Nicky Wire, 44, on his Morrissey obsession, re-inventing the Manics, and his teenage love for a BBC legend
I looked fucking brilliant when I was 16. I had just bleached my hair blond: it was a sugar and water-assisted work of art. I had the most brilliant second-hand leather jacket, a kind of a Clem Burke/Blondie leather jacket. I had one pair of jeans, authentically frayed, which I wore to death. Green Flash trainers, Sid Vicious T-shirt – I was quite New York punky-looking. I looked quite feminine, which probably explains why I never had a girlfriend. I wore eyeliner when we went to the park.
I was passionately obsessed with Morrissey as a 16-year-old. He was one of my guiding lights. And I had just discovered TS Eliot through studying The Waste Land. That was really exciting. At the same time I was still obsessed with sport. I was centre forward for Oakdale United. We were having a really good season: we were runners-up in the league and just lost in the final of the cup.
I was totally happy in my own world then. James [Dean Bradfield, Manics frontman and friend since school days] and I wallowed in our own dreams, our world of music and books and films: Lloyd Cole, Rumble Fish, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, reading the Beats and Philip Larkin. It was a time of magical flowering. James and I had just written our first song, Aftermath, about the miners’ strike. We were a little group of happy geeks. We felt a romanticism in being ostracised from certain parts of the community. I think Morrissey gave us that. We felt cool to be alone.
If I met the 16-year-old me I think I’d like him. He’s opinionated but still quite withdrawn. He’s excited by the possibility of life. In a few years he’ll become more rampant, he’ll talk in extremes. I can totally understand now why my dad would shake his head and tell me to shut up, in the most loving way. By then I was full of talk about how my band would rule the world. I had these strong, harsh political views, I talked a lot about ‘year zero’. We thought it was intellectual nihilism but a lot of it was just shock-value stuff. I think the post-uni Nicky would deeply annoy the older me.
The teenage me had a sense of deep-rooted loyalty. I think he’d be pleased I’m on my 20th wedding anniversary. We’ve been with Columbia 25 years, kept the same manager. I was kind of middle-aged when I was 16 – very sensible. The young me would have liked the idea of being married, having a family. I always loved Richard Briers. I loved Ever Decreasing Circles.
I went off all my favourite bands around the fifth album, when they became mad popular. I think the teenage me would have gone that way with the Manics too but I’d probably fall back in love with them around [eighth album] Send Away the Tigers. It wasn’t about selling out, though. I remember Shaun Ryder, whose lyrics I always admired, saying you’re never ashamed of money if you’ve never had it.
I still hugely miss Richey [Edwards, Manics lyricist and guitarist, who went missing in February 1995] and our old manager, Philip Hall [who died of cancer in 1993, aged 34]. Nineteen ninety-three to 1995, from Philip passing away, making The Holy Bible, then Richey – that was a tough time. If I could go back I wouldn’t do that trip to Thailand [in early 1994, during which Richey cut his chest with a knife before a show]. It seemed like a great rock’n’roll opportunity but it was proper mayhem, boy-band stuff – 12,000 people turning up for signings. I came back with a psychological and physical bug that took a long time to shake.
Talking the bad stuff through, that’s never been the Manics way. We tend to handle our problems internally. When Richey went missing, I just felt grief and pain. Not just a broken heart but a broken fucking frame of a body. I felt like I was having a heart attack most days. It was horrible. Everyone saw the ‘loss of a rock’n’roll icon’ bit but there were also his parents, his sister, the loss of a friendship. No one else could ever understand that. The only thing that got us out of that was A Design for Life. We could breathe again.
The young Manics would be surprised by how long the band has lasted but not ashamed, I don’t think. If we’d carried on making a load of shit, that would have been different but we’ve had some massive highs and lows. Yes, at first it was always about the fabulous disaster, we would burn bright and self-destruct – and we did have the brightest of all shining like a beautiful star with us for a while. But we found a way to become another, different band.
If I could go back to any time it would be when I was about six, playing beach cricket with my brother and my mum and dad in west Wales. We’d have chicken pieces, bread and butter. As pure a joy as one could ever have.
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