Last updated: 17 November 2008
From Blackwood, via Swansea University, the Manic Street :Preachers were stretching their musical legs as the 1980s came to a close.
Years later, Nicky would later say in Vox magazine, "If you built a museum to represent Blackwood, all you could put in it would be shit. We used to meet by this opening called Pen-y-Fan. It was built when the mines closed down but now the water has turned green and slimy. They put 2,000 fish in it, but they died. There's a whirlpool in the middle where about two people die every year". A bleak image, then, but it provided the necessary fuel to drive the band.
Inspired by the passion of The Clash, and moved by Thatcher's suppression of the miners, the band's lyrics exploded with politicised anger. Their first single, the self-financed Suicide Alley, didn't make great waves, and the band moved to London. There, they found a sympathetic character in the form of Bob Stanley: later a member of St Etienne, but then a freelancer for the Melody Maker.
Stanley released a collection of their demos as the New Art Riot EP in June 1990. It caught the attention of Philip Hall, who became their publicist and co-manager.
In early 1991 Heavenly released Motown Junk, an inspired three-minute punk blast. Later that year it was followed by You Love Us, an swaggering, arrogant self-regarding slice of brilliance.
From the start it was like a lifestyle thing. It's not just about the music, it's about the books and the lyrical references and the way we've looked in the past and the image changes. I think that's why fans have stayed with us.Nicky Wire
The Manics paved the way for a resurgence of guitar bands in Wales. In the press, they were forced to live with punning headlines referring to sheep, boyos and leeks - they got all the clichés out of the way so the bands of the so-called Cool Cymru would be taken more seriously.
Yet their image often overshadowed the music. On 15 May 1991 came a turning point for the Manics. Following a gig at Norwich Arts Centre, Steve Lamacq, then writing for the NME, argued with the band that they were in some way disingenuous. The band refuted this, but still Lamacq persisted. Frustrated, Richey Edwards took a razor and carved the words 4 REAL into his forearm. Lamacq was horrified; Richey needed 17 stitches. Six days later the Manics signed to Sony.
Richey had suffered from depression for many years, and self-mutilation had become increasingly common for him. But the Norwich incident was the first time the guitarist had aired his emotional problems in public.
In February 1992 the debut album Generation Terrorists was released. Heavily influenced by Guns N' Roses' Appetite For Destruction, Richey said of it, "We wanted to sign to the biggest record label in the world, put out a debut album that would sell 20 million, and then break up. Get massive and then just throw it all away". The album sold 250,000 copies worldwide.
Predictably they didn't split up, but the album polarised opinion between those that saw them as the new saviours of rock and roll, and detractors who considered them contrived and insincere. Not that the Manics cared: they were off on their first American tour, shortly after the LA riots, and singles such as Slash 'N' Burn and Motorcycle Emptiness were climbing up the charts.
The second Manics album was released in June 1993. Gold Against The Soul was overproduced and less passionate, but did contain the classic songs La Tristesse Durera (Scream To A Sigh) and From Despair To Where. However, they also chose to support Bon Jovi for a string of live dates. Things weren't looking good for the band.
The troubles continued with the death on 7 December 1993 of their mentor Philip Hall, who had been battling cancer for two years. Meanwhile, Richey's problems were worsening. Weighing less than six stone and subjecting his body to drinking and cutting binges, he was eventually admitted to the Priory in Roehampton.
Richey's despair was documented in the Manics masterpiece, 1994's The Holy Bible. Unremittingly bleak, the opening song Yes contained the lines "I eat and I dress and I wash and I still can say thank you/Puking, shaking, sinking/Can't shout, can't scream, I hurt myself to get pain out".
The song was about prostitution, but every line emanated from Richey's fragile state of mind. He rejoined the band for tours with Therapy? and Suede in Europe, and a series of frantic shows at the London Astoria in December. The final night saw them destroying £10,000 worth of their equipment. "We'll never be that good again," said Nicky after the event. It was also their last live appearance as a four-piece.
Although they had never found transatlantic success, at the beginning of 1995 they were preparing to give America one last try. However, on 1 February Richey walked out of the Embassy hotel in London and never returned. His passport and money were found in his Cardiff Bay flat, and two weeks later his car was discovered beside the Severn Bridge - a notorious local suicide spot. The file on his disappearance remains open.
"We decided to carry on in April," said Nicky Wire in The Guardian, "after two months of waiting by the phone and feeling ill and exhausted. We thought we'd been so close, and in the end we couldn't do anything for him." By January 1996 the Manics were recording their comeback album Everything Must Go. It was released on 20 May to critical acclaim, went double platinum and yielded four top ten singles: A Design For Life, the title track, Kevin Carter and Australia.
Two Brit Awards later, they released This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours. Criticism of the record had an effect on the Manics, and they recorded the angry punk song The Masses Against The Classes in 1999. It reached number one, aided by its limited edition status and a triumphant new year event at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. Nicky stated that "the fourth era of the Manics is beginning".
The fourth era continued with an audience with Fidel Castro in Cuba, and the album Know Your Enemy. With the odds so often stacked against them, Manic Street Preachers have proved again and again to be natural born survivors. Their long awaited greatest hits collection, Forever Delayed, appeared in October 2002, and appeared to be the close of yet another period in their history.
The Manics returned in November 2004 with the album LifeBlood, preceded by the single The Love Of Richard Nixon. 2006 was quiet for the group, although James and Nicky both released solo albums. 2007 saw them launch their eighth album, Send Away The Tigers, their best album for over a decade.
This has led to further recognition across the industry with them receiving Q Awards 'Best Track' for 'Your Love Alone Is Not Enough' and NME naming them the recipients of the 2008 God Like Geniuses Award, to honour their outstanding, unique and innovative career in music.
In 2009 they released Journal For Plague Lovers, without a single release - which was described as the spiritual successor to The Holy Bible.
In autumn 2010 their 10th studio album, Postcards From A Young Man is due for release.