Manic Street Preachers and Suede. Two of the greatest bands in Britain. Two bands who, a few months back, looked unlikely to survive the winter. Two bands who are currently touring together across Europe. And, coincidentally, Simon Price's two favourite bands. If we didn't let him go to report, he'd never have forgiven us. He's French, he's flash: Tom Sheehan.
6:00 pm Touchdown. Taxi. Hotel.
7:00 pm Track down a sleek silver penis on wheels called "Phoenix." Knock on windows. Enter. Richey James is laid out, wrapped in a blanket like an invalid, watching 'Full Metal Jacket.' Up on the Sega screen, Nicky Wire's Tottenham Hotspur are thrashing Crystal Palace 4-0 in the Fifa Soccer league. "Mind the cable, Simon," Richey counsels. I tread on the cable. The screen goes blank. Desperate to change the subject, I notice Sean is wearing a Faith No More style eyebrow ring. Does it hurt? I boringly inquire. "No," he says, but
then he is sitting next to Richey. These things are, I guess, relative.
7:30 pm Locate Lyon's finest Italian restaurant.
10:30 pm One tricolore salad, one Quatre Saisons pizza and several Malibus later, the Melody Maker suddenly feels inexplicably travel sick. James: "Tell you what, Simon, I'll walk you back to the hotel." He does as well. "Just out of courtesy." Aw, how sweet.
2:00 pm Lyon, once smack in the middle of Nazi-collaborating Vichy country, is now plastered with graffiti for Le Pen's Front National. One poster reads: "'France for the French' is not a racist statement. We only want our education, media, and finance to be controlled by the authentic people of France, not Brussels, Jerusalem or Washington.'"
4:00 pm The tour bus, again. Nicky: "Nice Adidas trainers, Simes. I've just got some Filas." So you can make crap "Revol" jokes? "Yeah. Lebensraum/Kultrukampf/Raus Raus..." He extends two alarmingly telescopic legs into the air, displaying his new footwear. "Fila! Fila!"
4:02 pm Joke: Just as well they didn't write "Revol" in 1991. Then it'd go
"Dunlop! Dunlop!" Ha. Ha.
4:30 pm The car park of the Transbordeur theatre. Through the long afternoon hours, the conversation spirals from the trivial to the profound and back. The National Lottery (James: "It's another tax on poor people, on their aspirations. Tax the scum.") The ugly increase of unprovoked violence in smalltown Wales. The films of Quentin Tarantino. The comics of Grant Morrison. The state of Welsh rugby (bad) and football (worse).
4:45 pm Nicky's compilation tape has hit a disturbingly 'classic' vibe. Gram Parsons. Black Crowes. Pearl Jam. Neil Young. Tom Sheehan is in heaven. James: "Neil Young is the worst thing ever. Back me up on this one, Mooro." Sean: "Scum."
4:59 pm The Beatles' "Something" comes on.
Nicky: "Oh, listen to the bass on that."
Sean: "Oh God, Wire! Do you have to say things like that when the press are around?"
Nicky: "I saw Duff McKagan saying he just sits watching daytime TV, playing his bass all the time." The Wire picks up his own acoustic bass, and plucks away idly. "The only way for a white band to assimilate hip hop is through the bass" he adds, going on the enthuse about Jah Wobble and Simple Minds' Derek Forbes.
"Fucking muso," snorts Sean.
5:00 pm R.E.M. are on the stereo now. Nicky: "They've asked us to support them in Cardiff Arms Park."
5:01 pm I realise he's joking.
5:20 pm Nicky: "Did you see what Damon said about Brett in I.D.? I'd sue."
5:22 pm How is young Richard getting on? James: "Oakesy, you mean? He's Oakesy now."
5:50 pm Nicky complains about Richey's fag smoke wafting towards him. So you're the midget who snuffs out Richey's cigarettes in 'P.C.P."? Richey: "Yeah. He's a 6" midget."
7:00 pm The local listings mag is, spookily, called 'PCP'. Ominously, it bills tonight's show simply as "Suede."
7:30 pm The Manics long-serving tour manager, Rory, is storming about. "Fucking hell. There is no one in there. Two of the most talked about bands in Britain. What does that tell you?" He's right. There's about 100 out front, and 25 in the bar. A printing error on the tickets means a number of Manics fans don't show up until 8:30. By which time, the Preachers are
8:00 pm They're on. 'PCP', 'Yes', 'From Despair...'. James is wearing Tom Sheehan's blue cotton jacket. Tom: "Bleedin' 'ell!' He's nicked me Hinge!" Lyon stares motionless, as well you might at a support band about whom you know or care little. I, meanwhile, completely lose it. Not an uncommon event when I see the Manics. I calculate that tonight, I've seen them 25 times. I should get a hobby.
8:10 pm Richey looks unbelievable. Draped in a 10-sizes-too-big workman's boiler suit, with an outrageous bottle-ginger rent-boy fringe, a thick brushstroke of eyeshadow over each eye, a streak of pink lipstick on his cheek, stubble like a coalminer's dust all over his face, and a solitary silver hoop in his ear. He looks like Quentin Crisp in 'The Naked Civil Servant.' Plus, it must be said, Andy Pandy. Every now and then he casts one big Bambi eye to his colleagues, for reassurance. Or, when they fuck up the end of 'Motown Junk,' to see what the hell is going on.
8:15 pm 'Slash and Burn.' 'She is Suffering.' two songs I've never liked. But how considerate to play them back to back, giving me time to go for a gipsy's and steal a tour poster before the locals get here first.
8:22 pm 'Repeat.' A few people dance like it's a sixth form disco.
8:28 pm They hurtle through a cursory 'You Love Us' like Jeremy Paxman hurtles through the tabloids at the end of 'Newsnight.' Glad it's all over. Rock history? Not tonight, Josephine.
8:40 pm Nicky: "I wish you'd come to Valencia or Barcelona instead."
You're not the only one, matey. "Spain has quite a militant culture, generally. They really took to us."
James: "You develop an instinct for when a whole country just doesn't get it. We realised that when we supported Therapy? a few weeks back. If there was any way we could have done this tour and bypassed France, we would have done."
Nicky: "What have the French ever done for us? The only French person I ever liked was Michel Platini."
James: "He was useless as a manager."
Nicky: "Good captain, though. Two World Cup semi-finals. I suppose you've got to say that's good."
This section of the interview is to be known as "Alas Wire & Bradfield."
9:05 pm Something's brewing. From Suede's dressing room emanates the sound of an acoustic guitar, a tambourine, and someone yodeling 'The Power', but getting the words wrong. "Donnez-moi, donnez-moi la puissance..." Everyone puts their ear to a glass against the thin wall. Then the entire backstage corridor echoes with a round of applause.
9:15 pm The London Suede have the best on-the-road cuisine I've ever tasted. Butterseed squash soup, Monkfish kebab/lemon chicken/Brie ravioli with mange tout, corn and whole potatoes. White and dark chocolate ice cream/treacle sponge. Was Richey there, you ask? No, he wasn't. Well, you had to ask, didn't you?
9:20 pm In Catering, I see four clingfilm-wrapped plates. Three of them contain apple pie and cream, and are neatly labeled "Richard," "Mat," and "Simon." The fourth contains a skewered kebab. This one says "Brett."
9:30 pm Suede are quite good as well.
9:40 pm James (shouting in my ear): "It's just too painful watching them." What? "It's obvious. Brett's so cool."
10:30 pm James: "It's a bad time to go on the tour bus. Richey's teetering. He's always teetering, really."
Has he gone to bed?
James: "The abyss."
Sean: "Richey doesn't go to bed. He goes to the abyss."
11:45 pm Nicky and Richey, being taller than their short-arsed comrades, sleep in a cheap hotel where the bathrooms smell of stagnant ponds, instead of a bunk bed. The Manics' entourage (like Kenny Dalglish's Blackburn, a muscular blond-cropped master race) kip on the bus. Suede, meanwhile, are at the Holiday Inn. James wants a drink. "But I can't. Our bus is leaving at 1 am, it's not fair to drink in front of Richey, and there's nothing sadder than getting drunk for four hours on a tour bus, then going to sleep."
12:00 am James: "I really want a drink."
12:05 am James is wearing a "Kill 'em all - Let God sort 'em out" T-shirt. I used to hate people who wore those.
12:09 am James: "I feel like a caged animal."
12:10 am James punches the wall, very hard, very fast. Everyone jumps.
12:35 am The Maker decides to hit the city centre and devour whatever joys the Lyon nightlife has to offer.
12:30 am The Maker decides to go to bed.
12:00 pm Arrive at Gare DeLyon. Paris, like London, is a city whose reputation has been created by the freaks, outsiders, and exiles who have made it their home, not bigoted cunts who were born there. Impossible to believe that this instinctively conservative town has been the scene of so many popular insurrections (1789, 1830, 1848, 1968). They don't seem to have it in them. I lived here during the 1989 Bicentennial - a year in which France simultaneously celebrated its revolutionary past while cracking down on any latter-day dissenters. Chirac's police would stop me four times a week for having a strange hairdo, and search me at gunpoint in full, humiliating view of Parisian shoppers. Yeah, bienvenue. Pretty city, but even the French hate the Parisians. Place needs a neutron bomb.
1:10 pm The tour bus again. Richey spots a joke in a magazine involving Sonia Echobelly and some SlimFast and laughs.
Nicky: "Listen to this. This is Linda Evangelista in I.D. She says 'I like hamburgers, but I'm only allowed to have one once every three months'. Can it be worth it?"
Richey says nothing.
2:00 pm Time for a photo shoot. In the taxi to Montparnasse Cemetery (hey, this is the Manics), I point out the house where Trotsky used to live. Its' a porn cinema now. Richey: "Very apt." At this point it takes a superhuman effort not to squeal "Reee-vol..." (one for the fans, that). Richey: "What sort of porn do they show?" The latest one is "Culs pour Sodomies en Chaine" ("Bums for Buggery Assembly-line Style").
2:20 pm At the cemetery, a funeral is actually in progress. Undeterred, I hand round maps of the stars' tombs. We all pay our respects at the twin graves of Sartre and DeBeauvoir, then begin private hunts. Sean is looking for Camille Saint-Saiens (a neo-romanticist composer, he informs the Maker's ignoramus). Richey is muttering something about lonesco, complaining that he still can't pronounce it. I find Baudelaire's unassuming family plinth, but can't be arsed walking half a mile for Serge Gainsbourg. Photo call. As Sheenan takes Richey from behind, if you'll pardon the expression, the guitarist is unexpectedly heckled.
Nicky: "Look at that fat arse!"
James: "Mr. Blobby over there!"
2:50 pm Next stop the Empire of the Dead. Place Denfert means "Hell Square." Here's why. At the turn of the 19th century, Baron Haussmann, Napoleon's visionary architect, ruthlessly bulldozed the cemeteries of the poor to a) make way for his gleaming white modern city and b) make sure there's room for the Baudelaires and Sartres upstairs. The remains of the displaced Parisian proles were tipped into an enormous quarry. We are in that quarry.
3:10 pm It takes a good 20 minutes' gravel-crunching trudge ever deeper into dimly lit tunnels to reach the Catacombs. Nicky: "It's like The Big Pit, this, innit?" The moment we pass under the sign marked "L'Empire Des Morts", the joking stops. We are in a room whose walls are made from human femurs, interspersed for decoration, with skulls stained brown by long decomposed flesh. We are all, in different ways, taken aback. James: "This is disgusting." Sean: "I've never seen a human skeleton before, and suddenly it's overload." Tom Sheehan: "Let's take some smudges."
3:11 pm Turn the corner. More remains. Then more. And more. Infinite corridors of nameless jumbled skeletons.
Richey: "Look, Tom, I don't mind as long as I don't have to touch them."
James: "This doesn't feel right. Things like this make me worry about being cursed, like Tutankhamen."
Nicky: "Ah, shut up, it's only poor people."
Sean: "We've been to Auschwitz, but that has been comparatively sanitised. Seeing this makes you realise what it must really have been like."
Nicky: "It looks like a Nutty Bar."
3:25 pm Pictures completed, we move on. Richey is lagging behind. Glancing around, I see that he's overcome his phobia. He casually raps his knuckles on a skull.
James: "Trent Reznor should record his next album down here."
Punks used to hold parties down here in the eighties, until the authorities put a stop to it. That's why so many skulls are missing. They're in goths' bedrooms.
Nicky: "No, actually, it's more like Kellogg's Honey Nut Loops."
We've lost Richey again. I look back in time to catch him pushing his face near a skull's lifeless jaw. He smiles to himself, and kisses it.
7:00 pm What does it take to get a decent meal around this town? Eighteen different varieties of steak, and, er, that's it. French cuisine? Fuck that.
7:30 pm James runs up to us in the street and chummily punches us in the stomach. It hurts.
8:00 pm James runs out onto the stage, and proceeds to chew up and spit out the Preachers' set in much the same way that Chuck Norris might chew up and spit out the pin on a hand grenade. Power at the expense of subtlety. Nicky Wire is grinning. Perhaps a little too much.
8:27 pm Nicky Wire's bass is in three shattered parts, held together only by the strings. A photographer is nearly decapitated. The Wire hurls his trashed instrument to the ground, yells incoherently at the front rows, shimmies and pouts like a cheap tart, and traipses off stage. A classic Nicky Wire performance. Reading Festival all over again. Now I know why he was grinning.
9:30 pm Suede are quite good. Again.
10:30 pm Nicky: "I'm off to beddy-byes now. Hope you've got enough Wire anecdotes."
11:15 pm A night off in Paris. James is, to say the least, up for it. There 's only one thing for it. Two taxies to the Pigalle.
11:45 pm I step out into the neon sleaze strip. James is already there. He runs up to me and chummily punches me in the stomach again. It hurts, again. Then he tears across the road, diving in front of fast moving cars, making "come and have a go if you think you're hard enough" growling noises. Not trying too hard, then, to dispel his new Loaded-reading superlad image. "Sorry I'm a bit lairy tonight. We're drinking in Lili La Tigresse, over there. It's a tit bar."
12:15 am Revelations. James intends to buy a BSA motorcycle. To travel the silk trail across Asia. To become editor of a weekly music paper. To open a sports bar in Cardiff, "JDB's". Unclear in which order.
12:30 am More revelations. At school discos, Nicky Wire had a special dance routine worked out to Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl." The mind boggles. Those legs. "If I didn't stand next to him, I'd never have had any girlfriends," James reminisces.
1:00 am Another bar. James knows the area well.
James: "It's funny, isn't it? We've met so many times, but we don't really know each other. Why have you stopped asking me questions? I ask you more about you than you do about me."
Maybe you reveal more of yourself that way. Anyway, I'm off duty.
James: "Go on, ask me something you're not sure if you should."
Okay. You know when you used to ask any pretty boys in the audience to come backstage and fuck you up the arse?"
James: "Oh, I only said that twice..."
But did you mean it?
James: "This is strictly off the record, but..."
2:20 am The Maker decides to call it une nuit. The Manics do not.
10:00 am The Maker receives a phone call. James has gone missing. Does anyone know where the fuck he is?
Manic Street Preachers play the London Astoria on December 19, 20, and 21.