Cutting Edge - Time Out, 7th December 1994
From South Wales to 'Top of the Pops' via alcoholism and self-mutilation, Manic Street Preachers have lived the rock 'n' roll lifestyle with a vengeance. As they prepare to play in London, Peter Paphides picks the scabs of their past.
"What you need to remember about things like self harm..." Richey James, guitarist with Manic Street Preachers refers to 'things like self harm' a lot. To the point that you could get quite blasé about it. It's a vague term, a euphemism even. He doesn't mean 'things' like self harm though. He specifically means self harm. He's referring to the process of dragging the sharp end of a blade into his flesh. It's important that we remember this because it's an act that's easy to romanticise. It's also important to remember that self-abuse isn't uncommon. Since Richey famously carved '4 REAL' into his arm in a bid to prove his intentions to a doubting journalist, many people have called him stupid, publicity seeking and irresponsible. Richey though, sees it as a statement of self-determination. "I've never hurt anyone," he says. "I might smash a guitar on stage, but I only ever damage myself."
In a year that's seen the death of the band's manager, the culmination of a drink problem, numerous eating disorders, relationship problems and a nervous breakdown, it's the one 'indulgence' that Richey will still defend his right to practice. The right to mutilate his body.
Self-determination is the one constant that's characterised the rise of Manic Street Preachers. In the mining town of Blackwood, south Wales, where they grew up, they were a band long before they could play their instruments. "Even when we formed properly ten years ago," claims Richey, now 26, "there was no question that I wasn't in the group, even though I couldn't play a note."
The fatalistic, sometimes nihilistic mood that has come to characterise Manic Street Preachers' records was already implanted in them by adolescence. "Blackwood is scarred - industrially, economically and politically," he says, surveying the sparse dressing room of the Paris radio station where they're performing tonight. "Everything about Blackwood stands as a reminder of 15 years of decay. That affects your world view for the rest of your life, wherever you go . All the big buildings in Blackwood used to be miners' institutes. Now they've been turned into leisure centres and cinemas - and no amount of posters for 'The Mask' can alter the fact. The whole landscape too, they try and put grass over all the slag heaps and every time it rains, they turn into huge muddy slides - the landscape is swallowed by a huge slab of blackness." (more...)