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Preaching To The Converted - The Sunday Times, 23rd January 1994

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Title: Preaching To The Converted
Publication: The Sunday Times
Date: Sunday 23rd January 1994
Writer: Emma Forest


Rock'n'roll meets Rimbaud: the Manic Street Preachers mutilate themselves, yet hate rowdy behaviour.

Pauline Kael once welcomed a journalist who had come to interview her by saying, "Hello, sit down. If you don't think Godfather II is the best movie ever made, then f you." I feel the same way about the Manic Street Preachers. Punky-rocky-ranty-ballady-metally (in the nicest possible sense), all I know is that every time I hear Slash 'n' Burn, I want to take up kick boxing and reading Rimbaud at the same time.

James Dean Bradfield (lead guitar and lead vocals), Sean Moore (drums, vocals), Nicky Wire (bass guitar, vocals) and Richey James (rhythm guitar) listened to a lot of bands while paying for the crime of adolescence in their tiny Welsh village. Inspired by a cocktail of Sex Pistols, Stones and Stooges (with a dash of Morrissey and Public Enemy), they ould practise in a tiny front room. They wrote incessantly to the papers and various press officers, asking for help in their career. The response was: "We'll see you when you get to London." James tuts: "We didn't even know how to get across the Severn bridge."

One day Phillip Hall came across one of their letters and drove to Wales to see them. He was to be their publicist and co-manager until he died of cancer in December.

Hall saw that, even if they could not all play their instruments, the statement of intent was there. One permanent statement is James's notorious self-mutilation. The man has a scar the size of Brooklyn on his arm. "4 REAL," it says, and he carved it himself when a journalist suggested that the Manics were only cartoon punks. He is like all the kids who drew on their hands at school because the lesson bored them. It is just that he used a razor blade instead of a Biro. He strokes the scar as he softly tells me why he doesn't like playing live: "People can be very rowdy. In Edinburgh they were throwing cans and I got cider in my eye." He touches just beneath his eye and shudders.

This relaxed attitude about the self-inflicted wound, alongside the stress of cider in his eye, makes sense in Manic land. If they are saying anything, it is that the human race is poisoned, so it does not make any difference whether you poison yourself or not.

In their live shows especially, the Manics have successfully turned frustration and apathy into a celebration. They leap around on stage for two hours, with inexhaustible rock-god adrenalin because they know that as soon as they get offstage, it will be back to a dressing room of soggy crisps and industry bores. Wire may apply more eyeshadow, Bradfield may decapitate a Barbie doll. Whatever.

With the exception of the delightfully gangly (and frequently befrocked) Nicky Wire, they are all tiny doll people themselves. James looks like a Mabel Lucie Atwell baby who's been up all night at a Buzzcocks gig. It doesn't bother him if teenagers like the Manics because they have seen pretty posters or heard a single on the radio. "As long as there are a few people who understand, it's okay. That's why we never minded doing teenage magazines like Smash Hits which some bands refuse to do. I just find that incredibly patronising. I know when I was 14, music was the only thing I cared about."

In typical Manic fashion he has contradictory feelings about growing old: "I lived with my grandmother until I was 13 and she was a very contented person, like whenever the news came on, she'd say: 'I've seen it all before.' I think a lot of old people are very wise." At the same time, he thinks that life tends to get worse as you get older: "Children smile at nothing at all and it takes a lot to make an adult smile. You need something pretty spectacular."

He is not happy at the moment, but that does not surprise him: "Nobody ever goes, 'I feel great, life's treated me fine.' It's the classic thing of having an industrial society where most people absorb things their grandparents would never have dreamed of, and there's just a massive general air of disillusionment."

While Moore and Bradfield are the musical geniuses of the band, James is only just learning how to play his guitar. Consequently, he and Wire tend to represent the propaganda wing of the Manic Street Preachers. They are qualified to do so: James having attained three As at A-level, simply because he had nothing better to do, went on to graduate in history from Swansea university, Wire graduated in politics. The fact that James uses his first-rate academic mind to spend every night by himself watching television, secures him a unique soundbite: "The day of the Warrington bomb, Channel 4 pulled a Ken Loach film.

After the Jamie Bulger case, they pulled If You See God, Tell Him on BBC1, and it was shown seven days later. It's like, 'Well, if we laugh tonight, we're bad people. If we laugh in seven days, we're decent."'

In a Camille Paglia-esque way, he says a lot of sensible things that we don't like to think about and therefore label controversial. The Manics needed some way to regulate them. But the punks had no idols: they wore swastikas one day and portraits of Marx the next. They claimed not to care about the state of the world. The Manics care very much. If they are to be aligned to any movement, it should be the 1950s beatniks. Like characters in a Kerouac novel, they are restless, wilful and brilliant.

It's 1994, and we've established that comedy is not the new rock 'n' roll. But perhaps rock 'n' roll is the new politics. The Labour party backed the wrong Welshman.

The Manics' new single, Life Becoming A Landslide, is released on January 31; they play Brixton Academy on January 28.