- 08 May 17
Having survived everything that’s been thrown at them, the Manic Street Preachers are having the time of their rock n’ roll lives. Their new documentary, upcoming album, Séamus Coleman, Richey Edwards and headlining at Indiependence are all on the menu as Nicky Wire talks to Stuart Clark...
“I don’t know how they managed to smuggle it in, but somebody unfurled this massive banner saying: Manic Street Preachers will always matter!’ which was incredibly sweet of them. I’m aware of all the terminology – ‘The People’s Republic’, ‘The Real Capital’, ‘The Rebel County’. There are a lot of similarities between Cork people and the Welsh – including the accent! I remember walking around thinking, ‘Everybody sounds like they’re from Newport!’”
Nicky Wire is recalling the Manics’ August 30, 1998 This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours tour visit to the Opera House, which is remarkably the only time during their 31 years on Planet Rock that they’ve played in County Cork. That’s all set to change on August 6 when they headline the Sunday night at Indiependence.
“It’s always extra special when you get to headline a festival,” Nicky resumes. “I’m sure people from Cork have travelled since to see us, but there’s nothing like a band playing in your own backyard.”
Nicky is a bit yawn-y this morning having stayed up to watch Sergio Garcia’s dramatic shoot-off victory against Justin Rose at the Masters.
“It was a proper old school sporting occasion, unlike that Ireland vs. Wales game,” he reflects. “It was such a horrible, dirty, destructive match. Shane Long clearly elbowed Ashley Williams. Glenn Whelan striking his Stoke teammate Joe Allen should have been another red card.
“It was like Roy Keane had given a good team talk! They were so rattled that it all went tits-up for Wales in the second-half.”
Seeing as Nicky’s raised the subject, what did he make of that X-rated Neil Taylor tackle on Seamus Coleman?
“It was a really awful challenge. Obviously, I felt terrible for Coleman who’d been having such a great season. Neil Taylor’s not a particularly hard or dirty player, but it got out of control, and that’s when bad stuff can happen. The Joe Allen thing in particular really riled me. When that happened Wales were like, ‘We’ve got to look after ourselves here.’ It just got out of hand then.”
Unlike in 2013, the Manics haven’t managed to arrange any dates in New Zealand or Australia to coincide with the Lions’ upcoming summer tour. “Unfortunately, not,” he rues. “That trip four years ago when we did those gigs and watched them win was magical, but we got kicked out of our studio six months ago because of urban sprawl in Cardiff, and have been building a new one, outside Newport. It’s the first time in about 15 years that we’ve not seen each other every day, so it’s been really weird. We need a basecamp otherwise we don’t function too well, so we’ve had to prioritise that over the rugby. I’ll be watching every second of it on TV, though!
“We really want to get a record out this year, so I’m just writing millions of words at the moment and sending them to James through the post – he’s managing to do acoustic demos and stuff. We’re working very primitively, which is kinda good.”
Proving that calligraphy is not dead, all these missives to Mr. J. Bradfield are handwritten.
“I still handwrite everything, the problem being my punctuation and spelling, which both need sharpening. The one I always struggle with is ‘algorithm’.”
That he’d even attempt to spell algorithm speaks volumes about Mr. W! Asked which Welsh players are nailed-down to make Warren Gatland’s starting XV against the All Blacks, Nicky says, “I don’t think anyone’s a shoe-in from any country. It’s all slightly confused after the Six Nations. Obviously England won, but there was no dominant team. Ireland probably played the best rugby, yet we beat them at home. Sam Warburton, Alun Wyn Jones, George North and Rhys Webb, who’ll have a big battle with Conor Murray over who starts, are the ones that I hope will be on the teamsheet.”
Returning to the new record: how, given the times we live in, do you avoid going into the studio with twelve songs all titled ‘Donald Trump Is A Cunt’?
“Very easily,” Nicky insists. “There’s a million people doing that already. I like to think things through a little more deeply. There are plenty more angles at the moment, although I have to say I feel out of touch with humanity to the point of misanthropy. I probably need to rein myself in a bit. Most of my time recently has been spent cleaning and doing the school runs. We live in a post-political world. Politics has collapsed and I feel I don’t have the authority to speak on it anymore. It was one of my greatest loves – I did a degree in politics, but it’s got so alienating. It’s the abdication of a centre-left party in Britain that’s so disgusting because it allows the extreme right to foment. The thought of the working-class vote going to Ukip makes me feel ill.”
In addition to assembling the follow-up to 2014’s very fine Futurology, the Manics will on May 12 be unleashing a 10th Anniversary Edition of Send Away The Tigers.
“I like to call myself an archivist, but my wife calls me a hoarder,” Nicky laughs. “Like Philip Larkin, basically, I’ve been wallowing in nostalgia since I was ten. I’ve got a big annex on the house where everything’s stored. I’ve had a massive sort out the last year and got things into workable order. I have access to anything I need, which is nice.
“On the Send Away The Tigers re-release, there are acoustic demos of James, Capo on seventh fret, playing ‘Rendition’, ‘I’m Just A Patsy’ and ‘Indian Summer’ into a little Dictaphone in his flat. There are different lyrics as well, ‘cause they’re the really early versions, sometimes just days old. I loved the Clash’s Vanilla Tapes, which had Joe making up the lyrics to London Calling in the studio. The finished record’s ultimately what matters, but the evolutionary process is fascinating too.
“To be fair, we blasted through the first ten albums, so now that we’re slowing down a bit it’s okay to look back as well as forward.”
The Wire-ian archives were also raided for the Everything Must Go ‘Making Of’ documentary, Escape From History,which premiered last week on Sky Arts and recalls the tumultuous effect Richey Edwards’ disappearance had on them and their music.
“It was just ultimate triumph and ultimate tragedy, really,” Nicky says of the period bookended by Richey’s February 1, 1995 disappearance and the Manics winning Best Group at the ’97 Brit Awards. “The joy of selling over a million records in the UK and playing huge gigs, always tinged with the sadness that Richey wasn’t there with us. His lyrics are on some of the songs, but onstage we were never quite the same gang. We became a really great band, but we didn’t have that element of chaotic danger that me and Richey used to provide.
“The film is produced by Kieran Evans who is such a talented boy. As I’ve said before, it’s like finding your own Anton Corbijn. What he is to U2, Kieran is to us, really. We’ve been making videos with him for years, and he did that brilliant film, Kelly + Victor. He brought it all together going through my archives and shooting new stuff as well.”
Completing the stroll down Manics memory lane is You Love Us: Manic Street Preachers 1991-2001 In Photographs, which drops on June 30 and chronicles Tom Sheehan’s work with the band from the Generation Terrorists cover-shoot up to their Cuban odyssey.
“When we grew up, photographers like Tom Sheehan and Pennie Smith were as important as bands,” Nicky proffers. “We were children of the music press, and they were mini-heroes, as were certain journalists. So we gave it our all for those sessions. I mean, in the middle of a shit tour, we went down the catacombs in Paris for three hours to get just one or two shots. You’re never going to get that interaction between bands and photographers anymore. Well, perhaps you might with Arctic Monkeys, but the photo-book is pretty much a dead concept these days.
“I’ve got about 4,000 Mitch Ikeda photos in my archive. I can go to a drawer from any of the 15 years he followed us around, and pick a beautiful picture, which Mitch printed himself back in the day.”
Despite being a keen art collector, pride of place in Nicky’s house goes to his two Ivor Novello Awards.
“They’re solid bronze, really heavy and purely for songwriting,” he beams before asking whether I happen to know his fellow Ivor recipient, Conor J. O’Brien. I do.
“I met him just before he went off to the awards when I was doing a show for Virgin Radio. It looked odd because I was having one of my taller days, and Conor was having one of his shorter days. ‘Nothing Arrived’ is a work of pure genius.”
As has become tradition when interviewing this unashamed bibliophile, we’ll end by asking Nicky what books are currently on his nighstand?
“I breezed through the Springsteen autobiography, which was really revealing and actually quite harsh on himself,” he concludes. “Bizarrely enough, the one time I got to say ‘hello’ to Bruce was in a swimming-pool in the Merrion Hotel in Dublin. I’m 20 years younger than him but he looked a lot fitter!
“My current favourite, though, is Death Of The Poets by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts, which… I’m trying to say this in a good way… is the sort of cult that started with Byron and Shelley and then moved on to Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath. That’s definitely one to have on the beach with you this summer!”
Manic Street Preachers play Indiependence on Sunday August 6.