If you stand up like a nail then you will be knocked down...

A review of
Withdrawn Traces : Searching for The Truth About Richey Manic
Sara Hawys Roberts and Leon Noakes
(Virgin Books)

“Richey radiated a rare and undeniable personal charisma, so captivating the hearts of his adoring fans that some music writers labelled him a 'cult leader'… Writing this book, we met people who felt ashamed of expressing their admiration for him.”

How many of us felt like this in the early 90s? I hold my hands up, I know that I certainly did. How, in my mid and late twenties, could I be continuing to feel so angry, so alienated, so alone? And how come this band of firebrands, spoke so eloquently, perfectly and apparently personally for me? The Manic Street Preachers were my generation's one perfect moment, the band I'd been waiting for all my life, and in Richey and Nicky they had two spokespeople that could articulate our fin de siecle angst. They were intelligent, beautiful, articulate, cool, whereas we were just geeks, misfits, weirdos, underdogs - the freaks.

Marquee 1991
Pic Phil Rose Esq
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After the perfectly imperfect call to arms that was Generation Terrorists, it was Richey's inwardly gnawing turmoil that went on to harpoon the imagination and empathy. He was the voice of the voiceless, expressing things many experience but few dare articulate, and able to do so in a way which suddenly made them speakable. His beautifully bleak lyrics and interviews gave armies of outsiders a leader who would fight for them, speak up for them, interpret and cope with the world for them. And for that, we loved him.

But of course this isn't all he was. However 4Real his stage persona was, he also had a 'real' life outside the band. He was also a brother, a son, a friend, a lover (possibly), with a mortgage, car, bills, shopping lists and so on. As well as by fans, he was also known by his sister, his parents, his band mates and his apparent girlfriend 'Jo'. Which of these knew the 'real' Richey? Did any of them? Is it ever possible to really know anyone?

In the book, the authors manage to reveal a side of Richey that many fans will not have known of before, a side that may make some of them uncomfortable and upset, judging by comments on forums. Sara Hawes Roberts and Leon Noakes do this by talking to at length to Rachel Edwards, as well as to personal, previously silent, non music friends of Richey, and by quoting the mysterious girlfriend 'Jo', the source of whose contributions are rarely given. In so doing, we learn a lot more about the man, some of which chaffs against received Manics wisdom. Whether this gives us a more real version of Richey than his band persona, who can say? The authors imply that he may have

had an Asperger's like difficulty in telling the difference between image and reality, so he would find it hard to sift band hype from the reality of life in a newly signed group trying to make it in 'the biz'. With 'Richey Manic', there seems to be a real blurring of character and caricature, and while the book reveals a side to the man most of us won't have heard of, whether it's his 'real' side is very hard to say.

Equally fascinating are the long excerpts from the 'Richey archive', being both material left at the time of his departure, and a collection of photographs and writings compiled from his teenage years onwards. These include school essays, homework and reports, diaries, address books, and political and cultural rants, many of which are photographed in his original handwriting, complete with doodles. I found these touching, moving and shocking; perhaps as he grew up so near both in time and place to me, it should have been no surprise to see how similar his experiences were to mine, but reading them first hand in his own hand, gave me a jolt.

By examining this evidence thoroughly, intelligently and sensitively, the writers are able to make some suggestions as to what might have become of him. They also draw on some Edwards family history that might help unlock the mystery, and ask (quite rightly) why the police were so laid back in searching for a man who was, after all, a highly vulnerable person. There are some new theories and some new leads, some more credible than others, but of course no happy ending. Indeed, I am not sure what a happy ending would look like. I do remember myself writing in Select magazine, weeks after his disappearance, hoping that wherever he was, he would find some pieces of happiness. Of course I still wish the same for him now, but equally for his family, band mates, friends and also the fans, some of whom have been so perturbed by this book. In fact, you may never see the same copy I've read, as I hear some parts of it may have to be withdrawn. For myself, I found it carefully written, intelligently littered (in true Manics style) with literary quotations, compelling and in some quiet way, cathartic and reassuring.

Glasgow 1993
Pic Phil Rose Esq

A very few of these postcards still avilable here

Reassuring in that people care enough to write and publish it, and reassuring that people still care enough to object to it.

Such is the continued hold of Richey over many of us.

We continue to miss him, too.

We who are nothing and should be everything...

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

Glasgow 1993
Pic Phil Rose Esq
More here