Richard Smith is utterly disarmed by retro-punk, retro-glam band Manic Street Preachers
"People that we know in the music press have told us they just, can't believe the amount of letters that they get coming in saying 'They're wearing fucking eyeliner they should be kicked in'. Really nasty stuff"
Richie, the Manic Street Preachers guitarist, is looking somewhat forlorn. Disarmingly charming and wearing a rather classy see-through blouse he's recently learned to expect this sort of nonsense. According to who you believe his group are either rock's great white hope or a distinctly ungreat white elephant. After a string of independent singles their noisy hybrid of glam and punk and rock and roll has won them a recording contract with Columbia. Their first single for them 'Stay Beautiful' is released this month. Half the world seems to be hoping that it will thrust them towards megastar-dom whilst the other half wants to see the boys fall flat spiel on their pretty little faces. Richie agrees with me that to provoke such extreme reactions is an encouraging sign.
"It's perfect. Just how it should be. I'm just as happy having people loathe me as I am to have them love me. Music's got so safe and ordinary it'd be good if a few more bands tried to get those sort of opinions forced on them."
"All the groups people are force fed like The Happy Mondays or The Farm are so drab. They look like my father." adds Nick. the gangling bass player. "So they write good pop songs - well who cares? If you let pop be reduced to just entertainment for entertainment's sake then every government in the world's won. You've got to have something more exciting. Its like when Jimmy Somerville was arrested for giving someone a blow job in Hyde Park I thought that was brilliant. It's much more thrilling.
Whilst most groups these days make dance records and take every opportunity to remind Joe Public that this doesn't mean they're puffs. the Preachers fly in the face of fashion by playing 'manly rock music whilst coming on like Jessies. This has led some to call them musical Luddites. but Richie sug-gests more noble reasons for rejecting the indie dance ethos and its cult of the lad and for embracing frock and roll.
"The problem with Equity Culture is that the bands act out a kind of lifestyle without ever questioning how it comes about. Reading about The Happy Mondays getting pissed and beating up their mates then fucking their girlfriends is just not exciting 'cause where we come from it's just everyday life. And at the end of the day they're not even selling that many records. But someone like Guns'N' Roses sell sixteen million albums.
But they're such horrible people .. .
"I know. I know. All those American rock and roll bands are just full of bullshit. We've got no respect for them. They might put on a bit of make up but then they'll go around calling everyone a faggot. And people say we're cliched!
"And its tragic 'cause rock and roll is meant to be this great force for change. It still can be. You can reach a young audience that are untainted by all the bullshit that's gonna come their way later on. The first thing we set out to do was re-create the generation gap and I think we're succeeding. All our fans are really young. From thirteen to sixteen. And most people know what were about. we are a really obvious band. But even if people just know that we're pissed off that's more than most bands."
Indeed, there are a rash of bands who mistake reaction for radicalism. The Preachers recently played support to one of the worst offenders. the wildly homophobic Manchester band First Offence.
"The first thing we did when we went on stage was kiss each other." Nick recalls gleefully, "then we blew kisses at them and said 'What are you gonna do?' But they didn't do anything. They just stood there." They specialise in such shock tactics: dressing as they do or their singer, James' onstage invitation "If there's any pretty boys out there in the audience who want to bugger me I'll see you after the show."
"When James said that there were a couple of bottles," Nicky confirms. "but we like to threaten people sexually. Especially males."
Although the band are currently all living - Larry Parnes style - at their manager's flat in London they hail from the tiny town of Blackwood in Gwent. It was there. Nicky explains. that the band was born out of boredom.
"If you're hopelessly depressed like I was then dressing up is just the ultimate escape. When I was young I just wanted to be noticed. Nothing could excite me except attention so I'd dress up as much as I could. Outrage and boredom just go hand in hand.
The Manic Street Preachers are so start-lingly sensible. refreshingly so in the age of the bozo, that I cross every one of my toes in the hope that they'll be as big as they say they will.
We just want to make one brilliant debut. double LP that sells millions of copies," says Nicky. "and as long as we've made our statement and perhaps changed something then I just want to disappear and go back and live with my mam." Rock and roll. Phew!