As the Manic Street Preachers prepare to step back into the spotlight with the release of their feverishly anticipated album This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, The List revisits our previous encounters with the band.
YOU LOVE US
The Manic Street Preachers had played less than 40 gigs when I spoke to Richey Edwards, a few weeks prior to their Glaswegian debut. With their abrasive manifesto and glam punk image, they had already made a splash, but had yet to find a sizeable audience.
Richey, only a few months away from his infamous '4 REAL' arm slashing, was polite, intelligent, articulate and eager to expound on all areas Of the Manics' compelling but flawed philosophy: "We want to be the flowers of hate that clear everything away."
Rounding Off the interview with the usual innocuous inquiry about future plans prompted a surprisingly considered reply. "We're going to put out two more singles in Britain, tour, go to America in the summer, tour there, Start recording a double LP which Will take about three months, put that out, tour solidly for six months and by then we'll be the biggest rock band in the world, and after that we'll just disappear. So that's our plan, which will come true."
Keen for more Manic manifesto, I tried to speak to Richey at their modestly attended King Tut's gig - but he was too pissed to string a sentence together.
15 May 1991 - Having described 'You Love Us' as 'a motherfucker Of a single', the NME sends Steve Lamacq to cover their Norwich gig. When the journalist questions the Manics' commitment, Richey carefully carves the words '4 REAL' into his left arm with a razor-blade. Six days later they sign to Sony for £650,000: "The credibility of indie labels is shit," says Nicky.
10 February 1992 - Double album Generation Terrorists is released to hyperbolic reviews. Breaking their promise to split up following this debut, the Manics comment that "our level of hypocrisy is on the same level of the media and the press."
GOLD AGAINST THE SOUL
The first day of the Glastonbury Festival where, among Britain's sun-kissed, cider-pissed youth, positive vibes reign supreme. Nicky Wire isn't there though. He's sat in a hotel room in An English Town, making typically cheery state of the nation judgements like "We think our generation has been utterly pathetic in coping with modern life, letting everything fall into disrepair".
Back then, on the eve of the release of Gold Against The Soul, the second album the Manic Street Preachers swore they'd never make, he was lucid, candid and kinda...fun. Here was a band who were alive to the possibilities inherent in walking like an indie Bon Jovi, yet talking like the last revolutionaries on the barricades. Here was a man who didn't care if James Dean Bradfield had to play his bass parts for him in the studio, yet agonised over exactly how to give voice to his personal crises in the lyrics.
"I like bands with a lot of fuck-ups, who flirt with disaster," he opined. "It just shows that they're fallible. All humans are fallible, after all. And we're just a reflection Of that."
7 December 1993 - Philip Hall, the band's manager, mentor and close personal friend dies of cancer. A band statement reads "Without his help, motivation and generosity, it is doubtful whether we, as a band, would have carried on."
April 1994 - A trip to Bangkok becomes an exercise in debauchery. Richey visits a brothel and, having been gifted a set of knives by a Thai fan, takes the stage with a bleeding torso.
I interviewed Richey Edwards as a preview for the Manics' appearance at the first T In The Park. In the end, Richey didn't turn up and they played as a three-piece for the first time. The set was fast, furious and uncomfortable, Backstage, the rest of the band would only say that their friend was in a bad way.
In fact, he had booked himself into a clinic. He had starved himself down to a ludicrous weight, was drinking dangerously and was reported to have been on a self-mutilation binge, none of which was apparent from our conversation. Whatever stress he was under, it didn't show. I had expected him to be a snotty, arrogant and awkward shit, Instead, he was softly spoken, thoughtfully arguing his replies. I didn't ask him about his problems - it didn't seem fair or even relevant and, besides, he picked at his own scabs
enough without anyone else dabbling in the wounds.
Richey said that "music can only change things on an individual level. In terms of society or culture, it means fuck all." A dispiriting thought for a musician.
August 1994 - Richey books himself into a private London clinic, where he is treated for alcoholism. A statement from the band's publicists reads: 'Speculation that Richey is leaving the group is completely unfounded. Even from the clinic he is very much involved with the artwork and other aspects of the new album. He is, however, very ill at the moment, and things have now developed to a point where the band - but more importantly Richey - have decided that he needs professional psychiatric help to deal with what is basically a sickness.'
30 August 1994 - Dedicated to Philip Hall, The Holy Bible deals with anorexia, self-harm, serial-killers and the Holocaust. "It's not ABBA Gold," says James.
THE HOLY BIBLE
James Dean Bradfield opened the door to his room in Glasgow's Hilton Hotel one hour before his Barrowlands gig. Smaller than expected, he was looking fit and muscular in a T-shirt and combat pants. I had a beer, he had a cup of tea, we both had a chat.
James murmured his answers. He seemed shy, not used to being interviewed. Richey normally did all that spokesman stuff, but he was fresh out of the Priory clinic and didn't need the extra pressure of having to talk about his problems With the press. James does it for him: "Since Day One, the situation with Richey has been damage limitation. We're just stemming the tide."
James was cautious, but open, when talking about July's T In The park gig which they played as a three-piece. He referred to the gig as a 'betrayal' of his friend, but also seemed annoyed.
"Richey wanted us to play it," he said. "If we hadn't played, I would have imposed a bit more guilt on him and he would have felt he was really fucking things up for us."
23 January 1995 - In his last interview, Richey is photographed With a shaved head and striped pyjamas. He is upset by the recent death of his dog and says he has thrown notebooks of lyrics into a river.
February 1995 - On the eve of an American tour, Richey leaves the London Embassy Hotel at 7am. He is never seen again.
The following months see the so-called Cult Of Richey go into overdrive, obsessive fans get deeply into self-harm and anorexia, while music press mail bags overflow.
EVERYTHING MUST GO
Once the band who loved to be hated, and whose claims that they would sell millions Of records were derided, the Manic Street Preachers were now on the verge of just that kind of success. 'A Design For Life', the first new material to be released since Richey's disappearance, had just gone in at Number Two.
"I'm proud that we've reached something of a peak," Nicky Wire told me. 'But its bittersweet - always tainted with sadness because of the Richey thing."
The 'Richey thing' was still open wound. "It's just like missing your best friend." confessed Wire.
"For four years we've been totally obsessed with each Other. Everyone else had girlfriends, we had each other. We were sad bastards, really."
Richey may have added nothing musically, but Wire missed his On-Stage presence: "There were times in our career when we've been the most exciting live band ever, but now, you look over and realise Richey's not there."
Wire's appearances at aftershow parties on this tour were strained - at times he even seemed sluggish on Stage. Success was sitting uneasily on the Manics' rounded shoulders.
1996 - The year when the Manics finally hit a winning streak sees them scoop two Brit Awards (Best Album and Best British Group), two NME Brats and top most magazines' end Of year polls.
'A Design For Life', 'Everything Must Go', 'Australia' and 'Kevin Carter' are all top ten singles.
1998 - The Manics step back into the public spotlight to promote new album This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours. "It's the album with the most sense of purity and most sense of beauty," says Nicky.
IF YOU TOLERATE THIS YOUR CHILDREN WILL BE NEXT
I started making a documentary - From Despair To Here - about the Manics in December of last year. They were interested in working with us as part of Close up, a wider arts strand for the BBC, rather than it just being a one-off promo for the new album.
Once they had committed themselves to the documentary, they went along with it 100%. We went to France while they were recording This My Truth Tell Me Yours - which is fantastic - then we went back to Wales with them.
They're happy about stepping back into the public eye, because they have a real confidence in the new music. But they realise that, although Everything Must Go was a great album, people were on their side after Richey. They know they may not get such an easy ride from the press now.
They are very aware of their past as a band, aware of all the time and tragedy. As James said to me, "I don't think we could have made the last album without going through everything we've gone through. Musically and lyrically, Everything Must Go was our towering achievement."