Monday, 10 October 2011

Early Demos

On this epic journey through the career of the Manic Street Preachers, where better to start than with the early demos, the launch pad for any band with serious ambitions of selling 18 million copies of their debut album (although they probably hadn't decided that yet).

When I first came up with the idea for writing this blog I wondered how I should tackle songs which were recorded well before the release of the particular single or album that they appear on. Well, in true Manics style I decided that I should reserve the right to contradict myself, so while the majority of songs will be discussed with the release that they are featured on, bootlegs are an exception to the rule and so they will pop in and out as appropriate.

'Tortured Genius' is a veritable goldmine of early Manics material, a CD that I picked up (at a guess) in around 2002 when I first discovered Ebay. I already had a huge Manics collection at that point, but there were a few bits and pieces from the pre-'Generation Terrorists' era that had eluded me. The combination of an Ebay full of Manics rarities and the relatively new experience of a regular wage resulted in a fair bit of gap-filling and quite a few pieces of random memorabilia. But that will come later.....

Front and back cover of 'Tortured Genius' (with the Manics-friendly cat bed as background)

The earliest songs on 'Tortured Genius' are listed as '4 track demo circa 1985/86', which would have made the Manics around 16 or 17. I have written and recorded songs (if you could call them that) since I was 14 and while they were just about passable at 16 I'm not sure I would want them made available on a bootleg to a mass audience. So I can understand the apparent horror James felt when he found out that their first stabs at songwriting were out there for all to hear. 

It would take a very blinkered, diehard fan to say that the three songs from this time - 'Where Have All The Good Things Gone', 'Dying a Thousand Deaths' and 'Love in a Make-Up Bag' - were classics, however I certainly wouldn't say they're embarrassing. A little ramshackle, musically less proficient and very jangly, they don't bear much resemblance to the band they became, but which band did when taking their first tentative steps? James seems very restrained vocally, which is a common symptom of a first recording session, so everything comes across as rather polite, not a trait usually associated with the early part of the Manics' career. The recording also suffers from the instantly recognisable swirl associated with the fact that it is obviously copied from an old tape, however at least I'm safe in the knowledge that my CD is not going to unravel in a tangle of brown, shiny, er, tapeyness.

The second set of songs are listed as '4 track demo circa 1986/87' and show a definite improvement in songwriting and sound quality. The guitars fizz, James has woken up a bit more and Sean seems to have discovered that he actually has cymbals (or maybe he just bought some?). Maybe the increased urgency in the sound came as a follow up to the band watching a documentary on the 10th anniversary of punk, as referred to in Simon Price's definitive Manics biography 'Everything'. On 'Whiskey Psychosis' and 'England is a Bitch', it is still difficult to make out the words...but then again it always has been, even with a lyric sheet in front of you. There is even time for the guitars to pack in and start fading in and out at the end of 'England is a Bitch', which ultimately marks these songs out as a curiosity rather than any meaningful insight into the direction the band were heading.

'In the Beginning' by Jenny Watkins-Isnardi

According to the book 'In the Beginning', which saw the light of day in 2000, this was around the time that the author Jenny Watkins-Isnardi temporarily joined the band as singer. For anyone that doesn't know, the book is about the author's time doubling up as singer of the fledgling Manics and girlfriend of Nicky Wire.  I've only read the book once and I'm in two minds as to whether it's basically the truth (but embellished) or complete fantasy. I expect many diehard fans are likely to go for the latter and many arguments over the validity of the book will focus on how Richey appears very little, although if the contents of the book are true it is likely to have coincided with Richey being at university. My opinion, for what it's worth, is that it is predominantly based on fact, but obviously fleshed out with half-truths to cover what are essentially conversations that happened more than 10 years previously.

So, with more of a whimper than a bang, and still being essentially a bedroom band at this point, the Manic Street Preachers were off and running....a bit like this blog.

1 comment:

  1. Good start, for your blog and this heroic band.

    Amongst the jangliness and baggie rights of the 85/86 demos, find the guitar lines have a complex mood that’s almost played down come the debut album, if you extrapolated them over the next 5 years. The titles too have an inbred melancholia and cultivated glamour that touches throughout their career, showing this to be part of their make up and not a manufactured show piece.

    86/87 moves on to Clash on sleeve moments, and anti establishment embellishments set to Enola/Alone-esque chords in waiting.

    I like RP McMurphy full band version which features on this CD too. Turbulent, accelerating, a viral muddy sketch that survived transition to Columbia.