Manic Street Preachers
HistoryThe band, which was originally named Betty Blue (after the English title of French film 37°2 le matin), was formed in 1986 by Oakdale Comprehensive (Blackwood schoolfriends James Dean Bradfield (lead guitarist), Flicker (bass guitarist), Sean Moore, (drummer and James' cousin), and Nicky Wire (Real name: Nicholas Jones, rhythm guitarist and brother of poet Patrick Jones). For a short period Jenny Watkins Israndi joined the group as a singer, but left after a few months to be replaced by James as singer. During this time James had tried writing lyrics, among them the unrecorded Jackboot Johhny, but he gave up and Nicky wrote all their lyrics.
In 1988, Flicker left the band and they would become a three piece, with Nicky switching from rhythm to bass guitar, and recorded their first single, Suicide Alley, in 1988. The cover was highly reminiscent of The Clash's first album, simply titled The Clash, and was photographed and designed by schoolfriend Richey James Edwards. Richey's contribution to the band was, along with Nicky, writing the lyrics, miming guitar onstage (Richey once said of his guitar playing, "I can play a bit, but compared to James I can't play at all") and driving them to and from gigs. (In December 23, 2002 Nicky paid tribute to Joe Strummer who had sadly died of a heart attack at the age of fifty the day before. He had been the frontman of The Clash and a major influence on all the members of the Manics).
However, Richey contributed much more, he brought to the band a unique aesthetic that was a collision of The Clash and Guns N' Roses (which sat perfectly with James, two of his heroes are Mick Jones and Slash), Albert Camus style intelligence, Guy Debord style politics and Marilyn Monroe style glamour. All of this set them a million miles apart from the Shoegazing and Madchester bands of the day. At early gigs, they would be bottled and heckled from beginning to end. James and Nicky would hurl abuse at their audiences and tear through short sets similar to those of The Ramones famous "Twenty minutes of energy" gigs, a display of an odd Punk rock style band/audience interaction that had been unheard of since the infamous riotous early gigs of Scotland's The Jesus & Mary Chain a few years earlier.
In 1990, they signed a deal with punk label Damaged Goods Records for one EP. The four track ep, New Art Riot, attracted as much media interest for its attacks on fellow musicians as for the actual music. Following this they, with the help of Hall Or Nothing management, signed to hip, London Dance music label Heavenly Records. Their first single for Heavenly, Motown Junk (released on January 21, 1991), showcased their iconoclastic ("I laughed when Lennon got shot") punk/metal influenced rock n' roll that, like their image and attitude, was a million miles apart from the Madchester and Thames Valley scenes that were dominating the indie world. The song also displays their huge cultural scope with a Public Enemy sampling intro and an outro sample of The Skids.
Over the next year they earned a wild reputation, much like that of Guns N' Roses or The Sex Pistols, as well as an extremely loyal, rabid fanbase. In music press interviews they attacked the indie press darlings of the day, the shoegazing bands (Chapterhouse, Slowdive, Ride, My Bloody Valentine), the crusty pop rockers (Carter USM, Senseless Things, Ned's Atomic Dustbin) as well as the dying Madchester movement (The Happy Mondays, Farm, Stone Roses). The Preachers manifesto went as follows: release one album that would outsell Appetite For Destruction, tour the world, headline Wembley for three nights and then burn out.
Their love/hate relationship with the press, and their use of Sex Pistols style media manipulation tactics, was documented on their next Heavenly single, You Love Us. They again displayed their huge cultural scope, the single sampled Threnody To The Victims Of Hiroshima as well as Iggy Pop and the video featured Nicky dressed as Marilyn Monroe (at the beginning at least) and contained a passing image of Aleister Crowley. In a now legendary interview with New Musical Express journalist Steve Lamacq, a man known for despising anything he sees as hype or contrivance, Richey carved the words "4 Real" into his arm with a razor blade to prove their sincerity. Shortly afterwards the band signed to Sony Records and began work on their debut album.
Their debut album, Generation Terrorists, was released on the Columbia Records imprint. The band toured the world and achieved success in most countries, including a particuarly fanatical following in Japan, but failed to make any headway in the United States. This was mostly due to a combination of the bands androgynous image and the Grunge Music explosion, making anything that whiffed of glam or heavy metal unfashionable overnight. The liner notes contained a literary quote for each of the albums eighteen songs (Albert Camus, Sylvia Plath, George Orwell among others) and the album lasted just over seventy minutes. The record contained five singles and sold 250,000 copies, very well for a debut, but the band felt they had failed due to it not matching up to their own expectations (James said of it, "If you make a record as good as Appetite For Destruction it sells, if you don't it doesn't"). The band did not burn out after all, releasing a split single with Fatima Mansions (a rock cover of Suicide Is Painless) which became their first UK Top 10 hit, and began work on a second album.
The second album, Gold Against the Soul, was released to mixed reviews but still performed well, reaching number eight in the UK album chart, and displayed a more grungy sound. The nature of the lyrics also changed, with Richey and Nicky eschewing their poltical fire for introspective melancholy. They also disposed of their glam slut punk image, adopting in its stead a more mainstream hard rock look, and their venomous attacks, though Nicky would still slag off other bands at gigs.
Following what the band themselves described as "the most unfocused part of our career", Richey's personal problems of self-mutilation, anorexia and alcoholism became worse and began to affect the other band members as well as himself. He was admited into The Priory, a private mental clinic to overcome his problems, and the band played a few festivals as a three piece to pay for his treatment.
The group's next album, The Holy Bible, regained their critical acclaim and sold well. The album displayed yet another musical and aesthetic change for the band, the casual rock look was out and was replaced by army/navy uniforms. Musically, the band were veering into a gothic take on traditional metal forms, with highly irregular melodies and ice cold-guitar riffs taking centre stage. The lyrics, about 70% of them by Richey, had taken on a poetic nature and were much more horrifying and disturbing than ever before. No wonder it was compared to In Utero in almost every review.
Not long after, on February 1, 1995, Richey disappeared from Cardiff, Wales. His car was found abandoned at the nearby Severn bridge service station. He has never been seen again, although unsubstantiated sightings have been common. Nonetheless, Richey retains a special place in many fans' hearts. The band was put on hold for six months and calling it a day was seriously considered, but with the blessing of Richey's family the other Manics went back to work.
The first album without Richey, Everything Must Go, contained four lyrics either written or co-written by Richey, was released to overwelmingly positive reviews. The bulk of the lyrics were written solely by Nicky included number two hit single A Design For Life, which became a working class anthem, and established the band alongside the other premier British bands of the day like Oasis. The band's image changed yet again, this time choosing a casual, lad culture image much like that of Oasis. The album won the 1996 Mercury Prize award for best album, and yielded the hit singles Australia, Everything Must Go and Kevin Carter.
1998's This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours was just as successful across most of the world, and gave band their first number one single in If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next. It was written about the Spanish Civil War and was inspired in equal parts by George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia and The Clash's Spanish Bombs. The accompanying music video is regarded by many as one of the finest ever made. The album also housed the hit singles You Stole The Sun From My Heart, Tsunami and The Everlasting.
In 2000 they released the limited edition single The Masses Against The Classes. Despite receiving little to no promotion, the record hit the number one position on the UK Singles chart. The record was a return to their more rock based roots and was well accepted by their old fans.
In 2001 they became the first western rock band to play in Cuba, (at the Karl Marx stadium) and met president Fidel Castro, who declared that their concert was "Louder than War" (a title they used on a DVD of the Cuban trip). They made no mention of Castro during the concert but did dedicate "You Love Us" to Félix Savón who was also in the audience. Many criticised the band because of Cuba's human rights record but Nicky claimed that although it wasn't perfect, it was still the closest any society had got to socialism.
In this concert they revealed many tracks from their sixth album Know Your Enemy, a much more eclectic album in the vein of London Calling or Sandinista! era Clash. The song Ocean Spray was written by James about his mother's battle with cancer. The first singles from the album, So Why So Sad and Found That Soul, were both released on the same day.
The greatest hits album Forever Delayed was released in 2002. It was controversial with fans who claimed that it did not reflect the band's greatest songs but instead only featured the songs that charted well (although a look at the chart entries for singles included and excluded reveals that this is not completely true either).
An album of B-sides, rarities, and cover versions album was released in 2003 - Lipstick Traces. The album included the last song that was ever recorded while Richey was still in the band, the previously unreleased Judge Yr'self that was intended to feature on the Judge Dredd movie soundtrack, as well as Forever Delayed, a song the band had been playing at gigs throughout the year but had not been released.
A seventh studio album, provisionally titled either Goodbye Suicide or The Unwritten Diaries, is scheduled for release in mid-late 2004. The band played two new songs from the album, Empty Souls and Solitude Sometimes Is, during their appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival 2004, and it is rumoured that a re-worked version of the song Everything Will Be, which the band previewed at the Glastonbury Festival 2003, may also materialise as a forthcoming album track or B-side. The band has yet to establish a sizable American audience, but remains a favourite in the UK, especially in Wales, and in many Asian countries including Japan.