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Preachers: In The Beginning - Frock 'N' Roll With The Manics - Daily Mirror, 5th June 2000

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Title: Preachers: In The Beginning - Frock 'N' Roll With The Manics
Publication: Daily Mirror
Date: Monday 5th June 2000
Writer: Jenny Watkins-Isnardi


The band started in 1986, a year before I was asked to join. One day in the canteen of Crosskeys College, which we all attended, James told me how it began. "Nick was always clever, confident about his A levels. Knew he was headed for university. A degree and a good job. It was all too predictable, Nick said, there's no point if you know the end and where's the excitement?" he said.

"Also the stories he'd written, lyrics, poems, practising the guitar. It would all be wasted. Nick made a list of old school friends he'd like to form a band with, then narrowed it down. Miles Woodward bass, Sean Moore drums, Nick rhythm, me lead guitar.

"Me and Nick came up with the name Manic Street Preachers. Dunno what it means, maybe we'd seen some loony with a bible around Blackwood.

"We did Sex Pistols, Clash, Blondie. We were raw energy. It took a while for Nick to show me his own lyrics. I knew straight off they were brilliant."

"Then Miles turned up to practise one day and said he was leaving the band because he wanted a solo career. Nick begged, but Miles was adamant. That was it."

"Then Nick came up with the idea of us busking in Cardiff. A test to see if the three of us would be OK."

"Nick's dad took us in his car but there was only room for Sean's drums in the boot. Me and Nick had our stuff on the back seat and somehow sat on the floor."

"Sean threw a wobbly when we got there and said he'd look a prat lugging all his gear through the city so he just took a tambourine. We had no amplifiers. We tried to make up for it by all singing together. Didn't impress anyone. We had 32p after three hours, and 30p was what Nick put in as a float."

Everyone from our part of the Sirhowy valley was aware of everyone else because our world was about eight miles long and one street wide. It stretched from Blackwood in the north to Risca in the south.

Nick was not in my immediate circle, but that changed the day he passed a letter for me on to my best friend Samantha, who had just started going out with James.

The letter and envelope were radioactive green. It read: "I am writing to ask you two questions. Firstly, I'm in a band called Manic Street Preachers and we're looking for a new singer. Would you be interested in singing for us?

"We are a bit like Pop Will Eat Itself and Primal Scream. The second question is will you go out with me? If you say yes to either of these questions please phone me. Nick Jones." Sam grins: "Nick says it's better to have a girl in the band. Male musicians, female singer. A winning combination. Look at Blondie. You're first choice. They made a list. Someone who looks good but not too rough."

I rang Nick from a phone box and told him I was interested. He made me sing down the telephone and later in his bedroom, the first time I went to his house.

His mum, whose blouses he regularly wore - gold lame, spots, flowers, the brighter the better, was tall, blonde, vivacious and attractive. An English evacuee, from the War, whose parents died when she was young. She was everyone's idea of the perfect mother.

Nick told me he'd spent months on his own in his bedroom, not interested in anyone. He'd been obsessed with writing songs and poetry.

His bedroom was small with heavy curtains and covered with dark blue velveteen wallpaper. The first time we went into it, Nick came in rubbing hand cream between his palms.

"Astra, my mam's actually," he says, "I hate rough hands." There are hundreds of posters and photographs plastered all over the walls and wardrobe. Loads of pretty pop stars, as well as the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Ramones and the Buzzcocks. Nick says: "Debbie Harry's cool. Looks terrible without her make-up. Not bad for her age, but she is crap without the war-paint."

We look at a big colour picture of Patsy Kensit when she was in the band Eighth Wonder. "Yeah I know the music's rubbish and Patsy's not the best singer in the world, but she looks gorgeous, that's more important," he says.

Nick gets me to sing along to a record of Strawberry Switchblade's. He's happy with it, but says: "We'll see what Sean and James think."

I audition with them in James Dean Bradfield's living room, with a row of cages full of bright yellow canaries, owned by his dad on a sideboard. The atmosphere seems incredibly tense. They niggle and goad each other. James, so shy, but kind, goes to get me a glass of water.

We go through some songs. James joins me in a chorus. His voice is brilliant. I can't get one of their faster punk numbers. We do it a dozen times. I can't get it. I go to the toilet, when I come back Nick tells me I'm in, lead singer.

"Less friction with four," he says. Could have fooled me! We'll change the name, might bring us luck.

They decide on Betty Blue. "We all agreed," says Sean, "but it's my favourite character, from the French film."

I say, are you sure? I mean Manic Street Preachers is so different.

"It's only a ruddy name," says Nick. He would often sound off about Wales, telling me: "I hate this f****** culture! What culture is Welshness? It's a fraud, all cosy, full of beer and rugby. Another time he got thrown out of a pub, after accidentally getting in between two knife wielding punks. Physically unscathed, his ego was dented.

He ranted: "All we know is aggression and hate. Minds suffocated by these f****** hills. Don't you feel imprisoned? We're trapped. Lower than pond life. We only exist when enough of us are killed. Mine disasters are best but they don't happen these days so we don't exist."

Ironic really, as Nick is the one from the band who has ended up right back where he started - he and his wife Rachel, a local girl he went out with before me, live just around the corner from Blackwood in a terraced house.

The lads were basically law-abiding, but had the odd slip-up. One day Sean showed-off a pair of red baseball boots and Nick reveals they were nicked from a shop in Newport.

"They keep the shop assistants talking then run out with the shoes. My legs were like jelly. Him, stupid sod, unzips his jacket outside the shop to show me the shoes. I nearly had a heart attack. I'd rather have paid for 'em myself. Don't do that again, I'm not cut out for thieving," he says.

Nick had already decided a life of crime wasn't for him. He told me that after Rachel had dumped him he got drunk at a club. He had no money to get home so in his stupor tried to break into an old blue Escort. The next minute he finds himself in the back of a cop car.

"The worst thing was telling my parents. You feel such a s*** for letting them down. They both came to court with me. The magistrate sentenced me to three months cleaning the bus station toilets, but my solicitor got me a remission," he says.

Nick and I split up when he went to university. He got two As and a B at A level and started at Portsmouth, but hated it and moved to Swansea where he completed his degree and met up once more with fellow local boy Richey Edwards.

Before he goes Nick sees me one last time. He tells me how badly James took him going away. "He was terrible, never see him like that. I went into his room and he was under the bed facing the wall, wouldn't turn round. When I left he was crying," he says.

Nothing has really been said about the band or me. Nick read my mind. Kiss goodbye to it now. Portsmouth is too far, impossible. James will be off next year, then you and Sean. It's gone.

He says: "S*** innit? Everything turns out crap. Few years times, we'll be watching telly, some Welsh gits making it big. Thing is we could've done it. I know deep down university's not gonna work, Not as important as the band."

Nick never made any secret of his ambition to make it big. He told me: "Know what I really want? To be the biggest, most famous. We'll make an album, a sublime, brilliant album. then the band will split and I'll kill myself."