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.......

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