Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Early Press

After a few recordings under their belt people had a chance to hear what the Manics were all about....but how would they hear about them in the first place to know they even existed?  'Campaign' is probably the best word to describe the early Manics assault on the music press, targeting specific journalists who they felt would fall for their charms.

The first press in a major publication that I'm aware of is a feature in the NME from 4th August 1990.  As with much of the press that I'll be referring to in this blog, if you didn't happen to buy and/or keep the music papers over the years, you can find them in the NME Originals magazine which came out around the time of 'Forever Delayed' and contains the major articles and reviews about the Manics in the NME over the years.  I didn't pick this up at the time, so ended up with a slightly dog-eared copy bought from Ebay a few years ago.


The first thing to say about the feature is that the picture is hilarious....basically four music fans sat looking at the camera, James looking nervous with what appears to be a blonde bowl cut and Richey pulling down the neck of his shirt to reveal 'Riot'.  The opening line of 'We are the scum factor of the Mondays meets the guitar overload of Five Thirty/Ride while killing Birdland with politics' highlights their slightly lower aspirations before they decided to move on to the likes of Guns 'n' Roses and Public Enemy as reference points.

The article is written in an interview style but seems to be just one of their 'manifestos' cut up, with 'questions' inserted in between to make them sound a bit silly.  The quotes range from the slightly snotty 'We've spray painted our school shirts to wipe out the brainwash and the boredom' to the classic 'When we jump on stage it is not rock 'n' roll cliche but the geometry of contempt'.  Speaking as a maths graduate I'm highly impressed that anyone can manage to get the word 'geometry' into a rock interview.  Manic Street Protractors anyone?

The article is a positive one though, Steven Wells commenting 'They still sound too much like The Clash but by the end of the year they will be releasing songs that match the beautiful, stark, gibbering genius of their prose.  Then they will be the most important rock band in the world.'  The timescales weren't exactly correct, but an impression had certainly been made.

The same edition of the NME also contained a brief review of 'New Art Riot', being described as 'Sham 69 with balls and brains' by the resident reviewer before guest reviewers the Pixies decided it 'sounds pretty good...but it just didn't suck me in.'


After a brief feature and a single review, in the 11th October edition of the NME there was now a live review at the Camden Falcon, a chance for the Manics to really let the press sit up and take notice.  With a photo of Nicky kneeling, shirt adorned with the words 'Rock 'n' Roll Suicide' and a picture of Sid Vicious, it certainly put across a more exciting visual message than the photo attached to the previous feature.  Reviewer Simon Dudfield, later of Fabulous, has obviously been converted to the cause gushing forth 'I love their tight white trousers that make them walk funny, I love their spray painted T-shirts with 'Destroy Work' on them....and I love the way they look so alienated and misunderstood.'  It also touches on another common feature of the Manics early career - the fact that they seem to polarise opinion so completely.  Already it seemed you either love them or hate them.


Another live review in the NME followed in the 1st December edition, this time at Manchester International, home of the burgeoning baggy scene.  Accompanied by a photo of a screaming (and no longer blonde) James with Richey in the background, the review concentrates on the difference between the Manics and the 'glazed hordes of basin-cut lovemuppets.'  The Manics were getting themselves out there, with bands that were nothing like them (let's face it, who was?) and converting the few while irritating the rest - 'I'd be scared to come down the front if I was you as well!'.  Presumably a Nicky quote.


It was time to get back in the studio again, and after this initial spell in the spotlight led to the band signing to Heavenly records they were sent into the studio to record a set of demos,  which turn up on 'Lipstick Traces'.  Disregarding those songs recorded on the first singles this presumably represents their entire arsenal at this point in time, although despite having existed since the early days 'Motorcycle Emptiness' is conspicuous by its absence.

I have to admit to being slightly dubious as to whether these songs are the 'ten songs for two singles' requested by Heavenly, as referred to by Simon Price in 'Everything'.  There are 7 songs included, which minus the 3 songs on 'Motown Junk' does add up, however 'You Love Us' sounds slightly different and its B-sides (not included here) would push it over to 12.

'Repeat' kicks things off with a whimper, for what is an obviously energetic rallying cry live the band are definitely struggling to capture it on tape, this version seeming slow and lethargic with a strange echoey quality to it.  The first appearance of 'Methadone Pretty' shows more of a classic rock feel, definitely less punk than the other early songs.  This is effectively the same song that would turn up later on, just a little rough around the edges but with no real change to the lyrics or music.

'Faceless Sense of Void' (later to become 'Love's Sweet Exile') is next turning up like an old friend, and it is definitely starting to sound more like old material.  Shuffling along it certainly doesn't seem like it would have fitted in on 'Generation Terrorists' in this form.  However, it is another great version with a fantastic performance from Sean on the drum stool.  A new song 'You Love Us' follows, apart from a few bits here and there this is essentially the Heavenly version with an inferior production job.  If 'Motown Junk' did come from these sessions it says a lot for the power of that song that it was picked ahead of this.  Compared to their recorded output so far this is the first song that seems genuinely exciting, that meets the expectations you would get from reading one of those early manifestos.  Listening to this version actually reignited my love for the song after hearing all the more recent bouncy, cabaret live versions. James still says 'fake like saver' though.

Speaking of exciting, 'Generation Terrorists', later to become 'Stay Beautiful', continues the new material.  In terms of differences to the final version there are maybe 50% different lyrics, additional back up vocals, and the final two words of the chorus are actually spoken rather than being replaced by a squall of guitar (sorry this is a family blog).  Between this and 'You Love Us' there is most definitely more attitude in the new songs.  'Soul Contamination' gets a recording, being a song that dates back to the Horse & Groom gig a year or so earlier although compared to the rest of the material it sounds like it is destined to be a B side, which it ultimately was.  The last song, 'Democracy Coma', is another new one that, like 'Methadone Pretty', shows more of a rock leaning than the punkier songs, and that's not to say that either type is starting to get diluted, the songs are definitely getting better.  It seems like there are three types of song now - early songs still hanging around, the energetic punk songs and the more mature rock songs, definitely not the one-trick ponies that the music press might like to have painted them as.

Picture from NME Originals - look closely and you can see the scar on Nicky's  neck
Now that the music was out of the way it's back to the business of stirring up the press.  An interview with the NME in the 5th January 1991 edition could quite possibly be the one that started it all.  Filled with loads of the quotes that you've heard over and over again this was the Manics translating the content of their manifestos into an interview situation (although it's debatable how much of an interview there actually was as the feature contains a lot of references to live gigs and letters to journalists).  'Smash Hits is more effective in polluting minds than Goebbels ever was', 'Parliament is more ugly than a gas chamber', not to mention starting as they mean to go on by trashing other bands, the 'bald-fat-ugly-glutton-filth' Inspiral Carpets coming in for some pretty heavy criticism this time around (they make them vomit apparently, although I've always liked them).


Headed 'Manic on the Streets of London' I have the feature both in the NME Originals magazine and a 1997 reproduction under the banner of 'Rock of Ages - Classic NME Interviews' (which incidentally feature different photos).  The photos show the band looking less like rabbits caught in the headlights and with the music and written bravado now starting to converge the image wasn't far behind, Richey in particular stealing the photos with his spraypainted 'London Death Sentence Heritage' top complete with a page of the A to Z while stood in front of Buckingham Palace.



If nothing else this feature would have taken the feeling of love them or hate them to a wider audience.  If they happened to slag off one of your favourite bands you'd probably hate them, if you were put off by blokes in eye makeup and big girls' blouses you'd probably hate them, if you generally thought that four white Welsh boys poncing around outside Buckingham Palace talking about Public Enemy and Kylie was a bad thing you'd probably hate them.  If you managed to make it past those I imagine at this point the remaining hardy souls were curious at best.  If only they had some actual new material to release that could satisfy that curiosity.....

Live Review NME 19th January 1991

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