So, just who is the most fanatical when it comes to the Manics? Is it the old crowd who've followed them from the start, or the new pups who caught up after "Everything Must Go"? We brought together the old fans and the new fans
Week after week, for the whole of 1997, one subject has dominated our faithful letters page. "Old Manics fans are best," you've shouted in your thousands. "No they're not," has come the thundering reply from the new fans.
What with it being the season of goodwill, we figured it was high time to sort this new fan/ old fan split once and for all. And what better way than to bring Manics fans of every description together for a battle to the death. Well, a quiz actually.
The idea is to see whether a distinction can actually be made between the new fans for who "Everything Must Go" was just another album to file alongside Cast or Oasis and the old fans who respond more acutely to the lyrics, the image and the ideology. With a whole gang of Manics fans, both old and new, in the same room at the same time, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. So what's the attraction, we wondered out loud somewhat provocatively. . .
"I thought they looked so amazing in the press that their music must be good," jumps in old fan Sarah. "I lived with a houseful of blokes at the time who were a bit cynical about the group, mainly due to the way they looked, but after hearing 'Generation Terrorists' they actually got into the music."
But it goes much further than that, doesn't it?
"I once worked at a Manics gig in Blackburn," continues Sarah. "I had to wear jeans and T-shirt, and I met some fans who were queuing up before the gig who wouldn't believe I was a massive fan just because I wasn't glammed up.
"People often comment on the way you look which is good, because at least they've noticed," offers new fan Nina.
"I got a wolf-whistle this afternoon," proudly adds new fan Jeremy.
At their live shows, there does seem to be this undercurrent of suspicion between the two sets of fans, does the split ever cause any problems?
"There's a lot of snobbery about," says new fan Huong. "Like, if that person can't quote from Albert Camus then they can't love the Manics as much as we can."
"The gigs can be quite fascistic," believes old fan Mary. "You get half the crowd all dressed up who criticise the other half who might not appreciate it when they put a Dylan Thomas poem up on the screen."
"You don't have to take on all aspects of the group in order to love them," agrees old fan Becky. "You don't have to look like them, you don't have to read all the books. You can take from them whatever you want. You can still be as big a fan as anyone else."
Whatever anyone says though, there still exists, deep down, the unresolved argument as to who knows more about the Manics. Is it the older fans, who bought "Generation Terrorists" the day it came out and have memorised the lyrics to "Motown Junk", or the new, younger fans, who are still on their first eyeliner pencil?
In an attempt to finally clear up the matter, and to answer all those "Your Shout" letters we've received throughout 1997, it was time to put our hand-picked collection of fans' devotion to the test.
Divided into two teams, new fans versus old, they await the Great Manics' Christmas Quiz furiously guzzling their cheap vodka, each fearing that they will be the one to forget Nicky Wire's middle name is Allen.
Let battle commence!
First up is the lyric round, where they have to guess from which song various lines have been poached. It soon transpires that everyone has spent long evenings busily revising, as lines like "We blur into images of state coercion" are identified with an insolent toss of the head.
"Ha! That's from 'Love's Sweet Exile'," says old fan Sarah. We try to make it harder by giving them just one word from one song like "Liposuction. . ." - but we've barely finished speaking before old fan Becky leaps in excitedly to complete the rest of the line.
"'...for your bad mouth boy/Cut out your tongue, effigies are sold: Easy, easy, it's 'PCP'."
As we move on to the trivia round, both sets of fans have a 100 per cent record, with the old fans just ahead by being slightly quicker to answer. We expect this round to claim a few casualties as our insider information begins to stretch the limits of their knowledge. But, again, we're proved wrong. Old fan Mary knows that the Manics were originally called Betty Blue while new fan Nina knows that their first national television appearance was on "Snub TV". Then, just as it looks like they would blaze through our carefully prepared quiz with arrogant ease, we stump them with a question of almost criminally triviality. Ha-ha.
We tease them first: who did Richey replace in the line-up? "Flicker", they all cry in drunken unison. Ah, yes, but what was Flickers real name? Total silence. Both sets of fans stare blankly at the ceiling. Finally a lone voice trembles reluctantly: "I don't think anyone knows that," whispers new fan Alice hiding at the back.
Success! We sit smugly for a few moments savouring the victory before telling them that Miles Woodward was his real name and that he substituted cultural terrorism for a job with British Telecom. This proves to be just an isolated slip-up, however, and they gobble up the remaining questions without the slightest hesitation. If obsession manifests itself through a love for trivia, no matter how obscure, then it is fair to call these fans obsessed.
Next we test their knowledge of all things Welsh just to see how deep their devotion really goes. You may know that Nicky dropped out of Portsmouth University before going to Swansea, but unless you can name three Welsh footballers you can never wear your fake fur with pride. They know their stuff here, too. "Ryan Giggs, Mark Hughes and Vinnie Jones," comes the inevitable reply from new fan Jeremy, although we don't ask the more obvious question, namely how is it that Vinnie Jones is playing for Wales?
By this time, the difference between the two sets of fans is becoming clear. The old fans, bolstered by experience, know a little bit more about everything, answering correctly that Aneurin Bevan, one of Nicky's heroes, is famous for founding the National Health Service. But what the new fans lack in comprehensive, on-the-ball knowledge they make up for with sheer unstoppable enthusiasm and youthful ferocity. Besides, they look better, having shown the initiative to turn our office tinsel into hastily improvised feather boas. Not just glamorous, but festive to boot. Bonus points all round.
With the vodka rapidly running out we move onto the last round, which looks back at the Manics' highly controversial, rent-a-quote past when they used to bury every other group under a vitriolic slab of pure hatred. Spirits pick up as we realise a wonderful chance to revel in the glory of their PC-baiting anger. Can the fans, we wonder, recognise who the Manics are attacking in each instance? They all look confident, indicating hours spent memorising every existing interview from Japanese fanzines to glossy monthlies. This round is the decider, although both sides seem too pissed to really care.
Right, who did the Manics call more evil than Hitler? The response is deafening: "Slowdive!!!". OK, so that's one of their more famous assassinations. What about: "We're banning their fans from our gigs because they've all got moustaches, which is probably not as well known, but just as hilarious. Again, they all know the answer: The Charlatans.
Then proceedings begin to descend into chaos. Sensing that they might be losing, the new fans ditch the quiz and go straight for visual drama. Make-up is lovingly applied, the last remains of vodka are downed and photos are taken as they pout their best Marilyn for the camera, superbly taking the piss out of themselves and living up to the stereotypical image of Manics fans with perfect swagger.
Then the masterstroke. New fan, Alice, leaps up, rolls the sleeve of her pink fur coat up, and scrawls "Motown Junk" on her arm with a sharpened black eyeliner, thus reliving one of the classic early Manics photos where a young James Dean Bradfield graffitied himself in the same way. It's a memorable late equaliser and enough to secure a draw. If any group recognises the value of cheap provocation over sober analysis it would have to be the Manics.
As the room is ransacked for the various goodies we gathered to make everyone feel at home, one thing is clear: both sets of fans love the Manics with equal degrees of passion and the only thing that differs is the individual nature of each obsession.
And let that be an end to it. No more moaning letters, no more whingeing prejudice and definitely no more risible elitism. By the end you can't tell the new fans from the old as they mingle, hug and swap life-changing stories about meeting their heroes. Friends, not enemies. Which is just how it should be.