No Manifesto
A Film About Manic Street Preachers

"If literature or music can make you think or become aware, then it's done something. That's what we've always wanted to do … just ignite sparks in people's minds."
Nicky Wire, 1991

My favourite part of this film comes about 9 minutes in when we are shown one of Nicky's VHS tapes of a gig they played at Blackwood's Little Theatre in 1986. There's Sean on stand up drums, Nicky on guitar, Flicker on bass and no sign of Richey who was, presumably, still their driver. As they thrash and pout their way through what sounds like an early version of Suicide Alley, the band sound competent in a worthy indie sort of way, but clearly missing the spark of genius that was later to mark them out as exceptional. The Little Theatre crowd, though, lacked the patience to hang around 5 years for this to shine through; apparently police had to be called to the venue as bottles and cans started to rain down on the stage, followed by fighting fans, chanting “You're worse than Swansea City!”

I make this point seriously, not just for the pure enjoyment of seeing my twin passions of The Manics and The Swans brought together in one slogan, nor even to make an unfounded swipe at the lack of vision of some Card*ff fans. I believe The Manics have always been a band defined, at least in part, by their fans, and in recognising this, the makers of this film have hit the bullseye.


The title of the film comes from an early Manics slogan. 'No Manifesto' is an ironic reference to the band's anti philosophy 'De-Nihilism' which proclaimed, amongst other things, that they had No Manifesto (1). Except that they used to get round their 'No Fan Club' decree by posting free 'Manifestos' to fans who'd written in, in typical style thus contradicting two of their commandments in one swoop. This must surely have been because they recognised that their attempt to ignite ideas in their followers was an essential component in making the band unique to its era.

The film makers are clearly aware of the way that MSP were often defined by their relationship with their audience. The early antipathy, exhibited nakedly at gigs such The Little Theatre in '86 and also at Swansea Singleton Park as late as '93, was often an undercurrent at the early gigs, and was seized on and manipulated by the band to increase their impact. From the start there were always 'the mockers as well as the understanders' (to paraphrase Dylan Thomas); those who saw them as Clash wannabes, unimaginative throwbacks, starry eyed teenage posers, or just dismissed them for being 'Welsh' (incredible that nationality could be used as a term of belittlement only 20 years ago!). The band thrived on this reputation; it is after all the central premise of 'You Love Us' which they fashioned into a barbed bouquet to pummel bemused and cynical crowds into submission at the start of their sets. On at least one occasion I heard Wire subtitle it “no you don't”! The band's constant clash with current conventions (in terms of scenes, politics, other bands, culture, dress sense, morality and even geography) helped define them and incubated the space for them to grow.

With the vast number of knockers, in the press, on the radio or at gigs (what is it with those incredibly cynical fuckers standing arms crossed and superior in the Motown Junk video?!) who the band loved to wind up, there was also a minority who really 'got it'. Initially centred around their gigs and their mailing list (nb NOT a fan club!) the band nurtured in a host of pissed off isolated alienated individuals the realisation that in fact they weren't alone and freakish, but could by contrast be creative, glamorous exciting, intelligent, bookish, sexy, and accepted for being themselves. And from these fans their sprung all sorts of creativity, including new bands, fashion, poetry, philosophy and even (I seem to remember) architecture! The number of fans who have ended up in education (including this writer), eager to share the power of knowledge with the next generation, is testament to this. However the example of the 2 girls Jacqui and Carrie is most graphic; starting off as fans they'd appear glitter'n'glammed up at Manics gigs, before starting their incredibly erudite and literate fanzine 'Last Exit' which they would shyly sell at shows. They then appeared in the Little Baby Nothing video before forming their own band Shampoo, which reputedly made them millionaires.

Alongside this high profile success, there was a landslide of other MSP inspired zines, of different standards and directions, but all showing how the band inspired their audience with a love for both reading, writing and cultural creativity in general (2). The band's Manifesto of July 1992 describes MSP gig goers as “the UK's most beautiful audience” but the Manics were also proud to call their fans the “most intelligent in the country” as well.

It is this mixture of admiration and irritation for fans by the band and for the band by fans which powers this film. The exceptional live footage (much of it previously unseen and a lot apparently from Cambridge) is cut in with a host of relevant interviews with the band, including Richey whose comments fit in organically as if he was involved in the making of the film. There are also comments from people they've worked with, mostly making the point that Manic Street Preachers aren't just another band with nice floppy hair and wanky guitar solos. The decision to include so much footage from those outside the band (notably fans) underlines the point – the number of people who explain how they have been transformed by the band is incredible, if not unexpected; time is given to showing how the Manics have changed lives by interviewing both a fanzine editor and bands inspired by MSP. (3)

The group clearly express their affection and appreciation for their fans, while also revealing some of the tension in that relationship which I feel has been so productive. The band clearly feel simultaneous admiration, respect and an almost protective responsibility for their audience, while at the same time being occasionally exasperated by them. In the film Nicky talks of the “mutual respect and mutual hatred” felt by band towards fans and fans towards band, while James lists the “bile, love, hate, understanding, forgiveness and revenge” that makes up the psyche of both sides.

Sean also gets very worked up about the antipathy on some fans sites to the free download 'Underdogs' and for the constant request for 'Sleep Flower' at gigs. Similarly, while the fans interviewed clearly all revere the band, they are not without their criticisms, from the serious (reservations about the trip to Cuba and the quality of recent videos) to the trivial (merch, yellow eyeliner); I however find it hard to take seriously anyone claims to be a MSP fan but not to like songs with politics or swearing in! Presumably it is to make the point about the link between fan and band that explains the footage of them meeting Nicky's boyhood idols Rush.

Also of interest is the extended studio footage from the making of Send Away the Tigers (the period during which most of this movie was made). We get to see some of the “non mystical” song writing process in action as we watch our heroes work on 'Autumn Song' and 'Imperial Body Bags'. We learn more about the band's origins, the discussions that preceded the release of Journal for Plague Lovers, see excerpts from soundchecks and learn about life on the road, including the band's determination to meet fans after shows. Perhaps more interestingly, there are also some touching moments which you'd normally never see in a ROCK movie – The Wire gardening and caring for his compost heap, James cooking up a mega Mr Carbohydrate breakfast, Sean enjoying his target shooting (“like meditation with a loud bang at the end of it!”), Nicky getting an honorary degree from Swansea University and petting his “slinky dog” Marley ... you almost feel you get to know what makes this incredible and unique band tick, until Sean and Nick assure you that there is a secret side to them “that even this documentary won't be find”.

So, if you like films with great loud melodic rock music in, you'll like this. If you like films with interviews with the pop stars in, you'll like this. Even if you just like “guitars and haircuts” (4), you'll still enjoy this beautifully produced and edited film. But if you really truly love Manic Street Preachers, get their philosophy and are interested in the importance of the dialectical relationship between band and fans, and consequently want to investigate how a band's clash with and reaction to prevailing (fan) culture can help them forge a very real and positive manifesto over 25 years of creating constant situationist beauty (5), then you'll absolutely love this film. 4REAL.

I am sure that this rambling review is not entirely what a film PR person would want. That's because the band are not entirely what a rock PR person would want. They are much more than an Idol Pop pleaser; they are ideas and inspiration and anger and a call to action; all feeling and little surface - indeed a design for life.

That was my truth, now tell me yours.

Rosey R*E*P*E*A*T

No Manifesto is in cinemas now; dates of screenings and DVDs are available here

Sign up for Cambridge showing on March 9th here

Flipping notes in a film review... pretentious Manics fans!
1 No Manifesto, No Fan Clubs, No Girl Friends, No Love Songs, No Drugs and No Beatles were just some of the clichéd rock indulgences denied by this homespun philosophy.
2 Off the top of my head I remember Last Exit, No Future, Forever Delayed, Delirium on Helium, 4 Real, Assassinated Beauty, Everlasting Nothingness, Methadone Pretty (one of my faves), Manic Society, Pretentious Anarchist, Stay Beautiful, Terrible Beauty, Insane, Oooh That Bass and of course R*E*P*E*A*T
I am hoping to get some of my library of early Manics zines online sometime soon
3 The eagle eyed amongst you will also spot a set list for one of R*E*P*E*A*T's own MSP inspired acts, Miss Black America.
4 Dead Yankee Drawl
5 Nicky's introduction to Motorcycle Emptiness, Maida Vale 1993

Thanks to Sue of November films for her help with this piece