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Remembering Richey - NME, 14th February 2015

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Title: Remembering Richey
Publication: NME
Date: Saturday 14th February 2015
Writer: Barry Nicolson, Barbara Ellen, Stuart Bailie
Photos: Kevin Cummins, Pennie Smith

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Literate, complicated, romantic, controversial - and still the subject of intense fascination 20 years after he went missing. We delve into the NME archives to see what made Manic Street Preachers' Richey Edwards tick, while those who knew him best - and those touched by his talent - celebrate his life

In 1994, the year before Richey Edwards disappeared, in the run-up to ‘The Holy Bible’, I accompanied the Manic Street Preachers on a trip to Bangkok. Only Nicky Wire and Sean Moore managed to hang on to any semblance of decorum. The rest of the sprawling party, James Dean Bradfield and myself included, descended into a state of alcohol-induced “moral coma”, whooping it up at ‘girlie’ bars in the notorious Patpong district.

However, it was Richey’s behaviour that had the most impact. When the Manics played at the MBK venue, he cut himself so badly that blood coursed down his torso onstage. Even more shockingly, he visited a local sex worker and paid for a hand-job. When I told Richey that people were going to think that he was a sexist, exploitative asshole, he didn’t argue or make excuses - he quietly agreed.

To my mind, this duality encapsulated Richey - chaos, provocation and drama, followed by intellectual self-examination and logic, and a calm bordering on stillness. As with Nicky, the wit and fearlessness Richey displayed in lyrics also extended to conversation. Clever, literate, corrosively honest, Richey was always ready to debate. Then there was the other Richey - a shy, shivering, chain-smoking bundle of nerve endings, who spoke of his “childlike loneliness” and fear of relationships.

Was Richey missing a skin, that vital layer of self-protective psychic padding, the lack of which so often seems to separate true artists from the herd? Is this why so many people (strangers), still miss him, because he ‘spoke’ for them - the lonely, the frightened, the ‘too-clever-for-their-own-good’, the ‘over-sensitive’, the cutters?

Of course, as time has repeatedly proven, the Manics weren’t just about Richey - there were always four jewels studding that crown. Such levels of artistry, intensity, damn impertinence, and (dare I say it?) working class-ness, only seem to come around once every generation, if that.

Yet something must explain the enduring sadness about Richey’s disappearance. Back in 1995, my fear was that it would play out as a tacky ‘rock’n’roll Lord Lucan’ mystery, but that hasn’t happened. A genuine sense of grief extends far beyond Richey’s immediate circles - for the loss of an important, original voice and presence within music and culture. Perhaps this could serve as a fitting quasi-epitaph. Richey Edwards: not just missing, but missed.

Richey’s career told through the pages of NME

Early 1988
Having served as their driver and roadie, Richey joins Manic Street Preachers following the departure of original bassist Miles ‘Flicker’Woodward. In June, the band record their debut single, ‘Suicide Alley’, featuring a Clash-inspired cover photographed by Richey, which is released in August. NMEs Steven Wells will later award it single of the week.

August 4, 1990
Manic Street Preachers' first NME interview, to coincide with the release of the 'New Art Riot' EP. Richey describes the band as being "the scum factor of the Mondays meets 'the guitar overload of Five Thirty/Ride while killing Birdland with politics," and warns that "we wanna be the biggest rock'n'roll nightmare ever and we wanna take the monarchy and the House Of Lords with us".

September 27, 1990
The Manics sign to Heavenly Records. In an interview with Steven Wells a few months later, Richey claims that "every A&R man in London has come to see us and they hate us totally. They come up to us and tell us to learn to lay our instruments. Don't they realise hat we don't care? We're bored with all that! We don't want to live out their muso fantasies. They run around like headless chickens to sign the latest bunch of no-thinkers who successfully recreate 'The Dark Side Of The Moon'. They don't realise that every 14-year-old who comes to see us doesn't care hat we sound awful He goes home, sells his record collection and wants to burn down Barclays bank."

January 21, 1991
The Manics release 'Motown Junk', their first single for Heavenly, which charts at Number 94. In a Melody Maker interview, Nicky Wire declares that "we just wanna be the most important reference point of the '90s", but Richey doesn't sound quite so sure: "We are complete failures," he says. "We hate being where we are."

May 15, 1991
During a post-gig interview with NME's Steve Lamacq at the Norwich Arts Centre, Edwards takes a razorblade and carves the words ‘4 REAL’ into his left arm. He is rushed to hospital, where he receives 17 stitches. The next day, he clarifies his actions in a follow-up interview: “[Lamacq] saw us as hero worshipping kids trying to replicate our favourite bands. There was no way I could change his mind. I didn’t abuse him or insult him. I just cut myself. To show that we are no gimmick, that we are pissed off, that we’re for real.”

July 29, 1991
Having signed to Columbia following an industry-wide scramble for their signature, the band release Stay Beautiful'. On the topic of signing to a major and the perception of the Manics as a hype band, Richey tells NME that "you people always think we're naive. The music industry is the easiest thing, all these little boys going around being scared by it, it's all gone wrong, the independent mentality of the press sums it up, they're all tossers."

February 10, 1992
The band's debut album, 'Generation Terrorists" is released, and receives a 10/10 from NME's Barbara Ellen. Talking about their rise to prominence, Richey tells Melody Maker that "we read all the classic rock books, which make everything out to be so fast. You're meant to explode overnight, but that never happens. If you want to be successful, you know what you've got to do: imitate The Wonder Stuff, dress a bit stupid. and get a support slot."

May 30, 1992
'Generation Terrorists' reached Number 13 in the UK album chart on release in February and the Manics headed for America shortly after.

June 14, 1993
The Manics release their second album, 'Gold Against The Soul'. Richey admits to NME's John Harris that he had been drinking heavily during its writing and recording, but refutes the suggestion that he is an alcoholic. "Someone like Shane MacGowan is an alcoholic: someone who gets up, drinks first thing in the morning, and drinks all day. I'm not interested in that. I want to get...I want to forget about things when it starts getting dark. It's pretty impossible to sleep unless you've taken something, otherwise you just lie in your bed and think about everything and it goes on and on."

April 22, 1994
Manic Street Preachers play the first of two shows at MBK Hall in Bangkok, Thailand, where they are joined by NME's Barbara Ellen. In a fascinating interview, Richey talks openly about his self-harm: "When I cut myself I feel so much better. All the little things that might have been annoying me suddenly seem so trivial because I'm concentrating on the pain, I'm not the sort of person who can scream and shout, so this is my only outlet. It's all done very logically."

July 30, 1994
The band play T In The Park without Richey, who following an apparent suicide attempt earlier in the month - has been checked into the Priory clinic. Their management are forced to release a statement denying rumours that he has quit the band. In an interview with NME's Keith Cameron a few weeks later, a visibly shaken Nicky Wire says that "it came to a point where his self-abuse had reached a peak, in a lot of ways - his drinking, he'd virtually become anorexic, his mutilation. Everybody just got really scared when we saw him. We're in a position where we don't know what to do." On August 29, two days after they play Reading Festival as a three-piece - The Holy Bible' is released.

September 20, 1994
Having checked himself out of The Priory, Richey rejoins the band for an 11-date French tour, supporting Therapy?. His return to the British stage comes the following month at Glasgow's Barrowland, where NMEs Paul Moody writes that "he's almost impossibly distant - gamine-eyed and crushingly shy - seemingly overcome by the idea of going onstage in front of 1,600 people desperate to stare at him and wonder if hes really OK".

January 23, 1995
Richey gives his final interview, to Midori Tsukagoshi of Japanese magazine Music Life. In it, he talks about his hospitalisation the previous summer, his cynicism towards relationships, the satisfaction he gets from songwriting and his "respect" for Yukio Mishima, a Japanese author who committed ritual suicide. "People say to the mentally ill, 'You know so many people think the world of you,'" he tells Tsukagoshi. "But when they don't like themselves they don't notice anything. They don't care about what people think of them. When you hate yourself, whatever people say it doesn't make sense. Why do they like me? Why do they care about me?' Because you don't care about yourself at all."

February 1, 1995
On the eve of a US promo trip, Richey checks out of his London hotel with more than £2,000 in cash, drives back to his flat in Cardiff and is never seen again. The following day, his manager Martin Hall files a missing persons report.

February 25, 1995
Police find his his car abandoned near the Severn Bridge two weeks later. Nicky Wire tells NME that, "If Richey does not want to come back then that is fine. We just want him to give us a call, We are genuinely worried. He has never disappeared like this before."


Steve Lamacq
Famously, Richey carved the words ‘4 Real’ into his arm during an interview with the DJ and NME writer after a show at Norwich Arts Centre
“I wish rd met Richey in different circumstances, I really do. But by the time we got to Norwich the battle lines had been drawn. I was going there tasked with trying to get behind the rhetoric, while the Manics were - understandably - probably very suspicious of me after a veiled dig at them in NME a few weeks earlier. I just probably didn’t understand them enough, or where they’d come from. But this - with the exception of one very uncomfortable journey in a lift a couple of months later - was the only time I met Richey. It’s strange looking back at the night with the benefit of hindsight, because I don’t think I - or even some of the people around him - had any idea what a complicated person he was. You read stories now about how troubled he was, but he seemed to hide it so well from strangers. He was enthusiastic and interesting in the bus on the way to the gig, but obviously frustrated by the interview afterwards. I always say that what haunts me were his deep, compelling eyes. And his softly spoken voice - really soft but slightly on edge - as he explained how important the band was to him. He was obviously a dynamo, a creative force. And he was obviously interested in the emotive power of rock’n’roll. All the things you admire in a musician. But unless you were really close to him, I don’t think you probably ever saw the real depths and contradictions in his character.”

Kevin Cummins
NME photographer who recently released the book Assassinated Beauty, a collection of classic shots he look of the band
“When I photograph musicians, I want them to look like stars. I want you, the reader, to put the photos on your bedroom walls. And so it always was with Richey. Richey was a star. Richey was also the bloke in the pub who could talk about sport, music, politics. Part of my role as a photographer is myth-making. When I spent a week with the Manics in Bangkok in ’94 for NME, Rich wasn’t the 24/7 tortured artiste. He played hard like the rest of the band and crew. I took some photos of him in the ‘entertainment’ district, where he looks like a little boy, lost in a world of mayhem. That wasn’t the case, though. I wanted him to look vulnerable and directed the shots that way. The reality was he’d been in the pub for hours, watching the Manchester derby. Most bands would have stayed in the hotel until call time. Not the Manics. Not Richey. And I miss him to this day...”

Andy Cairns
Lead singer of Northern Irish rockers Therapy?, who toured with the Manics in 1994
“I met him for the first time at the Kilburn National in 1992 - that infamous show where they made those comments about Freddie Mercury and Michael Stipe. Therapy? had been around since 1989, so we’d bumped into a few so-called rock’n’roll characters, and they were always such bores, but Richey was charming, sweet and fiercely intelligent. I was struck by how civil and decent he was. When we took them on tour in September 1994, I’d heard rumours about what was happening to him, but he didn’t seem any different to me. I bumped into him outside a venue one night. I had a couple of books under my arm and one of them was Dark Eros: The Imagination Of Sadism by Thomas Moore. He took great interest in it, so I let him borrow it, and later he gave me a small booklet of writings by William Blake and Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray, which he signed ‘Love, Richey’. My favourite memory is of the night after Therapy? played The Forum in London in 1993, when James and Richey came. He was in good spirits and we had such a laugh: we just sat and talked about books and life in general. It was completely un-rock’n’roll.”

Stuart Bailie
NME writer who reported on the Manias’ first US tour
“Richey Edwards was an astonishing prospect in the early days. Women’s blouses and spraypaint, Cacharel fragrance and Boots cosmetics. It was the last days of Madchester and everyone else wore sweatpants and baggy shirts. But Richey was radiant like Liz Taylor, quoting existentialist writers, getting maximum value from his library card. The Manics were fearless and self-contained. They refused to shake the outstretched hands of lesser indie bands. I followed them to Los Angeles in 1992 and Richey was excellent company. Sure, he ramped up his persona for interviews, but he was also an affable soul. He liked his darts, his shopping and he could do a passable moonwalk. He was indiscrete about other band members, and when he slagged off some music-biz chancer, his voice relished every withering syllable. But Richey was already grieving for a failed mission. They were supposed to have sold 16 million copies of the first record before self-combusting. Now they were planning a second album. And while the other Manics were growing outside of the band, getting rounded lives, Edwards became solitary and self-obsessed. In his mind, he had failed. By 1994 he was a wreck. He had completely changed his body shape due to a daily regime of 1,500 sit-ups and neat vodka. When I met him in September he had just exited The Priory after a binge of cutting and mental disintegration. The voice was quieter, the humour more bleak and he was wearing a girl’s coat that he’d bought in Fishguard. There was some steel in Richey’s character, though. While he couldn’t forgive how much he’d messed up the band, he insisted he was going to play guitar better and wouldn’t give any countenance to the talk of suicide. You wanted to believe him, but when he took us for a ride in his silver Cavalier, Kurt Cobain was on his car stereo, singing ‘Rape Me’.”

Noel Gallagher
Hung out with Richey in the early '90s
“I met him a couple of times. I first met him at a Sony Records party in ’94 maybe, and he loved Oasis. I loved that tune ‘You Love Us’, and I loved that video as well. He was a quiet lad, but obviously there was a lot of shit going on inside. But he was a bit of a dude, all those lads are. I don’t know the drummer that well, but James and Nicky are amazing people. It was a bit of a shock at the time - he kind of missed out on the Manics’ greatest moment, ‘A Design For Life’ and that period.”

Traci Lords
Former porn star who was asked by Richey to sing on the single ‘Little Baby Nothing’
“He reminded me of a young David Bowie: very avant-garde, and there was something quite feminine about him. He was very soft-spoken, and struck me as being vulnerable, almost birdlike. He definitely came across as someone who was living in a glass house, in some sort of fragile state. I thought he was lovely. He never spoke to me about why he wanted me to sing on ‘Little Baby Nothing’ - it wasn’t until later that I read his reasons for it. It’s funny, because I saw Richey as someone who was very vulnerable, and that’s how he saw me. We ended up being perfectly in sync with each other. There’s a picture of us on the inside sleeve of ‘Generation Terrorists’ - I’m wearing a leopard-print coat and the band are all around me. That photo session was quick - no stylist, make-up artist or anything - so we were all horsing around. Then the sky opened and it poured down, and I remember Richey running down the street, screaming and being silly. It was a very fun, frivolous, innocent afternoon.”

Rachel Elias
Richey’s sister
“Richard was two years older than me. We went to the same school together - he would always help me with my homework. His favourite programme, right up until he went missing, was Match Of The Day. “When he joined the band, they would come to our house to rehearse in my mum and dad’s garage, and I went to one of their first gigs, at Radcliffe’s Square Club in Cardiff, where there were only three or four of us in the audience. “I wasn’t surprised when the band became successful, because Richard was always so forceful about what he wanted to do. Even if he couldn’t play guitar, that wasn’t relevant to their appeal - he wrote letters to numerous journalists and record companies, laying out the band’s vision, and he was so clear about what he wanted to do that it almost seemed kind of inevitable when it actually happened. Ironically, they only became really big after he went missing - when he was in hospital in Cardiff a few months before, nobody even knew who he was. But the albums he made with the band speak for themselves. If you read a basic description of Richard on Wikipedia, it always opens up by saying ‘He suffered from...’ and then there’s this series of labels that follows: alcoholism, anorexia, etc, etc. But he was never treated, or even formally diagnosed, with any of those things. Over the last 20 years, there’s been this force perpetuating that it was the case, but when he went into hospital, he was never treated for anorexia nervosa. He was never treated for alcoholism. Admittedly, he did experience depression and his self-harming was a symptom of that. But I feel like Richard’s been put in this box - possibly because he’s a rock star and he’s been missing for so long - and it’s somehow easier for people to think those things about him. The Cult Of Richey has snowballed to the extent that people have decided what he must be like, and he’s not here to respond to the assumptions they make about him. They say, for example, that he took out £200 in cash every day for 10 or 11 days in the lead-up to his disappearance. That’s true - but what never gets reported is that when he left his wallet behind, along with his passport and his medication, we found receipts accounting for almost every single one of those days - he spent that money. He spent it on clothes and CDs, but the suggestion is always that he was storing it in preparation to disappear. It’s a good example of the myth that’s been built up around his story, to the point where it’s become a story in itself. I’d hate it if all Richard was remembered for was stuff like the self-harming incident in NME, because he was much, much more than that. I’d like him to be remembered for more positive things.”

In May 1992, NME’s Stuart Bailie went to LA with Manics, only to find Richey disillusioned with the place

Upstairs at The Rainbow, Sunset Strip, there’s a nervy-looking guy wearing a fur coat, tennis shoes with purple laces and a pair of punky Sid shades. Maybe he’s faking it, but his unhappy moanings make it sound like he’s having the worst time of his life.

“I cannot believe it,” bleats Nicky Wire. “I just went into the toilets and there it was, this ‘Generation Terrorists’ mat in the urinal, especially put there for tonight. That’s really taking the piss, isn’t it?”

A few of us trade sympathetic glances, but everybody else in The Rainbow is unfazed by this corruption of the group’s baby manifesto. California’s best liggers are too busy unloading pizzas and buckshee liquor to care that much; it’s only when they dab their mouths with a Manic Street Preachers napkin (a replica of Richey’s tattoo), or pocket an MSP bumper sticker (with Prague crucifix image) that there’s any real sign of the motive behind this record company jolly at all.

During the evening, the Manics are asked to group together for a photo opportunity or to sign a poster (complete with huge NME quote) for one of the fur-toting wannabe babes. A radio plugger steps over to tell them that ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ is the most added-to track on the Metal stations, and that it’s doing fantastically well on AOR radio too. “The ultimate accolade,” mouths Nicky, glazed and confused.

Over the PA system, James Dean Bradfield is singing about neon loneliness, while I’m watching the group’s induction to Paradise City - how they’re beginning to quantify their place on LA’s main strip, to sample the hot splurge of speed, sex, scuzzy rock lore and venal excess, and to measure that up to their own, ultra-critical value system. The Manics look pissed off and alienated already. Just the way they prefer it, probably.

“It’s really fucked me up,” Richey protests. “People just seem to want so much over here, they’re not content with anything. I’ve been completely celibate on this tour. We could have fucked every night - in Europe and Britain we did - and in America I just haven’t slept with anybody. It just doesn’t interest me. Everything just seems for sale.”

“It’s made me much more inward,” Nicky says. “I haven’t gone out at all. I’ve been reading more than I’ve done in the last three years. Every gig we’ve done girls have brought us books, and I’ve become really insular - I’ve gone back to the days when I used to love Morrissey.”

Pretty soon, though, the Manics could be enjoying masses of respect from this pariah, an eventuality that makes all of their moanings seem twisted and weirdly funny. The night I saw them play the Whiskey they were immense - a big, blamming show that left me all choked and proud. Their record company are awfully keen to accommodate them as well, even if they’re not precisely au fait with these spiky polemics yet. Just a little more topspin, you feel, and the LA lot may take to this act like they’ve already gone for less interesting Joes like, say, Billy Idol and The Cult.

And then the Manics have to figure out if it’s really worth having. As I unpool the memories of the band’s final three days in America, that’s where I remember the source of the drama lay - the painful wrestlings about scruples, the Manics’ sadness for their fast-fading punky era, and the epic resolutions that still have some coinage in their controv-heavy career.

Daytime on Melrose Avenue, and Richey’s just blown his wad on a bleached-out jacket and some postcards. One of the cards is a groovy take on the philosophy of Descartes - ‘I Shop Therefore I Am’. Another one shows a Barbie doll fixed up in gold lamé, surrounded by consumer desirables. There’s a speech bubble coming out of her mouth that reads: “Every morning I wake up and thank God for my unique ability to accessorise.”

Richey’s in chatty form, telling us how LA’s alternative radio station, KROQ, played the Manics’ ‘Slash ’N’ Burn’ (and Fabulous’ ‘There’s A Riot Going On’) to commemorate the LA riots. It was especially disturbing Richey says, because their song is about Third World economics and deforestation policies, not a call to arms.

I mention how I’d expect the band to be more animated, that the throbbing, sexy rush they’d affected so well in Britain would have empowered its way over here, vindicating itself in full, mojo-rising effect on Sunset Boulevard. Yet Nicky’s gone back to bed - he’s “too feeble” - and Sean’s not around. Richey says that he’s already digested it all on TV, and that he’s not so thrilled to catch America first hand.

And then, of course, the civic unrest in New York, Toronto, San Francisco, LA - all towns the Manics have passed through - have acted as a horrible backdrop for their efforts. “It just puts it all into perspective,” Nicky reckoned earlier, “being poxy British white kids in the heart of this grim nation of corporatism.”

Wary of them repeating a Clash-pose-in-Belfast scenario, the Manics are happy to miss the wrecked buildings and check out the intact sections of town. So Richey’s digging out books in Melrose about especially freaky Siamese children (“you’d make a fortune if you looked like that now”), rapping about serial killers, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction, plus the footballing fortunes of Luton Town. The only shop that’s been done over on this avenue is a branch of the London shop, Boy. “At least the looters had a bit of taste,” Richey supposes.

As we turn into Bleecker Bob’s record store, there’s a welcoming blast of ‘Generation Terrorists’ - the extended UK version as opposed to the tidy, chunky US one - and James is already looking anxious. But Richey has found the British rock press - only a week old - and he gets wrapped up in the gossip that he’s been missing on tour. A shopkeeper realises who it is. “Hey, how are ya, Richey! Are ya lookin’ after that arm of yours?”

Next thing, I realise that James is legging it out of the shop, throwing weird, panicky shapes as he breaks for the door. I’m confused. Richey is giggling oddly inside, nodding to my left. A bloke from behind the counter has just whipped out a copy of ‘Suicide Alley’ - they very first Manics’ single. He’d asked James to sign the cover and the singer bolted instead.

“Where the fuck did you get that?” says Richey, overcome with laughter. “There were only 300 of these pressed up. And just look at Sean on the cover - he looks about 12 there!”

So what’s with James and the dramatic exit?

“Well, he’s such a perfectionist really, that he can’t bear to think of those early singles and the way they sound. Ask him about ‘New Art Riot’ and he’ll talk to you for a couple of seconds and then just walk away. That’s the way he is.”

It’s just gone mid-day at the hotel and Richey’s fixing to eat a plate of sushi (“I don’t want this, but you’ve just got to do it, haven’t you? That’s why this country is so messed up”). Nicky is playing Mr Sensible, sipping pure orange and tugging at his Traci Lords T-shirt, saying how she’s meeting up with them soon for a video for the lovely ‘Little Baby Nothing’.

The sight of the Glamour Twins without their pan-stick throws you a bit, but then so does the realisation that these are likeable, clued-in, expressive people. I start to remember the good things I’ve heard about their personal dealings - how they gave Jeff Barrett of Heavenly Records a cut of the LP profits because he’d helped them early on, or how they’d helped to get Caffy, their indie promotions friend, a good job with the management company when they signed their big deal. All positive accounts, no hint of a self-serving rock-monster lifestyle. So let’s talk about values for a minute, Nicky.

“Lester Bangs said that pure rock’n’roll music can lead to a better life. In an abstract way, it just does. It gives you clues about life, literature and everything. That’s a naïve thought, but I will believe it.”

Richey: “Our lives haven’t changed at all. They’re just better. We were really pissed off before, but at least something made a bit of sense. You could relate to it.”

One of the hopes that the Manics always seemed to uphold was that there was a shiny possibility of finding glamour beyond your normal, cruddy lifestyle. How does that go down with the Los Angeles experience?

Richey: “They only bands that ever interested us were traditional rock bands like The Clash, the Stones, The Who, and a lot more glam rock bands like Guns N’Roses, or whatever. But we were never interested in moving to LA, buying a Harley, cruising up and down, singing songs about girls and sniffing cocaine off beautiful models.

“That was all crap - the thing that offended us about rock music was that they would never try to have any sensitivity or soul. It was all just enough to go out and go, Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me, and that was the thing that people got wrong about us from the start.”

Nicky: “If we looked like we felt, then we would have come onstage as Joy Division. We made a massive effort to be a glamorous band, because inside we know we’re not particularly glamorous, really.”

The thing I liked the most about the early Manics gigs was the theatre, uncertainty and dissent - people weren’t sure what the band was about, and how to react. Much of that’s gone now. Instead you’ve got a consensus, like at the last big Astoria show in London. It was fun but everybody knew exactly how to behave...

Richey: “The difference is that we’re the only band in London that gets accused of something like that, because no other band is putting demands upon themselves. If any other band did a show in a place like the Astoria no-one would question why is should be better. Everyone loved the show, but they expected more, which is good.”

In New York, though, you went for the blow-out, mouthing off about how the only good thing about the town was that it killed John Lennon...

Nicky: “We still get mouthy, but where the situation is right. If we’re actually enjoying a concert, and we think it’s going well, I never really think about it - it’s a bit of a fake if you’re mouthing off. In New York, everyone was just so brain dead, it was just the right thing to do.”

Is there any reason to guess that the Manics are already having a bearing on the greater scheme of things?

Nicky: “I always thought we’d be like The Stooges, destroying everything, just holding our heads up, or else a huge band. At the moment, we’re close to being either, really. Whatever happens, we’ll always be an important band.”

Richey: “In terms of something explosive, I don’t think it will happen. People just aren’t interested any more. They’re too selfish.”

Nicky: “We’ve made indie bands realise - even on the smallest level - that they can be stars again. You’ve got all these bands like Adorable, The Verve, Suede, you know that they’ve realised you can be a star again, and that’s all down to us. Musically and lyrically, they’re not gonna take anything from us. I know that - they’re too scared.

Like I said, the Whiskey gig was such a thing: joyful and rowdy-responsive, while the activated rumble of James’ Les Paul filled the place out with masses of greatness and anxiety and vim. Stuff your spiky associations, the Manics are now a terrific rock’n’roll band...

The taped intro was a fine idea; the sound of Allen Ginsberg in a stoned-out rendition of his poem ‘Howl’, the hipster apocalypse from ’56. A useful context for taking in ‘Stay Beautiful’ and ‘Democracy Coma’ or more especially when ‘Repeat’ goes veering off into a steal from Dead Kennedys’ ‘California Uber Alles’ - they’ve an excellent sense of occasion, these boys.

Like he does, James rips off his shirt and you see his abdominals all bunched up tight, partly nerves and also down to his obsessive road training programme. If he’s Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire - all inarticulate shrugs and animal reflexes - then Nicky is Blanche DuBois, a Southern (Welsh) Belle, flouncing around in a Kylie shirt, ripping up a feather pillow near the end and transforming the Whiskey into a mad, fluffy landscape. A classy act.

Gilby Clarke, the new Guns N’Roses guitarist, is there watching the form - he seems to like it. Next day, Flea from the Chili Peppers calls the hotel to forward his good wishes. The West Coast rock constituency is taking to the Manics with a lot fewer reservations than their hung-up Brit colleagues. My solitary moan is that they don’t do ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’, the Manics’ new single and epic discourse on the myth of speed and the loneliness of the human lot. So what gives, Nicky?

“At the end of the day, ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ is just one of the best records of the year - more than anyone ever expected from us, and that song is four years old. We never played it early on; when you’re jumping up and down at the Rock Garden you’re not gonna do something like that, really. We don’t want to play it live until we can do it perfectly. We are a perfectionist band.”

After the show we turn back up the strip to The Rainbow, where Richey will pass out on a table and I end up sitting next to Sean, the drummer, the first Manic I ever met.

That was at an especially unhappy party two years ago, when I was set on by a band whose LP I’d (deservedly) slagged off in the paper. I’d been cornered in the toilets and threatened with violence, and I felt rotten. Then Sean came over and started talking about burning down the universe and stuff, and how all the other bands were shite anyway. He made me feel better. I got inspired again.

I don’t get that vibe off him now, sadly. His physical appearance (like Steve Earle on a rough day) and body language all suggest that he’s feeling miffed with his situation, and is storing up all those bad vibes. Not good.

The other Manics seem a little put out by his hermit style (they aren’t healthy outgoing sorts either!), but they reckon that Sean doesn’t need to be around people at all. Richey takes an old American Indian line from Carlos Castaneda: “Those who speak do not know, and those who know do not speak”.

Sean tells me that he was much happier working in the recording studio in Sussex - a time that Nicky also calls “The Golden Era”. There was a lot more control then, says Sean, a freedom from outside contacts and “all the bullshit”. The band were able to regain their self-sufficient drift and be creative like never before.

Now it’s all dispersing, he says, his arms scooping in the air, drawing graphs of band potential versus the reality of it all; ideals nosing downwards under the influence of touring and the Yankee dollar.

Earlier, Richey had been talking about the fun times in the past, driving to London in the Transit, having two-day arguments about whether the indie band McCarthy was somehow more ideologically correct than Guns N’Roses. They were always trading ideas, forming declarations.

“Now you get in the van, and it’s like four people with CD Walkmans, Sega games, just sitting like that. An existential nightmare!”

Richey says that Sean was withdrawn from school too - a “totally scary” figure who was massively gifted, but wouldn’t answer the teachers back when they asked him dopey questions. He was consequently shoved in the CSE stream. There’s a touch of that reserve in his dealings with journalists too, Richey infers, Sean has a comprehensive knowledge of jazz and classical music, but then gets written off all the time as the drummer in a dodgy punk band.

Sean has been estranged from his parents for a long while: there was some horrible family history, so he grew up sharing a room with cousin James. Then, shortly after the Manics made the Top 20, Sean got a letter from his dad, saying that he’d like to be his friend, and maybe they could meet up again. Sean drank a lot and smashed up his room with a pool cue. “He said it was because of the drink,” say the Manics, “but we think he was upset by the letter.”

In Barney’s Beanery, where Janis Joplin once twatted Jim Morrison over the head with a Southern Comfort bottle, the Manics are chilling out, trying to make sense of their last full day in California. We’d been to Venice Beach, now patrolled by squaddies from the Peace Corps - against what, we weren’t sure. Afterwards, an appearance at a TV studio in Anaheim developed into a mad photo session around the corner in Disneyland, with the band strolling around in fake jungle clearings wearing plastic Hawaiian leis. And we noticed how all of the attendants looked so perfect, almost phoney, before we took blasts on the ghost train and the truly wiggly star ride (imagine a rollercoaster in a planetarium on drugs) and generally had a good time in an ideologically suspect sort of way.

Now Richey’s fretting about all that stuff, and the ride back to the hotel that took us past the outskirts of Compton, another kind of famous adventure park. The whole Disney trip is a lousy cultural swap, he decides at last, with Europe giving the Americans Fritz Lang and Hollywood repaying the compliment with a cartoon mouse. Richey tries his first tequila slammer, likes it, and is on to a new, stranger riff. One of his fave artists, he says, is Van Gogh, who had this thing about perfect circles - how there’s some awesome symbolic value in that.

“The only perfect circle on a human body is the eye,” he explains. “When a baby is born, it’s so perfect, but when it opens its eyes, it’s just blinded by the corruption and everything else is a downward spiral. You can’t draw a perfect circle, but you can put a man on the moon - really bizarre!”

Soon we’re all drawing crap circles on our beer mats, and I sneak a long look at this squiffy assembly. Sean is quiet, and is planning to go back with Nicky, who feels unwell. James, who has been threatening to punch out this enormous long-hair at the pool table (he’s twice James’ height), has calmed a little, and is now sticking with us, poking his buddies in the absence of any spoken words.

The Manics are a very physical band, always reassuring each other, which is nice. James is king of the touching; the singer is last sighted practically on top of his manager’s shoulders, massaging his neck and feeling the bumps on top of his head. I feel like I’m part of a David Attenborough film.

Then Richey has an allergic reaction to the tequila and he starts to go pink, and then swells up. His arm just inflates, and presently you’re looking at something that’s stranger than anything out of a Cronenberg fantasy, as the letters 4 REAL start to rise out of Richey’s forearm.

And afterwards you start looking at his right arm, and that’s queer too; burns, scrapes, slices, lesions - a lurid pink testimony to a sustained programme of self-mutilation. “What?” says Richey calmly, looking up from his circles. “Oh, they’re just my war wounds.”

So is there any truth in the theory that people who damage themselves on purpose are trying to externalise some awful, inner pain?

“I dunno if that’s true, I’ve always found it hard to express how I feel, even when I was a little child. It’s a very British emotion - they keep things bottled up inside them. Some more than others.”

The Manics are ready for the morning flight to Japan - to binge out on Sega software and to compensate for those celibate American nights.

Nicky’s talking about his fruit machine habit, and the urge to beat the machine. His back’s a real mess too, he says, a problem with all the tall blokes in the ‘Wire’ household. Dad actually gained six inches in traction. The brother has had vertebrate worked on. Nicky is the band’s medical bore - he will arrive in Japan claiming to have contracted malaria.

Richey has a present for me. He passes over the Barbie doll postcard he got on Melrose two days before. On the other side, he’s written some of the things he wanted to say about Disneyland last night, but couldn’t quite express.

Here’s what it says: “Hollywood and Disneyland are the legacy of Europe’s cultural imperialism. We gave them nursery rhymes and they gave back film. Televised riots are as American as Barbie/Big Macs. Tomorrow the riots will be forgotten but Mickey Mouse will still be there. Welcome to Disneyland. Love, Manic Street Preachers.”

And you thought they were just a Mickey Mouse band?