As a new book celebrates 60 years of NME, author Pat Long gives an exclusive, never-before-published account of the day Steve Lamacq questioned the Manics' credibility.
Not everyone featured in the NME in the mid-1990s cleaved to the Britpop consensus. The chorus to the Manic Street Preachers' third single, 'Motown Junk', contained the provocative line "I laughed when Lennon got shot", but their early records were derided by the staff of NME as reflecting a fake punk wannabe-Clash group, something confirmed by the presence of journalist Jon Savage pogoing at their early London shows.
When the Manics first arrived in the media in 1991, they were often included as proof of a full-scale punk revival prompted by The Clash scoring their first Number One with a re-issue of 1982 single 'Should I Stay Or Should I Go?' taken from an advert for Levi's.
At NME the punk revival had ended less gloriously: fronted by writer Simon Dudfield and featured in NME photographer Martyn Goodacre on guitar, the band Fabulous were a knowing attempt to create some Sex Pistols-style controversy; stealing the carpet from EMI records' reception, gatecrashing a Manics showcase gig at the Diorama Theatre near Regent's Park and driving around London in a communal band car, an Austin Maxi decorated by 'Screamadelica' artist Paul Cannell and bearing the words 'ARREST ME' in huge letters on the boot. Fabulous released only one single but, perhaps unsurprisingly, it became NME's Single Of The Week.
In this context, it is no wonder that the Manics weren't taken more seriously by the staff of NME. "I remember Steve Lamacq hanging up the phone one day and laughing saying, '[Manics manager] Philip Hall's trying to sell me some dodgy Welsh punk band," says the paper's former News Editor, Stuart Bailie."We all went to see them play the Rock Garden in Covent Garden and they were a bit underwhelming."
When Lamacq was sent to interview the band after a gig at Norwich UEA in May 1991, he went with an agenda: he wanted to put it to them that they were punk poseurs. The band's guitarist, Richey Edwards, responded by removing a razorblade from his pocket and carving the words 4 REAL into his forearm, eventually having to go to hospital for 17 stitches. When Lamacq and photographer Ed Sirrs returned to London, a meeting was called to discuss whether the magazine should run the photographs.
"The Manics had written to us a couple of times but they weren't as good as people were saying," says Lamacq, "so I thought it might be good to test some of the rhetoric. Richey ended up cutting his arm open, although the next day he phoned and left a message saying 'Sorry, I didn't mean to mess your head up."
The results of the editorial summit were captured by a BBC Radio 5 documentary crew making a programme, Sleeping With The NME, about a week in the life of the magazine. "The question is, can we print this picture?" says then-Features Editor Andrew Collins on the documentary. "'Cos it is really horrible...it's a bit of news, even if you could say it's trivial, I'd say within our little world it is not trivial, it's quite a thing."
By 1994, the Manics had become the ghosts at the Britpop banquet with their album 'The Holy Bible', a cold and monolithic work that references the Holocaust, prostitution, serial killers, fascism, suicide and starvation. In April 1994, Barbara Ellen accompanied the band on a trip to Thailand. It was clear to all concerned that something was seriously wrong with Richey.
Before the second show he slashed his chest with a set of ceremonial knives given to him by a fan. At the end of the trip he confessed to Ellen that he'd had sex with a Thai prostitute. "I loved the Manics, right from 'Motown Junk' onwards," Ellen says. "Some of the staff got in terrible tangles with [NME publisher] IPC's legal department about what they could and couldn't write. But when Richey told me he'd slept with a prostitute I just thought, "I'm not letting you get away with that."
"I never thought twice about not writing it and I suspect that he did it precisely to be written about. He had a huge ego. He was very intelligent, well-read, inquisitive, beautiful man. But he was also quite selfish and childlike. He wanted to create a little bubble around himself and live in it and no-one was allowed to question him or challenge him."
Stuart Bailie interviewed the guitarist shortly after he was discharged from the Priory, where he was treated for alcoholism and anorexia in 1994.
It was a harrowing interview, not least because Richey was so open about his self-harming, anorexia and fascination with Nazi death camps. "After eight days in [hospital], I didn't know what the fuck was going on," Richey told Bailie. "I couldn't even talk, I was just stuttering . I was taking medication - Librium and stuff. Though it calmed me down, because I could get to sleep at night...my mind subjected my body to things it couldn't cope with. Which meant I was ill. For the first time, I was a bit scared, because I always thought I could handle it. I've read lots of books about tolerance of pain and pain thresholds..."
"Richey was always very open about stuff," says Bailie. He'd always want to talk about things, so in a way you were encouraged to participate in the drama. Whenever the Manics appeared in the paper we'd get letters written in blood, but the IQ points of the page would go up by 20 points."
In February 1995, Richey went missing on the eve of the band's tour of America after withdrawing £2,800 from his bank account. In 2008 his parents were granted a court order for him to be declared missing, presumed dead.