'We read poetry! We get pissed! We're the most exciting Rock hand in Britain!' Manic Street Preachers bare their soul to Howard Johnson!
It's late, and I'm alcoholically challenged. Therapy? have just stormed through a highly convincing set of grinding grunt Rock, and the ligging post-show has been fast and furious. Yet no-one seems to be getting too hot under the collar about the fact that cuddlesome Therapy? frontman Andy Cairns is around. Instead, most eyes are focused on a small, retiring, stubbly Welshman with dodgy eyes, who lives at home with his parents. Hardly the credentials you'd expect from the frontman of the most exciting British Rock band of the moment, but glamour can come in the funniest packages.
James Dean Bradfield of the Manic Street Preachers emits an aura of unstudied cool and, even through my alcoholic fuddle, it's highly noticeable. He may not be a man to court the limelight, but people still react to James' presence as if they were in the company of someone great.
Weird. 'Great' is hardly a word that you might associate with the Manics. Those with only a cursory knowledge of the four-piece might have a pretty myopic view of what they're about.
Tarry a while with the disgustingly fashionable weekly music press, and you could come away with a bunch of disturbing rhetoric about the quartet. A guitarist who admits he can't play, and carves '4 Real' into his arm with a razor blade to convince a journalist of his artistic validity. A bassist who rails against anything and everything. A political manifesto which confuses. An image which has been tagged as Glam. So, just what the fuck is it all about?
“We’ve been dubbed as having put the Glam in Glamorgan," snorts drummer Sean Moore earlier that day in a west London pub. His thoughts wander off: "I was thinking of buying a replica Uzi in Newcastle the other day, so I could gun down the people I don't like."
Judging by the manure that's been written about the Manics, Moore's gonna need a lot of bullets. The one thing that irritates the band is that they've been constantly harangued for being themselves. "People wanted a working class band like ours to be obnoxious; spitting at everyone, and running down the street being outrageous," continues the scarred non-guitarist, Richey James. "They didn't want to allow room for a band that could read poetry on the one hand, and go to the pub on the other - get pissed watching a football match and shout at the screen. You were either a bedroom Morrisey fan or you were a braindead fucker!"
The Manics were neither. Since their inception in 1989, they have alternately exasperated and enthralled those who have crossed their path with a mixture of hand-me-down Punk rebellion and literature stolen from the library at Cardiff University. It may not sound much on paper, but it was crucially important. Here was a band that could re-invent the electric guitar for mass acceptance, while showing those already converted to the loud that you could be intelligent to boot.
"Using guitars wasn't out of the ordinary to us," says Richey. "It wasn't an ancient art form that we revived. It's something people do everywhere, but that the mainstream media chose to ignore. We aligned that with attempting to say something more than the average Rock band. We tried to read as much literature as we could, and a lot of the stall that we were influenced by could probably be considered quaint and old-fashioned.
"I was certainly reading too much William Burroughs, but growing up in public was something we had to deal with. At least we promised ourselves never not to do something because of what we anticipated the press reaction would be."
Whatever games the Manics have played, they've always written their own rules. Their debut double album, 'Generation Terrorists', rendered much of the criticism futile anyway. Produced by Steve Brown of The Cult fame, 'Generation Terrorists' finally wrestled the Rock icon from the hands of sad, tired, be-spandexed Cock Rockers, and re-established the guitar as the prime exponent of teen angst and rebellion. It showed that Brits could make authentic Rock albums right alongside your Soundgardens, Nirvanas and Pearl Jams. Without a trace of Gr@ge.
So the controversy continued. Bassist Nicky Wire said he hoped that REM's Michael Stipe would go the same way as Freddie Mercury in '93. The band said they'd never make another album. They lied, of course. But they kept making great music, and they kept making outrageous statements.
Which brings us to June '93 and the release of 'Gold Against The Soul', that tricky second album that they were never supposed to record.
"That was just part of our naivety," offers Nicky. "There's no point having any regrets about it. We were so your then that we could use that as an excuse, but it's not worth it. I couldn't really give a fuck and, anyway, it's good to have things like that to keep you a bit humble. We're only 24, but we've been through the ringer."
Strange. With all the media attention, the hit singles, the controversy and the hype, you could have forgiven the Manics for wearing a mask of superiority. However, there isn't an ounce of arrogance between them that isn't channelled in the right areas. Courteous to a man, but with the courage of their convictions.
"We never pay any attention to what people think about us," assures James. "We always said we would say exactly what we wanted, and that in itself proved to be extremely controversial. We were lambasted for being out of place three years ago; that our music had no relevance. People said we had attitude, and if we aligned it to a different style of music then we'd be the perfect band. “
"I wish I could have seen the future then. We were accused of being out of date, but we were ahead of our time."
With 'Gold Against The Soul' the band are striding manfully onwards, moving into more personal lyrical areas and allowing their naturally Rock-ist tendencies a freer reign. Bob, it's gonna piss a lotta people off, and it's going to make RAW readers welcome the band Into their fold with open arms.
The first album felt like Steve Brown and the Manic Street Preachers," explains Richey. "We were very young and we only really wanted to listen to one type of music, which made the record very clinical. Now we listen to bands like Zeppelin and The Beatles. We wanted to make an album which would be more authentic and less radio-friendly.”
‘Gold...' shows the band spreading their creative wings, and embracing as wide a birth of genuine songs as you're gonna hear this year. 'Roses In The Hospital', with its echoes of Bowie's 'Sound And Vision', 'La Tristesse Durera', and the stunning 'Life Becoming A Landslide' take care of the band's mom introspective nature, while 'Nostalgic Pushead', 'Sympathy Of burette' and the ballsy 'Sleepflower' prove that the Manics can Rock with the best of 'em.
Don't believe all that second-hand Clash bollocks any more, much less the third-rate Eddie And The Hot Rods talk. And it you don't go back to the halycon days of Punk, then all the better for you.
"Our biggest problem is that we can't discipline ourselves to have ten tracks on an album that sound the same," asserts James. "We've probably limited ourselves many times in our manifesto but, if you look back over our interviews, we've never limited ourselves in terms of musical style. My quandary is that I love Zeppelin, but my favourite record of all time is ‘Never Mind The Bollocks'. The energy in that record was so tunnelled - but we can't do that. We've had to settle for going a more convoluted way."
"We never thought it was worth scrapping a song because it sounded too different," claims Sean. "We know we make It harder for ourselves, but that's just the way we are fucked-up people!"
Which might explain why they've always held a fascination for the press. You're always guaranteed a classic line.
"We've never been that surprised about what people have written about us. We've always had the view that we were more intelligent than them, and they'd be bound to misinterpret a lot of what he said. It never seemed worth causing a fuss over, as that's why we let a lot go," Richey shrugs. “Bands get so precious, and say they won't talk to this cunt or that cunt. You can only do that if you're Michael Jackson or Axl. At our level, you can't say that certain people are beneath you, for fuck's sake! “
"After five or six years of being asked the same questions, you've got a right to be cheesed off. People criticise Axl for being elusive and travelling in a helicopter but, come on, he's not gonna hitchhike to Milton Keynes. He can't plead poverty any more. He may have turned into an asshole and his music may be fucked, but that's not the point!"
In general, the band have found the Rock press both easier to deal with, and more understanding of their aims. "The Rock journalists are more down to earth and knowledgeable, and less caught up in the fashion of it all," says Nicky. "A lot of so-called trendy people don't realise it was the Rock press who first picked up on Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Soundgarden. “
"A lot of NME writers still equate Alice In Chains with Mötley Crüe, 'cos they're too concerned with being seen to be politically correct."
"Political correctness has been completely disproves anyway," adds Richey. “It doesn't exist. It's like when girls get their tits out at Metal gigs, those people are calling them whores and prostitutes. Now, those girls might be pandering to the worst aspects of the male culture, but to call them prostitutes is just so wrong. They're there with their boyfriends, for God's sake! The hypocrisy is so precious. “
"It's like those wankers who are into Jam who are really precious and only drink coffee. Well, the people who made the best Jazz music were off their skulls."
"Heroin addicts from the age of ten," nods Sean sagely.
Ah yes, the Manics being as only the Manics can be. Forget any of the so-called trend-setting bands who are being touted as the Next Big Thing. This is the only real thing out there; full of contradictions, spunky attitude and a desire to shake things up.
"All music can be is good songs with a bit of attitude," insists Richey. "We want to take this as far as we can. There have been too many people glorying in failure for too long."
The Manics needn't worry. People were still milling around James Dean Bradfield well into the small hours at that Therapy? bash. Says it all, really.
Richey James speaks out on...
"I don't know much about their music, but coming from a more Indie background, I thought they were an interesting idea. It was probably through Wolfsbane that we became converted to Nicky's very dodgy Heavy Metal collection."
"They're from a more Hardcore background than us, but they've done it so well. They understand it's not a compromise to a sign to a major label, because they're working-class blokes from Ireland who don't have that sense of middle-class embarrassment about trying to do well.
"I never liked them when they started, because they seemed to Its following some outdated American Dream. It's not that I have a problem with authenticity, but don't deny where you came from. They're trying to come over as a non-sexist Rock band now, and [remember all those early photos of nuns with their tits out. I like bands who are honest, and hypocrisy's pretty offensive."
"It's almost impossible to comment, because they've entered this huge global iconography. They did a lot to make people re-evaluate the importance of the electric guitar. However calculated Grunge might be, they made an awesome record."
"I've only heard a couple of things, on I don't really know what they're supposed to represent. There are lots of kids wearing their T-shirts, even down here in the midsts of Wales."
"I'm dubious because they look like they've been around the block a lot, and I question how into it they are. There were three or four classic songs on 'Ten', and two or three years ago I'd have spent hours trying to convince myself and everyone else that that wasn't the case. 'Oceans' and 'Black' are two great moments in music."
"The classic band for your comprehensive school years, because they don't pretend to be anything but three or four minutes of pure excitement. I used to sit at the side at school discos watching people go mad to AC/DC, and that was a lot more fun than a lot of other music they were playing. There used to be a band in our school that played AC/DC covers. They were good, too." KISS "The band that I have the most arguments about in the world. Dave (Eringa, Monica' producer) is a massive tan, and I just kept asking him what was so fuckin' good about this band. So, Dave played me 'Cold Gin'. He was diving around and singing along. I just said, 'What's the deal with this? It's total shit!'. I've never heard a song as bad as 'Cold Gin'.
"I'm trying to learn the riff to 'Living On A Prayer' at the moment, because it's supposed to be their easiest song! They're yearning for a mythical America, but it never quite connects for me. You can't deny that the songs sound brilliant on the radio, though. I don't mind them, because They don't pretend to be what they're not. It's more fun to have a go at a band that claim they don't want to get anywhere, 'cos they're a lot less honest."
THE MANICS' TEN BEST ROCK ALBUMS
RAINBOW - Long Live Rock 'N' Roll
NICKY: "The drumming on the title track was so powerful, and the way Dio sang it made it spectacular. I was only 12 at the time, but it was very important to me."
LYNYRD SKYNYRD – Pronounced
JAMES: "It was a total band effort; the guy who played the solo on 'Freebird' wasn't the guy who did them on the rest of the LP. There were some beautiful songs, there was amazing orchestration, and they all died!"
THE FACES –A Nod's As Good As A Wink
NICKY: "A great party album. I only got it two years ago, but we've been re-discovering Rod Stewart a lot. You think of 'Do Ya' Think I'm Sexy?' and dismiss him as an idiot, but he's got a great history."
BLACK SABBATH – Technical Ecstasy
NICKY: "It's just an amazingly depressing album and, more importantly, a really depressing cover. It's quite scary, really!"
LED ZEPPELIN – Houses Of The Holy
JAMES: "The first three songs on this show just how much better than the Stones they were. The music overshadowed the tact that Plant's lyrics were complete shite, and some of the orchestration really belittles Metallica's attempts to make epic soundscapes."
THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN – Psychocandy
NICKY: "The appeal faded very quickly, but there were 16 tracks, lots of noise and plenty of teen-angst rebellion. They were the closest thing we'd seen to a band like The Pistols. Also, loads of girls liked them!"
THE CLASH – Combat Rock
JAMES: "There was always something new to discover with The Clash. This was the record where they realised they couldn't keep writing about Britain, and turned to internationalist politics. This sounds really tropical, like it was recorded in El Salvador or somewhere. Brilliant!"
PUBLIC ENEMY – It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
JAMES: "The most stunningly original band in terms of music and lyrics. It was so minimal, but so hard. People forget that Chuck D is the best Rapper ever. They made some controversial statements, which can be dangerous, but that added to their appeal."
ROLLING STONES – Aftermath
JAMES: "The first album that was all written by the band, and it was a brilliant effort. How can you go wrong with 'Mother's Little Helper', 'Out Of Time' and 'Under My Thumb'? The Stones were hyped a lot, but this proved they could do it."
THE BLACK CROWES – The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion
JAMES: "The guitar playing's brilliant, and I like the way they go for that real muggy sound. It's very atmospheric."
THE MANICS’ TEN WORST ROCK ALBUMS
EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER – Tarkus
NICKY: “The most overblown, unbelievably pretentious twaddle in the world. It’s too funny to hate, but nonetheless a very bad album.”
BUDGIE – Squawk
NICKY: “The funniest album title ever. They were from Wales and a total embarrassment I used to have a 12" called “If Swallowed Do Not Induce Vomiting’ that had a track titled ‘Panzer Vision Destroyed‘! Ludicrous! All the artwork had men with big budgies’ heads! Sad.”
URIAH HEEP – Very Eavy, Very ‘Umble
NICKY: "Just included because of (Heep leader and widdler) Mick Box' amazing moustache. It was a toss-up between Heep and Barclay James Hanvestl!" ‘70s British Metal is just so outdated now."
NAZARETH – Hair Of The Dog
NICKY: "A classic title, a rotten album. They wrote a couple of good songs, but not here."
TYGERS OF PAN TANG – The Cage
NICKY: “I bought the 'Rendezvous’ single and thought it was great, and l was a big fan of (Former Tygers guitarist) John Sykes. So, I bought the album from the local supermarket, and it was one of the worst albums I'd ever heard."
KING CRIMSON – In The Wake Of Poseidon
NICKY: “My brother‘s a big, bad influence. King Crimson were unbelievable; like listening to Santana, but 50 times worse. I had a terrible, hideous upbringing!"
THE GRATEFUL DEAD - Aoxomoxoa
JAMES: “Our old roadie, Colin Burns, once made us sit through a three hour Grateful Dead video in Ireland, just alter we'd visited the Giant's Causeway. It was the ultimate Hippy experience, and I hated it. I was desperate for some speed by the end of it. They’re the ultimate roadie band. Awful!"
MOLLY HATCHET - Take No Prisoners
NICKY: “They always had sleeves with Conan The Barbarian riding huge monsters, which was terrible. I bought it 'cos I heard this song. ‘Bloody Reunion’, which was brilliant, but the album is just dire. I was going to sell it the other day, but I was too embarrassed”
UGLY KID JOE - America’s Least Wanted
NICKY: “Total shit. The worst band in modern history!”
PRAYING MANTIS - Time Tells No Lies
NICKY: “I used to listen to The Friday Rock Show when I was young, and it was really exciting. I heard a Praying Mantis single and loved it, so I bought the album. It was so naff It was unbelievable!"