I’m going off on a bit of a tangent today, a musical one, but there’s a point to it, so if I may crave your indulgence, come with me…
Over the weekend I watched a documentary film about the making of one of my all time favourite albums, the build up, the process, and the aftermath. The album in question is ‘Everything Must Go’ by the Manic Street Preachers. It is, as I say, one of my favourite albums of all time, and was the album that turned me from a casual observer of the band, I liked a few of the early songs but I wasn’t a die-hard, into a complete devotee from that point on.
For those who don’t know the Manics or their story, to quickly bring you up to speed, in 1994 the band were touring their third album, they had exploded onto the scene in a blaze of polemic, buzzwords and big claims with their first album, Generation Terrorists which they introduced by saying they would sell a million copies then split up, they were brash, confident but clearly well read and erudite lads from South Wales, they referenced the Clash, Guns N Roses, and the Sex Pistols. They immediately appealed to a generation of people who felt alienated, isolated and misunderstood, the beautiful but damaged souls, who wore their hearts on their glamorous sleeves, these were the feather boa and leopard print wearing devotees of the band’s main lyricist, spokesman and iconoclast, Richey Edwards. Richey was one of their own, beautiful, tortured, damaged, fighting his demons in public, and in private; eating disorders, mental health issues, and self harm. He was, and is, a much-loved son, brother and friend to the other members of the band, and the wider community around them. His intellect was undeniable, and coming from the mining community of Blackwood, he was an inspiration to those working class kids who yearned for something more than the factory, the supermarket or the dole, The band’s second album, Gold Against The Soul, was a more traditionally bombastic rock album musically, lyrically they explored new territory, art, philosophy, and the beginning of Richey’s gradually deteriorating health, hospitalisation, and some dark themes around loneliness and isolation. By the third album, The Holy Bible, Richey’s lyrics were becoming equally more angry, desolate and despairing, many dealing with his struggles with self harm and anorexia, his followers felt an even greater connection to him, he spoke for them, he articulated their stories, he understood their lives. The band toured the album, but Richey was suffering, missing some dates due to hospitalisation, but still being the recognised face of the band. at the end of the UK leg of the tour, the band played a powerful and frenzied show at the Astoria, lauded as one of their finest shows ever, it ended with the band destroying their instruments on stage.
The band was due to tour America, and in advance of this, Richey and Lead singer ( and musical powerhouse) James Dean Bradfield, were set to fly out to New York to begin a round of press interviews to build up the profile of the album and forthcoming tour. On the morning of February 1st 1995, James went to wake Richey up to get to the airport for the flight to the states. Edwards, however, wasn’t there. That was the beginning of one of the most debated, most infamously unsolved, and most heartbreaking mysteries of the last century, what happened to Richey? His car was found near to the Severn Bridge, he had left his passport behind, and left gifts for people, and a box containing books with a note on the lid saying simply ‘I love you’.
I’m not going to go into the details of the search for Richey, which continues in the shape of his sister who carries on tirelessly in her quest for answers.
the aftermath of Richey’s disappearance was obviously going to be devastating for the rest of the band, James, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore, not only was their band mate missing, but also their best friend, lifelong friends who grew up together, how could they possibly continue as a band without Richey, surely this was the end of the road for Manic Street Preachers….
The band had already been working on some new material in their rehearsal studio, demoing several new tracks using Richey’s lyrics. They went back into the studio, and piece by piece, they created the album that would propel them from cult status, to a band who would dominate the charts until the turn of the millennium. From the opening track ‘Elvis impersonator Blackpool Pier’ the album Everything Must Go is a masterpiece, huge production, orchestras, harp, trumpet solos, this album was such a musical departure, it initially came up against a backlash from the ‘cult of Richey’ angered that the band would consider carrying on without Richey, and accusing them of selling out to the mainstream. The title track, Everything Must Go, is an answer to that backlash, a statement of intent that the band would continue, and develop, and move on, because 1, that would be what Richey would want, and 2, it was what the remaining members NEEDED. “and I just hope that you will forgive us, but everything must go, and if you need an explanation, then everything must go” The stand out track on what is an album of non stop killer tunes, has become an iconic anthem, a heartfelt battle cry for the educated, erudite working class, almost on a par with the Pulp classic ‘Common People’ the track ” A design for life” is one of the best pop songs ever written, from its opening line “Libraries gave us power, then work came and made us free” to its anthemic chorus, its beautiful and powerful orchestral arrangement, it is a work of sheer heart stopping beauty. For me, listening to the album for the very first time, driving home after a shift behind the bar at Beighton Social Club, it was so powerful, I had to pull the car over and just concentrate on the song, I didn’t need the distraction of driving, this was way more important.
The band went on to scoop a fistful of awards at the Brits, the album remained in the charts for 64 weeks, and it spawned four top 10 singles. It was, and remains, the zenith of the Manics career, they have recorded several further albums, from the critically acclaimed and commercially successful follow-up ” This is my truth, tell me yours” to the latest upcoming offering “resistance is futile” but for me, Everything Must Go will always be the purest distillation of everything that the band means to me, I’m the same age as Sean, James and Nicky, and I feel a connection with them, with our shared backgrounds, working class from a mining community, breaking free through the power of knowledge, the love of language and the burning desire to communicate through the art-form I love the most, music.
How does this all tie in with this blog? It’s a lesson, a parable if you will, a reminder that from the depths of despair, the pain of loss, and a horrific tragic circumstance, something beautiful can emerge, stronger, more relevant, and reaching ever further to a greater audience. This, I hope, is where my future lies, to recover from this crisis, this recurrence of debilitating disability, and emerge happier, stronger, and continue to do the thing I love the most, to share my thoughts, feelings and words, through music, writing, photography and more. It isn’t going to be an easy journey, and I also need to face the return to work, which hopefully is only weeks away, but nothing worthwhile is ever easy, and I’m not one to shy away from something worthwhile. It may well involve a huge change, and while change is always scary, it’s also exciting and full of possibilities. One thing is certain, if I’m going to get well, and get this black dog under control, I have to be happy, and now is the time to start treading the path to happiness. So, I hope that you will forgive me, but everything must go.