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.

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