John Robb on Manic Street Preachers

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John Robb, singer of Goldblade and music journalist of renown, yesterday published an article on his site, Louder Than War, celebrating the career of Manic Street Preachers. It was in memory of Richey Edwards, who went missing 17 years ago.

Here we publish, with kind permission, an excerpt from the piece as we mark the 20th anniversary of the release of the Manics' first album, Generation Terrorists.

The Manics are pop's conscience, except that they are not sniping from the sidelines. They are right in there in the middle of the fray. They have the ability to be hilariously rude and disarmingly polite. They loved The Clash but were smart enough to use Guns N' Roses as the chassis of their sound, adding the Clash's swagger and soul and subtracting the Guns N' Roses crass dumb rhetoric. It's difficult to believe now that they are constantly fêted and groaning under the weight of music-biz awards, that when The Manics burst onto the scene in 1990 they were treated with contempt and a thinly veiled near racism that sneered at their Welsh background.

In the middle of the baggy era they were out of time, they believed in skin-tight punk-rock songs, a vicious attack of socialist slogans and an outright contempt for their contemporaries. They were a long way from the stoned play-dumb of most bands at the time and a long, long way from the 1990 zeitgeist but for a few of us that believed in their dream they were a welcome godsend.

I'd already reviewed them, mentioned them in dispatches, but it was getting them on to the cover of Sounds with their third single the Heavenly released Motown Junk that still gives me the biggest buzz from my journo days.

Interviewing The Manics for their first-ever front cover that was published on 26 January 1991 was a different affair than now. Cooped up with the penniless band in the back of a transit van grabbing quotes, we were round the corner from Jeff Barrett's Heavenly record label who were frantically attempting to sell the band to a sceptical music business...

Instead of having qualms about 'selling out' or cowering under the Indie Law, The Manics were already thinking big. They were also distancing themselves from the crippling indie thinking that was crushing most post-punk guitar hustlers of the time.

'You've got to reach out on a massive level,' claimed guitarist Richey James Edwards in the ice-cold van. A typical tour bus piled with cheap amps and expensive rhetoric, adding 'Once we've done that we will fade away. We want to make ourselves obsolete as fast as possible. It's no good just inspiring groups. People go on about The Stones inspiring the Paris riots in '68 which was fine but they just carried on. That's so obscene.'...

The band itself was a classic mix between two almost earnestly talented musicians, James and Sean, and the two maverick souls of Richey and Nicky- the onstage wingers who wrote the words. Words that James would shoe-horn (occasionally there were just too many words resulting in a few slurred lines!) into his music and bring to life with his powerful rock 'n' roll voice...

The band released two singles on Jeff Barrett's Heavenly label to whom they signed in August 1990. There was the 1991 released fast shots of Motown Junk and the anthemic You Love Us, a response to the music media who felt that the band was cartoon punk. The Manics were meeting the massive wall of indifference head on...

Their first release on Sony was the July 1991 single Stay Beautiful (No. 40 in the UK charts), followed by October 1991′s Love's Sweet Exile (No. 26); the major label backing saw them inching towards the mainstream. The re-release of You Love Us (No. 16) early in 1992 finally saw the band in the top 20. The Manics were on a slow upward curve. That March the crunching, stunning Slash And Burn headbutted its way to No. 20. Their Molotov missive stuffed début album, Generation Terrorists, released in 1992, had scraped the teens of the album charts. This was fine but hardly the multi-million-selling missive that they had boasted they would release and then split up afterwards when their work was done!

The band were hit by the truth, rock 'n' roll was a long, slow grind and their ecstatic fantasy of selling 10 million records and then splitting was starting to look like a pipe dream. Real life is always tougher than the romantic vision. So they started to grind it out, if this was going to be a war of attrition the so be it. Throughout 1992 they were hammering home the mini hits. Their fan base was growing. For all their polemic and at odds defiance of the musical trends they could play great pop music. Track after track was being pulled from the Generation Terrorists album and hitting the Top 20... the powerful Slash And Burn (No. 20), the anthemic Motorcycle Emptiness (No. 17) and then that September they finally scored the big breakthrough with the cover of 'Theme From M.A.S.H.' (number seven) putting them into the Top 10.

At last they had been accepted. Especially by their core fanbase... a coterie of leopard-skin-clad desperadoes who looked like the coolest pop kids on the circuit. The Manics' gigs were a flurry of flamboyance and feather boas. Their fans oozed sex and situationism. The Manics were attracting the same cabal of intense letter writing fanatics as The Smiths had in the eighties but somehow flasher in their intensity.

I interviewed them just before they hit the stage at Birmingham Aston University in the summer of 1993 and the band were as combative as ever. In the tiny motel room before the gig they were still gunning for the same targets as they piled on the pre-show make-up. Already there were signs of the sort of wear and tear that being on the road can etch onto the psyche. Richey was by now drinking and Nicky was relating tales of his partner's post-gig back to the hotel love life... not hard to miss when you're sharing a tiny room.

While Richey threw on his fake leopard print coat, Nicky related that his love of beat literature came from his elder brother Patrick Jones. They piled into the car outside the hotel in a blur of fake furs, make-up and teased hair. They had the star swagger - living out their rock 'n' roll dream as we got lost in the winding roads, crammed in their car, towards the gig.

Read the full version of John's blog on Louder Than War.

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