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Livid Marxism - MOJO, July 2017

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Title: Livid Marxism
Publication: MOJO
Date: July 2017
Photos: Tom Sheehan


The photography of Tom Sheehan captures the saga of Manic Street Preachers,'91-01.

"It was an amazing 10 years for the band," says Manic Street Preachers bassist Nicky Wire of the group's first decade in the public eye."Punk, glam rock, Apocalypse Now, mainstream success and now rock'n'roll romantic folly in Havana..." The period is stirringly recalled in Tom Sheehan's new book, You Love Us: Manic Street Preachers In Photographs 1991-2001. Separated into three sections, it commences with their graffiti'd, DIY-Seditionaries shirts on hangers and snotty group shots for 1992's Generation Terrorists album, and ends with their tendentious trip to Cuba and meeting with Fidel Castro in 2001.

The fraught, blistered period of 1994's The Holy Bible is most fully illustrated, though, with images heavy in import. There are shots of frontman James Dean Bradfield with the LP's sleeve, the painting Strategy (South Face/Front Face/North Face) by Jenny Saville, haunting portraits of guitarist Richey Edwards and images of the group amid bones and skulls in the catacombs of Paris. Scenes of the band trashing £26,000 of gear and venue lighting at the London Astoria, just two months before Edwards' disappearance, seem like light relief.

The accompanying main photo finds the Manics visiting Karl Marx's grave in Highgate Cemetery in 1991. "I remember g thinking my hair was perfect and the band looked great but a warden spotted us and tried to stop the shoot," recalls Wire. "I told this park keeper-type I was from St Martin's School Of Art and they were my students and he let us get on with it," says Sheehan, who took most of the book's images for the Melody Maker. "It was only two-parts lie... Nick and Richey were well keen. You know you're doing wrong, you've just got to plant the bomb and get out... we didn't discuss Das Kapital, no.

"They were eager and interested," he continues, "and they had their agenda. They wanted to take on the world, as only you can when you are 21.They were up for a battle and they were creating a battle. At that age, you're hemming yourself in and making your own constraints, circling the wagons... but I got to them on a friendly working level. You've got a common endeavour, so keep things professional and you won't upset anyone. You can put them at their ease, and then deliver the sucker punch, heh."

It's possibly this rapport with his subjects that enabled him to catch them at their ease in potentially stressful environments, such as their Cuban odyssey (Sylvia Patterson's accompanying essay quotes Bradfield as saying they went "to annoy the world... [by spending] 300 grand doing a gig for a communist system we don't really believe in"). The same confidentiality goes for Sheehan's 1991 shot of a bridal-veiled Richey gumming a hand grenade. "That was from the video for You Love Us, taken in a hangar in west London," he says. "We were chatting and he got one of these dummy grenades and put it in his mouth. I hope they were dummies - I've still got one in my shed."