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The Preachers' Man - Music Week, 25th April 2014

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Title: The Preachers' Man
Publication: Music Week
Date: Friday 25th April 2014
Writer: Dave Roberts
Photos: Alex Lake

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Rob Stringer's bond with the Manic Street Preachers goes way beyond the normal parameters of label executive/artist. He is part of the group's extended family, and it is a relationship that he prizes as highly as anything else he has achieved or experienced in his long career.

Because of when he met them (1990), because of what they went on to achieve and because of the things they went through together, the band most closely associated with (and closest to) Rob Stringer are the Manic Street Preachers.

"They were the first band I signed at CBS. My talent scout, Peter Myers, said he thought I'd like them, and that first EP (New Art Riot) was full of reference points that I recognised, so I thought, Okay, this could be interesting, and I went to see them at Moles in Bath - and I loved them.

"Then I followed them to Paris, where they were playing with Flowered Up and St Etienne, because they were on Heavenly at the time, when Motown Junk came out, and when I met them as people I loved them even more. It was something I believed in passionately from the start."

The Manics themselves have stated that they signed for CBS for two reasons: because The Clash had, and because of Rob Stringer.

Famously, they then immediately and provocatively declared their intention to make one double album that would sell 20 million copies, change the face of rock n roll and split up.

Stringer, A&Ring the album remember, didn't even try and talk them down to a single record: "Because that was the manifesto. And if you were a Clash fan, and if you loved London Calling and Sandinsta!, then you understood. The truth is, as they'll tell you now, we barely had enough material for a double - we stretched it a bit.

"I love them, I love them as colleagues and partners and friends, but that first album... we look back and laugh about it still. I remember the producer meetings, because they would give them all the manifesto. At one stage we talked to Andy Taylor of Duran Duran. He had the dark glasses and the 80s rock star look, and Richey just launched into the manifesto and Andy Taylor was very clearly like, What the fuck?!

"We ended up using Steve Brown, who, funnily enough, had worked on Wham's first album, but we went with him because we liked the sound of The Cult's She Sells Sanctuary.

"Making that record was exhausting, because they didn't really have enough songs, but we got The Bomb Squad to do a remix of Repeat and we got Traci Lords to sing on Little Baby Nothing, which is a great record, we did a cover of Damn Dog, and we got it together eventually and delivered it on Christmas eve.

"It was very, very stressful, but it was a great record and a beautiful looking record, the artwork, the gatefold sleeve. We knew that at the very least it was interesting, and it also had Motorcycle Emptiness, which was a clue as to where they were going and told me that they could be an important band. They couldn't play that song live for a while, certainly not when the record first came out, but it was a pointer to everything that was to come."

And then they split up. Except, of course, mercifully, they didn't. "You know it never really came up! Maybe because it didn't sell 20 million, maybe that was the excuse they needed to carry on.

"The second record (Gold Against the Soul) was difficult, and wasn't great, really. It has moments, it has La Tristessa, which is really, really good, and it's got a couple of other things which are pretty good, but they didn't have a sound established at that point.

"The Holy Bible had a sound, Everything Must Go had a sound, This is My Truth had a sound and the records they're making now have a sound. The first record was all blood and bluster and had the shock of the new going for it, but the second record didn't have its own sound.

"The third record [The Holy Bible] was to do with the breakdown of Richey, and it's an incredible record. We knew it was an incredible record at the time, but we also knew no one would like it, not in terms of commercial success anyway. But we knew what it meant, and that it was a beautiful record, even though it was about a man breaking down. It was beautiful, and brilliant, it just wasn't commercial."

As the link man to the record company at that point, hearing an album that essentially documented mental disintegration and contained tracks called Of Walking Abortion, Archives of Pain, Die in the Summertime, The Intense Humming of Evil and, of course, that perennial karaoke favourite, ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart, did he ever...

"No, I believe in art, I believe in the process and I believed in the record, not in the commercial potential, but in the record itself. So we put it out and we were - we are - very, very proud of it. But no, it didn't sell, it came out the same week as the first Oasis record, which couldn't have been more different. And then Richey disappeared.

"It was very hard. their manager, Martin [Hall]'s brother Philip, had died of cancer, and we'd become very tightknit. We trusted each other.

"We knew what it meant. We'd been to Thailand when Richey was cutting himself and clearly not well. And then he was gone."

The band returned as a three-piece with their breakthrough album, Everything Must Go, heralded by the anthemic lead single, A Design For Life.

Although, Stringer recalls, there was a chance - a 25 per cent chance as it turns out - that the album might never have been made. Not because the band, bereft of their inspirational lyricist, were going to give up ("they never talked about splitting, I think it just made them more determined"), but because a new deal was called for.

"Three people other than me had to sign it. The two Pauls (Russell and Burger) both signed it off, and one guy said, No, they don't have that magical thing, and we should drop them. He was very negative, and wrote it on the document, put it down in history, and my view of that is simple: if it's in any doubt, you come down on the side of the art. And that's what we did, thankfully.

"So they start making the record that becomes Everything Must Go, and then you hear the demos, the second set of demos actually, and Design For Life comes up and it's one of the best records we'd heard.

"That record became the ultimate triumph over adversity. That will be the greatest thing for me, to go through all they went through and to release a record that made them a mainstream success story. That's the most gratifying thing of my career, but most of all for them, because they deserve it, because they are very special, as people and as artists."

He describes their enduring appeal as "a combination of blue-collar rawness and beguiling intellectualism." More personally, he adds: "They're very loyal. They were loyal to me when times were tough and I was loyal to them when times were tough.

"You can't buy that, and that's not to do with being a pop star, that's to do with your background, who you are. So we're now like an extended family.

"When they won the BRIT for Best Album and Best Band that year [1997], it was such a fantastic moment, because... we were right: the world was wrong and we were right.

"I love them. If I had to pick one thing that I've enjoyed doing and that I've been proudest of doing over the last 30 years, it would be working with the Manics."

"I Don't Think We Would Be Here Without Him"

The Manics' Nicky Wire on the role that Rob Stringer played in the incredible career of an iconic band

When we first met Rob, Motown Junk was just out. We were inherently interested in Columbia because that's where The Clash had gone, and that band was in our DNA - and, as it turned out, in Rob's as well.

In fact, when we first met, at a Heavenly showcase in Paris, all we talked about was The Clash. I think the only time we talked about us was when he told us how much Motown Junk reminded him of the spirit of The Clash - which we loved, whether he meant it or not!

He was so enthusiastic and so knowledgeable, to a level that you couldn't fake. We knew he meant it and we knew he'd grown up loving the same things we loved.

At that Paris gig there was chaos and debauchery everywhere, but as ever, we were sealed in our own little corner, detached, and Rob joined us.

James said, quite earnestly, that we had a vision, we had a plan, and all we wanted was someone who believed in it and would fight for us. And that was Rob, we just knew. There were lots of hugs and the decision was made.

From then on he was fully immersed into the machine and very involved in that first record. He never tried to talk us down to a single album, instead he helped us make it a double album. And when he first heard Motorcycle Emptiness, he knew it was special and knew it was where we were going. It was proper old-school A&Ring: loads and loads of intense conversations about music and different artists and ideas.

It was like an echo of the classic record label days of the 70s, which we loved. And then when he took us to the Portakabins of Luton Town, it was actually like being in the 70s. It was an amazing time, and to have Rob as part of it was wonderful. When you kinetically click with someone like that it's always going to be special.

It was a different era, we know that now. It was all about band development. Rob was so supportive of us and so confident in us. It's hard to make choices in a band sometimes, when you're in the middle of everything, and to have someone who you completely trust to make those tough decisions was invaluable for us.

He's instinctive and his instincts are good. He cuts through the numbers and the digital hysteria and bases decisions on what he hears.

He's also incredibly loyal. He is to us, we are to him. We've been to weddings together and funerals together - not just BRIT Awards or what have you, but part of each other's lives.

I remember when we brought him down to hear some rough cuts from The Holy Bible, he heard Archives of Pain and started jumping up and down with excitement. There's a line in it that goes 'Tear the torso with horses and chains', and he was saying 'Horses and chains, I love it' - which is kind of insane for a record company guy.

Similarly, on Lifeblood, which was the last record he was totally involved in, he was crazy about The Love of Richard Nixon and pushed for it to be the lead single which, again, is mental really, but completely endearing.

It would be boring if he was sensible all the time. He's insane and irrational in the same way we are and that's one of the things that binds us together.

The only slightly fractious time, not with Rob, but in terms of where we were going and where the record company wanted us to go, was with Know Your Enemy.

Everything Must Go and This Is My Truth had sold millions and there were phrases like 'The Welsh U2' knocking around, and then we went and made this mental, angry, socialist, horrible record...But Rob always backed us, he funded the trip to Cuba [where the band played live, with Fidel Castro in the audience].

He pushed us hard as well, mind, and we needed that at times. He wanted us to be everything we could be.

I still talk to him every week and we still love nothing more than slagging off other bands. Thank God our conversations aren't taped.

His success in the States is phenomenal and I think we all take a bit of pride in it, actually.

He's completely dedicated, as much now as he always has been. He still goes to gigs, he still makes the artist feel important and puts their vision first.

I don't think we'd be here without him, frankly. His confidence in us inspired us and kept us going. He never tried to change us, he never said, Where's the single, boys?

And, like Rob I'm sure, I remember that night at the BRITs vividly [1997, when the Manics won Best Album and Best British Band]. A year before we'd been in the depths of despair, all of us, and here we were, the lunatics who had taken over the asylum.