It’s the most exciting and important tour to take place this year. In the last six months, politics has roared back onto the musical agenda – and with perfect timing, Manic Street Preachers have reclaimed the political stance that made us all so excited in the first place by taking two of the most furious acts in the country on the road. John Harris reads the riot act to Richey and James about their unholy alliance with Blaggers ITA and Credit To The Nation.
Let’s make a cassette compilation to represent the last six months. Let’s start with Cornershop’s ‘England’s Dreaming’, that ferocious mini-riot built around a riff that makes you want to throw rocks at Policemen and the ranting of a wired-up Asian kid who keeps yelling “FIGHT THE POWER!”
We’ll follow it with Blaggers ITA’s ‘Stresss’, the frantic ode to ram-raiding that got Radio 1’s Simon Mayo in such a huff that he wrote an article for the Daily Star about it. Then: ‘Wrath Of The Black Man’ by Fun-Da-Mental, Huggy Bear’s ‘Her Jazz’, the inevitable ‘Killing In The Name Of’ and...
‘Call It What You Want’ by Credit To The Nation, the rap record that spat at every racist in the country, sampled ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, got an NME Single Of The Week accolade, and is bound to make the top three of the end-of-year lists. After that (for speed, let’s assume we’re on Side Two), ‘Eject’ by Senser, Goats’ ‘Typical American’, Voodoo Queens’ ‘Supermodel Superficial’, and to finish, ‘From Despair To Where’ by the Manic Street Preachers – a far more introspective, polished and considered record than the others, for sure, but one that (like ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’) epitomises a real fury with the way that the idiot adult world can tear you away from your innocence and turn you into a fuck up.
Brilliant. Now how about a title? Try “1993: THE YEAR THAT MUSIC GOT APOPLECTIC AGAIN”.
Imagine that someone grasps the excitement that oozes from our freshly made cassette, goes back to the Rage Against The Machine fronted NME of May 1 that loudly heralded the return of politicised anger, and decides to set up a tour. To make it something more than a cutting-edge club-based affair, they get the Manics to headline; and, flushed with music’s new fury, they approach Blaggers ITA and Credit To The Nation.
It’s already happened. At the Manics’ behest, two of the most exciting acts in the country are being taken out on their summer trek around Britain. Right now, we’re faced with the dizzying prospect of nights when people can frug to ‘Call It What You Want’, lose pints of sweat as the Blaggers do their mob oratory –meets-ska-punk act, and round off the night by marvelling at the fractured beauty of the Manics’ new material...and shouting ‘Fuck Queen And Country’. This is the most exciting live package we’ve seen for yonks; and, moreover, it feels thrillingly important.
Matty from Blaggers ITA and MC Fusion, the precocious talent who is Credit To The Nation, are sitting on a baking East London pavement awaiting the arrival of the Manics. Matty, a gnarled, baggily-attired geezer with a bull terrier, looks like Tony from East 17 might have done if he – like Matty – had joined the British Movement at 14, ended up in Borstal for “drinking and fighting”. Read 1984 and become a seasoned anti-fascist activist.
MC Fusion (aka Matthew Hanson) meanwhile, is a quiet, self-assured boy with gold chains hanging around his neck, huge rings on his fingers, and an elderly manager who chatters into a portable phone and occasionally rolls Matthew his joints. He hasn’t had any sleep, so he sits clutching a lukewarm can of coke and cursing.
Half an hour later - as befits a band whose latest album has parachuted into the Top Ten – a convertible black BMW crawls into a nearby parking space, and Richey and James Manic exchange handshakes with their two touring partners. Watching the interplay between them is enthralling: Richey and James treat MC Fusion with a hushed reverence, and seem to find Matty Blagger’s swaggering , burly presence rather dominating.
Small wonder: Matty and his band are like that. Blaggers ITA first started commandeering NME column inches in January, when after two self-financed singles and frenzied live reviews, they leapt on to the On page, posing outside the Houses Of Parliament, warning of the imminent resurgence of fascism, and ranting about the vital importance of animated enthusiasm. “To describe their live shows as powerful and energetic,” said Johnny Cigarettes, “would be like calling Vinny Jones’ footballing style tenacious. Blaggers don’t just turn heads – they damn near blow them off.”
Seizing on the band’s aura of insane excitement and their rapidly-increasing live following, EMI signed them to the Parlophone label and thought about staging a lavish launch party. Blaggers told them to stuff it, and spent the money on a series of full-page adverts that publicised the activities of Anti- Fascist Action, the group who stop fascists displaying their poisonous creed by standing in their way and – if necessary – thumping them.
In May, they took off on the United Colours Of Frustration tour with Asian agitators Fun-Da-Mental and Armenian-born rapper Blade – and soon after, they released ‘Stress’, the aforementioned ram-raiding anthem that got them on Radio 1 and prompted clever-clever Christian in rock Simon Mayo to work himself into a hilarious lather.
In the Daily Star, he wrote a ridiculously self-righteous article, titled ‘Silly Little Blaggers’ (BOOM BOOM!) that only increased the Blaggers’ appeal and added to the legions of people who see them as an utterly vital presence in the left-field firmament: “the most invigorating pop group since the Mondays,” according to once recent NME review.
Credit To The Nation received their first real attention in May, when the tiny Rugger Bugger label released an incendiary seven-inch single entitled ‘Call It What You Want’. It was chaotic, uptight and unhinged – and built around an ingenious sample from ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. “Top hole,” said anyone with any sense, before leaping up and down with excitement when they discovered that little MC Fusion – who did almost everything on the single – was 1) 17 years old, 2) the son of a Pentecostal Minister and 3) something of a teenage genius.
Onstage, he berated Shabba Ranks for his homophobia and Ices T and Cube for being dickhead sexists and thrilled anyone who watched him. Along with Blade, Collapsed Lung, Katch 22 and Gunshot, he ensured that British hip-hop was finally more than a semi-comical attempt to speak in an alien language. His next single, ‘Hear No Bullshit, Say No Bullshit’ (out next month) is not quite as head-busting as its predecessor, but it still makes you gasp. And hell, meeting MC Fusion – a terrifically charismatic, articulate individual – only heightens your suspicions that he is going to be a star.
Between them, the levels of fired-up conveyed by Credit and the Blaggers were enough to convince the Manics – whose previous tours have featured the awful Kinky Machine, and a bunch of sub-Dogs D’Amour longhairs called The Wildhearts – that taking them on the road was a winning notion. James is sufficiently convinced of their talents that he’ll candidly admit the possibility of the Manics being blown off their own stage.
“That might happen,” he says, “but I’m not going to go slash my wrists about it. Ticket prices are far too expensive, so if someone’s going to pay that much, they should at least see some kind of freakshow. We’re prepared to admit that our live show has limited shelf-life; it can only be interesting for so long. This tour is a way of keeping us away from being complacent, from being workmanlike.”
James and Richey first saw The Blaggers on the United Colours Of Frustration tour, when they were left breathless by their relentless, animated polemic.
“I actually felt isolated when I was watching them,” James remembers. “There was this imposing, almost violent threat coming from the stage, and you don’t feel like they’re speaking to the audience; it’s more like they’re talking to people individually.”
“As soon as they come on, it’s in their mind that they’re not going to let anyone walk out of the door; if there are any hecklers in the audience, they’re not going to put up with them. They won’t tolerate any bullshit at all. And there isn’t much banter between the songs, but when there is, it’s shoved down your throat. I like the fact that it’s so dogmatic.
The Manics’ fondness for Credit To The Nation, meanwhile , goes back to January ’92, when, during the flurry of publicity surrounding ‘Generation Terrorists’, they reviewed the singles for the NME, and came across ‘Pay The Price’, the debut single released on Chumbawumba’s Agit Pop label. “Probably the best rapper to come out of Britain I’ve heard,” said James. 18 months later, he elaborates.
“I got bored with British rappers trying to be convincing,” he explains. “After hearing things like Krispy 3, I got to thinking that it just wouldn’t work. But with Credit To The Nation, you really get the feeling that it’s his first language.
Such appreciation goes back to the days when the adolescent Manics would spend hours listening to ‘Yo Bum Rush The Show’ and ‘It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back’, and thrill to the fantastic rage of people whose anger lay far beyond the existential angst being suffered by four screwed-up Welsh boys sitting round a Dansette in James’ bedroom.
“Black people have got far more genuine rage than a white man could ever have,” Richey muses. “White people feel repressed, but black people are completely oppressed – so you get a real militancy. Public Enemy combined that with being glamorous: the way they moved, the way they dressed – it was like Aretha Franklin on smack,”
And you get the same vibes from Credit To The Nation?
“It’s the same. He’s a very beautiful boy isn’t he? He’s exciting to look at. He looks...smart.”
Richey then strolls into the studio’s make up room. He emerges 15 minutes later, having applied small dabs of purple gunk to his eyelids and fiddled with a mascara brush. He takes a slurp from a cup of black coffee, and we begin an interview that culminates in a discussion about the Manics’ anti-traveller outburst in the NME a month ago: when he, Nicky and James- entirely predictably – raved on about how every rustbucket convoy in the country was made up of repugnant upper-class drop-outs who deserved to be clubbed around by the police even more.
As ever, the NME postbag filled up with indignant missives condemning another instance of gob-shite lunacy, the requisite pressure groups got in a huff, and the Manics made the news pages. But guess what? Richey wants to take most of it back. Sort of.
“We always open our mouths before we think,” he smiles, “But that’s part of where we come from, part of having fuck all to do all day and saying things to each other simply to create arguments. If that had been three of four years ago, we’d have been back in James’ front room, Nick would have said that, and everyone would have shouted ‘you can’t fucking think that’ and there would have been a huge argument. Back then, it was a way of getting through the day.
“I know, it’s a complicated issue, but things get taken to stupid proportions every time we talk; we come out with Mark E Smith-isms. We’re so comfortable in each other’s company we’re talking about 15 years of friendship – that the whole politically correct mentality , avoiding saying certain things when we meet someone new, really doesn’t apply.
Richey says that the logic behind their argument surrounded the knee-jerk hatred displayed by the subculture of dirt towards organised society – the fact that, by decrying ‘men in suits’, the crusties display a chronic ignorance of every folk-hero (eg, Aneurin Bevan, founder of the National Health Services) that the Manics were brought up to revere.
Yeah , yeah, yeah. Good point, shit thing to say. A refreshingly incisive rebuttal of the Manics’ comments comes later in the day, when presented with the relevant quotes, Matty Blagger chews on his scampi and chips, takes a swig of lager top and comes out with a classic display of the level-headed oratory for which he’s becoming famed.
“What’s actually happening,” he says, in the measured, confident tones usually adopted by those strange blokes with petitions who hang around your local supermarket, “is that the new laws which the Government are going to bring in because of the travellers are there to stop us all. I’m sure some of those people are upper-class kiddies who just want to go back to mummy. But what has got to be realised is that the Government are out for greater control of everyone.”
It’s different perspectives likes these – not to mention the dizzying excitement that will come from the three bands’ performances – that makes this tour such a fascinating prospect. Imagine the scene backstage: four politicised Welsh firebrands with a liking for shock-for-shock’s sake and irresponsible press manipulation; an organised anti-fascist cadre with a fully-functioning bullshit detector; and a 17-year old boy from Walsall who exudes a precocious political righteousness. They are going to argue – and that, says James, is half the point.
“I’ve never benefited from having a conversation with another band in my life,” he says. “On this tour, for once, we might get a bit of worthwhile discourse. Like with the Blaggers, I’m not sure whether Matty thinks that we deserve to exist as a band; and something like that is far more exciting than being friendly. I’m not interested in being pally with other groups; not even these two.”
“I want to be confronted, to be challenged. I really wouldn’t mind if these two got onstage and said that our way of approaching things was redundant.”
That’s unlikely to happen – MC Fusion says he appreciates the Manics’ music, and the discussions that take place a wee while later, achieves a remarkable degree of consensus with them. Matty, meanwhile, will admit that he finds the Manics' music rather dated, and their persona uncomfortably theatrical, but appreciates their righteous, if somewhat scatter-shot politics, and the crazed attitude they convey to their audiences.
Still, there are things to talk about, so these four unlikely compadres congregate around a coffee table and begin a hesitant conversation about the miasma of issues surrounding the tour...
...The most obvious of which is this. Sure, people are going to check out Credit and the Blaggers. Some may leap around a bit, even stick their fists in the air and join Matty in his climactic chant of "AN-TI FASC-IST AC-TION". They'll go on to swoon to the Manics' hymns of alienation, shout the lyrics to 'Slash 'N' Burn' and 'Repeat', buy the shirts and the posters - but IS ANYONE REALLY GOING TO LISTEN?
"I think there are always people who come to a gig because they've heard you on the radio, or they want to jump around, or whatever," says Richey, "but there are some who pay real attention to what you have to say. I know that."
"With me," says MC Fusion, "I think people have picked up on it because of what I say. I stress my lyrics, and all of them have a message; they're all from the heart. I want to base myself on something that's going to make people look at me and say 'this geezer's trying to make a change'.
"Like, you don't see a lot of black people on television. And when you do, you're introduced to people like Shabba Ranks, Ice Cube, Ice-T. The last two say some good things, but they're also sexist as f—. I don't want white people - or any other race - thinking that about black people. And I know that people know that I'm rapping about those things."
But a lot of the staple Manics audience - a 99 per cent white mixture of straight-laced indie types and tousle-haired rockists - might simply be alienated by Credit To The Nation.
"But I think people's tastes are broadening," argues Richey. "Even the most hardcore, fey indie types are listening to things like House Of Pain or Ice Cube, or The Goats."
"Yeah," interjects MC Fusion, "but I'll probably get a few people shouting 'why are you here? You should be playing to a black crowd'. But I really don't give a f— who I play with. And that's what most black people my age can't handle. They think you should stick in the black community, stick in the ghetto. And I can't do that, 'cos the whole point of me doing this is to make people unite."
"I think the biggest problems are going to come from our audience getting their heads around the Manics," says Matty Blagger. "They'll see you lot as a poser-ish band who don't say anything direct, and they'll probably be hostile."
"I welcome it," James enthuses. "Our audience has become far too reverent over the last two tours, so to have an antagonistic section of the audience will be a blessing. We'll thrive on it: too many of the people who come to see us just want to get pissed and do absolutely nothing."
So they'll be an element of conflict. People are going to be forced to think. With luck, some of them will run home clutching the anti-fascist literature that the Blaggers religiously hand out, mulling over the message dispensed by Credit To The Nation, and thinking about the fact that - because of this tour, because of the jarring sense of desperation that runs through everything they do - the Manics will always be far, far more than a glamorous four-piece rock band.
They may even wake up the next morning, go and find the friend who's been raving on about how insurrectionary music has become over the last six months, and insist that they put 'Killing In The Name Of 'Stresss', 'Call It What You Want' and 'From Despair To Where' on that cassette. Riot on....