NME, 11 May 1991
Manic Street Preachers are shouting from the gutter and shooting for the top. Fuelled by hate and leering from lipsticked mouths, are they the recycled future of rock'n'roll or more Glam to the Slaughter?
James Brown sellotapes a photo of John Denver to his hopelessly pass music journo hooded-top and goes beyond the valley of the proles.
Nicki: Oooooh, my cock.
Richie: The most beautiful thing in London is McDonalds.
Nicki: I've had herpes since I was 15.
Richie: Fame is everything.
Nicki: I've got a sore cock.
It's the morning after the shite before and Manic Street Preachers are waking to the world. Nicki, a hopeless six foot lush, wanders the minute B&B room he's sharing with Richie, rubbing a towel through his hair with one hand and groping down the front of his nylon tracksuit bottoms with the other.
Richie is curled on his eiderdown hastily writing out a situationist manifesto from his many notes. The day before he'd passed me six sheets of lyrics and said: "When you've got a couple of hours I'd like to go through them with you." Christ. Anarchist theory and scuzzy two-minute sexual exploits are lumpy bedfellows.
Nicki: Last night Richie started sleepwalking again, he always comes over to my bed when I'm in the middle of it and starts mumbling.
Richie: "Sorry, babe, wait til morning, I've had too much to drink", that's what you were telling her. I'm never embarrassed by his behaviour because it's never long enough to get embarrassed about it. His chat up lines are the worst.
Nicki: "When I look into your eyes I'm lost" ... I was between her legs when I said that.
Outside in the hallway, water drips through the ceiling. Nicki opens his suitcase full of carefully folded Miss Selfridge blouses and takes out a Sex Pistols calendar he picked up in Belfast. Beside it he places a tube of Pritt stick, some scissors, and an Irish pop magazine. Shortly he will begin sticking brightly coloured pictures of Marilyn Monroe to his shirts.
Right now it's hard to imagine Manic Street Preachers are intent on becoming the most dynamic, successful rock'n'roll band in the world. Colin, the corkscrew haired tour manager emerges from the side of the bus with a fistful of crisp bags. "It's horrible in that van. Chinese food, beer, it's like Woodstock."
Manic Street Preachers are the time capsule that fought back. Having already ripped through a first round of interviews announcing their intention to become as big as Guns N' Roses and as confrontational as Public Enemy, they're now taking their obscene ambition to the road. It's
the first rung on a ladder they'll burn before they reach the top.
If you've seen them live you'll know Manic Street Preachers don't fit. Their music is awkwardly reminiscent of the late `70s British punks, they look like your sister's turned Barbie into The New York Dolls, and their politics are riddled with contempt, despair and the tunnel vision hatred of small town life. They're confused, intolerant, jealous, angst ridden snots whose only hope is their lust for life at the top, and their peculiar androgynous sex appeal.
They dig Warhol and hate the Royal Family, adore Axl Rose and laugh at Shaun Ryder, rate EMF and sneer at the Roses, all they want is to be produced by Hank and Keith Shocklee. They're ridiculous, inspired, and demented by intolerance, but they'll fire through the skies like a tracer to your brain, or finish as ungracefully as a haemorrhaging pig.
The lifestyle on the road is pitiful. Paid ú5 a day, Richie spends his on a new deodorant and some cheesecake, James buys a set of darts, Shaun buys an instrument magazine and a map, and Nicki blows his on a late-night cocktail which is guaranteed to make him puke. Which it does.
I know because I watched someone film him doing it. Wiping the sick from his mouth he opens his big cheesy grin and manages to look like Jaws with lipstick on. Half an hour later he's in bed with an admirer; did he brush his teeth before the snogging began? "Well no, but I had some chewing gum."
Sometimes, for the band, travelling round Ireland from Belfast to Dublin via Coleraine, Limerick and Waterford seems like the stupidest thing in the world. Other times, though, when they go touring The Falls Road, or ripping up the gig in Dublin, it's the best.
Travelling with Manic Street Preachers is like serving a life sentence in a laundrette with copies of Taxi Driver and White Riot and nothing to play them on. They want and give so much but their obsession frequently leaves them wasted. Richie fell for Belfast in a big way. In his notes he wrote: "London expresses nothing more than its desire to sleep. Belfast expresses nothing more than its desire to kill. Recognised censorship. Berlin Wall gone. Belfast Wall still exists. We're caught, tourists in the warzone."
Don't snigger, this is a committed young man. He reads Guy Debord and watches Led Zep on the video, he's in love with destiny.
Richie: I was really happy experiencing Belfast because you read so much about it - then you go and experience it then you come down here and no-one gives a f----. That report last week said 80 per cent of the Republic couldn't give a f---. I wish we could have done a residency there. Johnny Hero, he's a DJ and promoter, took us round, he showed us the place where those soldiers drove into that funeral. We went up the Galls Road, and down through the areas where they go joy-riding. The IRA and the soldiers tried to stop them joy-riding but they still do it. There's burnt out cars along the side of the road. The people who came to our gig told us they couldn't take seriously any of the reporting of the Gulf War seriously because they've seen the way the television reports incidents they've actually experienced in Belfast city centre and it's so inaccurate.
Shaun: The IRA do this 50/50 thing, shooting people in the spine so they've got a 50/50 chance of surviving. I couldn't believe how close the two communities were together. They showed us this playing field they'd had to dig a moat through to stop running battles.
The box below the back seat in the bus is where Manic Street Preachers keep their videos. It's an old leather suitcase with Street Preacher stencilled on the lid. Inside, Rude Boy, Taxi Driver, The Naked Gun, Heavy Metal Heaven and The Song Remains The Same bash about together. Drummer Shaun selects a tape and pushes it into the machine. Guns N' Roses appear on the screen, live at New York's Ritz in 1988. At the back of the bus Nicki and Richie sit side by side mouthing the words to Mr Brownstone and Welcome To The Jungle.
Dismayed by the lack of conversation, we pull into a pub and have a row. Manic Street Preachers live for interviews. Anytime a tape recorder appears they load up with venom and rhetoric and go for the throat. Our interview is a nasty knot of contradiction, insults and contempt. Their reasoning is simple. They were brought up in a backwater where the music press was the mainline to the outside world, now they're putting their case forward and the very people they once trusted as readers are branding them revivalist fakers. In James' words, "We get compared to the greatest bands ever and are accused of being crap. If you start comparing the music journalists to the greatest writers ever you soon see how shit they are, too."
Their resentment is based in cynical dissatisfaction with their lot. Their belief in an alternative society is naive, but, they argue, is it any more naive than those who follow the norm? Cover your ears, here comes the rain.
Richie: Imagine a band with the stance of Big Flame and the commercial success of Kylie Minogue!
NME: They already exists, they're called the Pet Shop Boys.
Nicki: God, are you square
NME: I'm not square, you're the one that's square, you're full of shit. What are you talking about? You walk out with those creeps, and lowlifes and degenerates on the streets and you sell your little pussy for nothing, man. For some lowlife pimp, who stands in a hall. I don't go screw and f--with a bunch of killers and junkies like you do. Call that being hip? Where are you from?
Richie: Who's a killer?
NME: Your record contract's a killer. Do you know what they say about you? They call you a little piece of chicken, hot new combo.
Richie: But even the best bands get treated as a fashion accessory in the end. Rock'n'roll has become a repetitive lifestyle - everybody lives out what's gone in the past. We're all about second-hand ideas. What else can you do? You experience the areas you're brought up in and then you see something like Taxi Driver or King Of The Ghetto and you identify with it. That's all.
The row proceeds. I think they're so obsessively idealistic they allow no room to experience anything, that they're a mouse nibbling at the Edam before the huge record company trap comes crashing down, breaking their neck. They bite the hand that applauds, and strokes and feeds them, but look at the Mary Chain, a fine rock'n'roll band with guts and spirit. Too much, shunned, by an industry offended by their sense of honesty.
Though leaving themselves open for criticism, Manic Street Preachers are equally honest, desperate to remain pure. They're a walking contradiction and unless they make big bucks steadily, they'll be spat out and trod on. The Record Industry isn't inherently evil like some people believe, but it does have a habit of dropping mouthy bastards. The band see it the other way round.
James: I don't care what I do. if I make one double album then decide to grow a beard and stop washing and go and live in the Shetland Islands then I will.
Nicki: Signing to a major record company is the price of an education, we don't care what they do to us. The credibility of indie-labels is shit.
James: How can a record company have artistic control over you once you are
in the studio?
Richie: You people always think we're naive. Music industry is the easiest thing. The press, easy. Press agents, easy. All of them, easy. There's all these little boys going round being scared by it, it's all gone wrong, the independent mentality of the press sums it up. They're all tossers.
The band are depressing me faster than the record industry. We must move on to another time.
LEPER CULT DISCIPLES OF A STILL-BORN CHRIST
That's a typical Manic Street Preachers line. God only knows what it means, but it sounds, sort of, caustic. The big, bionic boast is something the save for lyrics and arguments - aside from that they're very quiet together. James spends ages on his own, off for walks, straight back to his room after the gig. For the last 12 years he's shared bunk-beds in a small bed room with the drummer, Shaun, his cousin. James seems to have enough chips on his shoulder to keep Ted happy for a month. Only when I introduce him to the former Big Flame guitarist in Manchester does he drop his shy sulk and come over happily flustered.
When I suggest they get on fine together the band look at me like I'm a dimwit.
"We get on too well," replies Shaun, the only member of the band who'll go anywhere - because he can read a map. "We fit too snugly, like a slipper, we've just got used to each other." Yet tolerance is a thing most bands never achieve. At least they're all in this together.
Richie: Eventually he said to me "I might as well ask you, will you come back to my flat so I can suck your cock all night long?"
Nicki: Music journalists don't even look good, I saw Andrew `8 out of 10' Collins on television and I nearly threw up. My God, he looked like a Pork Pie Dwarf with a pudding bowl haircut... at least Nick Kent looked beautiful.
Richie: We are obsessed with lots of thing, it's better than being obsessed with ourselves.
Nicki: When Steve Clarke of Def Leppard died, a man who'd written songs that sold 60 million sales or whatever, classically cool, why did he get about that much (holds up thumb and forefinger, millimetres apart) in the press. Yet when Shaun Ryder, talentless and brain dead, has a baby, he gets a page. Why does he deserve it?
Manic Street Preachers might be thin but they're trying, too hard perhaps. The sleeve to their new single You Love Us is scattered in icons they believe in - Aleister Crowley, Travis Bickle, Marilyn Monroe, The Who, Bob Marley, Beatrice Dalle. The list goes on...
In the video the skinny pups thrash around their instruments, cutting from a film studio to live footage. The surest moment, though, is when the pouting blonde pulls her wig off, smears her lipstick, and becomes the leering gate-post of bass player, Nicki.
In their mind this whole thing's a hold-up, these badly dressed oiks in their Green Flash Dunlop tennis shoes, and their Levi 501s, confronting anything there is to confront, dragging their past to attack the future. Stand and deliver, or we'll play you our set. They're convinced their lives are empty and worthless, it's useless telling them otherwise, they'll revel in the attention. Despite this they do have a healthier disregard for that they do. They're intense without being precious.
Richie: This bloke out of The High came up and started talking to me about an interview he'd done just about his guitar and equipment. When I told him I wasn't interested and that James plays my guitars on the record he went mad. He was going "There ought to be a union to stop people like you."
When they're average, Manic Street Preachers are very poor; when they get it right, when the audience understands and responds accordingly, they're explosive, corrosive demons. In two nights' time they'll play, yet again, to a nonplussed audience of Mancunian musicians:
"They look like someone doing The Clash in a school play" - Steve Hanley, The Fall.
"I worked as the soundman at this club for a year and I saw too many bands doing this for it to make any impression any more" - Graham, 808 State.
But the final night of their Irish tour in Dublin is chaotic, inspired, hellish and invigorating. Across the city Morrissey makes a comeback, but there's no shortage of people keen to catch this noisy blot on the horizon. Speeding topless through their 30-minute set, Nicki sprains his foot leaping about, Richie smashes the head of his guitar through the roof, and James probably loses pounds through sheer physical exertion.
At their keenest Manic Street Preachers have reason to believe in themselves so strongly, at their catchiest they sound like The Buggles crossed with Stiff Little Fingers. If they go on like this they'll end up like Johnny Thunders, knocked down by a hang-glider whilst out jogging. Choking on someone else's fitness kick.
But what does fire Manic Street Preachers?
Richie: In Coleraine these kids who'd come in from some small place told us the only thing they did for excitement was walk into the railway tunnel and then squeeze inside the manhole in the wall when the train came through. All the oxygen gets sucked out as it goes through. That's all they've got for kicks.
It's one of these train-sucking children of the wastelands that the Manic Street Preachers really live for.
Nicki and Richie have both been into the toilet to puke up their guts, it's the night after the warning before. Two boys, 16 years old each, who hitched 50 miles to Waterford to capture the band, follow their role models and puke all over a table.
"Manic Street Preachers are the first rock band we've liked, before it was only Public Enemy and NWA that meant anything." That's why they skipped school to hitch. "There's one copy of Motown Junk in our village and we all share it."
Shaun is in the corner ranting, "30 is a very desperate age, rock music is being done by people in their 30s for teenagers. The Manchester Con. you get to 30 and look back and realise you've achieved nothing, you are nothing, and you've got nothing coming up. Paul Weller and Stuart Adamson, all those bands, were in their teens, OK Joe was 26 but ..."
Every man must know their limitations, Manic Street Preachers don't. And they're better for it. Love them or laugh.