Manic Street Preachers
Postcards From A Young Man
2010 Tour
Album Feature, Nicky Wire Interview + Photography: Steve Bateman

Following the Manics’ victorious 2009 Autumn Tour of North America and the trio’s tiny show at Glasgow King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in February 2010, to celebrate the historic venue’s 20th Anniversary, James, Nicky and Sean, soon resumed work on what is now unbelievably their 10th studio album, which is quite a milestone for any band! And hot-off-the-press after Nicky’s appearance at the Laugharne Weekend in April, came reports that JDB had employed a strict quality control with The Wire’s lyrics, that Nicky had enough material for another solo record and that there may well be a UK Tour in October.

After a few months of silence, in late May, Nicky told XFM that the new Manic Street Preachers long player is rooted in rock classicism and was influenced by Aerosmith’s ambitious, resilient and unapologetic gung-ho approach to upping their game in The ‘80s, “Send Away The Tigers was Permanent Vacation, this next one is our Pump.” On June 1st, an announcement was then posted on the group’s official website with a raft of tour dates, the album’s romantic, evocative and nostalgia-tinged title, Postcards From A Young Man (with a release date of September 20), and artwork featuring a sleeve photograph of actor Tim Roth. Rather aptly, there was even a postcard from the three-piece, “Hello Everyone, we’ve made some music, written some words – our 10th album is being born. So ‘Hey ho lets go’ – time to tour – one last shot at mass communication. See you soon xxManic Street Preachersxx”.

An NME ‘In The Works’ feature, then saw James admitting to MSP – with high expectations – consciously seeking commercial success this time around, “We’re going for big radio hits on this one, it isn’t a follow-up to Journal For Plague Lovers.” The story went on to reveal that the vocals on the title track sounded “a bit like Queen,” that Duff McKagan played bass on A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun, that three songs had a Gospel Choir, that future lead single (It’s Not War) Just The End Of Love was bombastic and that lyrically, Nicky had been “inspired by John Gray’s novel Straw Dogs, the poetry of Anne Sexton and the plays of Sara Kane.” Showing no signs of slowing down, with this being one of the most productive and prolific periods in a revitalised Manics’ career to date – a purple patch if you will – documented by 3 magnificent records in 4 years! The interview concluded with Nicky commenting, “I believe in the tactile nature of rock ‘n’ roll. There’s a generation missing out on what music meant to us. You can only elaborate on the stuff that compels you to, but It’s Not War… is kind of saying, “Alright, we’re not 18, but even at 40 the rage is still there”.” After this, MSP began posting regular Twitter updates / drip-feeding lyrics to fans, supported Sir Paul McCartney at Cardiff Millennium Stadium and played an album launch show at Hammersmith Working Men’s Club in London.

Self-confessed ‘pop theorist’ Nicky, was even quizzed for an enlightening Blog, with some of the key extracts including, “There’s a famous quote from an author that says “You only write two kinds of novels and all the rest you repeat yourself.” I think with the Manics there’s The Holy Bible/Journal For Plague Lovers novel, that’s one entity when we’re at our best and then there’s Everything Must Go/Send Away The Tigers at the other end of our spectrum. I think the two versions of the band that we’re really comfortable with, this record fits into the latter one… There are loads of strings on this record. I think the best strings that have ever been recorded are on Ocean Rain. Everything Must Go has been a big influence on us – we always look inwards to our own records when we record. The idea that melancholia and rage can be harnessed into something euphoric – that’s the key to some of our best records. They’re angry but they lift you up… On a completely different tip, I’ve been trying to write a script for Doctor Who called Do Not Go Gently. The idea is centred around Dylan Thomas’ last days in New York. Of course it’s going to have a massive fucking monster in it too.” For further information on PFAYM, including a track-by-track dissection and details of Ian McCulloch and John Cale’s involvement, see Stuart Maconi’s brilliant interview with the band on their official website.

Garnering some of the very best reviews of their career to date, having polarised opinion with other releases in the past and even now talking about making their next album a sprawling / indulgent affair in the vein of The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs, with The Wire stating, “We’re settled on the idea to go one better and make an album with 70 songs on it and call it 70 Songs Of Failure And Hatred.” In just one of the many fantastic critiques of the Postcards From A Young Man LP and its populist / state of the nation songs – which JDB has called “A celebration of the band” – The Line Of Best Fit wrote, “Their fire is still there; it is just brighter – rather than hotter – than before... Surely it’s possible that the juxtaposition of two stationery-based titles was not coincidental? Where Journal was a hefty tome weighed down by Edwards’ memory and his many cultural allusions, Postcards is generally lighter and more personal, its songs like witty missives from abroad.” With MSP never off of the R*E*P*E*A*T stereo for long or ever out of our feather boa wrapped hearts, words cannot express how excited and appreciative I was, when Nicky asked us if we would like to interview him on tour (which has been one of the group’s most extensive jaunts since they started), rather than him completing the Q&A that I had originally sent earlier this year.

Our chat took place backstage at Bristol Colston Hall on Monday, October 25, at 4.15pm, 20 minutes before the Manics’ soundcheck and Nicky was an absolute gentleman, very warm, funny and gracious, which made the encounter even more special and memorable – proof that you can meet your idols and the experience be magical! Later that evening, as they continue to inspire countless people and touch lives, the band then played a blinding live show that was both emotionally engaging and musically outstanding, and the likes of which, only the Manic Street Preachers can ever truly pull off…

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

1.Thank you so much for having answered all of my Questionnaires over the past few years and for now agreeing to be interviewed in person, it really means a lot to me! I thought I would begin by asking you a question about Postcards From A Young Man, to see if as “The last band standing” from your era, you have been pleased with how the record has faired critically and commercially?
“I think critically, we were almost overwhelmed, because with Journal For Plague Lovers, I think we thought we would get some good reviews, just because of the lyrics as much as anything. With this album being so overtly melodic and commercial (laughing), we weren’t expecting such good press, so we were really thrilled with that to be honest! You know, mass communication was the idea, but we never conned ourselves that it was going to be 1996 all over again, but compared to everyone else on their 10th album, I think we’ve done pretty well.”

2.Regarding your statement, “One last shot at mass communication,” in 1996 both A Design For Life and Everything Must Go were your breakthrough single and album respectively. But what for you have been some of the other great breakthrough singles and albums of all-time?
“I think one that really sticks out for me – bizarrely – is probably Upside Down by The Jesus And Mary Chain, followed by Psychocandy. I mean, there’s obviously been bigger ones and better ones, but as a moment in my youth (pausing), I mean you could almost say Just Like Honey was the lead-off single, but Upside Down was the one, just because it was pure feedback and noise. That tune does it for me (smiling)!”

3.Which stage of creativity do you most enjoy nowadays – writing, recording or mixing – and studio-wise, was it easier in the group’s early years when composing music, as you were all still learning about production and so had less choices of how a track could sound?
“Hmm, I think the initial idea is always when a lyric turns into a piece of music between the three of us, however it is. Whether it’s me writing both, or James writing both, or Sean adding something, I think that is always (pausing), recording is sometimes wonderful and sometimes fraught. Mixing, before Chris Lord-Alge, was a nightmare – he’s made it much more enjoyable on the mix front. So, I think we’ve become quicker in the studio, but I know what you mean about composing music in the band’s early years, there was a limited palette back in the day, but then again, it was harder for me to reach that limited palette (laughs heartily)! But yeah, I think we’re much more capable these days and we’re very blunt with each other – to an outsider it can seem, not horrible, but we’re just incredibly, “If it’s shit, it’s shit,” sort of thing. There’s no ego left.”

4.As you love the English Language (with beautiful + forever being some of the words of which you are fondest) and having appeared at the Laugharne Weekend in April, do you think that song lyrics are often overlooked by the literary world?
“Yeah, I think they are, and I remember that from your Questionnaire. I remember just thinking that the key is, is that I’m really happy personally, in the realms of being seen as a rock / pop lyricist… I’ve yet to really spread my wings. I think Bob Dylan obviously has been accepted on a different level, as has Morrissey, but I’m quite happy to be in the realm of music and words being a joint force.”

5.And in reference to Blueprint For Exile, do you have a gut feeling when a subject should be a poem rather than a lyric + what are some of your favourite poems, including Patrick’s?

“I think I do have a gut feeling when a subject should be a poem rather than a lyric, yeah. I do believe in self-censorship and I never complain about being censored, so I think poetry is much more myself and there’s a certain kind of language that just speaks better in rock music. That’s why I admire Richey so much, because he thought, “Fuck it, the word is king and do what you can with that (laughing)!” But, I can’t do it like that. In terms of some of my favourite poems, I do admire Patrick as a poet obviously, going back to ‘There is eloquence in screaming’ being on Generation Terrorists you know? I think the collection that had the biggest influence on me though, was High Windows by Philip Larkin – the whole book really was particularly majestic at the age of 14. And, The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot, because I did it for was it O Level or A Level (thinking)? I can’t quite remember, but it was much easier to understand when you had someone explaining it to you. Tony Harrison also had a huge impact on me and my brother.”

6.Did playing the Glasgow King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut show in February bring back a lot of memories for you all, and which other venues are you attached to?
“It did bring back a lot of memories, but unfortunately, it didn’t make me remember fucking Strip It Down, which I played worse than I did when we played there 20 years ago (laughs heartily)! After practising it, I totally fucking forgot the first verse! But yeah, it was a really good thing to do! It’s much more nerve-wracking playing those small venues, because when it’s Arenas and stuff like that, you’re just looking at a mass and it’s much less angst-ridden in many ways. So, you know, I don’t think we’ll do a tour of tiny venues (big smile)!”

7.What has been the most memorable crowd that you’ve ever performed in front of, and do you have any favourite funny onstage moments?

“With memorable crowds, there are just too many to say. I could pick out the first time we went to Japan in particular, because everyone told us that the fans were going to be really reserved – it’s that cliché – but they were just the most barmy and fucking mental crowd! We did 5 nights there and I remember getting off the plane, because all of a sudden, there was just loads of fans there (pausing), there were probably 600 - 700 fans! Me and Martin, our Manager, I remember actually looking behind us and going, “Is there someone famous coming off the plane (laughing)?” And then we realised that they were waiting for us (big smile)! So that, and obviously the Millennium Stadium springs to mind. There’s been plenty of funny onstage moments, mostly to do with me and Richey I guess, but there is the well-told one that is perfectly true, about Richey falling asleep on James’ foot during Life Becoming A Landslide at The Garden Party in Belgium (laughing).”

8.You’re renowned for your scissor-kick jumps and James for spinning around on one leg, but are there any performers who ‘throw shapes’ / iconic stage moves that standout for you?

“Oh yeah, the Jim Morrison bend, where he sort of contorted his body as well (pausing), I mean looking back at Paul Simonon, he actually very rarely did anything like that really, he was just immaculately cool – same as Sid – compared to other musicians. But, I think all forms really, from the sulky / surly rock-solid Ian McCulloch, ‘I am a man of mystery’ sort of thing, to more energetic performers – and for me, movement makes me play better, the whole flow of it!”

9.Prior to touring, you often rehearse lesser-played songs from your back catalogue purely for fun. But are there any Manics tracks that you’ve never played live and would like to + which track do you most enjoy performing?
“Are there any Manics tracks that we’ve never played live that I would like to (thinking)? You could probably tell me (big smile)! Condemned To Rock ‘N’ Roll – I know we did the first half of it once before Motown Junk, but I would love to play that! I’ve also got a soft spot for So Dead – I don’t know if we’ve ever done that? Probably not. I wouldn’t mind having a crack at (thinking), maybe I’m Not Working, just to see how much we could bore the audience (laughs heartily)! I particularly enjoy playing Golden Platitudes, I’ve got to say, and it’s become a hell of a moment live you know? I think obviously something like Motown Junk, we’ve probably played more than any other song ever – that and Motorcycle – and still, especially when you go to different countries, you do think that there’s at least 60 - 70% of the audience who have probably never seen us live before, so it’s almost like you have to prove yourself again.”

10.Although as a band you never jam, you mentioned that The Descent (Pages 1 & 2) was written on the Tour Bus whilst travelling across the USA. But have you ever written any other songs on the Tour Bus or in unusual places?

“Yeah, No Surface was a bit of a Tour Bus song and The Everlasting as well. Not all of No Surface, but the genesis of it was and I remember with The Everlasting, we were driving back from Newcastle – or from Glasgow to Newcastle – and I remember James playing it to me on the Tour Bus. I don’t know if it was ever as good as when he played it to me that day to be honest (wistfully), it was just acoustic, sprightly and fantastic! But there you go.”

11.Of all your songs to date, which lyric has been the easiest to write, and which one has been the most difficult?
“Ooh, I’m trying to think (long pause + thinking)… Golden Platitudes was very much stream-of-consciousness, but I don’t know, I’m going to have to have a think about that.”

12.Did you enjoy working with Dame Shirley Bassey, and is there anybody else that you would like to write a song for in the future – or perhaps a song about a person / topic that you’ve never written about before?

“With Dame Shirley Bassey, from start to finish, it was just a really effortless thing. Me and James just thought, “This is something that we can’t turn down.” I had a few lyrics, then the title came and I gave James the lyric and he wrote the tune in a day, he did the demo and I think her voice on it is fucking extraordinary – it’s obviously the best track on her album (big smile)! It could be a Manics song, and I think that’s the beauty of it. James’ demo is on our official website and there’s some different lyrics on there, some darker ones, but I was quite happy to change them. I’d love to write a song for Morrissey or Gruff maybe, from the Furry’s – not that he’s ever short of songs though, I mean, he’s a complete genius!”

13.A lot of fans think that the God Save The Manics EP + Lifeblood and SATT eras, boast some of your very best flip-sides. So, combined with upcoming PFAYM b-sides as well, will there ever be a follow-up to Lipstick Traces along with more previously unreleased rarities?
“I think there will be another Greatest Hits, because I think Forever Delayed was slightly shabby – it was just the biggest hits, in sales figures at least. Taking into account what we’ve released since and what was left off, it would probably be 36 tracks now instead of 20. So maybe there’ll be a companion piece to go with that, rather than another b-sides / rarities collection.”

14.Do you have a favourite b-sides era / cover version, and what would be your ‘Top 5 MSP b-sides’ list?
“I’m not sure about a favourite b-sides era / cover version really, but I do absolutely love Donkeys and Comfort Comes, and I think I’m Leaving You For Solitude – which Sean wrote the music for – is absolutely beautiful and could have snuck on the album. I definitely think Welcome To The Dead Zone should have been on Send Away The Tigers instead of Underdogs, I think it’s great and Sean wrote the music for that as well! To complete my ‘Top 5 MSP b-sides’ list, it would obviously be Prologue To History at the top, it’s the best one lyrically and it should have been on This Is My Truth instead of Be Natural or something. I’ve got a soft spot for Are Mothers Saints as well, but I’m glad that we lived in the era where b-sides were still seen as part of the band, because it’s not happening much anymore.”
*Nicky’s ‘Top 5 MSP b-sides’ list in full: Prologue To History, Donkeys, Comfort Comes, I’m Leaving You For Solitude, Welcome To The Dead Zone*

15.As you’ve consistently put out high quality b-sides (with those recorded for the last single release from each album usually bridging the gap between LPs), who do you think will also be remembered as some of the best b-side bands?

“I think The Smiths did have some really good b-sides, some of them even turned up on albums – I think Cemetery Gates and Well I Wonder might have been b-sides and were then put on an album. So yeah, definitely The Smiths. Obviously The Clash, they had some good b-sides, but I think we might be up there. I think Oasis have got some decent b-sides from their early albums as well. I think Suede fizzled out, because the b-sides around the time of the first two albums are brilliant, but once you get past Bernard leaving, the albums are still good but the b-sides tail off.”

16.Which songs do you feel best capture both the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll and the invincibility of youth, e.g. The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks?

“I’m thinking of school discos (smiling), stuff like She Sells Sanctuary by The Cult and God Save The Queen by the Pistols, because it does make you feel the ultimate form of rebellion really. And obviously something like Welcome To The Jungle, because it’s a hard rock song that made you feel like you could do something!”

17.And as a group that has always seen the importance of having a strong image, who for you, have been some of the sharpest dressed bands and artists over the past 50 years + are there any acts who you feel offer the complete package, form music to lyrics to attitude, to artwork to videos to the way they present themselves?
“I think for me – and I think it’s because of the reissue – but I really love the way early Dexys looked and Don’t Stand Me Down Dexys, the way they changed their image (pausing), I’m going through a Dexys phase as well, so I’d definitely have them. Vic Godard actually, he used to look fucking amazing! Bowie, The Velvet Underground – John Cale and Lou Reed were at their peak I’d say, they looked amazing as well – and obviously a bit of Hanoi Rocks. But, I think the Pistols offered the complete package and it’s the one band you really can’t copy, because you can never get the guitar sound, you can never get the vocal sound and you can never get the rage – I don’t think we’ve ever got close.”
*Nicky’s favourite MSP visuals…
Album Artwork – Know Your Enemy and Journal For Plague Lovers
Single Artwork – You Love Us (Heavenly)
Videos – A Design For Life, Tolerate, You Love Us, Motorcycle Emptiness, Let Robeson Sing and Kevin Carter
Look – The Holy Bible
T-shirt – Who’s Responsible? You Fucking Are*

18.Continuing with the theme of visual stimulation, what do you think of The Arts Council’s funding being cut, and do you have a cherished painting, play, exhibition or museum?
“Well, I think we’ll be mourning this for a long time, and Nick Clegg will be remembered as the man who took his party into political oblivion, from which they may well never recover, because he’s given a veneer of respectability to an obviously Thatcherite right-wing government you know? He’s made them seem cuddly and fine, and that just spills over into all forms of cuts. We all know there has to be a certain element of cuts, but there’s a better way of doing it and it’s a pity more people didn’t oppose it. As for a cherished museum of mine, it’s only small, but there’s a little museum in Tenby which has a lot of work by Augustus John and Graham Sutherland. It’s in one of the most amazing locations, looking out to the sea – it only has a small collection, but it’s very West Wales centred, which is fantastic!”

19.Now that you’re in your 40s, who are your heroes?
“I think I’ve gone past it really, and I think my main heroes now, are the people who I just know as friends and family, rather than icons.”

20.I read that you use Fender Jazz, Gibson Thunderbird, Italia Maranello and Rickenbacker basses, but what are some of your all-time favourite bass-lines?
“(Big smile) Derek Forbes has written a lot actually, early Simple Minds, The American and stuff like that – stuff that I would love to emulate, but probably would never be able to reach. Obviously, Paul Simonon was a hero growing up in more ways than one, in terms of his style and his sound, but Derek Forbes is very underrated as a bass player.”

21.As you’ve called Postcards From A Young Man “A tribute to the album” and as you adore record shops, what’s the most expensive album that you’ve ever bought, the best bargain you’ve ever found and have you ever discovered a group on a compilation that went onto become one of your great loves?
“Jesus Christ (excitedly), that’s a good question (big smile)! I think the most expensive album would be Dylan Thomas reading his poetry, some sort of first edition on vinyl, that was pretty pricey!”
*I say to Nicky that like many MSP Fans, I’ve spent A LOT of money on Manics collectibles and rarities over the years*
“(big smile) I’ve just managed to re-buy all of my McCarthy 12”s on vinyl, from this little shop in Newport Market – they managed to get all of them for me which was really nice, they helped me out! Vinyl’s not as expensive as it used to be actually now, you can get some good bargains out there, but I can’t think of anything really genius that I’ve got over the years… I’d like to get my copy of Therese by The Bodines again on 7”. As for discovering groups on compilations, probably on C86 if you count that, definitely! McCarthy - Celestial City was on there, The Wolfhounds and obviously Velocity Girl was on there, which is still my favourite Primal Scream song ever! Actually, going back to your question about a favourite cover version of ours, that one is charming.”

22.After releasing 10 long players and twinned with your mythology, you said that the Manic Street Preachers will be “up there with the Gods.” But which artists / bands do you feel put out a vital tenth record + are there any who you think can still attract a mass audience beyond their core fanbase, or continue to have an enduring crossover appeal after 10 albums?

“We did some research and nearly 10 albums in, as a rule, there’s not much. Most bands – and I think these are each of their tenth albums – apart from The Stones’ Exile On Main Street, Station To Station by Bowie and Pump by Aerosmith, the cupboard was pretty bare. So, there weren’t many good ones from bands who had got to 10, I have to say. As for bands who continue to have an enduring crossover appeal after 10 albums, The Beatles and The Stones would have to be up there.”

23.Do you ever stop to think about just how special it is that you’ve been a part of two great songwriting partnerships – from collaborating with Richey on lyrics, to providing James with words to put music to – and what do you consider to be some of the great songwriting partnerships in the history of popular music?
“I do think about that, yeah, and I think ours are particularly (pausing), the whole thing with Richey disappearing makes it almost seem like a separate thing, just because of The Holy Bible and some people forget that we wrote La Tristesse and Motorcycle between us – some of our best ever songs we wrote together! Even Faster is a fair bit of mine, my title and 25% of the lyric, not that I want any credit, but we also wrote Roses In The Hospital – there’s tons of stuff where we just sat down together. So, that’s the biggest thing we miss really (wistfully). I’m sure he would have fucking added some darkness to something like A Design For Life (laughing). Some of the great songwriting partnerships in the history of popular music are obviously your classic Strummer and Jones, Jagger and Richards, Lennon and McCartney. But, I’m also going to say the Reid brothers, because I’m going through a bit of a Mary Chain phase at the moment – it’s just the simplicity of them you know?”

24.As you still proudly display the Welsh Flag onstage, I thought it would only be fitting to ask you a question about Welsh Pride, so, what are some of your most treasured things about Wales?
“There are a lot things, and without being overly patriotic I guess, there’s obviously the place I live, my family and friends, the lack of ego definitely – you can’t walk the streets of Newport pretending you’re a huge rock star – the beaches, the air, Kyffin Williams, Joe Calzaghe, West Wales, Tenby, the views and fish ‘n’ chips (big smile)!”

25.Lastly, R*E*P*E*A*T’s Editor, Rosey, was unable to be here today unfortunately, but he’s currently working on a book about the history of the fanzine / webzine and asked me if I could ask you what you think about the publication celebrating its 16th Anniversary?
“I wouldn’t be chatting to you if I didn’t respect R*E*P*E*A*T. I mean, I have had every draft of your Questionnaire (laughs heartily), but everytime I’ve gone to fill it in, I’ve thought, “This is just going to be easier if I talk (laughs heartily again)!” But, I admire anyone who’s hung in there that long and it’s nice that there’s still enthusiasm around (big smile)!”
*After our interview has finished, Nicky kindly signs lots of my Manics records (including the rare Sleepflower US Promo CD) and gives me a hug*

A very special thanks to Nicky, to MSP’s Tour Manager Angus, to Liz, Terri, Gill and Tom @ Hall or Nothing, and to the Manics’ Manager Martin, for all of their time and help. Stay Beautiful.

Pic South Wales Evening Post, 1993, more here

“Young guys, young girls.
Talent wanted for getting out of this and playing.
No special qualifications.
Whether you’re beautiful or you’re bright.
History could be on your side.”

- The Situationists

Pic Phil Rose, 1993, more here

wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?