the throne all day. And they hate the Queen anyway, so we like them! If they didn't exist, I'd kill myself!"
I run away from Nicky, Camille and Sarah and watch the show. To the possible surprise of some, the Manics play their own instruments, write songs which are memorable forever, kick Tyrannosaurus ass and are dead funny with it. The high point comes after the implausibly-named 'Nat West-Barclays-Midlands-Lloyds' thunders to a bloody feedback-sucking halt and James screams, "REPEAT AFTER ME! F— QUEEN AND COUNTRY" into the microphone. Just as Sean strikes the drums and twin corpses of sex Richey and Nicky prepare to leap in the air like attractive members of The Clash, 40 students, punk rockers and mad teenage women invade the stage. Everything collapses. The plugs are pulled and the stage is cleared by rough student bouncers, and
then the show continues. Just before 'Repeat' begins again, a student union organiser has a stern word with Richey. "You want to be careful," he frowns. "Someone could have sued you for that."
"We're still playing medium-sized venues," moans Nicky Wire, waving his excessive legs from a table ledge in the dressing room. The Manic Street Preachers are on the road to promote Generation Terrorists — the album Slowdive love to hate — and the road in question starts in Warrington and ends, shortly after, in Northampton. Despite Nicky's complaining, people in the dressing room seem happy. Photos are taken and Sony and Columbia bigwigs move about; pressing pale Welsh flesh and smiling.
Having met The Kids, it's time to meet The Man. The Man in this case is the affable Tim Bowen, MD of Columbia Records with besuited ease among the tatty fake leopardskin coats.
"I signed the Manics, I suppose because I went to see a gig in Guildford and I thought they were the most exciting thing I'd seen since The Clash in 1977, who I also signed," says Tim. "I just thought they were amazing; it's refreshing all the way through, even for an old fart like me."
What about the anarchy of it all, though? The latent desire to destroy all that is good and right and tedious? Tim shakes his head.
"They're no more anarchistic than anybody else their age — or my age, come to that. They have something to say, they're pissed off about where they live, they're pissed off about unemployment, but they're not so pissed off that they can't enjoy themselves and express themselves. And that's what young people are meant to do."
Have the Manics sold out by signing with The Man? Tim shakes his head again.
"I don't think any band who signs to Columbia sells out. What they wanted to do was to be very, very successful. And to my mind — and I would say this, wouldn't I? — if you wanna be huge on a worldwide basis, then a company like Columbia is the one to be with. They haven't sold out at all, not one iota… Look at them. Have they sold out?"
It's hard to say, just looking. What if they recorded a record called, say, "F— Columbia — They Are Scum"?
Tim muses a moment. "They just did a TV interview where they said, 'The record company gives us loads of money and they do exactly what we tell them like the serfs they are'. I think that's great! We are serfs, we are parasites, we are money-people and the fact that they say that doesn't hurt me because they are human beings. I sit down and they talk to me. If they made a record that said 'F— Columbia we think they're scum' and they meant it, then I'd be extremely hurt, because I don't think we are. But in the context of how they made the record, I'd say fine, no problem at all."
Nicky is hovering nearby. Nick, would you make a record called "F— Columbia — They Are Scum"?
Nicks beams in a marriageable way. "Yeah. Course we would if it would sell. We're just waiting to be exploited," he chortles.
"What do you mean 'waiting'?" barks Tim Bowen. "We are exploiting you."
"You're not spending enough money on us…" pouts Nicky and declarers, "People can't handle the fact we love being exploited."
So Tim's a pimp and you're a tart?
Tim and Nicky beam. "I'm a pimp, mate, I've got the wallet," grins Tim. "He's the tart, he's got the legs…"
Next day, the tour bus crawls through hell fog to sexy Warrington. The band entertain themselves variously. James happily kicks the manager; Nicky nods his head to Public Enemy, the Pistols, Guns N' Roses and The Rolling Stones; Sean plays with his Sega and Richey shows us his bulging notepad, crammed with typed and handwritten quotes from various icons. (Today's quote is from Mike Tyson — "I'm a million dollar nigger, I don't take orders from white folks").
The Manic Street Preachers are charming men who will happily regale you with absurd anecdotes of their youth and natter on about rock books and records and stuff.
Of course, this proves that they are a fraud. They were punks who cut their arms for publicity, signed to Columbia for immense wealth, ditched their politics and integrity, got session men in to play on the album and just want to tour America and get on MTV… Bollocks, as my old nurse used to say. Fate finally gives the coughing, moulting body of rock something exciting, loud, sexy and integrity-ridden to the extent of absurdity, and suspicion is thrown at it in great clumps while every sad indie fool with a record collection bought at college in 1986 is feted as being "new" and "relevant". Relevant to what? Dysentery?
As Rory the tour manager — by rock law, an ex-member of King Kurt — drives the van ever Northwards. Richey and Nicky shrug a lot and justify themselves. "I don't see the point of being obnoxious, anyway," says Nick, anarchistically. "When we did the first Motown Junk tour, everyone was expecting us to just turn up and smash things up. I wish we could be like that sometimes…"
"We find the punk rock thing really strange anyway," mutters Richey. "We're just really obsessed with the past, and The Clash and Sex Pistols are just two bands, as much as Zeppelin and The Who…"
"We don't deny the influence of The Clash. It's just after the first album they get really boring…"
"London Calling apart," adds Nick, specifically.
Generation Terrorists is the Manics' Combat Rock, only better — an angry, strangely melancholy rampage from 'We Love Yous punking to the awesome 'Motorcycle Emptiness'. Detractors hear it, compare it to the furiously basic super-punk weirdness of 'Motown Junk' and get unhappy.
The Manics disagree. "I think a lot of people are gonna hear something on the album like 'Little Baby Nothing' and think that's really strange, that we've really f—ed up," snorts Richey.
Perhaps they have. The Manics make a virtue of inconsistency. Their last batch of press had them announcing that their ambition was, on the one hand, to release Generation Terrorists and split up in a blaze of glory and, on the other, to be professional, tour America forever and crack it like a real band.
"Our dreams have always been incompatible," giggles Nick, "our ideals and what we want to achieve are really hard to achieve sometimes."
"When we were like a tiny little band from nowhere and we'd sold one record, we said we'd like to sell 60,000,000 LPs. And we thought it was true," confesses Richey. "We've always had a total lack of proportion."
"I still think that at the end of the day we will tour America and at the end of it we will split up, because I am getting really bored," says Nicky in his tired and creaky drawl. "The only sensation I get is three minutes a day if a song goes really well…"
Generation Terrorists is an album full of outrage at life, but also a sense that things will never get better. Frustration fills its every groove.
"I think everyone's level of satisfaction in whatever job you do is getting less and less all the time. All that makes me really happy is if a new Sega game comes out," snickers Richey, glumly. "The more toys you get, the more empty you feel. The only time you're happy is when you're really young before you want anything. We just used to play football and games of… war!"
Richey and Nick start giggling, perhaps at the futility of life. The van stops. We have reached Warrington and the Hotel Even More Dull. The band run to their rooms for fresh make-up and tasty powdered coffee and then we meet again in the freezing bar.
Ten minutes with the Manics would convince anyone sane that they are, erm, for real. However, let's pretend that the world is in the grip of madness and ask Richey and Nick if the whole thing is a fraud, if they're not some kind of Sigue Sigue Sputnik with political slogans.
"When' Repeat' came out, a reviewer said it was just like Sun-speak. That's what it was supposed to be," spits Richey. "We're tired of clever bands. Everyone used to go, 'Oh, The Queen Is Dead, what a brilliant statement'… the Queen's not dead, she still exists. And covering it up in high art or sartorial elegance is not a good way of dealing with issues, I don't think."
"We just treat the masses in a sensationalist way, 'cos that's what I'd want if I was young," smiles Nick. "If I was 15 or 16 and I saw us on TOTP, I'd have got enough from that without hearing any lyric to excite me. The response we got last night shows that 'Repeats the most energised song people have had for a long time."
So it's just brute rock sensationalism, then? Being rude about the Queen so people will invade the stage?
"Last night onstage I really thought that we could have made something happen, started a riot," says Nick. "But it was like looking into the abyss and really being scared of what to do about it."
"When we were doing 'Repeat' last night, if we'd smashed our instruments, they would have just carried on smashing up Sean's drumkit or whatever and at the end of the day you'd think, all they'd have done was smash up a concert hall and they would have been quite happy and gone away," sighs Richey. "Nothing would have changed…"
"Carter annoy me," he suddenly says, "because the whole audience is jumping up and down at the concert, eating vegetarian burgers, right-on politics, you've done a good enough thing if you've bopped round at the concert. And in five years' time, every single one of their fans will swap the veggie burgers for a McDonald's, the ripped jeans for a suit, everybody knows it's gonna happen."
Everyone looks very gloomy. On this note, we head off to Warrington Legends, which — in the nature of today's music — is equally full with Manics rock people and studenty veggie Carter fans, who listen to a very indie disco and then witness an even more extraordinary gig than Leicester's. Louder than hell, the sounds cuts on and off, the lights keep failing, the stage invaders are all giant brickies and Richey plays a solo which is five seconds long and goes KRDAGANGGRRRRAH.
The concert ends in noise and hilarity, the latter a thing the Manics are perceived to lack. In the bar again, it's time for mentioning Nietzsche, who apparently once said something to the effect that humour kills emotion and replaces real feeling with laughter, which is why Nietszche is crap and Morecambe & Wise weren't.
"I was really really surprised that in the NME Readers' Poll, Bottom came second in the Favourite TV Show list. It's like, what was funny in that programme?" shouts Richey. "It. wasn't even as good as Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin, it was so without class. For me, someone like Tony Hancock is way up there and Vic Reeves is with the scum down the bottom. I do not understand Vic Reeves at all but Hancock makes me laugh."
"That's just 'cos Tony Hancock's history is so tragic! Ha ha! He hasn't done a record with The Wonder Stuff…" snorts Nick, then remembers himself with a quote. "That's just our thing about the past is so beautiful and the future's like a corpse in snow. Hancock's suicide note was 'Things just went wrong too many times'…"
"And I think that's one of the most beautiful things I've ever read," smiles Richey.
Fear not, readers, the Manics retain some vestiges of normality. Nicky confesses to secretly liking Viz, they tried to get Kylie to sing on the awesome future hit 'Little Baby Nothing', but she asked for too much money and they are, er, darts fans.
"The only autograph I ever tried to get was Jocky Wilson and he told me to f— off," guffaws Nick. "That was one of the best. I used to go to the internationals and he came out pissed to his chauffeur-driven car and he just said, 'piss off sonny'. He's one of my heroes. That's what Kilbride means to me, not the Mary Chain, it means Jocky Wilson."
"That's why I despise BBC2," announces Richey as Nicky grows ever more horrified. "We all love darts and Alan Yentob, who was head of BBC2, says we're cutting down our darts coverage, people don't want darts. They cut it down from 60 hours to, like, 24 hours a year. And ITV don't do it anymore…"
"I can't believe we're saying this!" splutters Nicky. Fortunately James has joined us to bring sense to the conversation. James is a one-man band in the middle of the Manics. While the other three make top noises, James can play the dreaded Proper Guitar.
Described by his manager as "intense", James is the one who shrugs when told 'You Love Us' has gone Top 20.
Avoiding darts, we return to the topic of The Man. Columbia want to release Generation Terrorists as a 14-track LP in the USA. The band are suddenly less keen on being product.
"That was our first experience of them saying you can't do something. They wanted us to drop 'Condemned To Rock 'n'Roll', 'NatWest-Barclays-Midland-Lloyds'…" says Richey.
"They wanted us to drop 'NatWest-Barclays' because in America, it's like 'what does "Nat West" mean? It should be Chase Manhattan," declares James. "We don't mind being Americanised, but we're not supposed to be American, we're supposed to be a British enigma."
Nevertheless, Generation Terrorists will appear in the USA in truncated form and the Manics are powerless to do anything about it. Some po-faced gits might say this is poetic justice for signing to a label who probably started the Vietnam War and invented the H-bomb or something.
Richey shrugs yet again. "Like we say in 'Democracy Coma', we are owned by Sony, pure Sony-control. We don't think we're doing anything daring, we know they completely own us, they can do anything they want with us, they can drop us… In fact they said, if you want, come in and smash the place up, it would be good press. It wouldn't be good press. We'd end up paying for it…"
The Manic Street Preachers are wise before their time, intelligent screaming demons who deserve fame so that one day the world will rise up from a slough of crapness and drive the rubbish out. Perhaps they will be seriously rogered by the industry, but they remain one of the few bands who have any rage — and one of the few bands intelligent enough to do something about it.
Before they take over civilisation, however, they still have to take over the charts. This may take time.
"We've played this album to people who really hate us and they hate us for totally different reasons now!" guffaws James,then concludes, soberly: "We've just got better. We all work away in our little departments and those departments have just got better… we sound like a f—ing council or something!"
A council of war, perhaps. Rise up, ye millions: rock is not only not dead but it wants to start a fight with your complacency.