THE BEGINNING

‘The Holy Bible’ might always be considered The Manic Street Preachers’ defining album, but Reef Younis revisits his personal discovery of the Welsh band’s breakthrough moment.

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On February 24th, 1997 I was sat in my room, trying (and failing) to put together a new bed. In the background, up on a ridiculously high and awkwardly positioned mount, the Brit Awards blared out from a 14-inch TV.

It was a year where the Spice Girls, The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy and Dodgy went head to head for ‘Best British Video’; where George Michael beat off competition from Mick Hucknall, Sting, and Tricky to become Best British Male; and Babybird’s ‘You’re Gorgeous’, Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’ and Lighthouse Family’s ‘Lifted’ were deemed second best to the Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe’ in ‘Best British Single’.

Back then, the Brits had a modicum of credibility, pitching soon-to-be indie-bargain-bin fodder against pop pin-ups, throwing in a handful of ‘International’ categories so Prince, Sheryl Crow, and The Fugees could perform on the same night as the Bee Gees, Skunk Anansie, and Mark Morrison.

But amid Kula Shaker and Ocean Colour Scene, ‘Best International Male’ (Beck) and ‘Best International Breakthrough Act’ (Robert Miles), the Manic Street Preachers were quietly taking over British music with ‘Everything Must Go’. As the winners of ‘Best British Album’ and ‘Best British Group’ in ’97, it was a performance of ‘A Design For Life’ that kick-started a twenty-year love affair.

In the aftermath of Richey Edwards’ disappearance, ‘Everything Must Go’ marked a sharp departure from the politically charged punk rock of ‘Generation Terrorists’ and bleak lyricism of ‘The Holy Bible’ but it was as bold as any of its predecessors, full of grand, sweeping arrangements and anthemic choruses that even the later breed of knuckle-dragging Oasis fans could get behind.

For a generation of like-minded 12 year olds, it was a gateway to the Manics’ brasher, darker, early chapters. From ‘La Tristesse Durera’ to ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’; ‘You Love Us’ to ‘Faster’, it opened a Pandora’s box of glam and glitter, incendiary ideology, incredibly biting lyrics and tragedy that seemed a world away from the curtains and puffed white parka Sean Moore rocked on stage that night.

It’s not always been an easy 20 years. Part of me will always wonder about the Manic Street Preachers who said: “The most important thing we can do is get massive and throw it all away. We only wanna make one album, one double album, 30 songs and that’ll be our statement, then we’ll split up. It’s all we wanna do; it’s what we’ve aimed for all our lives. There’s no glory in being top of the indie charts, there’s no glory in being top 30. You’ve gotta be number one. We just wanna be the most important reference point of the 90s. That’s all.”

It was a bold, definitive statement, a manifesto steeped in political anger and philosophical ideology; buried in beautiful lyrical prose; decorated in glitter and eyeliner and delivered at the fingertips, and by the voices of, four seemingly eternally angry skinny white valley boys who wanted to take over the fucking world. That was the 1990 Manic Street Preachers.

I connected with those characters through hindsight and discovery; a backstory coloured by bootlegs from local record shops and 64kbps Napster downloads. The 1997 Manics were the ones that got me with the sweeping refrain of “We don’t talk about love/we only want to get drunk” from ‘A Design For Life’ fittingly sung with feeling after a few pints; the easy anthemia of ‘Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier’ contrasting the lyrical quirk of “American Trilogy in Lancashire Pottery”; the tender, Edwards-inspired beauty of ‘Small Black Flowers that Grow in the Sky’; the glorious sing-a-long appeal of ‘Australia’.

So yes, ‘The Holy Bible’ will probably always be one for the purists; ‘Gold Against the Soul’ one for the apologists; and ‘Generation Terrorists’ one for the anarchists, but while all have been the soundtrack to my life at various points, twenty years on, only one still compels me to sing every single word like I was on that stage in ’97, blissfully happy I didn’t lose to Ocean Colour Scene.

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