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The World's Most Famous Unknown Band - BBC News, 30th January 2015

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Title: The World's Most Famous Unknown Band
Publication: BBC News
Date: Friday 30th January 2015
Writer: Carwyn Jones

"We've had 14 top ten hits, 31 consecutive top 40 hits, sold millions of albums - and people still don't know who we are."

You can't quite tell if drummer Sean Moore is pleased or perplexed by how little the general public seem to know about Manic Street Preachers - the band he's been performing with for the best part of three decades.

His comments kick-start a new, feature length documentary about the group, which hopes to redress the balance.

Twelve years in the making, No Manifesto is an exhaustive, entertaining and highly revealing portrait of the Welsh band.

Along the way Moore explains his love of target shooting, guitarist and lead singer James Dean Bradfield declares his passion for Wimpy hamburgers, and a very proud Nicky Wire shows off his garden shed.

The film was a labour of love for American director and self-confessed Manics fan Elizabeth Marcus.

She had already worked on the acclaimed documentaries Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11, and her cinematic credentials helped her gain unprecedented access to the band.

When I caught up with her in Cardiff, where the film is receiving its world premiere, she admitted the process of documenting the group over such a long period of time did lead to some tension.

"There were definitely moments when it felt awkward. We were filming them while they were trying to do their job.

"They were trying to record an album (Send Away The Tigers) and rehearse for a tour and there were times that made for a little bit of conflict.

"But in general they were very co-operative and took a very hands-off approach to the filming.

"I never felt that they were putting on any kind of act, they weren't phony.

"And I thought that was pretty cool because that's something that the fans appreciate."

In fact, those fans enjoy almost as much screen time in the film as the Manics themselves. Marcus interviewed nearly 100 of them, all over the world, and their contributions replace the usual array of talking heads you would expect to see in a documentary like this.

Pundits, journalists and music experts are noticeably absent from No Manifesto.

That's not to say the fans are uniform in their opinions of the band.

There are complaints about the Manic's official merchandise and the use of swear words in their lyrics, while Nicky Wire's penchant for yellow eye shadow comes in for particular criticism.

But in the same breath they acknowledge that the band has managed to stay together, and keep making music, through tragic and turbulent times.

As one fan puts it: "The more you find out about the Manics, the more human they become." Manic Street Preachers

And that tragedy came early on in their career. On 1 February 1995, guitarist Richey Edwards disappeared. He's never been found.

There's a tangible sense of loss running through the film, which is released almost 20 years to the day since Edwards was last seen alive.

In one sequence Nicky Wire goes through a memory box at home, containing letters and postcards his friend sent him when they were teenagers.

"We'd write to each other all the time," he recalls.

"Young, angsty, good stuff."

He slowly opens a card which simply reads: "Happy birthday to the nicest mind destroyer."

Although they are now a three piece band, Richey Edwards still casts a long shadow over Manic Street Preachers, as Radio One DJ Huw Stevens told me ahead of the film's release.

"The Manics are a band that have had a lot happen to them and they come to terms with things in their own way," he said.

"If you listen to their music now you'll see that Richey is still part of the band, even though he's not with them physically.

"He is always in the lyrics, the artwork and the concept of Manic Street Preachers.

"And although they've created some fantastic albums since he disappeared, the albums they did with Richey are a huge part of the Manics' history."

No Manifesto is full of poignant moments, but there's humour and warmth here too.

Huge chunks of the film focus on the band's creative process, which leads to a great exchange between James and Sean: "You've got to make it more Billy Bragg than Lonnie Donegan."

Later on, James happily debunks the myths of song writing.

"I'm not sitting at a little desk in St Petersburg with a bottle of absinthe," he offers.

"I'm sitting in my living room with a pot of coffee."

But it's Nicky Wire, discussing the band's upbringing in south Wales, who delivers arguably the best lines in the film: "It gave us a real moral fibre.

"A love of high culture and extremely low culture. I'm much more comfortable eating a burger than I am going to a posh restaurant. And that's because I'm Welsh."

In their early days, Manic Street Preachers famously announced that they were going to make one album, sell 16 million copies of it, then split up.

Nearly 30 years on, they're still making music, still selling records, still enjoying acclaim.

No Manifesto charts the highs and lows of a band who are now in their mid-40s, but who remain as colourful and contentious as ever.