Confessions of a Fanboy: Why Manic Street Preachers Will Always Matter to Me | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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It’s difficult to comprehend that last weekend marks twenty years since Manic Street Preachers’ figurehead Richey Edwards disappeared. Two bloody decades. I still have this vague recollection of being eleven years old and seeing a mention of his disappearance on the news, dimly acknowledging to myself that this was a big story, but having no inkling of how huge a part he and his erstwhile bandmates would end up playing in my life as I developed into an adult (of sorts).

Others will tell tales of more iconic moments enlisting them into the cult of the Manics, like the explosive glam of You Love Us, the image of James Dean Bradfield performing Faster in a balaclava on Top of the Pops, or maybe the gorgeous undulating swells of comeback smash A Design For Life.

My introduction to life as a Manic Street Preachers obsessive, however, was a bit more incongruous. Having heard a twenty-second snippet of their first number one single If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next, somehow I misremembered it, with my brain filing it away as a completely different song. Perhaps mercifully, I can’t quite remember which song, although I’ve a horrible feeling it was Josephine by Terrorvision. I hope that’s just my own memory taking the piss out of me though.

As it turned out, while Tolerate was a serviceable enough bit of late 90s stodge, its B-Side Prologue to History would be the song that sparked a fire that will last a lifetime. Prologue was a brilliant mess of a song, which, as I would eventually come to realise, represented the Manics in microcosm. It was led by a rickety piano riff and a slightly ridiculous lyric which juxtaposed memories from the band’s own history with references to relatively obscure sporting figures, for reasons known probably only to Manics’ then-new lyricist-in-chief Nicky Wire. I can’t fully explain why this song would be the one to kick-start my hero worship, but at this point something changed forever, and before too long I would be unable to look at any other band without unconsciously comparing them to Manic Street Preachers.

before too long I would be unable to look at any other band without unconsciously comparing them to Manic Street Preachers

I spent the next couple of years immersing myself in the band’s back catalogue, but was intensely drawn, like so many Manics fans, to the first three records, gaining something a bit different from all of them. The preposterous debut Generation Terrorists struck a chord chiefly for its unapologetic ambition. Even though I discovered it six years after its release, Generation Terrorists did for me what I imagine The Clash did for kids in the 1970s, or The Smiths did in the 1980s. It was the kind of record which could make a skint fifteen year old kid from a council estate in the North East feel like he could change the world just by being intelligent. After that, the slick and ostentatious FM Radio aspirations of second album Gold Against the Soul taught me about the awesome power of ridiculous OTT rock to make you feel invincible, like you could skip down Battle Hill Drive screaming “FOREVER-EVER-DELAYAYAYED” and not care about the prospect of getting beaten up because you were secure in the belief that everybody else just didn’t understand the secrets you had unlocked.

The Holy Bible, though, is another story entirely. You know that bit in Love Actually, where Emma Thompson’s character talks about how she loves Joni Mitchell? The Holy Bible was the point where Manic Street Preachers truly became to me what Joni is to Emma Thompson. In the (hopefully unlikely) event of my wife ever doing an Alan Rickman and skipping off with some young bit of beefcake, I imagine my instinctive response will be to head to our spare room with my deluxe vinyl edition of The Holy Bible just like poor Emma does with her copy of Both Sides Now.

Purely on a surface level, The Holy Bible is quite clearly a massive achievement. It’s the sound of a band coming of age and trimming the fat of the first two records by wrapping barbed wire riffs around Richey’s densest, darkest poetry. To fully grasp the significance of this album, though, I think you’d have to have fallen at least partially in love with the Manics beforehand. For me, it was the thing which turned the fire the band had stoked in me into a fully-fledged inferno. The anger, the horror and the empathy this record instilled in me somehow became a positive, becoming part of my identity and forming the core belief that oppressors were there to be fought. It also marked Richey’s defining hour as a lyricist, the point where he transcended the confines of his band, blending the bleakness in his mind with an extraordinary depth of historical context to paint a truly grotesque portrait of humanity. Tragically though, as you’re probably aware, this record would prove to be the limit for him, because less than six months later he would be gone.

The anger, the horror and the empathy this record instilled in me somehow became a positive, becoming part of my identity

By this time, everything had become black and white in my mind when it came to music. Bands had to have meaning and a mission to change the world, otherwise what was the point? With the late 90s heralding a new dawn in snooze-rock spearheaded by the likes of Travis and David Gray, I wasn’t really even bothering with new music by then. Why would I need to? I could just stick the video of the Manics’ 1997 Manchester Nynex gig on, fast forward to the stunning grandiosity of A Design For Life, and let their hymn to the limitless potential of the working class whip up my soul to new levels of possibility.

Hell, in 2001 I even greeted the Manics’ universally derided shambles of a sixth album Know Your Enemy like the record that could save us all. At this point, I accept you’d be well within your rights to follow the lead of my sixth-form mates and question the judgement of my seventeen year old self on such matters. The point is, though, that’s how deep a mark this band had left on me after just three years in my life. So life-changing were their first few records in particular that even when they released this inexplicable genrefuck, they were still the greatest band ever. Having frequently expressed their own admiration of bands who screwed up occasionally, it actually made perfect sense to me then that Manic Street Preachers should release this album, maybe even with the express aim of giving people a target to scoff at.

As I got older, and the real world finally started to encroach on the time I had to devote to Manic Street Preachers, inevitably they shifted slightly to the background, something which was probably accelerated by them entering a period of creative decline. With the insipid coffee-table pop of Lifeblood and its follow-up Send Away The Tigers (a seemingly calculated attempt to be seen to “return to form” by basically rewriting Everything Must Go) it kind of felt like the public had started to drift away too. Maybe this was a natural effect of them no longer being on the cover of magazines or making radio playlists with any kind of regularity, or perhaps it was simply down to the fact that it was now all too clear that their days of making records like The Holy Bible were gone forever. Let’s not forget, we’re talking about three people who were approaching forty by now, to expect them to have the same fire in their bellies as they did at twenty three would be ludicrous. Maybe we just don’t like seeing the fresh-faced idols of their youth growing old because it reminds us that we are too.

Eventually, the Manics returned to the forefront of my life as I made my peace with our mutual ageing. The main trigger for this was Journal For Plague Lovers, where they gracefully laid to rest the persistent spectre of Richey’s last books of lyrics and prose which had been the subject of regular speculation for the forteen years since he had left. Its brilliantly bombastic 2010 follow-up Postcards For a Young Man was a triumph too, doing a far better job of replicating the scale and grandeur of Everything Must Go than they had managed with Send Away the Tigers.

Maybe we just don’t like seeing the fresh-faced idols of their youth growing old because it reminds us that we are too

With the release of their most recent two albums Rewind the Film and Futurology, it feels like I’ve finally come to fully recognise how the way I love them has evolved. As band and fan have grown older in our separate spheres, our worldviews have changed and comfort is no longer a dirty word. The four electrifying young punks who dropped a molotov cocktail on my teenage years may be gone, but three enlightened middle-aged spirit guides have stepped congenially into the void.

It’s difficult for me to say what would have happened if I hadn’t fallen so hard for the Manics. Chances are I’d probably have just latched on to another, probably inferior band, but I find it interesting to contemplate what course my life would have taken. I’m not sure I’d like to imagine a Manics-less Paul Brown. I probably wouldn’t have had as many daft haircuts, but I also wouldn’t have read as many of the books I love or bought as many of the records that I cherish. Shit, I mightn’t even have quite the same moral code. I’m certain, anyway, that my life would likely have been a little less rich for their absence, so I’m grateful to the teenage me for spending his paper-round money on that drab-looking CD single in Woolworths on Wallsend High Street in 1998.

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