Manic Street Preachers
Journal For Plague Lovers
2009 Tour
Album Feature, Nicky Wire Q&A + Live Photography: Steve Bateman

In November 2008, everyone signed up to the Manic Street Preachers’ Official Mailing List, received this bombshell e-mail from the band – which immediately led to an unprecedented gold rush of excitement and hysteria amongst their loyal fanbase…

Hello everyone,
We thought you would like to know that we have been making music. We have been in the studio with Mr. Steve Albini recording live – to tape – analogue – no digital hiss – no Pro Tools – no safety nets. Quite scary, daunting but invigorating. All the songs we are recording are lyrics left to us by Richey. Finally it feels like the right time to use them (especially after the last 18 months being so amazing with Send Away The Tigers). Musically, in many ways it feels like a follow up to The Holy Bible, but there is also an acoustic side – tender, romantic, nihilism, Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky-esque. It’s a record that celebrates the genius of his words, full of love, anger, intelligence and respect. We have to make this great. Wish us luck. We hope to release the record next April or May. The working titles are Journal for Plague Lovers or I Know I Believe In Nothing But It Is My Nothing.
Nicky, James and Sean.

No strangers to going against the grain, executing surprise musical volte-faces or challenging the rock ‘n’ roll paradigm – in turn, risking both their audience and commercial success to follow their instincts. For fans however, it was a very different story, as Journal For Plague Lovers immediately became the most-anticipated Manics album EVER! And soon after this statement had been issued, a ‘MOJO Working’ article then unearthed even more details about the record. Including how Richey had left or bequeathed the group books of identical lyrics weeks before he went missing (a “Pandora’s box” according to Nicky). Some song titles / lyrical references, that the trio were recording at Rockfield Studios in Wales, and how the sleeve would feature another original painting by artist Jenny Saville, creating a powerful symmetry with the acerbic, bludgeoning and “sonically scarred rage” of The Holy Bible. It also established that James’ main guitar influence was once again the late John McGeoch, and how Nicky and Richey had both wanted to work with anti-producer Steve Albini, as they were “drawn to the visceral quality of In Utero.” With Richey officially being declared ‘Presumed Dead’ on November 23, 2008, at the request of his parents – who also gave the band their blessings for this project. James reflected with typical candour to MOJO, “For a long time, we thought nothing could be done with these books, except perhaps to put them out as journals. Then it clicked in our minds, that Richey had left us these books of identical lyrics as it was obvious that he wanted something done with them. Some of his writing was in prose and had to be edited, but it was all titled.”

Interestingly, before work had even commenced on the album and it was still a pipe dream, Nicky's wish list included: Richey’s lyrics, Steve Albini and Jenny Saville.

Just as Spring had sprung in 2009, news soon spread that the LP would contain 13 tracks and be released on May 18 (coincidentally, the anniversary of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis' death), through Columbia Records. A small editorial in the April issue of Q further divulged, “While some of their contents appeared on 1996's Everything Must Go album, Wire says the folder included more than 30 sets of lyrics. The remaining writing stayed locked in the bassist's bedroom over the intervening years. “I knew they were good because the titles were brilliant,” says Wire, “but I resisted reading the words.” It was singer James Dean Bradfield who encouraged Wire to revisit Edwards' work, in the wake of the band's last album, 2007's more commercial sounding Send Away The Tigers. “We wanted to be in a room with Richey again,” says Bradfield. “It sounds a bit sentimental but that's our right.” Wire spent several months editing the lyrics. “I felt a massive responsibility to do Richey justice,” he says. “It was like being a curator. The lyrics were like an ancient antiquity. It was before laptops and Richey used to carry a typewriter around.” The finished album says Wire, has an “overall tone of disillusionment.” JDB also told Uncut, “There were other things in the lyric booklet – collages, quotes, etcetera – so in a sense, Richey left us a visual demo of how he wanted the record to feel. I’m just glad we followed through on what we imagined to be his wishes.”

With talk of all the lyrics eventually being published in book form, in other interviews, Nicky has described Journal For Plague Lovers itself, as “a piece of art,” as “an obelisk,” as a “pre-digital record,” as “the distillation of what the band started out as,” as “an artefact” and as “an album in splendid isolation” – as no singles have been taken from it. He even openly confessed to Q, “I found the whole process very problematic, just because Richey’s obviously not here to say anything about it.” And unexpectedly to The Guardian, "I said, “Let's just fucking dig a hole and bury it and make it even more of an art statement, say we've made this great album, but it's just too much to give away.” James was like, “After I've done all that work? Fuck off!” Speaking to the NME about the LP’s disquieting artwork (which also includes Richey’s typed lyrics), a sleeve that initially ignited controversy and supermarkets chose to censor by placing it in a slipcase. Of Jenny Saville’s verisimilitude painting, ‘Stare’, which depicts a young androgynous girl, Nicky pondered, “I think it just coveys that sense of innocence as well as some kind of violence. That’s what the record is. At times, even though it’s dark and heavy, there’s a sense of innocence and it’s quite uplifting, but there’s always a sense of menace and threat in the background.”

With Steve Albini “preserving the purity of the songs,” by reinforcing the three-piece’s own stringent musical parameters (propelled by a melodic touch) and capturing the tension between fragile, sensitive emotion and raw, untamed physicality – with traces of surreal humour also present in some of the pictorial lyrics and anguished imagery. An article in Hot Press noted, “In Manics mythology, that notebook had taken on an almost talismanic significance; for the Holy Bible-ite subset among the band’s fanbase it was close to a fetish object. But Bradfield insists it’s not a sequel. “Well, you take the premise of the record, which is the lyrics obviously,” he says, “which stylistically were the same, but thematically I thought they were pretty different to the lyrics on The Holy Bible. Standing at a distance, The Holy Bible was what happens when your anger turns to disgust. I’m talking on behalf of Richey really, but most people’s anger usually mutates into something much more comfortable. And at a distance, I can see the Rubicon, the crucial point for Richey was, “What is disgust turned into?” We – especially Nicky – faintly had the same process. But with Nick it turned into something much more engaged and trying to be more positive about things, whereas with Richey, anger turned into disgust which turned into flat-line doubt. And that’s probably why we ended up where we are now.”

For additional information, see John Niven’s excellent Journal For Plague Lovers essay here. The superb, full-transcript of NME’s complete lyrics guide – sample quote: Nicky, “He wasn’t looking for an Ivor Novello, was he, the boy. He was looking for a Pulitzer Prize.” James, “And strangely, I’ve never thought about it, but he was never looking to be compared to any other lyricist.” Plus the moving Channel 4 Documentary, ‘Shadows & Words’. The resolute group also played the album in its entirety between May and June, as a trio (the first time since 1995), followed by a second set featuring an assortment of greatest hits and curios from their back catalogue, as part of a very special, but “emotionally-draining” low-key 7 date UK Tour. Having just picked up a ‘MOJO Maverick Award’, put out a download JFPL Remix EP, opened Cardiff Central Library and even written a song for Shirley Bassey, they are now scheduled to begin work on the next MSP record after the Summer Festival Season, which is mooted for a 2010 release. And as Nicky has previously mentioned (who has even hinted at wanting to make another solo album in the interim), it will be a reaction to the last long player, by being “joyful and probably celebrating the small things in life that make you happy."

So, at a time when the triumvirate of James, Nicky and Sean, have once again recast themselves in the venerable rock ‘n’ roll pantheon and the world of literature, politics and art, with clarity of purpose, courage, maturity and a rarefied air. By releasing yet more exceptional, impassioned, didactic, versatile and inspired music, that’s densely-packed with multiple layers of meaning, deep and weighty subject matter, works on many different levels, covers all emotional bases and makes you think. The ever-quotable Nicky, has answered a brand new Q&A for R*E*P*E*A*T, in which he discusses MSP’s indomitable spirit, music, lyrics, inspirations, ideology, being cultural commentators, plus the apotheosis of Journal For Plague Lovers in the band’s already rich heritage / songbook. And as we all know, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of hearing new sounds and words from a group you truly love! Especially when they are your all-time favourite band and you consider that like most great albums, JFPL also has a remarkable story to tell! As Nicky succinctly put it, “The brilliance and intelligence of the lyrics dictated that we had to finally use them. The use of language is stunning and topics include The Grande Odalisque by Ingres, Marlon Brando, Giant Haystacks, celebrity, consumerism and dysmorphia, all reiterating the genius and intellect of Richard James Edwards.”

Inarguably completing a trilogy, by now joining the dots and linking three seminal ‘works of art’ together: The Holy Bible. Everything Must Go . Journal For Plague Lovers. Of the endless press accolades and positive reviews JFPL has tallied up, Kerrang! wrote, “A record that HAD to be made.” With Uncut’s ardent critique of the LP proposing, “This is a brave, compelling record that stands shoulder to shoulder with the Manics’ best and provides a satisfying sense of closure.” Although the group themselves, don’t actually believe in the idea of closure, with Nicky admitting to The Irish Times, “It’s a weird thing to say, but we’ve never considered ourselves as being a three-piece; the original ethos of the band and the original people is still ingrained deeply in us all.” Perhaps more suitably then, in summation, here’s what Q’s 5 Star review of Journal For Plague Lovers concluded, “By breathing life into Richey Edwards’ own last words, his friends have crafted not a memorial, but a tribute.”


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.Firstly, we hope your back is feeling better! To begin with, you said that the Manic Street Preachers work best when you have “A Strong Concept” – but while making Journal For Plague Lovers, was there a different vibe in the studio to that of working on previous long players?
“The atmosphere was academic and disciplined – the emotion came later.”

2.After Steve Albini had initially recorded the songs, you then collaborated with Dave Eringa on additional production / mixing – as well as intercutting film sound bites between some of the tracks on the record. But ultimately, what do you think the most important thing was that Steve brought to these sessions, that perhaps no other producer could have?
“Steve is an amazing engineer – in terms of drums, he is the best.”
* Other producers who MSP would love to work with, include Jeff Lynne and Todd Rundgren*


3.If you had to sum up each MSP studio album with 1 word, what would they be?

Generation Terrorists – Naïve

Gold Against The Soul – Confused

The Holy Bible – Truthful

Everything Must Go – Classic

This Is My Truth – Sedate

Know Your Enemy – Uneven

Lifeblood – Cold

Send Away The Tigers – Glorious

Journal For Plague Lovers – Important

4.James once commented, that when he now thinks back to Richey vanishing in 1995, it’s almost like he “gave the gift of the band to the three of you” to carry on with. But does your career path feel like a continuation / one whole, or does it feel more fragmented?
“Sometimes it feels like a mess full of ups-and-downs. Sometimes it feels together and fulfilled.”

5.What do you regard as some of the other great comebacks in the history of popular music?
(originally left unanswered, but in August 2009, Nicky told the Guardian: “Patience by Take That is the greatest comeback single in history. You get so many alternative bands banging on about how to make perfect pop, and this kicks all their arses.” - see full quote below*)

6.Continuing with this train of thought, when the Manics returned with Everything Must Go in 1996, you spoke of how at that time, the group considered changing your name a la Joy Division / New Order. Did you ever have an alternative name in mind + which act do you think has the best name for a band?

“Sonic Youth have the best name for a band – 2 great words together.”

7.You once declared: “A blank page of paper and a pen is the greatest invention – it’s so exciting to be confronted by possibility.” But of all your lyrics to date, which songs / album are you most proud of writing?
“That’s impossible to answer – although lyrically, I love I Live To Fall Asleep, Prologue To History, Sepia and Your Love Alone Is Not Enough.”

8.Richey often spoke of wanting to write “The Perfect Lyric” and of JFPL, you deduced: "I think the whole process has been about trying to place him as a writer, and as a kind of critic of culture, and a disseminator of the truth. It’s not rock ‘n’ roll mythology. I think Richey’s lyrics undoubtedly pushed us to places that mine can’t." But of all his penned songs, which are some of your personal favourites?
“Again, that’s impossible to answer – there are so many for different reasons.”

9.Jarvis Cocker recently gave a lecture on ‘The Art Of Lyric Writing’ at Manchester’s In The City Conference, where he stated: “Most of the great riffs, chord sequences and bass-lines have already been written, but lyrics can breathe fresh life into rock music.” What are your thoughts on this?
“I hate pop stars who start lecturing on their past glories – it means you’ve given up on your art. There’s still so much more left for MSP to achieve.”

10.Now that you own ‘Faster Recording Studio’ in Cardiff, would the Manics like to also one day release music independently through your own imprint – and if you were the CEO of a successful record label, which artists / bands would you most like to have signed to your roster?

“Who cares.”

11.Can you remember when you received your first royalties cheque, and what you spent this on?

“No actually, I can’t remember when we received our first royalties cheques.”

12.Since the group’s early days, MSP has been about much more than just the music, it has been a lifestyle! So, as a voracious and self-described ‘Culture Slut’, what’s the 1 book that everyone should read and the 1 film that everyone should see?
Book – Straw Dogs by John Gray
Film – A History Of Violence

13.And in relation to this, of all the quotes used on your record sleeves, is there 1 in particular that has always stayed with you?

14.Of your extracurricular activities (including interviewing Rush and TV Presenting for Sky Arts), are there any other musicians who you’d like to quiz + if you could front a TV programme about any subject of your choice, what would it be?

“The only TV I’d like to do, is to front the Olympics on the BBC – I would love that.”
Known for his love of TV watching, some of Nicky's all-time favourite programmes include Fawlty Towers, Tutti Frutti, The Larry Sanders Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Office.

15.You’ve continually stressed the importance of “The Division Of Labour” in the Manics, but which songs do you think contain some of James and Sean’s finest musical moments?

No Surface All Feeling
The Year Of Purification
The Second Great Depression

16.All Is Vanity and Marlon J.D. were the first and last tracks to be completed for Journal For Plague Lovers respectively. But after having written some of the music on the long player, in the future, would you ever like to write the music for some of James’ lyrics, even as a one-off experiment?
“Yes, I’m always trying to get James to write some words.”

17.Earlier this year, Pearl Jam released a newly remixed / remastered ‘Redux’ version of their classic album Ten, as for a long time, it was widely-known that they were never content with the final sound of the record and the incorrect colour of the artwork. With this in my mind, is there any chance that you may consider doing something similar for the 20th Anniversary of Generation Terrorists?
“Is anybody interested? As with This Is My Truth, there’s lots of extra stuff to use.”

18.On a similar note, you once revealed: "I wanted Know Your Enemy to be 2 separate albums – a really vicious, political album, then a softer West Coast LP. But we bottled it." With hindsight, do you wish you had now pursued this idea + did you have any titles in mind for both records?
“Yes, 2 separate albums would have been much better.”
The titles were…
2.Door To The River

19.As a renowned songwriter / wordsmith who has long held a mirror up to the world, what do you think has been the most powerful political song ever written?
If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next

20.Over the years, who has been your favourite band to tour with and do you think you’ll ever release a live MSP album, either as one complete show or as a compilation of live tracks from different eras?
“My favourite bands that we’ve toured with over the years have been, Super Furry Animals, The Boo Radleys and The Enemy.”

21.Which bass players do you most admire?

Geddy Lee
Andy Fraser
Mike Mills
Paul Simonon
Duff McKagan
Kim Gordon
Melissa Auf der Maur
*One of Nicky's all-time favourite Manics bass-lines is on Donkeys*

22.Johnny Marr recently gave a lecture at The University Of Salford, where he argued that “Outsiders are the lifeblood of The Music Industry, but too often overlooked.” What are your feelings on this?
“Sounds like total bollocks to me.”

23.From when the Manics first started to where you are now, of all your contemporaries, who do you think will most likely be looked back on as important bands in years to come?
Massive Attack

24.If the Hard Rock Cafe asked the Manic Street Preachers to donate a piece of musical memorabilia, what would you give to them?

‘Stare’ by Jenny Saville

25.Lastly, if you could relive any moment in the group’s career, what would it be?
“I’d like to relive recording Motown Junk in London and the Manic Millennium.”

Love Nicky Wire x

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

"History Is Made By Those Who Say No"

- Jon Savage

* Wire on Take That's 'Patience'
This is not an ironic choice. It's the greatest comeback single in history. If Neil Young had written it, people would be calling it a masterpiece. I've always liked Take That, too. They looked so brilliant back in the day and did everything right, but this is something else. It's got such a dark lyric: "My heart is numb, has no feeling/ So while I'm healing/ Just try and have a little patience". There's also a maturity about it that suits the boys all grown-up. Gary Barlow is a genius; I won't have anyone argue against him. When Alex Turner slagged off Take That at the 2006 Q awards for getting an award, I nearly lost it. James [Dean Bradfield from the Manics] was grabbing me by the arm, saying: "Don't lose it, Nicky." You get so many alternative bands banging on about how to make perfect pop, and this kicks all their arses.
- The Guardian-

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?