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It Was The Best Of Times... - Q Magazine, June 2016

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Title: It Was The Best Of Times...
Publication: Q Magazine
Date: June 2016
Writer: John Harris
Photos: Alex Lake


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...but in so many ways, it was also the worst. On the 20th anniversary of Everything Must Go, John Harris talks to James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire, and Sean Moore to hear how the trio built Manic Street Preachers' greatest triumph from the depths of their despair over missing comrade Richey Edwards.

In January 1991, Manic Street Preachers appeared on a BBC2 show titled Snub TV, a weekly half-hour digest of the latest news from indie-land that worked as a kind of televisual version of the weekly music press. They shared that week's 30 minutes with grunge pioneers Dinosaur Jr, as well as such long-lost sensations as Spirea X, the Darkside and - calm down at the back please - Frontline Assembly.

The Manics' slot was simple enough: footage of them miming to their new single Motown Junk - and interview clips, in which their guitarist and Minister of Propaganda Richey Edwards made most of the running, issuing his customary head-turning statements: "Youth is just the ultimate product", "We just want to mix politics and sex", "We're the most original band of the last 15 years".

Standing just behind Edwards, the Manics' bassist and co-lyric writer Nicky Wire had one contribution of his own, dispensed with all the certainty of youth: "We will never write a love song, ever. Full stop."

Around four years later, as the Manics prepared to work up material for their fourth album and rehearse for an American tour, Wire presented guitarist with James Dean Bradfield with lyrics for a new song titled Further Away.

He wrote them in late 1994, while the Manics were on a grim tour of Europe with Suede. Wire had married his wife Rachel in September 1993, and while pinballing around Italy, Spain, France and Scandinavia and staying in cut-price Ibis Hotels, he had been missing her like mad, as his words straightforwardly announced: "The further away I get from you/The harder it gets for everyone else...The happier I am when I'm with you/The harder it gets when I am alone."

"I remember Nick giving me that lyric," says Bradfield now, "and me going, 'Wow - I'm going to have to chase down that footage. Because you've gone and fucked yourself over man: you've written a love song." In fact, the two of them did not exchange a single word about this sudden about-turn, and two decades later, they still haven't - but as the Manics have been diligently rehearsing Further Away for the run of summer shows at which they celebrate their fourth album's 20th birthday and play it in its entirety, the significance of Further Away as turning-point has been revealed once again.

Playing it now, I've been thinking, 'This was the real start of something different: breaking the most hardcore rule we had," says Bradfield. "Maybe that was the real break from the past - just being more human about things. Not looking at this 10-point manifesto on the wall and saying 'Yes sir, yes sir, yes sir."

Further Away was among a handful of song the four Manics worked on in January 1995, when they gathered at a studio in rural Surrey called House In The Woods. Their last project had been The Holy Bible, that tangled treatise about failure, horror and dysfunction that had been released in August 1994, and encapsulated a phase of their history defined by the death from cancer in December 1993 of their mentor and co-manager Philip Hall (who was only 34) and Richey Edwards' mounting psychological problems. It had also won plenty of praise, although the band's financial position seemed more fragile than ever. "Off the back of The Holy Bible, we thought that was it," says drummer Sean Moore. "We were just waiting for the phone call saying the record company had finally let us go." It subsequently transpired that this dread turn of events had come dangerously close: around this time, the top brass at Sony Music had indeed suggested dropping the Manics, but they had been saved by the casting vote of their A&R man, Rob Stringer.

"Everything was just sounding simpler at that point, really," says Wire. When I listen to Further Away, it just sounds like a great Oasis track, really, doesn't it? And there's no shame in that at all." While in Surrey, the band also worked on No Surface All Feeling, Kevin Carter, Small black Flowers That Grow In The Sky and Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pie, and put various demo versions to tape.

Soon after, Bradfield and Richey Edwards drove to London, and the two of them listened to what had been recorded on the in-car stereo. They were on their way to the Embassy Hotel on Bayswater Road, and from there on a to a promotional trip in America that would blur into a proper US tour. In Bradfield's telling, as they pulled into the hotel's underground car park, he asked Edwards what he thought of the new music. "I said, 'Which one's your favourite?' And he said, 'The others are OK but Small Black the one I really like.' With a shrug of the shoulders, he was a bit ambivalent about No Surface All Feeling; he was a bit ambivalent about Further Away. But he was nailed on to his affection for Small Black Flowers...straight away."