I’ve always had a huge soft spot for the Manic Street Preachers. Coming from industrial parts of Britain that have been hit by economic downturns from the 70s onwards, their core values resonate with me. They value education, art, discourse (“Libraries gave us power“). I remember with affection growing up in the Black Country and a trip to Dudley or Sedgley Library being something to look forward to, whether it was to delve into their bookshelves or to dig through their record crates. Wolverhampton had a great art gallery with Warhols and Lichtensteins in their collection. It was something to be asborbed, enjoyed and revered.
I wasn’t alone in this. My other half who grew up in Scotland similarly valued the same things coming from a working-class background as did friends who grew up in Croydon.
These areas were hit hugely again by the 2008 economic crisis with public funding falling for the arts and since then venues and resources continue to reduce. There was an online interview that I saw with Kevin Rowland of Dexys Midnight Runners recently where he discussed how much the band benefited from government support effectively in their early days when signing on back in the late 70s and early 80s.
This shows the Manics’ other strength – their Clash-like “last gang” in town mentality. They were a tight-knit unit even before Richey Edwards’ disappearance in 1995 (Drummer Sean Moore and frontman James Dean Bradfield are cousins). The band paid heed to at the RFH gig, reminiscing about the formative years and gigs at the old now demolished Astoria Theatre,
Within the larger names that Robert Smith has chosen for his Meltdown Festival, there’s a certain element of politicism not evident in the Cure’s work. A connection can be drawn between Smith’s band and the like of Nine Inch Nails, My Bloody Valentine and Placebo. However, in picking Mogwai and the Manic Street Preachers, Smith has perhaps revealed something more personal beyond the sonic template.
The Manics arrived on the back of the release of their 13th album, “Resistance is Futile”. It follows 2014’s “Futurology” which I enjoyed hugely, an intelligent take on Simple Minds European sound of the early 80s. That intelligence is always evident in the Manic’s work but often combined with a pop sensibility. They aren’t afraid to embrace the big choruses, which helps subtly to convey their political and social messages without being made to feel like you are being poked in the chest.
The gig was a perfect amalgam of new material, classics, cover versions and early material.
Taking each in turn, the new material worked very well. The opening “International Blue” sounded instantly familiar. “People Give In” and “Hold Me Like Heaven” were crowd pleasers which slotted instantly into the set list and sounded like they could be around for years.
The classics were delivered with verve and urgency, sounding way more energised than anything that the Bunnymen presented at their recent Royal Albert Hall gig. The Manics had the confidence to deliver probably their second most popular tune two songs in (“Motorcycle Emptiness”). The band still have a bounce about them, both literally and metaphorically. Bradfield worked the stage ending up moving his mic stand to one side to sing to some particular friendly faces in one of the boxes to the side of the stage. Nicky Wire changed his already loud jacket and trousers into a pair of lurex drainpipes after the mid-show acoustic number. Like the Psychedelic Furs on the Meltdown opening on Friday evening, there was always something going on.
Bradfield discussed their debt to The Cure, in particular with regard to working with producer Mike Hedges, whilst plucking away at the riff to “A Forest” before launching into a stunning solo acoustic version of “Faster”. Moore was wearing a rather natty Cure logo t-shirt and the band played a jaunty version of “In Between Days”, which is really a New Order cover version in any event.
The early material from debut LP “Generation Terrorists” and single “Motown Junk” were taken with vigour. It showed both their affection for punk but also for heavy rock. “Slash and Burn” had a teaser from “Welcome To The Jungle” and there was some twin guitar Thin Lizzy moments through the evening. Again this feels like a Wales/Black Country parallel, both being traditional heavy metal heartlands back. The band were joined by support act The Anchoress, taking on Traci Lord’s vocals “Little Baby Nothing” clad head to toe in leopard skin.
The evening finished with an anthemic “Design For Life”, which really captures the Manics in a nutshell and the band left the stage – no encores, no mucking around, nothing more to say.
When one considers where their contemporaries are in terms of relevance now, one must admire the Manic’s longevity whilst remaining relevant and interesting.
As one of their heroes, John Steinbeck said:
I am a little man and this is a little town but there must be a spark in a little man that can burst into flame
The Manics continue to burn bright.