4REAL – The Manic’s in Liverpool

The Manic Street Preachers, Liverpool Guild of Students, 08/10/10

Image of 'Postcards From A Young Man'It was early last week that I took the call. An old friend phoned and asked me if I fancied going to see the Manics on a free ticket as he’d been let down last minute. “What’s the venue?” was my first reaction, seeing as I refuse to go to gigs in anything other than theatres or where the room size negates the requirement for watching the band on a huge flat screen. When I heard they were playing at the students union hall I couldn’t take the offer up fast enough. After all, didn’t they play bigger venues than this normally? Apparently, this was a ‘back to clubs’ style tour in support of their latest release, ‘Postcards From A Young Man’.

It surprised a few of my friends when they found out I was going to see the band – after all, I’d never been an outward or obvious supporter of them, but there was something lying dormant in the appreciation sector of my brain that went right back to the early 1990’s. Probably 1992 to be specific.

I can remember back in the day when Radio 1 used to have live sessions by bands during the daytime. I was living in my first house, not enjoying a period in the musical wilderness, playing one too many gigs I hated. Then, out of the blue came this band, live on the radio, seemingly with the balls of The Clash and a lyrical sensibility that reflected living in post-Thatcher Britain under the rule of drab, establishment-educated men in boring grey suits. My ears pricked up to the sound of ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’, then I guess the same cynicism that Steve Lamacq pondered over kicked in as I wondered if they were really “for real”. After all, punk was long over, The Clash were history, Weller was mute and Britain was happy to languish in a Dance culture, seemingly content with the easy escape offered by cheap electronic music, served on a bed of Ecstasy. So weren’t these Welsh boyos just jumping on a bandwagon from the past? Well, perhaps not so I gave them the benefit of the doubt.

Over the next decade I watched from the sidelines as they continued to build a solid fan-base on the back of successful albums and equally passionate live work. As a spectator, I more than enjoyed their live appearances on the BBC’s ‘Later’ show and was glued to the documentary made about the disappearance of Richey Edwards. Despite my self-promises to buy their CD’s and go to their gigs, I never quite got around to it, so the phone call I took was a fresh chance to do something about my apathy and get my ass over to pay my respects, respect being something I have an endless supply of for this band.

A sold out hothouse of a hall played host to the event, identical to the student union venues I’d played around the country over the years. Was a band of their magnitude they really going to play in such a tiny room? Not that I was complaining, I just couldn’t believe my luck at the opportunity for the small price of a train ticket.

And so it began, the consummation of an 18 year on/off affair with a band I’d never quite crossed the line to make full commitment with. “Why the hell didn’t I do this earlier?” was my initial reaction. The band were nothing less than I expected and had lost none of the passion I’d detected belting out of the radio all those years ago. Hit after hit were delivered with the gusto that none of the young bands I see on ‘Later’ today have a hope in hell of achieving. You can’t fake angst in music. It has to be real. If you lived through the ravages of the post-79 Conservative government as a child and then a teenager on the wrong side of the economic divide, the idea of fighting back at the bastards in power was never far away. For me, the Manics are the last of my generation still operating under a policy that is still as valid today as it was 30 years ago, though there’s a bit more sophistication to it these days.

Personal highlights of the set were the solo-acoustic version James did of ‘You Stole The Sun From My Heart’ (stunning) and ‘Ocean Spray’, the poignancy of which, was lost on me until after the gig, though something touched me about its performance. Later on, I discovered the underlying theme behind the song and how it mirrored events in my own life.  The closing statement James Dean Bradfield emphatically addressed to our collective was something along the lines of, “there is no us and you – only WE!” And you know what? I believe he was 4REAL. This time though, the razor blade could safely stay in its packet.