Saturday, 15 June 2013

You (Still) Love Us

The Manics started out life being very measured, rehearsed but nervous interviewees.  But as the scorn poured out of their mouths over the subsequent months, they perfected the art of the interview, calm and articulate but with vitriolic soundbites aplenty.  The interview with the NME from 2nd November 1991 is one where they're in top form.

Interviewer Andrew Collins puts everything into perspective first of all - "1991 might have been the year of Carter, Blur, Oceanic, Bryan Adams and Right Said Fred, but what got namechecked the most in other people's interviews?  None of the above".  You don't need to ask who he was referring to.  He also defends them against accusations of hype - "Steven Wells never managed to sell anyone Revolting Cocks or Lard; Philip Hall (their PR) also represents the Southernaires and Flood (no front covers there); and Columbia Records have yet to successfully 'get' Fishbone or the Real People into the Top 40".  The simple conclusion is the Manics do hype themselves to death, but you don't get this much prolonged attention without the music to back it up.

It's classic quote time too, from Richey - "You know how Catholics always hate every other religion, or Baptists hate Methodists more than they hate the devil?  Well, we will always hate Slowdive more than we hate Adolf Hitler".  Absolute journalistic gold.

An interesting little quote with hindsight is that amidst all of Richey's talk of Wales being " a museum, everything is closed, it's like a long walk down a graveyard", the interviewer asks if they ever get hiraeth (a "peculiarly Welsh sense of homesickness").  Mr Mouth himself, Nicky Wire, is the one that pipes up to say "I do sometimes".  Anyone who may have thought that the sudden championing of Wales later on in their careers was bandwagon jumping, can see that in Nicky at least it has always been hiding in the background.

You can't beat a good picture disc.  No matter what's on it a 12" slab of coloured vinyl just looks amazing doesn't it?  As far as the more obscure items in my collection go, this is one of my favourites, a 12" picture disc featuring an interview for Spiral Scratch magazine.  I have seen a few CDs knocking around Ebay, but I have also seen from a few sources that the vinyl version is quite rare, although don't know how accurate this is.  This is one of the earlier rare items I picked up from one of my previous favourite pastimes of looking at the record shop adverts in the back of Melody Maker, NME, Select etc.  My two favourite shops were Track Attack and Opal, they always seemed to have loads of Manics stuff that I could either use to plug holes in my collection or total up the current prices of everything I owned!!  Pre-Ebay they tended to be a lot more expensive, probably as they were more difficult to track down.

The interview itself starts off mid-conversation talking about bands who try their luck in Japan and moves on to their history where Nicky claims they only formed about 18 months ago??!!  There are demos to prove otherwise Mr Wire!  With the sound of people making tea in the background they discuss early gigs, the first singles (they didn't even keep a copy of 'Suicide Alley' for themselves apparently!)' and how their fans aren't ex-Smiths fans or whichever band's fans, they seem like the Manics were the first band they've ever been into. True for me, although more through age than anything else.  Special mention must also go to the way Richey says "punk", I can't even begin to do it justice by trying to write it down in print.

As we move into '92 (still in a room without a view, sorry couldn't resist it RATM fans) the NME is following our heroes with a live review at Cambridge The Junction.  It's Steven Wells again, so obviously not really going to tell you anything other than the fact that "The Manic Street Preachers are a kamikaze divebomber flown by Andy Pandy and his transsexual friends" and James, whilst singing, looks like "a puppy dog straining on its first solid dump".  Cheers Swells.  Comedy is also provided by Nicky apparently handing his bass to someone else to smash as he hasn't figured out how to do it yet!

What would the new album be if it didn't contain 'You Love Us'?  The decision to re-record it can't have been a difficult one, with such a shiny new production now the old version would have stood out like a sore thumb, never mind it being recorded for another label.  So, big guitars and drums are in, some of the peripheral stuff like the whooping in the verses and the extra guitar in the chorus are out (shame) and the outro is different, now being a showcase for James' ever improving guitar skills.  I'm not going to go into any more depth on this song as the original has already been covered in a previous blog.  It's 'You Love Us', what more is there to say?!

This was my first Manics purchase, going for the cassette single, I later bought the reissued CD for the additional tracks.  The artwork is different to the original, more toned down in silver and black, and the quotes used are also different across the two formats - "False Media.  We don't need it do we?", Public Enemy (cassette) and "Regard all art critics as useless and dangerous", Manifesto of the Futurists (reissued CD).

The video?  Well if you thought 'Love's Sweet Exile' was a bit raunchy, you ain't seen nothing yet!  Nicky and Richey camp it up for all they're worth, Richey in particular stealing the show while kissing a giant picture of himself, then suddenly turning his head to look in a mirror.  It's quite hilarious, no wonder they used to bring it out as a backdrop at later gigs.  It has to be said James has finally decided to make an effort in the image stakes, this is probably the point in time where all four of them actually look the part (usually someone would let the side down).  It's another triumphant video in the sense that whatever feeling you had for them before, love or hate, you can now double it.

After releasing no less than four songs from their upcoming album (before it has been released!) across three singles, and with it being a double album, the Manics were clearly struggling for new songs to use as B-sides.  They had used up their store of old songs, presumably all the new ones were going on the album, so they had to find something to give to their fans.  'A Vision of Dead Desire' was a new title but not a new song, although they could be forgiven as its original incarnation of 'UK Channel Boredom' was released before most people knew of their existence.  It's faithful to the original recording, apart from the obvious change in lyrics, but comes across as a definite B-side, good stuff but nothing special.

Also recognising that new fans may not have been around at the time of 'Motown Junk', the inclusion of 'We Her Majesty's Prisoners' both fills in a gap for fans and buys more time before new material is available.  It definitely sounds more dated in this context, still a good song but without the trimmings that major label life now brought.  Bringing up the rear is a live version of Guns 'n' Roses 'It's So Easy' recorded at the Band Explosion a few months before.  If the new sound wasn't enough, this was basically just ramming down everyone's throats who their current influence was and as with the live footage of this gig they sound like they're on fire, Nicky sneering along with James on many parts as the song careers to a close.

After the relative chart success of the last single, surely 'You Love Us' had the legs to go even higher?  Of course it did, earning the Manics their first shot at Top of the Pops, which features on the 'Televised Propaganda' DVD.  With James bare-chested and ignoring his guitar for the first minute or so, Richey and Nicky pull all their best poses while the crowd stand motionless, some might say stunned.  Sean meanwhile packs in about a minute before the end treating us to the hilarious sight of pyro going off all around his drum riser while he's sat completely still in a sulk!  A big moment for them, no matter what some people may want they really aren't going to go away (apart from when they split up after the album of course....yeah, right).

An advert from the inside cover of the March 1992 issue of Siren shows the cover of the new album due out on 10th February 1992, proudly bearing the line "18 Tracks including the Hit Singles..." ('Stay Beautiful' was pushing it a bit as a hit!).  Underneath that a list of tour dates taunt me, specifically the one reading "Friday 7th February Middlesbrough Town Hall".  I was a few months short of my 14th birthday and despite wanting to go, I wasn't allowed.  Eighteen months later I would go to my first gig at the same venue, but despite being good, Carter and the Sultans of Ping wasn't the same.  Imagine if I could have actually said that my first gig was the Manics on the 'Generation Terrorists' tour!!!

Two TV interviews in the run up to the album's release turn up on the 'Televised Propaganda' DVD.  The first for Rapido has the obligatory introduction from the mildly irritating Antoine de Caunes and starts off with some great old footage from what looks like a rehearsal around the time of 'Motown Junk'.  It moves on to the band going back home, wandering around Pontllanfraith in the snow, Richey in his fur coat genuinely looking like he is freezing to death, but like a true pro carrying on regardless.  We are also informed about Traci Lords' appearance on the new album on a song called 'Little Baby Nothing' and Nicky gives his famous quote about her being the "most intelligent American we've ever met" with a massive grin on his face.

The next piece for Vivid TV (who?) begins with the reporter saying "They've been described as the sexiest rock band in the entire world, they've also been described as utter crap".  Clips from videos are interspersed with Nicky and Richey, again in their fur coats, talking on some stairs.  The highlight is Richey responding to an unheard question, presumably along the lines of "What do you want from the album/life", saying what sounds like "I want someone who could love me" with a massive smile on his face, while Nicky, also laughing, replies "I love you Rich...I just want to have a number one album in America and then retire to a big concrete bunker.."

With singles released, TV and music paper interviews given and EVERYONE waiting for the album that was going to change the world, it wouldn't be long before it was upon us.....

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Love's Sweet Exile/Repeat

The Manics are captured in the studio environment for an interview with Rage magazine around the time of the release of 'Stay Beautiful' and it's another one of those interviews which mis-spells 'Richie', 'Shaun' and 'Nicki'.  It immediately paints a picture of rock 'n' roll excess as James welcomes the interviewer wearing a blouse bearing 'I AM A SLUT' while Sean "is sullenly working out with video golf" and Richey "passes round a plate of Mr Kipling apple pies".

It's more of the same about the one and only album, trying not to slag off bands ("The interviews we were doing were, like, two or three hours long and we'd talked about loads of different things.  We'd illustrate a point by mentioning a band and they'd be the only quotes that ever got used") and how they seem to inspire their fair share of hatred ("We are weak, puny little people.  We always knew that.  Anybody could beat us up.  But then, it happens to a lot of people in everyday life anyway.  So many bands forget that").

Select were next on the agenda, in which the band seem to strangely be mostly wearing the same clothes playing live as they were in the studio in the previous article.  This time they manage to tag "Ricky Edwards" in the caption on the main photo, which I seem to find more funny than it actually is.  And they also appear to be playing on the set of an old Flash floor cleaner commercial.

It starts off telling it like it is - "So far, they've released three properly distributed singles but only one, the latest 'Stay Beautiful', has gone anywhere near the Top 40.  Their concerts mostly attract audiences of between 100 and 200 people.  Their records have had measly airplay.  Fact is, most people have never heard Manic Street Preachers, they're a phenomenon that only really exists on the pages of the music press, where they've caused one hell of a stink with their blatantly sensation-seeking interviews and divided critical opinion more starkly than any group in years".

All smiling?!
It's an on the road feature and goes on to introduce each member, highlights as follows: quiet, shy, jittery, trying to run a four minute mile (James), addicted to fruit machines, drinks Babycham, former captain of Wales under-16 football team (Nicky), charming, pretty boy, doesn't play on the records (Richey), cousin of James, youngest trumpet player ever in the South Wales jazz orchestra, has childhood sweetheart of 8 years (Sean).  All of these are probably well-known to fans now but for some this may have been the first appearance of the more personal information.

Apart from a bit of a band history and tales of table tennis, computer games and Babycham, a large chunk of the interview is made up of a letter sent to the magazine by the band and printed word for word.  It basically complains about how they've been portrayed in the magazine and is a plea for a fair crack of the whip (which this interview is).  They do this in the style of their early manifestos, also littered with lines which would eventually crop up all over 'Generation Terrorists'.

An interesting little curio is credited on the trusty 'Tortured Genius' bootleg as 'Sorrow 16 Riot - Reading After Dark 10.8.91'.  It consists of about a minute of 'Sorrow 16', during which Nicky sounds a bit distracted, missing notes, then Nicky and James stop, leaving Richey and Sean merrily playing away. James then lashes out at someone "Don't hit him, right, if you want to hit anyone hit me, I'm not gonna hit back all right?!".  He might be short, but don't mess with him or his friends!  The incident is referred to in Simon Price's book 'Everything', where a mixture of sound failure, Nicky baiting the crowd and no security obviously led to a confrontation that perhaps only James actually relished (once Nicky had established there was no security).

A slightly different kind of feature appears in the 24th August 1991 edition of NME, a Q&A article headed 'Material World'.  It reads like a written interview rather than face to face, asking random questions like "Key films in your life", "Desert Island Discs", "Great writers" etc.  A lot of the questions are either answered in list form or by quotes from Lenin to Bret Easton Ellis to Marlene Dietrich.  It's pretty much the Manics' reason for being in a handy two page guide.  Slightly worrying at this point (and a pointer for images to come) is that "Best Dressed Person in Rock" is answered as Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes.  I like the Black Crowes, but not for their fashion sense.....

In September the Manics were part of Band Explosion, a series of showcase gigs recorded by both Radio 1 and BBC2.  Included on the 'Televised Propaganda' DVD were two televised performances of 'Stay Beautiful' and 'Motown Junk', with a short interview by early 90's wish-you-could-have-forgotten-him presenter Gary Crowley.  His interview contains my all time favourite question - "So you guys come from, what, Blackwood? So what have you made of all of that?".  Richey answers patiently, Nicky chips in his views, before the band are called to the stage.

I remember watching this at the time, I think my brother recorded it on one of our 'Tusic Mapes' (music tapes, videos, no?) and seeing it now I can believe that this may have been the catalyst for me changing my opinion of them from being a band with good songs to being a proper fan.  It definitely seems like "an event", the band playing out of their skins, although Nicky messes up as usual, and that early 90's seal of approval, the constant stream of stagedivers livening things up even more.  As a display is destroyed and thrown around the venue during 'Stay Beautiful', James encourages the crowd to "rip it apart" - that moment stuck in my head so much that I always hear James say it in my head at that part of the song every time I listen to the album version!!

As 'Motown Junk' brings everything to a climactic close, the glitter rains down on band and crowd and you get the feeling that after all the column inches they've finally arrived, they're finally receiving some sort of acclaim.  The credits rolling over this scene hit this home even more with the roll call of some of the bands also appearing - Catherine Wheel (good, but hardly exciting), Intastella (interesting hair, but ditto) and Slowdive (do you really have to ask?!).  A definite turning point.

The second interview from the 'Mouthing Off with the Manics' CD mentioned in a previous blog is described as follows: "October 1991. Featuring Richey, again, in a phone interview, this time you can hear him talking about the artists and musicians that influenced the Manics in those early years and what they meant to him.  From Public Enemy to Guns 'n' Roses, Richey sheds new light on what inspired the band to pick up guitars in the first place. 17 minutes 21 seconds".

It does exactly what it says on the tin minus the awkward introductions from last time, the start and end being edited out.  We hear about Public Enemy, Richey shaming himself by saying that 'She Watch Channel Zero' has guitar  from an Anthrax song.  Richey, Richey, Richey, it's obviously 'Angel of Death' by Slayer!  He tells us how he's hardly seen any bands live, just read about them, before moving on to Guns 'n' Roses (exciting, much more interesting than boring indie bands) and The Clash (the Tony Wilson Channel 4 documentary from 1986 gets another mention) at which point it carries on for a minute or two as a conversation between two obvious Clash fans. Next to be discussed are the Sex Pistols, quote of the whole interview coming from interviewer James Sherry - "The best thing was they never reformed and they never will". Are you sure about that James?!  And finally the Rolling Stones, where we learn that James learnt to play 'Exile on Main Street'.  A different interview for the band at this stage, about what they like rather than what they hate!

And so to the Manics' first double A side, probably because they wanted to release 'Repeat' as a single but the use of the 'F' word kind of made that a bit difficult.  This single is almost like they are clearing the decks of their old material before pressing on with the new, with the exception of 'Methadone Pretty' there weren't many other older songs that would resurface.  Like with 'Stay Beautiful', the first time I owned this single was as part of the 97 CD re-releases, also going back to Ebay later on to pick up the 12" with the additional live track and gatefold sleeve.

There are actually two different quotes on the sleeves of the different formats, the 12" containing "Then came human beings, they wanted to cling but there was nothing to cling to" (Camus) and the reissued CD going with "Modern capitalism, organising the reduction of all social life to a spectacle, cannot offer any other spectacle than that of our own alienation" (Kotanyi, Vaneigem: IS NO.6 1961).  The artwork for each was the same, a simple target painted on a sculpted torso, but with different colours.  The gatefold opened up to a blurry live image with the lyrics printed down one side, for a band that was very conscious of their lyrics it was an opportunity for some to get past some of James', er, interesting phrasings and read what they were singing about!

'Love's Sweet Exile' is the final incarnation of a song previously known as 'Just Can't be Happy' and 'Faceless Sense of Void' and the production qualities of the upcoming album show a marked change to those previous versions.  Huge sounding drums kick the song off, with James' guitars increasing the rock factor from the last single ten-fold.  I have honestly never noticed this before, but where is Nicky?!  Did they just not bother putting him on it or was it another Jason Newsted on '...And Justice For All' scandal?!!  Given that Sean does pretty much the same drumbeat all the way through, it may as well be a James solo single.  As the last drumbeats come to a halt, you can almost hear the sound of those journalists that had them down as Clash copyists sharpening their pencils (do journalists use pencils?).  Well, they did warn us with all those Guns 'n' Roses references!

The accompanying video was a strange one, camping it up doesn't quite seem enough, homo-erotic seems closer to the mark.  You can picture the discussions as Richey and Nicky try to persuade Sean, who turns up later in the video wearing his best "I'm not even taking off my T-shirt" look.  The idea that 'Repeat' was always the one they wanted as the single is backed up by Nicky spraying the song title onto a pane of glass.

'Repeat' had always previously been incredibly energetic and controversial.....but usually a bit of a shambles.  Now they have finally got the right version.  At the time I seem to remember this being one of my favourite Manics songs and quite possibly one of the best uses of a siren in music alongside EMF's cover of 'Search and Destroy'.  One thing I don't seem to have (although it's probably buried on a video somewhere) is the version of 'Repeat' played on The Word, another one of those rebellious acts having rehearsed 'Love's Sweet Exile' before the live programme went out.

'Democracy Coma' is the B-side on the regular versions, another contender for best ever B-side, it could almost be a triple A-side!!  It really seems to suit the new sound perfectly and begs the question that if this is a B-side what treats are waiting for us on this multi-million selling debut album in waiting?!  The 12" actually has 'Repeat' and 'Democracy Coma' on the A side and 'Love's Sweet Exile' on the B-side with a live version of 'Stay Beautiful' from the Band Explosion referred to earlier.  It even has old Goodybags himself, Mark Goodier, at the end, telling us that it was from "London's Mar-klee Club" and is another one of those live recordings where Richey is clearly audible in your right ear.

While 'Stay Beautiful' had only just scraped into the top 40, this was the single that made a slightly larger dent, peaking at number 26.  So, they're starting to make further inroads to the general public consciousness, but if only they could make an extra leap....Top of the Pops maybe?

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Stay Beautiful

The 25th May 1991 edition of NME was supposed to have contained your run of the mill live review of the Manics at Norwich Arts Centre.  They got more than they bargained for as the infamous '4 Real' incident changed everything.  A separate news story reports how Richey needed "17 stitches in horrific, self-inflicted wounds to his arm" prompting the cancellation of the next night's gig in Birmingham (I'm sure that wasn't strictly necessary).

I remember seeing the full gory picture at the time, and being a boy on the verge of my 13th birthday it was obviously one of those images you just can't help being fascinated by.  I think I'm with Nicky on this one - it obviously wasn't big or clever, especially with hindsight and the cult of Richey that it started, but it was pretty impressive.  He obviously planned it and I would believe the band if they say they knew nothing about it.  If they said previously that they didn't want to be in the likes of the NME, they just wanted to go straight for the tabloids, they were going the right way about it.  Life for the Manics would never be quite the same again.

The actual live review by Steve Lamacq starts with a description of the incident, heard by everyone reading this a million times before I expect, followed by what is actually a pretty frank, accurate summary of the Manics' career to date, honest and gracious but still written by someone who doesn't quite believe....but you kind of get the feeling that he wants to.  "The Manics seemed to be unwittingly standing in a caricature of rock 'n' roll rebellion.  Amidst all this they released the chunky, surprisingly good 'Motown Junk' and threw things into confusion.....And agreed, what wouldn't we give for a new political pop band back in the charts?  Someone who'd go further than just being 'worthy'.  But I'm not convinced the Manics have everything under control at the moment".  On the contrary, I expect it was more that, Richey in particular, they had EVERYTHING under control.

Days after the '4 Real' incident the Manics signed with Sony, doing a deal with someone who looks eerily like JFK.  Richey can be seen with a bandage still covering his wounds.  What a hilarious picture (found near the back of NME Originals), James in particular looking particularly pleased with himself.  Suddenly, from humble beginnings, the expectation and the publicity was going big league.

You know you're getting old when your own newspaper cuttings are yellowing.  An article from Melody Maker from 1st June 1991 was first on the scene following the major label deal and '4 Real'.  Aside from the lazy journalist spelling 3 of the 4 band members' names wrong throughout the interview (Ritchie, Nicki and Shaun), it's another one of those classic early interviews.  Remembering how nervous they seemed in the Snub interview, they seem absolutely unstoppable here, especially Nicki, sorry Nicky.

Quotes include:

"You can't create year zero again.  We're completely conscious of that....We don't respect punk.  We don't respect rock.  We don't respect Elvis.  We're just the best rock 'n' roll band there's ever been.  When our next single comes out, everyone will realise that."

Nicky - "Every concert or interview we've done, I've wanted people to beat us up because I know I'm prettier and more intelligent than they'll ever be...If Shaun Ryder walked up to me and started beating the f*** out of me, I wouldn't fight back.  I'd just stand there and take it.  Anyway, my father was in the army for four years.  If anyone came near me, they'd be dead".

Richey - "Personally, like, I only lost my virginity six months ago.  I never looked at girls and just stayed in my bedroom all day.  I never even kissed a girl.  Then the band started...."

Sean - "Those two girls I was with last night...all I did was help them out.  They had spent a lot of money travelling up to see us and they were only students.  So I took them back to the bedroom, showed them the beds, then I went to sleep on the bathroom floor with a single sheet around me.  The floor wasn't even carpeted.  It was made of vinyl.  Basically, I think we're all pretty romantic".

Sean doesn't say much but when he does it's pure gold.  You also get the back story of sitting in their bedrooms, waiting for the music papers, reading everything they could get their hands on, how Hanoi Rocks win over Morrissey every time, how they're "just a hopeless mass of contradictions".  If you were into the music by now, they were probably fast becoming your favourite band.

Later that month the Manics hit the news again after storming off stage at the Downing College Ball at Cambridge University.  After Nicky starts kicking a mic stand around the stage, the PA company pull the plug at which point Nicky and Sean start generally destroying things before James punches a member of the college rugby team.  Perfect, even more publicity.  

Another picture from NME Originals around this time shows the band in James' bedroom, Public Enemy and Guns 'n' Roses records casually laid on the floor, Slash poster on the wall.  Apparently James had the top bunk and Sean the bottom if you're interested.

July 1991 saw 'Feminine is Beautiful' seeing the light of day (already covered in a previous blog) and another feature in Melody Maker, which incidentally is where the backdrop to this blog was taken from.  This one contains more of the same stories of being bored back home in Wales, how they hate all other bands around at the moment, how they're going to have their one big album and disappear at the top of their game etc, etc.  You get the impression, though, that this time everyone isn't quite laughing so hard.  They're obviously going to fail, but maybe not quite as spectacularly as first thought.  The introduction also reminds us of something - this is a band who haven't yet had a hit record.  Imagine what it will be like when they DO.

The interview also gives a couple of unintentionally hilarious moments when saying that they interview Richey and Nicky because "singer James Dean Bradfield and drummer Sean Moore are hard at it a couple of floors below" and, when discussing the merits of being in love, Nicky says "I think I'll always be happier with my mother anyway".  Childish?  Yes.  Funny?  Obviously.  Nicky also shows that Mr Carbohydrate has always been there, "I'm always happiest just living with my mum and dad and my dog.  Watching telly and stuff like that.  That is my perfect scenario, when I can reach some kind of peace."  Says the man on the opposite page holding a gun....

It remained to be seen whether signing to a major label would change the Manics, but we were about to find out with the release of 'Stay Beautiful'.  Again, I still wasn't yet at the stage of buying the records, I actually bought the CD single (along with all the others) when they were re-released in 1997.  All those B-side titles that I had previously only read about in the 5 years before immediately came to life with those reissues.  We're talking pre-downloading and Ebay here kids (or at least very much in its infancy).  But 'Stay Beautiful' is still one of my favourites...writing this blog just makes me think what an amazing trio of singles 'Motown Junk', 'You Love Us' and 'Stay Beautiful' actually were!!

To answer the question of whether signing to a major would change the Manics, the answer is fundamentally no.  The money behind the band meant that the production was much slicker, crystal clear compared to before, and James' playing in particular had gone up several notches to match it.  Not to mention the title of the song had changed, presumably they had decided at this point that 'Generation Terrorists' would be better as the album title.  The only other concession to major label life was the replacement of two key words at the end of the chorus by James' guitar, I'm guessing keeping it as it was would not have been great for radio play!

With the benefit of hindsight you could say that it was perfectly written to appeal to what was fast becoming their fanbase - 'Love your masks and adore your failure', 'We're a mess of eyeliner and spraypaint', 'All we love is lonely wreckage' all being classic lines, but also starting to paint a picture of a stereotypical early Manics fan.  If 'You Love Us' was a taunt to critics, 'Stay Beautiful' was almost an anthem for the converted.

Even the artwork could have been seen to fit in with this - the band's name written in lipstick, a glamorous girl and a quote that starts out as sounding a bit morbid but ends up fitting the song perfectly:

"I saw some piglets suckling their dead mother.  After a short while they shuddered and went away.  They had sensed that she could no longer see them and she wasn't like them any more.  What they loved in their mother wasn't her body, but whatever it was that made her body live." Confucius.

They were now at a stage where they could start pulling out songs from their arsenal to use as B-sides - previously an early demo with the full band, 'R.P. McMurphy' was converted into a quieter vocals, guitar and tambourine combination.  Another one of those which has been changed at some point but still works both ways, it's a gorgeously melodic reminder that we're not just dealing with Clash copyists here.  And a bonus point for turning the word "drugs" into "dru-he-ugs", a favourite James tactic for fitting some of the impossible-to-sing lyrics into the music.  Another older song, 'Soul Contamination', is next which, while still being a decent Manics B-side, actually highlights how much they've moved on with the newer songs.

As far as videos for major label debut singles go, this was an odd one.  The band inside a strange house performing the song, getting covered with multi-coloured paint, before the house falls in on itself and becomes a strange spider/octopus hybrid.  Given the Manics' control over most aspects of their band's output it doesn't seem like one of their ideas.  Nicky and Richey are looking pretty deadly in this video, although James still hasn't got his act together visually.  My favourite part of this video is where James gets a face and a mouth full of blue paint, or whatever it was they were using!  I actually used to have an A4 poster of what must have been the aftermath of the filming, probably from Select, all four of them covered head to toe in various colours of dripping paint.  But I wasn't allowed to put it on my wall because my mum said it made her feel sick!!  She is now a fan, although mostly from 'Gold Against the Soul' onwards.

The single review in the NME from 27th July 1991 wasn't as glowing, although you sense it's more of a backlash at their major label deal than anything else.  'Stay Beautiful', with one foot in their past and the production values of their future was almost a bridge between the two Manics eras.  The Sony era had begun.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

You Love Us

It's February 1991 and, apart from the 'Motown Junk' video, it's the first sighting in my collection of the Manics in the live arena.  The performance in question is found on the 'Televised Propaganda' DVD, listed as 'Live Oxford Venue 7:2:91 Damaged Goods B&W Promo Film'.  What kind of promotional purpose this could have served is questionable, unless you're happy with the picture quality of a black and white thermal imaging camera and the sound quality of standing outside a gig.  If I didn't already know the songs and what the band looked like, I'd be none the wiser by the end.

But it all adds to the charm doesn't it?  The set list features no surprises and is very similar to the demos recorded not long before, featured on 'Lipstick Traces' - You Love Us, Democracy Coma, Methadone Pretty, Strip it Down, Motown Junk, Sorrow 16, Generation Terrorists, Faceless Sense of Void.  The latter two songs ('Stay Beautiful' and 'Love's Sweet Exile) are still in their previous incarnations, only a matter of months before they turn up in their final recorded guise.

'Repeat' is uncredited at the end, perhaps because it never really goes anywhere.  After technical problems during the set, it appears as if James' strap breaks and he eventually abandons his guitar to play with the mic stand, Nicky sods off all together, while Sean soldiers on regardless and Richey has a half-hearted stab at breaking his guitar.

Apart from the finale they don't yet come across as the exciting live band the press might have you believe, but compared to the majority of bands around at the time they do actually move and possess a decent amount of energy.  Add that to the unconventional image and you can see the early appeal.  The roles appear to be set already - Nicky does most of the talking and awkwardly strides round the stage a lot with his long legs, James is the musical focal point, Richey is pulling all the right shapes, while Sean is holding everything together anonymously at the back.  There will be better gigs to come in terms of performance and recording, but it's a nice little curio to have in your collection.

As is a CD of interviews I picked up from Ebay, 'Mouthing off with the Manics', sold by music journalist and one-time drummer of Done Lying Down, James Sherry.  I guess selling your own interviews on Ebay isn't really the norm but it got me an interesting little Manics oddity.  The first interview is from February 1991 with Richey, described on the CD as follows:

"Kicking off with a phone interview with Richey recorded back in the early nineties when their debut album 'Generation Terrorists' was still just a collective twinkle in these four Welsh lads eyes, here is the evidence that they really did intend to release one, glorious life-affirming rock n'roll album and split up.  Here is their early uncompromising attitude fully intact, with Richey passionately claiming that the band would never get fat, get complacent and have their music turn into self indulgent wank.  Ironic, that. 12 minutes 50 seconds"

The first thing you notice after reading countless music press interviews is how awkward it all seems.  As the interviewer introduces himself, he tells Richey he's met him a few times, how 'I've got like orange-y hair and I've got like a green coat', Richey's response is '...yeah?...' followed by an awkward silence.  'I've talked to you a few times?'.  Made me laugh anyway.  Questions range from "What kind of audience reaction are you into?" to "Do you enjoy touring all the time?" (response: "It's got to be done hasn't it?"), there are a few more awkward silences until they get into a rhythm,

Richey talks about how there is going to be a new major label record deal, a new album and how they will probably be gone by this time next year.  He explains their original master plan of getting gigs in London and just phoning loads of music journalists, inviting them to attend.  How there will be another couple of singles after 'You Love Us', being 'Generation Terrorists' and 'Repeat', which will be produced by the Bomb Squad.  They will then go to America, play a few gigs, come back and split up.  It ends by confirming addresses to send the next edition of Metal Hammer (where it will be featured), before Richey makes sure he asks if they have some pictures too, very important (apparently Heavenly are going to bike some over).  It's interesting to hear something like this that isn't edited or in a very formal TV setting.  And obviously Richey fans will be happy to hear such a long conversation with their hero...I guess that's why it was on Ebay in the first place.

A one page interview in Select from around this time I think is the first Manics article I ever saw.  Given that there was no caption saying who was who, I played the 'match the band member to the lineup game'.  The one at the front must be the singer so that's James (WRONG), the little bowl-cut one doesn't look that interesting, so he's probably the drummer (Correct!), which leaves the other two.  The tall one at the back looks more rock and roll so he must be a guitarist, therefore Richey (WRONG), which leaves the one on the left as Nicky (inevitably WRONG).  Still quite a fun game to play, especially with metal bands - the one with less hair wearing shorts is usually the drummer.

But I digress...the interview itself is the first one I have in print that starts mentioning the idea of the HUGE first album that will set them up for life.  "We're not signing unless it's a contract for just one double album...then we'll make enough money from that to last forever" (Nicky).  When pushed on their idea of handing the album over to Public Enemy's production team to create a hybrid of 'Fear of a Black Planet' and 'Appetite for Destruction' Nicky has to reveal "we haven't asked them yet.  We want to get a lot bigger before we do it.  But we've always thought out of proportion to our means".

They are certainly getting into their role of (pun intended) Public Enemy Number 1.  Starting off with "We've been accused of slagging off every band there is, and we've been told to stop.  But our statement is we hate every other band" (Nicky).  Despite the value for money they provide as interviewees the interviewer is still suspicious though, talking about "tinny chords half-inched from The Clash's first LP and a squeaky voice snarling out lyrics intended to shake the world well off the end of the Richter scale".

Already mentioned in a previous blog, 'UK Channel Boredom' finally saw the light of day, being reviewed in the 30th March edition of NME as 'a truly dreadful recording', but 'once again proves the point that musically the Manic Street Preachers are a better band than The Clash ever were'.  I bet James was chuffed with that one.

Three weeks later they were back in the NME, with a live review at the Marquee in London.  Accompanied by a photo of Nicky in leopard print, as with the last single review it was written by Steven Wells and therefore almost nothing to do with reality.  I think he liked it though - 'Like to write more but the Manics are a star band and we've run out of space'.

The hype has been building gradually as the Manics worm their way into the press and the hearts and minds of the UK's music fans, but on 7th May 1991 the arrival of 'You Love Us' is like flicking a switch.  From this point on everything goes into overdrive.  'Motown Junk' was an excellent choice for first proper single, but 'You Love Us' is just so much more obvious, provocative and memorable in a more universal way.  From the record cover featuring a huge heart over a collage of Manics icons such as Marilyn Monroe, Travis Bickle, Bob Marley etc. to the extra effort made in terms of image, the Manics obviously also saw this as the right time and their way in.

'You Love Us' was the first song that properly got me into the Manics, probably taped from the Evening Session, as mentioned on the previous blog I had heard 'Motown Junk' but only really in passing.  I wasn't yet a prolific buyer of records at this point however, just a small random collection, so my 12" came later on, bought from Ebay.  I already had the two main B-sides after they turned up on later releases, but before then I was missing the live track.

It's a tough question trying to work out which version of 'You Love Us' I prefer.  Generally speaking, more often than not I would go for the first one I heard, which if pushed I would also say on this occasion.  If I can take the liberty of having the original with the album version's outro then even better.  It actually sounds like they're having fun recording it, still a bit loose round the edges sound-wise, but with all the whooping going on in the background they must have been enjoying themselves.  The song basically sums up everything the Manics stood for at the time - if you were a fan then you really did love them, if you weren't a fan then you probably hated them, so having them sing 'You Love Us' in your face probably wasn't going to change your mind.

Given that the video for 'Motown Junk' was just from a live gig this gives them the opportunity to star in their first 'proper' video.  'Star' is probably the right word.  It starts with some of the images from the record cover, before cutting between a glammed-up Manics performing the song and perfectly edited live footage of instrument smashing.  I say perfectly edited because it looks exciting in the video, whereas at the Oxford gig mentioned previously it all looked a little contrived.  James, on the other hand, looks hilarious, like the little boy shown in the Holy Bible booklet wearing a fur coat!!  James, for one, needed to work on his image, even Sean had grown his hair a bit to look a bit more presentable.

'Spectators of Suicide' is an odd choice of B-side given what you've just heard.  It's another side to the Manics, maybe another calculated move at this point to say 'you thought you knew who we were, but listen to this'.  And still they knew they had 'Motorcycle Emptiness' up their sleeve.  James sounds incredibly restrained with his vocals, shy even, and they have the addition of piano courtesy of a certain Mr Dave Eringa.  I first heard this as the B-side to the 12" of 'From Despair to Where' and just to contradict myself from earlier, I actually think this is better than the album version I'd heard a year or so before.  It's different in the way that 'Faceless Sense of Void' was from 'Love's Sweet Exile', more organic, more stripped down, more real.

'Starlover' was one of the last early B-sides I actually heard, I didn't have the CD of 'From Despair to Where' where it resurfaced and eventually picked it up as a filler on a compilation tape made by my brother's girlfriend before finally getting the original 12".  It's back to the punky, early Manics we love and I think it would be fair to say if you wanted a song that summed up the pre-'Generation Terrorists'-era quickly then this may be the one.  They seem keen on including samples on this single, the squall of strings at the start of 'You Love Us', the voice at the beginning of 'Spectators..' and their beloved Flavor Flav of Public Enemy on this.  A live version of 'Strip it Down' rounds it off, a quality recording given the video I mentioned earlier, and another song to indulge yourself in listening out for audible Richey guitar (just about audible in the left ear if you're wearing headphones).

Carrying on the Manics tradition, the quote on the sleeve is layered over a picture of Marilyn Monroe (so was presumably hers?):

"I knew I belonged to the public and to the world not because I was talented or even beautiful but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone ever".

A more perfect Manics quote you're never likely to hear.

The single's release is accompanied by a feature in the NME from 11th May and this definitely ups the ante in the glam stakes.  Richey and Nicky are glammed up to the nines, eye make-up aplenty, blouses and white jeans as per usual, Richey with the classic 'oops I shouldn't have done this in a mirror' VIH carved into his chest (a sign of things to come....) and Nicky chickening out with 'Culture Slut' on his, but only done in lipstick.  To top it all off they're all laid in gold lame (yeah it says 'lame', like me because I can't be bothered to find out how to get the accent on it).

It's another interview from a slightly suspicious journalist, James Brown, who can't help but print all of their lurid stories and grand plans, but to coin a phrase maybe still doesn't think they're for real - "They're confused, intolerant, jealous, angst-ridden snots whose only hope is their lust for life at the top, and their peculiar androgynous sex appeal".  They end up having a 'row' (I expect this is slightly over the top given the Manics' usually laid back interview technique), which with hindsight could have prompted 4 Real, which was just around the corner.  James makes a brilliant point with "We get compared to the greatest bands ever and are accused of being crap, if you start comparing the music journalists to the greatest writers ever you soon see how shit they are too".  Ouch.

It's a classic interview, Nicky's attempts at creating some kind of 'wild man of rock' reputation with his exploits are dashed with the description of him with his blouse, "a tube of Pritt stick, some scissors and an Irish pop magazine".  For every declaration of intent there's something like James and Sean still sharing bunk beds at home to bring it home that they're still just one of us.  By the closing line our writer seems won over to a certain extent - "Every man must know his limitations, Manic Street Preachers don't.  And they're better for it.  Love them or laugh".

A week later 'You Love Us' is reviewed in the NME by Simon Dudfield, so bound to get a good review then.  The last line sums it up nicely: "The Manics are still the most daring band in Britain.  Official."  If only there was some grand gesture that would capture EVERYONE's attention, not just the converted.......

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Motown Junk

So you've stirred up the press, played a few gigs and got yourself a bit of attention - what next?  Ideally release a single that would live up to everything you've been saying and completely blow everybody away.  It didn't quite work out like that yet, but if anything could be that single it's 'Motown Junk'.  I'm really not exaggerating by saying this may be my favourite song of all time, top 5 definitely.  This also happens to be where I join the Manics story.

My older brother used to watch Snub on BBC2 regularly, so I would watch it occasionally too, and I'm fairly certain that I saw the brief interview and performance, although I didn't think too much about it amongst the multitude of other bands that would be on.  What I remember more was seeing a 10 second clip at number 9 in the Indie Charts on the Chart Show, mainly because they seemed pretty funny next to the usual shoegazers, baggy bands and transit van merchants.  At 12 years old I was only just leaving behind my early record collection of Aha, Rick Astley and Wet Wet Wet (unfortunately true), during the course of 1991 they would be replaced by the likes of The Farm, EMF and Flowered Up.

So I'd been introduced but not yet converted.  For 10 years I only owned 'Motown Junk' on record, as the B-side to 'Slash and Burn', and I think it's perfectly suited to listening on record.  The intro and outro, the generally tinny feel - maybe this was what Eddie Vedder was listening to when he wrote 'Spin the Black Circle' (I doubt it).  I picked up the 12" later on, in my early Ebay period, even though I had the B-sides elsewhere it was a gap in my collection that was relatively cheap to fill.  I also picked up the 20th anniversary 7" from Ebay more recently, as well as gaining another identical 7" inside the National Treasures boxset!

As with the other releases so far the artwork is fairly underwhelming compared to their image and press, although obviously a powerful image.  The mostly black back cover contains the lyrics from the chorus as well as an incendiary William Burroughs quote:

"Rock and Roll adolescents storm into the streets of all nations.  They rush into the Louvre and throw acid in the Mona Lisa's face.  They open zoos, insane asylums, prisons, burst water mains with air hammers, chop the floor out of passenger plane lavatories, shoot out lighthouses, turn sewers into the water supply, administer injections with bicycle pumps, they shit on the floor of the United Nations and wipe their ass with treaties, pacts, alliances."

The music and lyrics certainly matched the sentiment of that quote.  As the echoes of 'Revolution, Revolution...' first spring to life it's like all their small town boredom and resentment is being slowly condensed until that little crackle of feedback starts a chain reaction (no pun intended, Diana Ross fans) and it finally goes supernova as the band kicks in.

As far as opening lines go, "Never ever wanted to be with you, the only thing you gave me was the boredom I suffocated in" isn't a bad one, it fits the early Manics mood perfectly (interestingly, I linked the 'Motown Junk' video once to an American friend of mine who was previously oblivious to their existence, she has since always referred to them as the 'Whoo-hoos' after the sound following that opening line).

As good as their output had been to date, I don't think anyone would have expected THIS.  No one around at the time was playing music this wired, this exciting and with the closing line of "we live in urban hell, we destroy rock and roll" you may have just started to believe them.  I have to mention the fact that, even though they have avoided it for quite some time now, I still like the 'I laughed when Lennon got shot' line.  Not because I think it's funny when people die (obviously) but because people who get offended by things like that need offending once in a while.  Although maybe that was taken a bit too far later on....

One of the older songs, 'Sorrow 16', is the first B-side and shows they can do melody just as well as adrenalin-fuelled rock/punk/whatever-you-want-to-call-it.  I would go as far as saying this may be the best B-side of any band on any single, with the possible exception of 'Just a Day' by fellow Welshmen Feeder, although that can be ruled out of the running as they came to their senses and put it in its rightful place later on.

So, following the best song of all time and the best B-side of all time must be an anti-climax, right?  Yes and no.  'We Her Majesty's Prisoners' is the weakest track of the three but is still a great song.  Much more understated than the previous tracks, Nicky certainly wasn't stretched recording it, with a mostly one note bassline for a lot of the song.  Piano made an appearance on the chorus too, along with the controversy seeking line of 'Ceremonial Rape Machine', which didn't quite make it as the final title.  It all ends with a big rock outro with a brief vocal appearance from a Mr N.Wire to round things off.

The single was reviewed in the 26th January 1991 edition of NME, described as "the wildest sounding record this week by several universes".  They seem to get the idea, going on to claim it "makes you want to punch some poor bastard out or storm the Winter Palace".  The hype was obviously working on the press.

The Snub appearance I referred to earlier can be found on a DVD compilation (yes, you guessed it, picked up from Ebay) called Televised Propaganda.  It's another one I'll be coming back to over and again as time goes on as it contains pretty much all the Manics' television appearances up until the 'Everything Must Go' era over 3 discs.

It starts off with an interview, talking about topics such as youth culture, with quotes like "we just want to mix politics and sex and look good onstage and say brilliant things" and "we're the most original band of the last 15 years" rolling off Richey's tongue as if he has been rehearsing (he probably had).  But in print it sounds like some brash, loud, arrogant band making wild statements to grab attention.  In reality Richey is talking quietly and self-consciously, making minimal eye contact while the rest of the band stand awkwardly, eyes darting around the room.  Nicky in particular is almost rocking backwards and forwards waiting for his moment before contributing "we'll never write a love song ever, full stop.  We'll be dead before we have to do that anyway".  They then try and alienate themselves further from their peers by claiming they only want to appear in the likes of the Sun, the Star and the Mirror rather than the NME.  Talk about biting the hand that feeds...

It finishes with what will later become the 'Motown Junk' video.  Essentially a live performance with the studio version dubbed over the top it showcases the Manics in full 'stencilled shirts and white jeans' mode, although Sean is letting the side down a bit with his bright blue and yellow top.  The lads give it their all, throwing all their best rock star shapes to match the thrill of the music.  The slow motion ending sums it all up though at this stage, as Nicky flails around with his bass, James does his first recorded spin on one leg....while the crowd just stands there staring.  Still some way to go then before the public is won over, but they have the attention of the press and now, without any shadow of a doubt, the songs to back it up.