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The Manic Truth Comes Out - The Western Mail, 22nd August 1998

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ARTICLES:1998



Title: The Manic Truth Comes Out
Publication: The Western Mail
Date: Saturday 22nd August 1998
Writer: Darren Waters



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On the brink of greatness, Blackwood band the Manic Street Preachers are a Welsh inspiration but, as bassist Nicky Wire tells Darren Waters, truth is all that matters.

If Wales one day basks in the warmth that only a country at ease with itself can, the historians of the future may well trace its first stirrings back to the efforts of a group of Valleys boys from Blackwood.
A new-found confidence, Cool Cymru, new Wales, whatever you call it, numerous people cite the success of the 'Welsh bands' as an inspiration, a motivating factor.

Ron Davies, Welsh Secretary, seemingly, cannot give a speech without lauding the vibrant Welsh pop scene.

And playwrights, novelists, artists and politicians are using the bands as a positive platform for their own talents.

It all began with a band called the Manic Street Preachers - four angry young men with a taste for punk, poetry and painting from Blackwood in the Gwent Valleys.

I met one of those preachers, Nicky Wire, lyricist and bassist, in London - rather perverse when he lives just 20 minutes away from Cardiff.

The remaining Manics tend to leave the press work and interviews to Nicky, he being the most articulate and the band's unofficial historian. As the release date for a new album looms large, press interviews, publicity work, touring and videos mean he will not be able to call his life his own for the next 12 months.

On an unbearably sticky day in London we met in a quiet room in the offices of his management, Hall or Nothing, in Shepherd's Bush. Lying on the floor was a cracked platinum disc for sales of the last album, Everything Must Go, in Ireland, and gathering dust was a 12-inch vinyl single of a much older single, Suicide Is Painless, The Theme From M*A*S*H.

Their significance, although coincidental, could hardly have been greater.

As was made clear to me when I arrived, the band are concerned to impress upon people that things have moved on; a new album, a new tour: the last thing they want to dwell in is the past.

Having done so much to make being Welsh acceptable to the style police outside of Wales, the band are now revelling, for the first time, in their nationality.

"I'm really proud of it if people cite us as an inspiration," says Nicky, buoyant after England snatched victory in the fifth and deciding test. "Pity about Robert Croft though,£ the staunch Glamorgan fan mutters.

"It is a sad thing that you have to say 'getting away with' being so overtly Welsh, but it's true."

"It was tough times when we started. But when you are young you always want to escape the place you come from, and we wanted to get away from Blackwood as fast as we could; but that was just being young."

"We never tried to hide the fact we were Welsh, but we never went around proclaiming the fact, either,"

If, in the past, the band were open to accusations of burying their nationality, then the new album will change all that. This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours - a quote taken from Aneurin Bevan - could hardly be more Welsh. The band has come a long way in such a short period of time.

Two years ago the band were flirting with obscurity - they'd enjoyed a string of single hits and satisfying album sales without making the impact that great bands do.

The Manics have existed as long as four friends from the Gwent Valleys have shared a passion for music, literature and all things esoteric. The band name may have changed over the years, but not the ambition.

Their tastes marked them out as unusual in Blackwood, with long, effeminate hair, handmade clothes and make-up.

Nicky Wire, James Dean Bradfield, Sean Moore, and Richey James Edwards: they were brash, mouthy, and full of it. They were good and they knew it, and always predicted great things for themselves, despite their initial lukewarm reception in Wales and beyond.

Early interviews were full of loud proclamations; They were going to make one brilliant, massive-selling album and then break-up.

The Manics are the intelligent offspring of The Velvet Underground and The Clash. The Valleys experience as lived through by John Cale, The Stereophonics, and the Manics tells of the struggle the outsider in a tight-knit community, of struggling with identity in a culture that can crush the individual. Ironically, there is still a love for the Valley, much as the abused can love the abuser.

"It's about having to prove yourself 10 times over. It does give you a hard upbringing - not physically, but mentally," says Nicky.

"One of the best traits of Valleys life was that parents always encouraged their children to do well."

The events of February 14, 1995, changed the lives of all four band members irrevocably. On that Valentine's day, the then lyricist Richey James Edwards famously went missing and still is to this day. The remaining band members entertained thoughts of splitting up.

After months of waiting by the phone and living through paralysis, the remaining band members were eventually driven back to the studio to record music to Richey's final lyrics - more catharsis than commerce - and ended up recording the most powerfully restrained yet moving album of the decade.

Everything Must Go was a mix of lyricism and sloganism, heavy rock and ballad, and caught the imagination of the country.

A Design For Life, Australia, Everything Must Go, Kevin Carter...wonderful singles that manage to do what rock 'n' roll fails to achieve - it rises above the level of teenage angst into something more mature, more focused, less petulant.

The band continued only because of the quality of one song. A Design For Life. Nicky wrote the lyrics in the weeks following Richey's disappearance - a "real rant", as he calls it.

Originally a two-page poem before heavy editing by James, once the music was set to it the band knew they had to go on.

"As soon as we practiced it in Cardiff we knew we had written something as good as anything we had ever written," says Nicky.

"From then on there has never been a question of not doing it any more."

Two years later and the band are on the brink of releasing a new album and the music industry is, literally, holding its breath.

This time, says Nicky, the album is more Welsh folk than anthemic guitar-based.

"I think lyrically, it is the closest thing to a Welsh folk album without sounding like one of those terrible folk bands," he says.

"I don't know why it is so Welsh - perhaps because I spend so much time at home."

The album weaves Welsh myth with fact and plays on the traits of a nation that, musically, is only now being taken seriously. In common with The Stereophonics, the songs draw on real events, that have almost mythical significance.

From Tsunami, about two Siamese twins from Haverfordwest, to Ready For Drowning, about the Welsh tendency towards self-destruction and the flooding of Treweyn, and the RS Thomas poem on the album sleeve, the album cries out Wales without fear of disdain.

The new single, out on Monday, is an enervating and passionate call to arms to stand up to fascism wherever it may be found. If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next was inspired by one Welsh farmer who joined the International Brigade to go and fight the fascists of Franco in Spain.

"He is reported as saying 'If I can shoots rabbits then I can shoot fascists'. I find it very endearing - old-fashioned, if you like," says Nicky.

"The song is a warning. Any tiny thing in life that is wrong you should stand up against."

One of the most talked about songs on the album is Ready For Drowning, a track that is a classic waiting to happen and concerns the Welsh ability to self-destruct.

"For me, from Dylan Thomas to Rachel Roberts and Richard Burton - and you can probably include Richey in this - there seems a desperate need to be loved. There is a certain trait about our biggest icons that they fall into a trap."

"There is an insecurity in us about language, of self control over our own country."

The Manics have shed their make-up, the clothes they made themselves and shorn themselves of the long hair in favour of an image more suited to rock 'n' roll stars knocking on the door of maturity.

'Image is nothing, taste is everything' in the words of a soft drink advert. This dramatic change of looks has prompted accusations of hypocrisy.

"At the start it was just desperation, about proving ourselves 10 times over," says Nicky.

"If we had been from Manchester, people would have listened to us because the town has got a musical history. It was not only the music, but we had to try 200 per cent of every single facet, be larger than life."

"It took a lot of energy. People can call us hypocrites, but that doesn't bother me."

Truth is important to the Manics, as the album title suggests. Truth to yourself, truth to a cause, truth to your friends. "A little truth goes a long way," Nicky says incongruously at one point, more to himself than anyone else.

And if there is one trajectory they have kept to, one truth, it is in their politics.

Unusually for a rock star, who, if they do ally themselves to a political cause it tends to be on the more sexy end of the spectrum, Nickt recently spent a wet afternoon on Tredegar mountain, helping to mark the 50th anniversary of the NHS at the memorial to its founder, Aneurin Bevan.

It was there that the title for the album came into immediate focus.

"It was amazing, but really hard weather, terrible weather. Apparently, when Bevan used to speak up there, 10,000 people were just listening to him. It's very naive , I know, but to think of 10,000 people listening to a politician, it's amazing."

"As soon as I heard the line 'This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours', I knew that was the title of the album. I was with my brother and my wife and I wrote it down."

"I think it was a quote from Nieztche that Aneurin Bevan used to use a lot."

"I didn't know that at the time, but as soon as I heard I knew it was perfect. There I was on a mountain, my truth, doing what normal rock stars wouldn't do. I was really concerned with de-mything the rock star."

He talks a lot about 'de-mything' the rock star, but the emphasis is not necessary. Surprisingly tall, loose-limbed and softly spoken, to the point of murmuring, you would pass him on the street without giving him a second glance.

This is a rock star who enjoys vacuuming, and owns three Dyson vacuum cleaners.

But put him on a soapbox on Hyde Park Corner, give him a bass guitar and he's a born preacher.

At one point during the interview he puts on a pair of wrap-around sunglasses, and I think 'Uh-oh, here we go'.

But he quickly apologises for wearing them indoors and explains he has an eye condition.

He is very much a product of socialist Wales; part-preacher, part-politician, a musical heckler committed to fighting social injustice.

And despite the fame, the wealth, he still lives in a miner's terraced house and says he is working class.

"You are born into a class and you can't rise above it or go below it," he says. "Tom (Jones) is the perfect example. And when Richard Burton bought the biggest diamond in the world, not any old diamond, it was such a working class thing to do."

One of the reasons the new album may be more Welsh than any other previous release from the Manics is because Richey is no longer around.

The missing Manic always referred to Welsh as the Neil Kinnock factor.

"There is more confidence now," says Nicky

"We are on the cusp of something and it's important we don't internally self-destruct, which is our way. It's a village mentality sometimes; we should have a country mentality."

"The benefits, if we do achieve it, are being at ease with ourselves as a country."

His pronouncements frequently take one by surprise, none more so than when he says he would want to be the Minister of Culture and Sport in the new Assembly. I look for the smirk, but his face remains serious.

"That would be my dream job," he says. "We've got the greatest living poet in the world in RS Thomas, the greatest living actor in the world in Anthony Hopkins and four of the greatest bands in the world and Kyffin Williams, the Welsh Van Gough - not a bad start."

Lyrically, Nicky has drawn a line after Everything Must Go.

"Sonically there is development. It's changed in terms of the strings - where on Everything Must Go the strings were a crucial part of the song, with this album they are more in the background."

"In the past, I don't think any of our albums had anything in common. This is a progression from Everything Must Go. It is definitely a sister album. Whether people will see it or not, I don't know."

"Lyrically, there is more euphoria on Everything Must Go, which is just a hangover of still being a band, of the three of carrying on. It was slightly heroic."

"A lot of of the [new] songs are set in one place lyrically and that's my bedroom back home."

"That's what I think is much braver about this record, I felt I couldn't contrive to write something that appealed to Germans, something."

With Richey gone, Nicky has taken up the lyric reins and admits to feeling the pressure. "It did feel a bit of a burden. One of the greatest joys of my life was actually sitting down with Richey and working on lyrics together. This is something not a lot of bands do; lyrics are often written in isolation."

"Often I would just have a title and Richey would write the lyrics and vice versa."

"There's the burden of expectation and the burden of just putting them down on paper"

"I didn't want to try and be Richey. His lyrics were so intellectual and I didn't know what he was on about. really. I really admire that, but it is not something I can do."

"The worst thing would have been if I'd tried to copy Richey."

Throughout the interview, Nicky mentions Richey's name with the resignation of someone grown too weary to worry about it any longer. "Let's not dwell on the past," one of his management team tells me, but it's hard to avoid it when it's really part of the Manics present.

Richey James Edwards has been missing for almost four years. His disappearance in 1995 followed long periods of depression and self-mutilation. Most infamously, he carved "4 Real" into his forearm during an interview.

His car was found at the services on the England Side of the Severn Bridge, a notorious suicide spot. The conclusion is clear, but no body has ever been found.

Consequently, the band and his family who, every year on the anniversary of his disappearance, place a notice with the Missing Persons Bureau, walk a narrow mental passageway between fearing the worst and hoping beyond hope.

There have been sightings, most famously in Goa, India.

"The bloke who said he'd seen Richey in Goa, busking - I can't believe that." says Nicky.

He adds wryly, "Especially if he was busking, because he couldn't play guitar when he was with us."

"It's something you can't shy away from, the fact he was a good friend makes it a lot easier. As a person, he's gone."

Some weeks his absence bothers the three men greatly: as a quartet they grew up together, provided each other with a ready-made support group. The loss of one was a grievous blow. "It as-eternally hanging. waiting around. Today, tomorrow, something could happen to completely change our lives. If he was found dead tomorrow, it would be a nightmare, and if he was found alive, it would be brilliant, but also very difficult. It would still turn your life around.

"We can't find any peace with it. I always say to myself that he's, done what he wanted to. He hasn't been murdered. he made his own decision."

We all grow up wanting to be rock stars, the heroes of thousands. We think of the fame, the money, the easy glamour, and the casual confidence we would exude. No one ever talks about the sadness.

"We are very habitual people. We don't meet many new people," says Nicky. who later admits he has no social life. And when he says he is the only person that Sean Moore ever telephones, there emerges a desperate quality to the kind of lives they lead; Nicky at home writing lyrics, Sean who apparently satisfies his anxieties through his meaningless purchase of new consumer goods.

Only James leads any sort of rock 'n' roll life.

"James does that a little bit more. And I'm glad because it gives us more of a vicarious lifestyle.

"He was down the Met bar the other day and said he saw Catherine Zeta Jones and said she was 'dead smart'".

"It is nice that I don't have to go through all of that."

The Manics need to be loved, and to be adored - You Love Us was one of their finest. and most popular. pre-1992 singles.

"That's the thing that messes your head up; desperately seeking approval when you've got a record coming out," says Nicky.

The album is released on September 14, and the band's record company and management team are not allowing anything as malleable as public reaction to be left to chance. Large, glossy features in style magazines such as The face have already proclaimed the trio as the 'Kings of Rock 'n' Roll'.

The Manic Street Preachers are no longer a straight-forward rock 'n' roll band with good tunes and an eye for a lyric. They are a corporation, a standard upon which rests the hopes of three million people in Wales.

If the Manics were to fail, the effect on the confidence of people in the country would be immense. The Manics are Wales's most prestigious brand name.

"It's a brand name with good intentions. The Manic Street Preachers stand for something." says Nicky.

"We stand for a little bit of truth, and honesty, resilience and a bit of intellectualism. A little bit of what your life doesn't have to be."

Rock Star And Poet Brothers

Libraries gave us power, sang James Dean Bradfield at the start of the Manic Street Preachers' greatest song, A Design for Life, and anyone who has ever wandered the lonely shelves of the local library will know what he means.

Books are the original public transport system; words empower people to travel, to see beyond their own lives and, crucially in the case of the Manics, to see beyond the limits of the Valley.

Appropriately, Patrick Jones, the brother of the man who penned those lyrics, still lives just a few streets away from Blackwood library.

Nicky and Patrick Jones, two brothers from the Gwent Valleys, have both had their lives shaped by the power of libraries.

"Libraries, as Nicky has talked about, played a big part." says Patrick, a published poet and soon-to-be-performed playwright.

"Our mum and dad didn't push education, but they didn't want us to get into dead-end jobs. They were really keen for us to expand our minds."

Every Friday the young poet and the young rock star who changed his surname to Wire would go to Blackwood, or Oakdale, library to take out books. Patrick, at 39. is the older brother by four years but, as he explains, there was always something worldly wise about Nicky.

"We are quite different in a lot of ways."

"I'm the older brother but Nick was always old in his ways. He was more introspective, philosophical than me, really."

"He would be reading and writing poetry from about the age of 12 or 13. He read Plath and Larkin, deep stuff for a kid. He was young to be into that."

"I am a more outpouring person. Nick keeps it all in. he keeps himself to himself."

Nicky says he remembers a blissful childhood filled with books and football and trips to Cardiff to buy Philip Larkin books.

"There is a poet and an anarchist in my mother and father trying to get out," he says.

"It came out in us two."

Patrick and Nicky went to Oakdale Comprehensive, as did Sean Moore, James Dean Bradfield and Richey Edwards.

As someone who spent a great deal of time with the band in the early days yet remained on the fringe. Patrick has a documentarian's view of events.

"Sean is very quiet, pensive, away from all the rock star stuff. Sean has always got time to talk."

"James is a very creative person - he could be a great writer. He comes across as a bit of a Bob Hoskins, but he's a very sensitive chap and deep down I think he's poetic."

"Richey was more into the writing and the visuals. He was a very thoughtful person. He used to show me his big wads of poems. They were brilliant, so meaningful."

In those days there was a fifth member called Miles.

"His nickname was Flicker," recalls Patrick. "I don't know what happened to him. I think he is still around here."

The band members would rehearse in James's parents' front room in Pontllanfraith.

"We spent two years in that front room practising," says Nicky. "I feel sorry for James's parents who had to store all our equipment."

If ever a blue heritage plaque were to be put up to mark the origins of the Manics, as is the case at Paul McCartney's old house. It should be at the home of James's parents, said Nicky.

Patrick, on the other hand, felt no musical calling.

"I never played in the band and was never tempted," he says.

"I was too old and I couldn't play the guitar very well. There would be times when they would be practising in James's house and I would be there in the corner With my typewriter, trying to be the professional writer."

"There was something about their songs that conjured up something they believed in more than anything."

"They cared so much about the lyrics; they have always been so concerned with the lyrics."

The fledgling rock stars and the poet may not have written songs together, but they did write a play together in 1988, recalls Patrick.

"It was good times, all of us together.

"Sean wrote a lot of the play, and James was doing drama at the time. Nick, I think, did the odd line."

"We entered it into a play-writing competition but we didn't win."

"It was about a gay boy who was very delicate and quiet and ended up being killed by a group of people who were all in a band together, actually."

The writer now has no tune for such juvenilia.

"It was crap. At the end, the last image of him is covered with moths on stage. I might have to borrow that again."

Five such sensitive boys would always attract attention in the harsh world of a former mining town.

"I was quite bullied at school," grimaces Patrick. "And I still have a chip on my shoulder about it, especially when I still see them around town."

Nicky says, "We were lucky. I don't know why, but we were more on the fringe, regarded more as eccentrics than anything else. We weren't victimised."

"We used to go into the Red Lion in Blackwood in the full regalia, clothes and make-up, and we were never beaten up, but there were always comments, 'poofter' or 'queer' - but that was a teenage thing."

The Manic saves his bitterness for his school years.

"For me, the saddest thing of all is about school, and all the talented kids and how many were deprived of ever using their talents."

"They might not have been brain scientists, but they were amazingly talented actors. or rugby players, or technically fantastic, but they didn't get that chance."

"When you come to London you realise there is so much privilege bought by people. Some people say class doesn't exist any more, but it does."

"We were lucky. I had my parents, my brother, Richey, James and Sean; we were our own support group. Some kids don't have that."

"I was never one of those big bullying brothers - I was always respectful." says Patrick.

But Nicky remembers Something which still rankles slightly to this day.

"I used to collect 10p pieces in a bug jar and every time Patrick would go to a disco in Cardiff he would raid it."

Rare sibling differences aside, they speak to each other almost every day, sharing their poetry and prose. The title of the band's last album, Everything Must Go, came from the title of a play that Patrick has written, which will be performed at Cardiff's Sherman Theatre next year.

On the band's debut album, Generation Terrorists, there is a quotation from Patrick: "There is an eloquence in screaming."

Patrick is an adult literacy teacher, and works with children in Valleys schools, using poetry and writing as an outlet for their frustrations. Becoming a full-time professional writer remains Patrick's goal. He is currently working on a script for a major HTV Wales drama programme, and hopes next year to release a spoken-word CD with background music written by James Dean Bradfield.

"There is so much rage in those kids," says Nicky, who has been greatly affected by the stories his brother has told him.

"If you think of how much energy they have, if only it could be channelled correctly. The rage is still massively with me. I do try and control it, because it gets me into too much trouble."

"Nicky's fame hasn't really affécted my mum and dad. They are very proud. My dad has a massive cuttings book and they try to be very low key. really," says Patrick.

Nicky's almost eerily normal lifestyle has given his parents little cause for concern, except for a few occasions in the early days when trashing hotel rooms is the rock star's equivalent of teething.

Nicky says, "They are so proud. They are lovely about it. and they don't pressurise us. At the start there were a few dodgy moments, and they were like 'Nicholas, what have you been doing - don't come to our house on Sunday"

The normality of Nicky's life is un-nerving. He lives five miles away from his parents with his wife of five years.

"Rachel is from just down the road, he says. "We met at a disco when I was 16 and she 15. We went through the wilderness years, broke up and then got back together."

"My normality is what scares people. It is not normal any more when you transfer it to a rock group."

"Normalcy in the rock star sense is going out and taking coke and drinking. My normality subverts people and they never take it seriously. They don't get it.

"If I did have that lifestyle, the next day it would be over for me."

With two brothers who are so close and creative, it's not surprising to learn that Patrick's poetry shares many of the same themes as the Manics' lyrics.

"I write a lot about Welsh identity, and a search for spiritual meaning. I also write about the general day-to-day struggle for existence," he explains.

"I don't want to be the voice for the forgotten person. I'm just as forgotten as anyone else."