How tone-dead amp carrier joined band
One night Nick was walking me home and on the way we passed the garden of the Red Lion. A couple sat there. Nick waves. The boy looks embarrassed, waves shyly back. "Who's that?" I ask. "Louise and Richey," he says. "Friends of yours?" I ask. "No, hardly know the boy," he replies.
Whatever Nick felt, Richey always had a sense of heightened awareness about Manic Street Preachers. He was a couple of years older than the others and was back in Blackwood from university in the summer of 1987.
One night he came to the pub with a gang of us, James, Nick and Sean weren't there. Richey was very thin and detached from the rest. Most of the gang barely knew him, but one of the girls with us fancied him, so asked him along. He brought a book with him, JD Salinger's, The Catcher In The Rye. We were all comparing violent vomit stories when he suddenly interrupted the gossip by reading a passage out of the book. We all gawped as Richey says: "Genius, genius. I've read it so many times, always fresh. Never get fed up of reading it." Richey loved reading and quoted Marlene Dietrich, 'With books you're never alone'. He also confessed to adoring Clare Grogan, but he was only 20. T.Rex's Get It On suddenly started playing. "This is a classic," says Richey.
He talked about Marc Bolan. He crashed a car into a tree and died really young and people still put flowers there. What I find amazing is, after all these years people still pay homage and all he was, was a pop singer.
At this stage Richey made no secret of the fact that, though he loved music, he couldn't play an instrument. "Can't even toot a recorder," one of the gang commented. Richey got up to get a round in and asked me if I would give him a hand. It surprises everyone because I hardly know him and it's common knowledge I'm going out with Nick. On the way to the bar, it's obvious he wants to say something. It seems a big effort and he gets agitated. When he speaks, he lets out the words like an asthma attack. "So, you're in with the Manics? Are they're changing the name?" I reply: "That's right, Betty Blue. Shame. So original, Manics." I felt I had been accused of stealing something and tell him, it was Sean's idea. He sighs: "Ah, Sean," as though to say, "I might have guessed." I ask: "Do you know them? Nick and James?" "Not as well as you," he says. "Not much really. Done some fliers. I see Nick about." I ask if he likes the music. "Yeah. Brilliant. They've got it: special, unique." He speaks like they deserve reverence.
I say: "Yeah, we're not bad. Need some practice though. Still a bit raw." There's a sort of gasp - maybe he does have asthma? "Do you want to go?" he asks. "I thought we might talk about what it's like, playing with the band?"
He speaks hushed, almost in a whisper - as if we are sharing a conspiracy. "I can't leave my friends, there's nothing to say, the Manics are just ordinary," I reply. "I don't agree," he says. "It's special." He stares hard, like confronting an imposter. "Raw? The drive, the energy. I'm not sure you understand. They can't lose that." I say I'll tell Nick and Richey asks where he is. When I say he is in washing his hair, he thinks I am taking the p***. WE rejoin the others and they ask him about university. Richey says the other students are scum and says he has no friends there.
Someone asks if there is much studying. "Not that much," he replies. "There's Yanks on the course, they work all the time, have to. They still get c*** grades because they're thick as s***. Can't cope. Don't have the background, I mean, like our A levels. They must have the worst education in the world." Richey doesn't mention his own achievement. Everyone knew about his brilliant A level results - straight A grades. After the pub we all end up at the chippy. Richey asks for only a diet drink. James is with some friends outside and Sam, his girlfriend and my best mate, rush over to him. He joins our group. Richey tags along close to James, but they don't seem to know each other.
There's no greetings, but you can see Richey wants James to notice him. We walk to our friend Louise's house. She has invited us back because her parents are away. It's a big posh house but at the gate Richey says: "I'll be getting back. I don't think James wants me to come in." "What?" says Sam. "He hasn't even noticed, can barely bloody see," she says, referring to James' shortsightedness and refusal to wear glasses.
Richey leaves and Sam tells me later that was just as excuse on Richey's part. She says: "He don't like this house." I respect Richey, he's straight. James adores Louise really. But he said if you get rich with Thatcher, you were a crook. "Before that bitch Louise's parents had nothing. But her father had a taxi during the miners' strike, got a fortune taking scabs," he adds
Life went on with Nick at university. He had promised to write, but only did once. James had become more morose since he left and wouldn't tell me about any communications with Nick.
In his letter, Nick said he was bored, lectures didn't stimulate him and he hadn't made any friends.
He doesn't ever write to me again. Around Christmas Sam told me he had left Portsmouth for Swansea University. Easter 1988. Nick has been back in Wales for a couple of months, but hasn't got in touch. A late Friday afternoon I bump into Richey in the Crosskeys College canteen. He'd left years ago why the hell does he keep returning? He's reading a poem about how being rich and buying a rocket ship would be no fun if it wasn't action-packed.
He writes KAPOW in felt tip across the poem and asks for hot water and lemon at the counter. The server says it's a popular drink with skinny girls who think they are fat and Richey shouldn't have it. He tells her it cleanses the body. He writes a slogan, 'White trash on speed thrills', in big capitals, on a sheet of paper. He says: "I am giving them a hand, doing posters and fliers.
"I don't play, just design posters. I lug equipment, do whatever, heavy stuff.
"It's hard carting it around so I offer to give a hand." The Manics have cut me off. Sean and James still speak, but it is like I was never part of the set up. James sent a demo tape to Cardiff's Red Dragon radio station and a local kid who heard it persuaded the Manics to let him be their manager. He got them gigs in dives but their pay didn't cover the transport. Then one day in the tiny audience at the Square Club in Cardiff, was a bloke from London who said he had connections and that they could be big. He asked about the beautiful kid with thin wrists struggling to carry the amps.
He said he should be part of the line-up. The others pointed out Richey couldn't play a note and as far as they could tell, was tone deaf. "So what? He looks the part.. give him a go," the man is reputed to have said. And that was the incident that made Richey a Manic.