It is difficult for me to talk about the Manic Street Preachers. Still, I will make an attempt to discuss them here…
A couple of nights ago I attended their concert here in London. Blackwood intellectuals. Brixton Academicals. A very pleasurable evening I spent. I was there with good company and I consider that the band played an accomplished setlist. Yet I struggle with the Manic Street Preachers because I worry. I worried that I wouldn’t know how to respond to them any more. And judgement is called. For example, how to listen to the opening riff of Slash ‘n Burn and what is the proper response? I have listened to this song hundreds and hundreds of times. I have learned to play it on guitar. It opens their first album and was the band’s opener last Friday. It led me to recall a warm sense of nostalgia and memories of being younger. Great.
Many an hour was spent in a teenage bedroom, reading lyric booklets and perfecting guitar playing postures. From the Manic Street Preachers I learned my politics and philosophy, I earned my teenage stripes and alienation. I used to spend days perusing the record shops of Edinburgh and Glasgow, desperately trying to complete a full discography on Compact Disc. I’m delighted to say that recently this has been achieved, and I am the proud owner of every single Manic Street Preachers single.
I have these and it still feels fucking good. Look here, at She is Suffering CD2. Look here, as to how the Manics actually became the wave which was British guitar music in its last great pomp. 1996. 1997. 1998. Remixes here by the Dust Brothers, who were the Chemical Brothers, before they had to change their name, after receiving death threats. Noel Gallagher did vocals for Setting Sun by the Chemical Brothers. Richard Ashcroft worked with U.N.K.L.E. Oasis. Radiohead. The Verve. Pulp. Manic Street Preachers. It was a different era, and the Manics played their part well.
Nicky Wire was fucking 42 last Thursday. A question How can a band like the Manics – still shouting “You Love Us, You Love Us” ever contend with a culture of N-Dubz and X-Factor. They can’t and in a grown-up and measured way, the band perform an engaging array of tunes from their back catalogue. And it has to be said, they have within them some very very good songs.
My Little Empire
La Tristessa Durera (Scream to a Sigh)
Everything Must Go
The last time I saw the band in concert was on their Greatest Hits tour. A miserable gig at the biggest cowshed in Scotland, the SECC. A crush with Eyeliner, Mascara. Cuban cigar drooping from my mouth, posing in the cold of a Glasgow car park. Only to find that the crowd inside was mostly bevvied-up Topman boys. Singing through songs about the Spanish Civil War like it were karaoke on a night out with the rugby team. At that time I felt disgusted, with the band and their fans. And wondered how this dynamic would play out in Brixton. I certainly didn’t find the same vitriol for the London crowd. Well, the audience almost entirely white. Expected, no great distaste. And what kind of a Manics fan am I now? My party positioned ourselves somewhere near the middle of the crowd. We did not join the throng at the front. Nor did we hover at the back of the Academy, for a better view. There were a few scattered individuals, dressed up in leopard print and feather boas. Here I was, £3.80 pint of Tuborg in hand.
Seeing the band again, I feel that I have become more stoical. I realise now, that for all my grievances with the rugby boys, Sport was always part of the Manics essential history. Wire, the Welsh Beckenbauer. The gig on the eve of the Millennium at a rugby stadium in Cardiff. The Match of the Day loop. Believe, I’ve served my time at the clubhouse of Dumfries Rugby Club. Getting in a pie and beans with a pint after the match: a good thing. The guy’s called James Dean Bradfield. And after retreating into the living room of middle age, I do still insist that there is something special about the band. Pop music to underpin the rhetoric, the statement.
“Libraries gave us Power“.
The other thing which quickly became apparent over the course of last Friday’s concert, was just how fickle and self-contradictory the band are, and have always been. Those who once quoted Foucault and Octave Mirbeau in Top Ten albums and perhaps took the greatest intellectual stance of any British pop group, now revel in the mainstream. “We don’t talk about Love, We only want to get Drunk,” is fucking lush to sing along to, when you are, indeed, intoxicated. After Everything Must Go, they produced hooks. Wrote anthems. Who aren’t even pushing barriers, let alone smashing them. A band who used to cover the Faces and now cover Rihanna. Listen, this seems to have kept their fanbase happy, and I don’t want to go back to living by new manics/ old manics dichotomies…
I am becoming comfortable with the settling of teenage dreams and scores from my youth. Music shapes the soul and this band helped define the person that I have come to be. The fact that they are still in existence and still touring does bring solace and I left the concert feeling elated and happy.