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Manic Street Preachers (often known colloquially as "The Manics") are a Welsh rock band often associated (erroneously) with the Britpop scene, who gained mainstream popularity in the UK in the late 1990's. They are known for their intelligent and often political lyrics and have a dedicated cult following. Although during the early part of their career they were regarded as a punk rock band, their music is now often generally regarded as alternative rock, due to changes in their sound. Co-lyricist and guitarist Richey James Edwards (Richey James, as he preferred to be known) mysteriously disappeared in 1995; his whereabouts are unknown.
band - originally named Betty Blue (the English title of Jean-Jacques Beineix's French film 37°2 le matin) - was formed in 1986 in Oakdale Comprehensive School, Blackwood, Wales by school friends James Dean Bradfield (lead guitarist), Sean Moore (drummer and James' cousin), Nicky Wire (real name Nicholas Jones, rhythm guitarist and brother of poet and playwright Patrick Jones), and Flicker (real name Miles Woodward, bass guitarist). During this time James had tried writing lyrics (among them the unrecorded 'Jackboot Johnny') but he gave up and Nicky wrote all their earliest lyrics. Jenny Watkins-Isnardi, a previous girlfriend of Nicky, has also claimed to be the band's first singer. Her autobiographical book, In the Beginning, describes her life with the other band members around this time. Flicker left the band in early 1988, claiming that the band were moving away from their punk roots.
The band continued as a three-piece, with Nicky switching from rhythm to bass guitar, and in 1989 they recorded their first single, "Suicide Alley". The cover was highly reminiscent of The Clash's first album (simply titled The Clash) and was photographed and designed by school friend Richey James Edwards. Richey's contribution to the band was co-writing the lyrics with Nicky, designing record sleeves and other artwork, miming guitar onstage mostly, or playing at a relatively low volume (Richey once said of his guitar playing, "I can play a bit, but compared to James I can't play at all") and driving the band to and from gigs.
However, many believe that Richey contributed much more. He brought a unique aesthetic to the band, that was a collision of The Clash and Guns N' Roses (which sat perfectly with James, two of his heroes are Mick Jones and Slash), Albert Camus-style intelligence, Guy Debord-style politics and Marilyn Monroe style glamour. The Manics aesthetic - especially in these early days - also strongly embraced a philosophy of sell out as freedom and liberation, that by exerting absolute freedom of will and by being honest about your past, present and future, mistakes and all, double standards and broken promises were nothing to be ashamed of. For this reason, the Manics polarised opinion more than any other British rock band before or since. Some critics hated them for what they saw as superficial glamour, arrogant rock star posturing, aggressive intellectualism, and a nihilistic lack of traditional values.
Much of this criticism stemmed from an aggressive anti-success ethic amongst NME championed bands that had reached epidemic proportions by the time the Manics began to receive coverage in the music papers, as well as the then-rampant critical opinion that a band had to "stand for something". Ironically enough, the fans loved the band for the very things that they were condemned for by the press, with Nicky saying in later years that their manipulation of the media was "the greatest thing we ever did". All of this set the Manics a million miles apart from the shoegazing and Madchester bands of the day. At early gigs, they would be bottled and heckled from beginning to end. James and Nicky would hurl abuse at their audiences and tear through short sets similar to those of The Ramones famous "Twenty minutes of energy" gigs, a display of an odd punk rock style band/audience interaction that had been unheard of since the infamous riotous early gigs of Scotland's The Jesus and Mary Chain a few years earlier.
In 1990, they signed a deal with punk label Damaged Goods Records for one EP. The four track EP New Art Riot attracted as much media interest for its attacks on fellow musicians as for the actual music. With the help of Hall Or Nothing management, the Manics signed to hip London Dance music label Heavenly Records. Their first single for the label - Motown Junk (released on January 21, 1991) - showcased their iconoclastic ("I laughed when Lennon got shot") punk/metal influenced rock n' roll. The song also displayed their huge cultural scope with a Public Enemy-sampling intro and an outro sample of The Skids.
Over the next year, the Manics earned a wild reputation - much like that of Guns N' Roses or The Sex Pistols - as well as an extremely loyal, rabid fan base. In music press interviews they attacked bands like Slowdive (who Richey famously described as 'worse than Hitler'), Ride, and My Bloody Valentine, the crusty pop rockers (Carter USM, Senseless Things, Ned's Atomic Dustbin) as well as the dying Madchester movement (The Happy Mondays, The Farm, Stone Roses). The Manics' manifesto went as follows: release one album that would outsell Appetite For Destruction, tour the world, headline Wembley for three nights and then burn out. The band also had plans to release their first LP in a sandpaper covered sleeve so that their music would burn (or scratch) out with them. It was also designed to erode other records it was placed next to, a technique first used by Guy Debord with early editions of his book 'Memories'.
Their love/hate relationship with the press, and their use of Sex Pistols style media manipulation tactics, was documented on their next Heavenly single, You Love Us. They again displayed their huge cultural scope; the single sampled Penderecki's Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima as well as Iggy Pop. The video featured Nicky in drag as Marilyn Monroe and contained visual references to Betty Blue and Aleister Crowley. In a now legendary interview with then New Musical Express journalist Steve Lamacq - a man known for despising anything he sees as hype or contrivance - Richey carved the words "4 Real" into his arm with a razor blade to prove their sincerity. He was taken to hospital and received seventeen stitches. Shortly afterwards the band signed to Sony Records and began work on their debut album.