Music interview: Manic Street Preachers on the 20th anniversary of Everything Must Go

Manic Street Preachers are marking 20 years since their album Everything Must Go with a tour. Duncan Seaman reports.

Manic Street Preachers. Picture: Alex Lake

Released on May 20, 1996, Everything Must Go was the album that finally fulfilled Manic Street Preachers’ early claims that one day they would be million sellers.

Yet joy over the Welsh band’s success was mingled with sorrow at the loss of their co-lyricist and rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards, who had disappeared a year earlier. (He was eventually declared legally dead in 2008.)

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Twenty years on, Nicky Wire, the band’s bass player who took over as their chief lyricist after Edwards’ disappearance, admits he, singer and lead guitarist James Dean Bradfield and drummer Sean Moore were “a little bit” conscious at the time that Everything Must Go could be their defining moment. “The climate had changed dramatically outside us as well as within us – there was the explosion with Oasis and the rest of it,” he says.

“Even though we’d had hits before – Motorcycle Emptiness had gone top 10 and Theme From M*A*SH* – the landscape had totally changed. The fact that we had all these songs we were listening to in the studio and recording we just felt like ‘if it doesn’t happen now it’s never going to happen’. I did feel a quiet confidence that we would go from being the biggest cult band to just being one of the biggest bands.”

Though the Manics had lost their figurehead, Wire doesn’t think the band seriously contemplated splitting up in 1995. He does, however, add: “There was a period of five or six months where it just wasn’t an issue, I guess; we didn’t even consider ourselves in a band, it just didn’t come up, it wasn’t the conversation. We were just sat around waiting and worrying and trying to make sense of everything. It wasn’t until A Design For Life, when I sent those lyrics up to James and luckily enough he phoned me the next day and sang it down the phone and the rest is history.”

One of the great songs about working class identity, which opened with the line ‘Libraries gave us power’, A Design For Life was also a song that Wire feels the Manics couldn’t have made while Edwards was in their ranks.

“I think generally I realised I could never match Richey’s extraordinary internalisation and intellect and consumption of culture,” he says. “I’d like to think I could hold my own but in terms of writing lyrics it’s just never going to happen.

“I’d bought a little house in the valleys, I’d got married and I was rediscovering a lot of things from my youth through the poetry of Dylan Thomas and R S Thomas and through the Chartists and working class movements and it seemed to fit naturally that that kind of social history could help redefine the band a bit.”

Wire says his lyrics were fuelled by a sense of anger. “I was getting pretty annoyed by the portrayal of working class culture as purely one of a raised eyebrow or some sort of Carry On film. It was all just reduced to silliness, really, and it just wasn’t part of the culture I came from.”

Wire has described Everything Must Go as a “melancholic victory” while Bradfield has talked about the “bittersweetness” of it becoming a hit. Performing the album live – as the band will on their current tour – still stirs complex emotions.

“It’s all rock ’n’ roll music at the end of the day but there are certain moments in the set where I can have a flashback to where we were just sat reading together or swapping lyrics or just in the room together talking about stuff or watching rugby or football, it does trigger the most minute details of tenderness and just niceness, really, which kind of get lost in the haze of being in a band at times,” he explains. “And live it’s never been the same anyway because we’ve always left that gap [on stage where Richey Edwards used to stand], it was never the same balance that we had before but we’ve kind of found a way to work round that. It’s more just the little poignant moments, really, that certain lines trigger off. Removables in particular – “All removables, all transitory” – always get to me a bit on stage.”

After their current tour to celebrate Everything Must Go’s 20th anniversary, Wire says the band will get down to making a new album. “We’re just trying to get some new ideas together,” he says. “Our last record, Futurology, for a band on their 12th album critically and going in at Number 2 the charts was really good for us and made 
us feel relevant and just felt 
like a late period mini classic album and it’s got to be even better than that. “We’re just trying to find a direction, really. It’s got to be of a certain ideal and it’s got to be definitely of a certain quality so we’re just trying to find a way.”

Manic Street Preachers play at First Direct Arena on May 20. Together Stronger, their official anthem for the Wales football team at the Euro 2016 finals, is out today; a 20th anniversary edition of Everything Must Go is released on May 20.