You have to laugh when you see all those bands turning up at the "Freedom For Tibet" concert in Washington DC as if it was just another "all for charidee" Live Aid-type gig. If one half of the bands didn't know where Tibet was, the other half probably thought Tibet was a person. This is not to downgrade what is a serious political situation in Tibet, just to highlight how some "pop stars" like to have their "causes" very far away from them indeed. If they're that concerned about Tibet, they should first investigate what dealings their record companies have with the Chinese government.
One band who would never take part in the Tibet gig, and you just love them even more for it, are the Manic Street Preachers. Instead of spouting platitudes about "politics" they know nothing about, the Manics specialise in words and lyrics about political culture - which is an entirely different tube of Pringles.
They were always going to be a great band, as any cursory listen to the magnificent Motorcycle Emptiness from the debut album, Generation Terrorists, will testify. From the unlikeliest of rock haunts - Gwent in Wales - the then four-piece armed themselves with political history degrees, picked up a bunch of Situationist slogans - "When power corrupts, poetry cleans" - and announced to the world that they wanted to sign to the biggest record label in the world, put out a debut album that would sell 20 million albums and then break up. Fixated on The Clash and Public Enemy, early singles such as Suicide Alley and New Art Riot set out their stall as phase two punk rockers who had learnt from all the mistakes of a previous generation. Back then, they even had the wherewithal to form on the 10th anniversary of punk. "It was a big moment for us," Nicky Wire remembers, "The Clash were on a compilation of that Tony Wilson programme So It Goes doing Garageland and What's My Name. That was the catalyst to us forming a band. We thought we could look like that, walk it like that..."
Never ones to play the media game, they shocked London indie sensibilities not just because of their decidedly "uncool', fervent Welsh patriotism but also with quotes from Wire such as "We don't want to reach the music papers, we just want to reach The Sun, The Star, The Mirror. That's what most people read. We'd rather be sensationalist than just be another NME band and get critical respect. Critical respect is the easiest thing in the world because journalists are so crap...music journalists don't even look good. I saw Andrew Collins on television and I nearly threw up".
With an ability to punctuate their conversation with spot-on references to Lorca, Foucault, Derrida, Dylan Thomas and Nietzche, they rather force-fed the culturally aware angle in the early days. "We used to walk out on stage to a reading of Howl by Allen Ginsberg. Not many bands did that in 1990. Not many bands do it now. Most people thought we were pretentious wankers - which undoubtedly we were," says Wire (who, incidentally, once said the band would set fire to themselves on their first appearance on Top Of The Pops). And the self-deprecation continued with quotes from Wire such as "when we released Generation Terrorists we didn't play Motorcycle Emptiness live for six months because Richey (Edwards) and I couldn't play it".
Albums like Gold Against The Soul and The Holy Bible saw them swamped wth critical acclaim but little else, but 1996's Everything Must Go saw them "cross over" thanks to their most accessible work to date. In the meantime, of course, band member Richey Edwards went missing and is now presumed dead, although Nicky Wire says "Deep down, I think he's still alive". The Manics were, like Chumbawamba and Cornershop, unlikely chart toppers, and there were fears that all the Best Band/Best Album accolades would neutralise this most dynamic and intelligent of bands. Fear not; the new single - If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next - is a remarkable affair, not least because it was directly inspired (and is intended as a "tribute" to) a Clash song, namely Spanish Bombs from London Calling. "The song is about standing up to any evil and how people today don't know how lucky they are. If certain things hadn't happened in history, then we wouldn't be here, full stop. It's quite a subtle rallying cry, to stand up against things that you know are inherently wrong," says Wire of the anti-fascist sentiments contained in the song. The new album, This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours, is out in September but before that there's an Irish tour coming up next month, with The Manics playing Cork on August 27th, supporting The Verve (should really be the other way around) in Slane on the 28th, and playing Belfast the day after. There should be a Dublin gig, too - and if I were you, I wouldn't have anything planned for the night of the August 26th, but more on that later. For now, just appreciate a band who probably are the last gang in town.