Oh the magic of NME. One wave of our wand (well, a half-smoked cig) and Manic Street Preachers are Santa with a huge list of celebrities to buy prezzies for. So Ian Brown, Bobby Gould, Robbie er, Billie... what will you find in your stockings on Christmas morn? It's a wrap: Keith Cameron (words) Steve Double (photos)
Say what you like about Christmas, but the bottom line is this; for an entire month, children's minds race with impure thoughts about a fat old man dressed in red, who flies through the sky with homed beasts and takes an anagram of Satan for his name. In other words, it's not all it seems. So, at this time of unconfined giving and getting, how nice it would be if some higher authority intervened to make all the tricky purchase decisions for us? To make sure that everyone, be they good, bad or Godzilla, got what they deserved in the light of their various exploits during 1998?
Thus it was that NME drew up a list of notables from across the spectrum of human interest and approached its prospective three wise men: a group of unimpeachable integrity and authority, ca#able of righteous wit, riotous invective and encyclopedic recall of sporting trivia and Albums Of The Year charts. Yes, it's Commissars Of Truth, Bradfield, Moore and Wire, everyone's favourite Magi, collectively revered as the Manic Street Preachers. Indeed, so inscrutably wise is Sean Moore that he utters not a word during the entire process. But hunkered down in the splendour of NME's lavishly appointed grotto, James Dean Bradfield and Nicky Wire set about their task with some zeal, only pausing to refuel with chips and shandy, or to occasionally crave the input of an absent friend.
"'Fucking hell!" laughs Nicky, as they struggle to come up with a fitting gift for Slobodan Milosevic. "We could do with Richey today, couldn't we? He'd be right in there!"
Never fear, Slob gets his in due course. So join us at the top of the list, as the Manics get benevolent on the asses of anyone who was
anything during the past 12 months. They begin acutely close to home, with...
English manager Of the Welsh football team, whose response to the Manics' live revision of 'Everything Must Go' to 'Bobby Gould Must Go' was to declare on BBC's Football Focus programme: "That lad Richey... I don't think that's the right way for young people to lead their lives"
Nicky: "I'd send him a world-class defender like Kevin Ratcliffe used to be for Wales. My only problem with Bobby Gould is I thought he was really out of order having a go at Richey. I don't think it's very laudable to have a go at somebody who can't defend themselves. I've supported Wales since was very, very young, was going to Home Internationals when Bobby Gould still had dreams of playing for England, so I don't feel there's anything wrong if I wanna criticise the manager. Everybody else does it. But I still want Wales to win every single match with a passion."
James: "Even if it's Bobby Gould?"
Nicky: "'Course I do, yeah. Y'know, potentially we could field a team Of Premiership players, our players are as good as Scotland's, but for too long we haven't qualified. It's frustrating."
James: "I'd buy him the complete reading list of Richey Edwards."
Nick: "Buy him 'The Holy Bible'! Play it in the dressing room!"
James: 'Tell him to stick it up his arse!"
Nicky: "He actually called us 'Manic Street Peachers'! Haha!"
What would you wish him for the New Year?
Nicky: "I'd just wish Wales to qualify for Euro 2000. With or without him."
James: "There go all our free tickets if they do!"
Nicky: "Thing is, if they do qualify we'll be doing an unofficial song for that tournament. Whether he likes it or not, all the crowd will be singing one of our songs if they qualify!"
What a festive scene that conjures up! And you don't have to be a fully paid-up Christian to hope that the next person on our list will be there, bellowing the Manics' footie fanfare all the way to the valleys. It's...
Former Secretary Of State For Wales, who resigned in tragic and mysterious circumstances, infamously centred upon a nocturnal encounter on Clapham Common.
James: "I wish him a bit of peace, that's all. And I wish his family a Happy Christmas.
Nicky: "When he started writing 'sorry' on his hand and all that, it looked scary. thought for a while he could be a real serious case, no two ways about it. Must be terrible for his family. And he was actually a good politician, that's the saddest thing of all, he did do a very good job for Wales. It would be much better if he was still Welsh Secretary, rather than Alun Michael, who's infested with Blairism to the very core. It's a shame."
Amen to that. Many luminaries suffered setbacks in 1998, but few endured a year of such fluctuating fortune as our next recipient. Hold on to your hands and don't forget the razor, it's....
Pop star of some renown, who topped a year of increasingly wayward behaviour by contriving to get banged up in Strangeways for being obstreperous on a plane. Strictly porridge for him this Chrimbo, then.
Nicky: "I think this is a real strange one, 'cos when I first heard 'My Star', I thought it was absolutely fantastic. I think 'Corpses' was absolutely amazing as well, and I thought he looked fantastic. Y 'know, King Monkey was back. And then the homophobic stuff started coming out... And there's no doubt he's been made a scapegoat over the plane thing, but I hate people who go mad on planes. As a band we've never done it. I'm scared enough as it is and when you hear a row going on..."
James: "I've been on the border Of just actually wanting to fucking pummel a businessman who wouldn't switch his laptop off when they kept telling him to. I'm all for outlawing any unruliness on flights. Just hope he comes out and makes a brilliant album. I hope he comes out unscarred."
So what would you send to help him through his spell in chokey?
Nicky: "I think John Squire should send him a nice tune! And the reformation of The Stone Roses could happen while he's in prison."
James: "I'd give him a flying licence so he never has to get into trouble again!"
No other falling star revealed such elasticity as this next lucky fellow. Keeping his eyes on the prize, it's...
Stitched up by bored LA coppers in a public lavvy, the moody megastar was dragged 'out' of the toilet and into our hearts.
James: "I'd like to give him a Number One album in America."
Nicky: "I think it was the best career move he ever did, the toilet thing, think it forced him to come out as a normal human being who has moments of weakness and moments of... not stupidity, because there's nothing stupid about it, but recklessness. Everybody's known for years that he's gay, although my mum was shocked! Every interview you read with him now he just seems like a nice person. It just shows, when you take yourself not too seriously how much better you can become."
A prezzie for Georgie?
James: "I'd get him a steel-studded collar and lead for his dog, Hippy."
Nicky: "Oh, he's lovely, his dog as well! A lovely blond Labrador."
In truth, it's hard to envision the next name on our list celebrating Christmas to the letter, although we are reliably informed he pulls a mean cracker. HO! HO! HO! It's...
Metal monster of indeterminate gender. Don't bother to pluck the turkey, he'll take it as it comes.
Nicky: "I'd get him a bigger pair of tits! Apparently they're real, those tits. He's hormonally grown them. Fucking amazing, isn't it?! I've got a soft soot for Marilyn Manson, the video for 'The Dope Show' is absolutely fantastic. I don't think he wants for anything, does he? All his fantasies have come true. Done alright, the boy! Brian, isn't it?"
James: "I'd buy him Rush's back catalogue. I'm sure he's got it, but I'd get it for him on CD, just to bring him up to date."
Time to move back into the murky realm of politics, and who better to finger the sticky realities of that caper than...
She proved that shagging the boss can have its downs, as well as ups.
James: "I'd buy her the most expensive fucking male prostitute in the world, just for a good laugh. To see what she did with it."
Nicky: "She's already had him! As far as political scandals go it's the least I've ever been interested, 'cos you just know Clinton's gonna survive. And for all his wrongs, he has been the best American president that I can remember. I think the big problem is it's such a Republican witch-hunt. With Nixon it was across the board, Let's get rid of this evil fucker'. When you see some of the people having a go at Clinton you just think, 'Fucking hell, they're the scariest fuckers on Earth'. He's the better of the two evils,"
Next up, some more American statesmen, rarely lost for words, the...
The unit-shifting rhyme cartel and arbiters of taste you couldn't ignore in '98. Not everyone likes 'em, mind.
Nicky: "I think they're the most overrated band in the history of music. They're pious, they're either slightly conceited or a bit dim. I thought their outburst against the Prodigy was stupendously thick. I just don't like fem. I think they're rubbish. I always have done, I've just never got it. Much as I admire the whole Tibetan thing, as I've said before, they've never said anything about America wiping out its own indigenous race. They mean nothing to me."
Would you get them anything?
Nicky: "A conscience!"
James: "I'd get them 'It Takes A Nation Of Millions...' by Public Enemy."
Nicky: "With the lyric sheet. I mean, it's well documented, the girls in the cages, the kids in wheelchairs, and that never offended me that much, but neither should 'Smack My Bitch up' offend them.
James: "I'd buy 'em a white shirt from Millets and watch 'em hopelessly turn it into something cool."
Nicky: "When a band is that effortlessly cool there must be something wrong!"
This Manic Christmas spirit is a volatile brew! What cheer can our Magi dispense for this next larger-than-life American icon...
Singer, actress, perennial cause célébre.
James "I'd write a song for her, send it to her and just hope to God she would sing on it."
Nicky: "I absolutely loved the Hole album. It was the soundtrack to our European tour, we played it when we came off every night, and before. I don't think she ever gets the credit she deserves. She's always seen as the evil woman, when she's just got a gigantic personality. "
Have you ever met her?
Nicky: "Saw her storm out of Top Of The Pops once! I wanted to get her autograph."
What would you wish for her New Year?
James: "I hope the road to becoming a respected actress is easier for her than it was for Madonna."
Nicky: "She'd be the indie equivalent of Evita!"
Like Courtney, our next pop belle started young. Unlike Courtney...
A star at 16, she went from advertising teen mags to appearing on the covers.
Nicky: "I feel a bit sorry for kids that age where it just seems their whole life is gonna be stunted by following a career in showbiz. They end up really soulless, most of those people.
They live a completely different life to anybody else that age, it's just scary. Especially Billie. She's so young, and she's got to practice dance routines ten hours a week. And I think it's a bad thing for young kids to look up to all the time, pop stars with perfect bodies and perfect smiles, whether they're male or female. And that's the way it's going."
So what would you get the poor wee lamb for Christmas?
Nicky: "I'd get her 1984 by George Orwell. The video and the book."
James: "Just in case."
Nicky: "It might open her eyes a bit. She might start writing her own lyrics. I read Animal Farm when I was 11 , so I don't see why she can't read 1984 when she's 16."
From the sublime to the hideous. Bloody hell, it's...
Charmless Serbian dictator, responsible for reintroducing Europe to concept of 'ethnic cleansing'. Cheers.
James: "I'd check there's no offshoot Mafia cartels over here before we say something! Um, I'd get him a loaded gun, to see what he'd do with it."
Nicky: "He'd just shoot someone else with that, unfortunately. At the moment I've got a theory about the incarnation of Satan on Earth, after watching lots of Millenniums. There's certain people that represent that, and he's one of them. So I'd send him The Bible, 'cos it might destroy him, a cross."
Let's move to children's TV. No demons lurking there, surely? Oh, hang on, it's...
Former Blue Peter presenter, sacked after revelations that he'd been lobbying too hard for a summer expedition to Colombia.
Nicky: "I'm actually surprised some people seem to be sticking up for him. I think it's just unacceptable if you're a professional person to turn up with a drug habit or a drink habit if you're on kids' TV. I have no sympathy for him at all, basically. Everybody knows my stance on drugs. I'd send him a conversation with me to try and cure him! On the pleasure of reality!"
But Why should aspects Of his private life impinge upon his career?
Nicky: "'Cos he works for the BBC! The BBC is the last bastion of fucking goodness in this country, I wish people would realise it. Take a look at Channel 5, for fuck's sake! We might live in the most liberal society in the world but if a Blue Peter presenter does shitloads of cocaine, I'm sorry, I don't care he gets the sack. He was useless anyway! He's said now he should have listened to his mum and dad - don't mess with drugs!"
James: (quietly) "I feel a bit sorry for him. A tiny bit.
Nicky: (appalled): "Why?!"
James: "It's obviously something he didn't want to be regarded in a wider realm."
Nicky: "Well if you do drugs in private and it's recreational then it's alright. But he was probably down some fucking trendy bar going sniiiifff and trying to grope Jayne Middlemiss, that's what it probably was! He wouldn't have been sitting at home going, 'Ooh, I think I'll do a line of coke and stay in and be really happy!"
It's not as if he was chopping 'em out on the Blue Peter tortoise. though, was it?
Nicky: You never know. probably giving indirect money to some massive drug cartel dealing in paedophilia and drugs and prostitution in Amsterdam!"
That's an argument for decriminalisation, legalising drugs!
Nicky: "Oh, up your arse! If Frank Bough lost his job for it then he's gonna have to lose his!"
Fair point, the Wire. Right! Next on our list is yet another lovable old mass murderer. Yes, it's extra lashings of brandy butter for...
Chilean dictator; wanted by Spain for crimes against humanity; sought asylum in a London private hospital, until he moved in next door to Bruce Forsyth.
Nicky: (holds head in hands) "Ohhh!"
James: "Just get him a book on European law, to show him how stupid he was coming here in the first place!"
Nicky: "That's the bizarrest thing. I can understand the feelings of hypocrisy towards the British standing up and being the ones to prosecute him, I can understand that back in certain sections Of Chile. But of course I'd like to see him prosecuted, and I'm sure millions would. He's done some terrible things, to put it lightly. Aw. Richey! Where are you?!"
Nicky looks like he could do with a break from buying for political monsters. So here's a plain old monster...
Trade & Industry Secretary, the ultimate Blairite and Old Labour béte noire; post-Ron Davies, his hitherto unimagined sexuality became an issue.
James: "I'd give him a self-help book on how to talk like John Prescott, perhaps he'd get away with it then. I dunno, sometimes I hate him, sometimes I think, 'Just leave him alone'."
Nicky: "He comes from a real socialist family and he's from fucking Hartlepool, and all the rest. I just think people are so suspicious of him that he has to try a million times harder than anyone else. He won Labour the election."
James: "There is a lot of inverted snobbery there. I think a lot of Labour politicians show themselves up sometimes by having public digs at him. It just seems ungracious on their part."
Nicky: "I feel sorry for him, being outed on the gay issue. I don't hate Peter Mandelson as much as some of the other political figures you've mentioned "
We're sure he'll be very glad about that. It's now time to tuck into a couple of sporing headline-makers. Duck! It's...
Former Yorkshire and England cricket legend, turned legendarily-blunt pundit, convicted by a French court of assaulting his girlfriend.
James: "That's a hard one."
Nicky: "It is a hard one, because there's two sides. If he was out playing on the Australian tour now I'd be fucking much more happy than half the shower we got out there. I had the greatest admiration for him as a sportsman, but on the other level, I've lost all my respect for him."
James: "For some reason, when any sportsman gets convicted or accused of some heinous crime or whatever, I always find it so much harder to believe."
Nicky: "Yeah, you are like that. Me and you. When people accused Linford Christie of doing drugs me and James were like, 'No fucking way in the world!' When he beat John McVicar in that court case, me and James were dancing up and down. But Geoff Boycott did do something very, very wrong."
What could possibly give him redemption at Christmas?
Nicky: "I'd just like to tum the clock back 30 years for him and have him out in Australia, really. And he'd never have to hit a woman then, would he? He could learn from it."
On to some people James and Nicky actually know...
Surprise choice for autumn support act, the 'Gwai endeared themselves to the Manics by scaring the shit out of their fans every night.
Nicky: "I'd send them the multi-tracks of 'Tsunami', because I want them to get cracking on that remix!"
What do you imagine they'll do to that?
Nicky: "Something like them, I should hope. They were lovely boys, as well, they were very sweet. Uncorrupted. Very rare."
James: "I'd send them a couple of new skateboards. They had really ratty-looking skateboards, like they'd got 'em when they were seven years old and kept on using them!"
Nicky: "When we were soundchecking once, they started skateboarding in front of us. No big deal, but our security guard, Steve, who's the most lovely fella, went, 'No skateboards while the band is soundchecking!' You could tell they were thinking. 'What a bunch of wankers! Those c***s!' Don't think it happened again, though."
So how did the 'Gwai happen to tour with you?
James: "That was Nick's call, really."
Nicky: "Just asked 'em. Thought 'Young Team' was a mega album, something I play in the background all the time. It's like with Super Furries or Catatonia or whoever we've asked, it's just
trying to get somebody you like. Sometimes they'll tell you to fuck off. We were actually quite surprised they said yes. That one-off single they did, 'No Education No Future (Fuck The Curfew)', that was mega as well. Just that title makes you feel... hope. They said, 'Thanks for giving us the chance to alienate 20,000 people over three weeks, love Mogwai'! Which I thought was very nice."
And onto an altogether more mainstream prospect. We've been expecting...
Popular entertainer, who makes a career out of entertaining the populous.
Nicky: "He was voted best male at the MTV Awards and when he went up and just said, 'Damn right!' and walked off. I thought it was fantastic. But apparently he really regretted it afterwards and he said he couldn't think of anything else to say, and thought he was really arrogant and cool. I'm sure he thought that at the time, but when your defences get broken it kinda takes its toll. Just 'cos he walks out on an NME interview doesn't make me think he's a twat. I don't mind when supposed stars do that. It's kind of what it's all about."
Nicky: "I'd dump all his fucking session musicians. It really is the curse of the last two years, the solo artist who has session musicians who think they are the bee's knees. And they've probably never written a fucking piece of music in their fucking life. I know they're great musicians and all the rest of it but they just learn it off a fucking sheet. They really fucking wind me up!"
And finally, other way to end than with that other pride of Wales? It's...
Catatonia ended a fine old year by supporting the Manics on their most recent arena jaunt. James and Nicky seem quite overcome.
Nicky: "The girl with everything."
James: "Yes. I can't think of one thing that she needs. really."
Nicky: "No. Amazing voice, amazing lyrics."
James: "Amazing looks. Impossible to buy for. Impossible to wish for, as well."
Nicky: "She is impossible to buy for. She's very individualistic. Maybe the title of Princess Of Wales? She'd certainly do a better job. Well, at least she'd stay in Wales for more than one day every five years!"
And so, our Manic spree is at an end. We leave our wise men to digest their choices, making late nominations for Prince Naseem and Wales' rugby coach, Graham Henry. Who's actually from New Zealand - but, like we said at the outset, Christmas is not all that it seems.