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The Holy Bible: Inside The Live Rehearsals - NME, 6th December 2014

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Title: The Holy Bible: Inside The Live Rehearsals
Publication: NME
Date: Saturday 6th December 2014
Writer: Emily Mackay
Photos: Mitch Ikeda

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For its 20th anniversary, Manic Street Preachers are finally ready to play 'The Holy Bible' in full without Richey. Emily Mackay finds the trio squaring up to their greatest achievement and heaviest millstone in their Cardiff studio.

Over the studio monitors, the metallic clank and iron-lung whirr of The Intense Humming Of Evil' slowly grinds to a halt, shuddering drums and coiled, cold guitars unspooling into collapse. The three members of Manic Street Preachers focus, eyes down, absorbed to the end. Silence falls. "Merry Christmas," says Nicky Wire.

In Faster Studios, Manic Street Preachers' cosy little corner of Cardiff, things are getting intense. Three weeks into rehearsals tar the seven shows in December at which they'll play their 1994 landmark album 'The Holy Bible' in full, Nicky describes them as "still a good 25 per cent away from playing it correctly".

Some of these songs haven't been aired live for nearly 20 years. There's unfinished business here - they played one tour after the album's release, including three shows at London's now-demolished Astoria in December 1994, said to be among the best they ever did. In February the following year, the Manics' rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards, chief' lyrical architect of 'The Holy Bible', disappeared. The dates for the following year, including a US tour, were cancelled. In the years immediately following Richey's disappearance, the band shied away from their most recent album, moving forward into survival and 1996's 'Everything Must Go'.

"I really enjoyed how 'The Holy Bible' confronts the audience, but that album confronts us, too," James Dean Bradfield told Select in 1996. "You play it onstage and you can feel Damien around the corner. It feels like handling a cursed chalice. You can feel the lesions breaking out all over your body."

Two decades on, the band are finally ready to confront and celebrate The Holy Bible', even after James told NME in August that there was "a massive question mark in our heads" about whether they could do it. Today, he and Nicky both admit that 'Die In The Summertime' and others still scare them. If there are no visible lesions, there have still been a few hiccups. Nicky has an overextended ligament in his thumb that stopped him playing bass for two weeks, and means he has to wear a support on his hand. "I haven't turned into Michael Jackson or anything," he reassures me. James, meanwhile, has suffered a dental abscess. The normal solution is root canal surgery, but as that carries the risk of putting him out of rehearsal action for two weeks, he's having to neck the antibiotics and hope for the best. "'The Holy Bible"s ruined us already! We've got fucking injuries coming out everywhere!" laughs Nicky.

The band are pushing on; they've requested the master tapes of the album back from Sony, and are forcing bodies and minds into 'The Holy Bible"s brutal harshness - those time signatures, those fiddly bass and drum parts, that screaming, all those words, words, words...

"There's a state of mind with 'The Holy Bible' that you have to be really physical." says Nicky. "You have to go out there with deep conviction, because you just can't coast it."

With three weeks of rehearsals to go (and plans for a US tour being firmed up) pressure is mounting, and today's session is drawing to a close after run-throughs of 'Ifwhiteamerica...', '4st 7lb', 'Die The Summertime', "The Intense Humming Of Evil', 'Of Walking Abortion' and 'Yes' that have the intent of coiled springs. Not every lyric - or, given James' dental state, every scream - is there yet, but that roiling, evil, under-the-skin guitar sound, the itchy ferocity of the rhythms, the furious's eerily right. The sensation is akin to, as James describes the album, "that feeling of becoming".

I'd asked the band earlier if they themselves had seen any bands play albums in full, and James said he'd been to see Echo And The Bunnymen's 'Ocean Rain' and Brian Wilson's 'Smile'. "And to be honest, I went to those gigs with reservations, and you sit down, and the first song starts, and if it's a good atmosphere you get transported to the place you listened to the record for the first time, which was my bedroom back in Pontypool. And you get into it! You can talk as much as you like about how a band can become a living museum - which is a valid argument - but when it's done right, it's brilliant."

That effect is already there with 'The Holy Bible'. I'm stunned. The Manics, however, are just drily dealing with it, heading home after a day's work. Sean's route is down the M4. "That's when you'll see the real rage," he says. "If only you could capture that on record."


You deliberated about these shows for some time. If you had decided not to do it, what would your regrets have been?
"At the time, none, because I'd kind of defamiliarised myself with the whole thing. But having started playing them... I fell in love with the record again, I guess, by playing it."

Were you apprehensive when you started?
"Mmmm... the apprehension has been there constantly. But on the 'Futurology' tour as well, we were doing 'Archives Of Pain' and 'Die In The Summertime', and 'PCP' we started doing at I guess we sort of eased our way into it. So I think, emotionally, when we go onstage we will be. y'know... there's a lot of bravado. We've always been, like, just push through things and not worry. But it will hit you more playing them when you're onstage."

Has it affected you as a group more than you thought it would?
"I'm not sure as a group, but it did set the tingles off, definitely. I haven't played '...Bible' through for a long time. And then sitting down...I guess the power of it did actually really resonate with me and made me think, with a slight tinge of sadness, just as a band, it'd be impossible really to be that brave, with that much conviction, ever again. And we put everything into 'Futurology', and it's full of conviction. But I dunno if you can ever, for sheer kind of single-mindedness, beat 'The Holy Bible'. Certain records make you feel redundant, like 'Never Mind The Bollocks' and 'Unknown Pleasures', and it made me feel a little bit like that! It's probably a good thing."

A lot of fans, myself included, have mixed feelings about seeing 'The Holy Bible' live...
"It might even hit us onstage - perhaps we shouldn't have done it! We don't know yet. I think 20 years is a longtime, and the fact that we're still a functioning, kind of lively, concept of a group, it doesn't feel quite so nostalgic somehow. I guess 'Cos we'd never fucking played it, as well. So many fans out there haven't heard a lot of the songs live, and we haven't as well, for ourselves. So, musically, it's been kind of stimulating."

Even if there wasn't the feeling of unfinished business, it's not a record that's particularly conducive to a spirit of nostalgia.
"No... I think the Christmas spirit will kick in at the end of 'Of Walking Abortion'. I can see that one as a good chant-along, almost Arcade Fire-esque: 'Who's responsible? YOU FUCKING ARE!'"

Usually with your shows there's quite a bit of...let's not say banter.
"Humour! There is!"

I guess with a record like this, the mood is going to be quite different...
"Me and James talked about this, and he said, 'I'm not saying a fucking word before songs. I can't, I can't just do the old frontman shtick.' I think that element of humour will come from the audience if it's that sort of gig. The idea of screaming 'dumb cunts' or 'who's responsible' I think that's gotta come from them. But that's probably why we'll come back on as well, there'll be an interval and a slight stage change and everything really just to lift the mood a tad! I'm trying to get James to do 'Bright Eyes' and 'Last Christmas' like he did at those Astorias, acoustically, but I dunno if he's that keen at the moment. He's like; 'I've got fucking enough to learn as it is!' Which is fair enough. We do expect a lot of the boy."


I got the impression you were slightly more reluctant about the idea of these shows than Nicky was. Is that accurate?
"I think sometimes it's really surprising if you look back, how your feelings or your inclinations change so quickly. It was the same before 'Journal For Plague Lovers'... we all had those lyrics for a long time and for ages we couldn't even countenance using them. I think if there ever was a time when we felt we wanted to do this, it would be on the 20th anniversary; I think that subconsciously seeped into the battered and bruised frontal,lobe readings of our brains, they switched on. Let alone an emotional challenge, there's a technical challenge. A lot of people are gonna say to us, 'Is it hard? Is it hard singing those lyrics? Is it hard going into those memories?' And I'm not remotely belittling that aspect of it, but I've just decided to get busy getting technical rather than getting emotional about it... I want people to actually think, 'Fuck, these guys can still do this along time after.'"

Twenty years later, it's easy to sum up 'The Holy Bible' in glib, angsty way...
"And also it gets overtaken by the idea of the gathering storm of...that kind of rock iconoclastic myth that became Richey. But I think what people miss out is the actual overpowering sense of victory that you get sometimes when you listen to it. And of course that's overlooked because people think that, with the way things ended tor Richey, that there's only ever a negative thing to see. But he's ripping this out of himself...sometimes he's trying to speak for other people, sometimes he's just speaking for himself, and sometimes he's speaking for history. But he's ripped it out of the core of himself this record, and I feel a sense of empowerment. Which of course does get lost, because Richey went missing, he's not with us. But yeah, I remember playing it on the road when we were supporting Therapy? in France, and I came offstage feeling great every night."

There must be more pressure than usual in terms of nothing going wrong technically...
(Laughs) "Oh, thanks! Fucking hell, I'm gonna get the bends in a minute! Yeah, it's weird, there is a technical aspect to it where it's like, does it sound serrated, does it sound articulate, basically: does it sound like it did at the Astoria in 1994. And I think... so we'll see!"

The internet being what it is, if someone released an album like this now, there'd be think pieces from here to the moon and back.
"There would be, but then again, I don't know whether people were more sensitive back then, or now, because people have become so desensitised. I don't think it would have the same effect as it did back then. Even with all the events that happened, I think it'd make the news for a couple of days, and that would be it. But that's the way progress supposedly moves forward, people are always looking for the next thing. You'll be continually shocked, but it seems to raise the bar each time. I mean those things haven't gone away since the dawn of time; we just find more ways of dealing with it, or not dealing with it or just ignoring it."

What are your worst-case and best-case scenarios for these shows?
"My worst fear is completely messing it all up - that's always been my fear at every single gig that we ever play. I mean, my worst fear's gonna be those people that arrive and go, 'Oh God, it's like a bunch of old geriatrics onstage pretending that they're in their early to mid, twenties again.' But we watch our old videos and we know what we play like and how we sound. And yeah, it is slightly different, but back then there's a lot of naivety there, there's things that you wish you'd done that you hadn't done. And things you could have made better. But as people I don't think we've changed at all. We've probably become even more cynical, whereas then we were a bit more happy-go-lucky. If you can call it that."

"Yeah. I think we're playing the songs better than we did back then. Sometimes they were like a charging, bolting horse that we'd try to hold onto the reins and it'd just getaway. Now we've got enough experience that we can push when we need to or hold back."

While you've been rehearsing, have you made any adjustments or changes to the songs to perform them live, or is it going to be exactly as it is on the record?
"Completely as it is, yeah. I mean, maybe 'PCP' isn't played with the same venom as it was live [back then], but on record, it didn't have the same venom [as it did live then either]. But then when we played it live, we were only playing 45-minute sets. And we were a good 20 years younger! Plus we didn't have all those other hang-ups and worries and everything that you pile upon yourself as you get older and older. But the commitment'll still be there. Some days we'll get it right and some days we'll get it wrong. But we'll try our damnedest to get it right."