No study of The Holy Bible, its artistic impact and its significance in the history of Manic Street Preachers should overlook the band’s live performances throughout 1994.
The Life Becoming a Landslide tour early that year saw the group adopting the military look with which they would be associated for their third album, before any new songs were included in their setlists. One track from the Life Becoming a Landslide EP, ‘Comfort Comes’, did however provide an indication of where the band would be heading stylistically, as recording got underway at Cardiff’s Sound Space Studios.
After playing at the Clapham Grand in London in March – in aid of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (following the death of their friend, co-manager and publicist Philip Hall in 1993) – the band visited Thailand in April for two packed shows at Bangkok’s MBK Hall. The trip was documented in the English language music press in two standout pieces, by Barbara Ellen (for NME) and Andrew Smith (The Face), which painted a vivid picture of the atmosphere of the gigs, and the nightlife in which band members and crew were immersed in Pat Pong – with Richey Edwards’s behaviour and comments in particular suggesting that the next album would unhesitatingly explore more morally complex terrain as regards the use, and abuse of bodies.
After their return to the UK, the Manics appeared on the bill at the Carnival Against the Nazis at Brockwell Park in May before their notorious, confrontational Glastonbury festival slot in June, with more new material now being played publicly, following the release of the double A-side single Faster/PCP.
At the end of August, just days before the release of The Holy Bible and in light of Richey Edwards’s hospitalisation during the summer (first in an NHS facility in Whitchurch and then The Priory), the Manics took to the stage at Reading as a three-piece, with some uncertainty as to whether the lyricist and guitarist would return. The entirety of the album’s lyrics were printed as an advertisement which featured in the music press, underlining the significance of Edwards’s and Nicky Wire’s words – how far the band stood apart on the page from the majority of rock bands at the time. On 30 August listeners were finally able to hear The Holy Bible and gain a deeper sense of what had been unfolding in the course of the year.
Edwards rejoined his bandmates for UK and European tours to promote the album in the autumn, his health still a matter of concern within the band and among fans and journalists – but the power of the Manics as a live act was in no doubt. The year culminated in three explosive nights at the London Astoria – Edwards’s final public appearances with the band.
Here, a number of concert goers recall their experiences of seeing Manic Street Preachers on selected UK dates throughout 1994, alongside photos and ephemera. This not only provides an opportunity to consider the captivating energy of the band at an undoubted peak in their career, and amid the difficulties that they faced; but also a chance to include more voices in a project focused upon a work of art that is itself composed of multiple voices and perspectives.
By no means intended as a comprehensive account of the band’s live year (there are no supplementary documents of the Thailand and European gigs, for which readers are referred to the previously mentioned articles in the NME and The Face, as well as Simon Price’s tour reports for Melody Maker), this feature does nevertheless convey something of the visceral experience, the thoughts and reminiscences of those who followed the band as they entered this critical phase. It is also a reflection of fan culture and the attachments that Manic Street Preachers have always inspired.
Both personal and journalistic, full of evocative detail as well as hazy recollection – the effects of history and memory – these contributions offer snapshots, especially for those who weren’t there, of The Holy Bible as a live experience. Yusef Sayed
Christian Oldcorn – Leeds Town & Country, 16 October 1994
The Holy Bible tour was the first time I had seen the Manic Street Preachers live. I was 17 at the time and it was my first “proper” gig. That is, I went with my mates, and not my dad, who had dragged me to gigs he wanted to go to for a few years. I was familiar with the Manics, without being a huge fan. I had taped copies of Generation Terrorists and Gold Against the Soul because my mates and I had a band and we covered a couple of Manics songs. I was listening to lots of music, from Dire Straits and early Fleetwood Mac to INXS, and developing a more indie taste via St Etienne, the Cure and Blur. Everything changed forever for me, on Sunday 16 October at the Town and Country Club in Leeds.
I had heard the lead tracks from The Holy Bible, but not the whole album. The money I had spent on my ticket and taxi meant my budget had been blown. But I knew if ‘Faster’ and ‘Revol’ were anything to go by, we were in for a treat. The preceding weeks were full of chatter about whether or not the gig would happen. Richey had missed Reading, and he clearly wasn’t well. This gig was just six or seven weeks later.
I witnessed for the first time, the army of Manics fans. Those in leopard print and feather boas, and those who had fully embraced the military look. The stage was a chaotic mixture of Marshall, Ampeg, Yamaha and cargo netting! From the opening moment, to the last strained chords of ‘You love Us’, I was captivated. ‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head’ was a highlight but the best moment was, I now know, ‘This is Yesterday’. This song has become the anthem for my life, and a comfort for over 25 years now.
The gig went by in a flash. The next day I made it my mission to own The Holy Bible and the Manics had become “my band”. I’ve seen them over 30 times over the years, and only one gig comes close to that first one for memories and impact: their return to the T&C in Leeds in April 1996, for their first headline gig after Richey disappeared.
The Holy Bible was born for me that night. And it has changed my life forever.
David Granger – Northampton Roadmender, 24 June 1994
I only know which day of the week it was, that it was a Glastonbury warm-up and what the setlist was, thanks to the internet. Thursday 24 June 1994 at the Northampton Roadmender was a long time ago. But I do remember it was a cauldron of Welsh punk rock, wrapped in military garb – and that the support, Dub War, were equally incendiary. We were still a month away from The Holy Bible being unleashed, and the only thing which had been released to date was the set opener ‘Faster’. No-one was really ready for the left turn taken after Gold Against the Soul.
That time in the ’90s was a wasteland in terms of music. Acid House was a mere hangover, Britpop was not yet born or named and, at that time, the NME were so desperate to find a new scene, the best they could conjure up was the New Wave of New Wave. At the Manics gig, the cooler kids had S*M*A*S*H T-shirts, and the less cool wore These Animal Men. These were the cultural barometers we consulted.
That June evening was hot, it was sweaty, it was beer-soaked, it was frenetic, it was a time when the Manics weren’t afraid, and indeed courted confrontation: stylistically, lyrically and musically. It did feel like a return to the edge, anger and distortion of the first record, but carved with a sharper political pen.
Trying to jog my memory, I looked up that ’94 Glastonbury appearance, which was the following night. And you can see the four of them brimming with an arrogant, angry confidence. It was the year of Wire’s “Build a Bypass” proclamation – and they were a band looking for a metaphorical fight. They knew it was a great record.
The context, complaints and consequential news stories overshadow the memories of that Manics period, but I remember that warm-up gig in Northampton felt triumphant. They were ready to conquer.
Helen Davies – Liverpool University, 3 February 1994 // Manchester Academy, 13 October 1994
Although it was before The Holy Bible, I always think of the Liverpool University gig in February 1994 as being the start of that era, because it was the first time I’d seen them wearing the army gear. James came on stage wearing a black beanie hat which he threw into the crowd after a couple of songs. My brother nonchalantly reached up one hand and caught it. I can still picture this so clearly, it was such a perfect moment. I was stood on the barrier, directly in front of James, and I took loads of photos of him and Nicky. I have almost no recollection of Richey at all. I only vaguely remember him as a figure in the shadows.
At the end of ‘You Love Us’, the final song, James threw himself backwards off the stage, partly landing on me, my brother and my penpal who’d come up from London to stay with us, and lay on top of the crowd, still playing, while metallic confetti swirled everywhere. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. I still think, ‘I’ve touched that guitar!’ whenever I see him playing the white Les Paul.
I ended up with James’s setlist. At the time I was disappointed because my penpal was completely overwhelmed with emotion and collapsed on the floor and couldn’t stand up, so I had to take her home in a cab rather than waiting around to get the setlist signed. Anyway, years passed and I forgot all about it, until I found it in a box in the loft last year. I took it with me when I went to see James talk at the Cardiff Poetry Festival earlier this year  and asked him to sign it. He said he was surprised to see that they hadn’t played any Holy Bible songs, as he said by that point they were all “in the bag” (his words).
At the Manchester Academy in October, I was on the barrier again, between James and Nicky – and again, I remember very little about the gig, other than the fact that I loved every minute of it. I think I was so completely in the moment that I wasn’t making any effort to store up memories for later. I feel a bit sad about that now – if I’d known how short-lived that phase of Manics history would be, and that it would be the last time I’d ever see Richey, maybe I’d have written down my impressions immediately afterwards. But then you never think you’re going to forget the things that are important to you.
After the gig, I bought the only piece of official Manics merch I ever owned: a set of dogtags. They’re really poor quality, like they’re made out of a Coke tin, which it now occurs to me would have been the perfect Manics merch, but I loved them anyway and still treasure them.
For all that The Holy Bible is such a famously depressing album, it never made me sad, with the exception of ‘4st 7lb’. At the time I mainly found it incredibly exciting: all those new ideas to think about, new books to read. I was a very bookish kid, but I was never lucky enough to have an inspiring teacher, or any adult who took an interest in recommending books I might find interesting or even talking to me seriously. I was bored out my mind. I know it’s a cliché, but I really did get an education from the Manics, as well as the idea that your intelligence is something to be proud of and a tool you can use to improve your life, rather than something people take the piss out of you for and that’s only useful insofar as it can enable you to earn more money in a job you hate. I never had that thing of an older person saying, ‘Here – read this. You might like it,’ from anyone other than Richey, and there was absolutely nothing in the education I received at school that broadened my mind or made me think differently about the world.
I find, as I get older, I sometimes feel a bit guilty for loving that album so much, when the Manics clearly had to go through hell to create it, but I’m enormously grateful to them that they did and it changed my life for the better.
Rosey R*E*P*E*A*T – Reading Festival, 27 August 1994
I think that a large part of my memories about the Manic Street Preachers at Reading in ’94 are due to the gig’s place in the history of the band, and also its place in the history of my relationship with them.
It lacked the exceptional vibe of a couple of the gigs I’d been to earlier that year, such as the performance at the Clapham Grand in March with Bernard Butler turning up and The Pogues in support, and it was nowhere near the ecstatic, euphoric, passionate and committed chaos of their set at the Anti-Nazi League carnival in June (where I helped fill 11 coaches from Cambridge – and still had to send lots of people on the train!) These standout shows kept alive my belief that this band was special, that this was the band I’d been waiting all my life for.
I’m not sure how much everybody believed that Richey would really not be at the Reading Festival, that he wouldn’t attend, that he was really ill. After some of the hype about past statements turning out not to be quite true, I know that we hoped we would see him pouting and posing, unplugged, stage right as usual. In the event, all there was was this yawning, gaping gap. Something we’ve sadly had to get accustomed to, while never getting used to it.
This appearance, and their position within the festival, had none of the swagger or subversion of their set at the same festival two years earlier, where their noise, their abrasive stage insults, their presentation, their persona and their (albeit unintentional) injury of a security guard, had made them genuinely seem like the outsiders that we had originally fallen for, a continuation of the working class kids wrecking the posh Downing College Ball. It felt less like a normal, enormous ‘Fuck You’ to the musical establishment, and more like a band fulfilling a contractual obligation. (And later we found out that that is what it was, a performance needed to help pay Richey’s Priory fees.)
While these are the doubts we may have intellectualised beforehand or afterwards, of course whenever Manic Street Preachers take the stage, now as then, all such cerebral bullshit is forgotten for the sheer rush of joy, solidarity and vindication. They appeared in camo gear, James hiding his long locks and stubble beneath a raised hood like an awkward teenager, yelling “Go Faster!” before launching into incredibly powerful versions of ‘Faster’ and ‘PCP’. Hearing ‘She Is Suffering’ and ‘Revol’ played live for only the second and third time, ahead of The Holy Bible‘s release, felt like privileged information, even if it meant we were as yet still unaware of the brilliance of the album that was to hit us so hard, and leave music immutably altered, just a couple of days later. The cover of ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ was telling, and the cheeky smuggling of snippets of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ (along with the intro to ‘Suicide is Painless’) into ‘Repeat’ was inspired.
Here it fades in the memory besides the early shows, and also some of those to come later that year, such as the incredible Holy Bible tour dates, which I remember much more vividly, and of course the definitive Astoria gigs.
On a personal level, the gig was a chance for my friend’s MSP obsessed 9-year-old son, known by his fanzine name of ‘Dweeb’ when he helped with the zine, to get to his second Manics gig, as he was too young for most rock venues. His unpretentious joy at catching his idols live, and his genuine care for the absent Richey, are probably my abiding memories of the day.
Gavin Thomas – Cardiff Astoria, 20 October 1994
The Manics were “my band”, in many ways. They were from the same Eastern valleys as me, they were history students, punk fans, metal fans and at the heart of my education. I had spent hours poring over the quotes in Generation Terrorists, I had bored my sixth form friends with constant quotes and much the same when I moved on to uni in ’92.
I had a green St Sebastian T-shirt with ‘It’s not that I can’t find worth in anything’ on the back that I wore to destruction. I bought Gold Against the Soul, which I secretly loved (always a metal fan at heart) but the album seemed out of step with the world. I had seen the Manics at the Philip Hall benefit at the Clapham Grand in March. And then at an Anti-Nazi League gig in Brockwell Park in May. These were weird gigs, as the crowd weren’t solely Manics fans. It was also the beginning of the Britpop period and things were becoming more parochial and uniform.
I read about The Holy Bible with ridiculous excitement, I remember the Melody Maker misreporting that the cover would feature a sumo wrestler, it seemed so confrontational. I bought it from Woolworths in Ebbw Vale… and it consumed me. I’d seen the performance of ‘Faster’ on Top of the Pops and I was mesmerised. The Rolling Stones inspired, glammy rock ‘n’ roll look had disappeared: they looked terrifying. My Dad asked me, “What’s wrong with them?” I found the album bewildering, it was so dense, but unlike the previous two I didn’t know the musical references. The metal influences had given way to post-punk and industrial influences. My musical world changed, I became obsessed with Joy Division and Magazine. I wrote dense lyrics about consumerism.
My friend Kristian, who had introduced me to the band, rang me up excitedly to say he had got tickets for The Holy Bible tour. I travelled back from London and we met in Cardiff. The venue was strange, it was historically a nightclub that played chart music. It had ferns, and mirrors and felt weirdly artificial. Reggae/metal act Dub War opened. They felt appropriate, their music was aggressive, angular, awkward. Sleeper were next, it felt too lightweight, too “normal”. By the end of their set the venue was seething, the mirrored walls and ceilings were dripping with rivers of sweat. It genuinely fell as a light mist.
The atmosphere was now oppressive, the heat was overwhelming, my green St Sebastian shirt stuck to me. When the Manics hit the stage it ignited the room. The hot sweaty mass of people lurched and leapt as one. When they played ‘Faster’ it felt like the walls were shifting. ‘Of Walking Abortion’ was terrifying, “Who’s responsible? You fucking are!” we all screamed along. This was our band, we all shouted “fuck off” when James played the bends in ‘Stay Beautiful’. The break to play ‘Raindrops’ and ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ was needed, as we all took a breath.
When we left the venue, it was a release. The cold air revived me. I would see them again (never with Richey) but it never felt the same, it never had that communal sense – people looked me at weirdly when I shouted “fuck off” during ‘Stay Beautiful’.
Steve Burnett – Cardiff Astoria, 20 October 1994
It is hard for me to disentangle the gig itself from the sense, in 1994, that the Manics were the only band that genuinely mattered, and that they were stealthily taking over my entire existence. I’d lived in Whitchurch, Cardiff for most of my life and it would be hard to overstate the mundanity of the locale. Two things stand out about Whitchurch in the early 90s; a massive secondary school and a massive psychiatric hospital. Whitchurch is not a village that often attracts a visiting rock star. I mention all this because, in 1993, I moved into a rented house in the shadow of Whitchurch Hospital.
1993 was when I came to live and breathe the Manics. I’d been aware of the early singles as a student in London and I’d suffered the inevitable and hilarious abuse that follows when you are from Wales and there’s a ‘comedy’ Welsh band making the front page of the NME. 1993 was my first Manics gig and, as a Sociology graduate/former devotee of Hanoi Rocks, I was swept up in the incongruous mix of politics, polemic and cross-dressing. Nicky taking the stage like a distorted Bette Davis drew the adoration and bile of the festival audience whilst James rained a torrent of apposite insults upon us – it just seemed to be the ultimate desecration of the corpse of rock ‘n’ roll. Spiteful, danceable, fun.
1994’s show wasn’t fun.
I don’t think I can articulate quite how despised the Manics were in Wales in 1994. They had painted a target onto our nation and invited the world to take a shot. The Holy Bible seemed to be a last stand for the oddballs of Cardiff to rally around. Let’s be clear, Cardiff in the ’80s and ’90s was a Wild West town. Hordes descended from across the valleys, suited and booted and ready to bust your nose if you looked a bit dubious. I wore silk shirts and an armful of cheap bangles. I shed a lot of blood, smiling broadly as each punch landed. Oddballs needed a home and the Manics provided it. There were no Welsh flags and Valley Girl T-shirts in 1994. There was a disenfranchised core. There was defiance and hate.
There were also the ambulance chasers. Twice, while driving though the back streets of Whitchurch, I dreamt that I saw Nicky Wire strolling about with a carrier bag in his hand. I assumed I was hallucinating. Eventually the news broke about Richey and all became clear. Suddenly the Manics were tabloid fodder and that attracted both curiosity and some deeply, deeply troubled new followers of the band. 1994’s show wasn’t fun.
Richey wasn’t anti-fun though. My first encounter with him was at an Oasis gig in Newport TJ’s. He wasn’t there to pour scorn, he was clearly soaking up the zeitgeist but also, y’know, enjoying himself. People seem to set up the Manics as the alternative to Britpop but there was great commonality. Both bands fiercely working class, aiming high and exuding nihilism. It made total sense to me that my next MSP show would see them supporting Oasis. That 1996 show was like the uncorking of undiluted hope. A desire to just BE.
1994, though. The atmosphere in the incongruous setting of a faded nightclub was seething. Dark. Tense. Dangerous. The camouflaged stage promised a war. Richey patrolling his corner like an institutionalised polar bear. Hollow, blank eyes. Impossibly glamorous of course, but less so with hindsight. No cross-dressing tonight, no ‘cheeky’ quips from Wire. No fun. Quite simply the most emotionally devastating cultural experience I will ever have. This was a band fighting for its life, each member struggling for air. Brutal, unforgiving, unforgettable. Unsustainable. Even then it was hard to escape the feeling that, just by being there, by encouraging this, you were part of the problem. Yes, there was the intellectual draw, the musical draw, the sheer magnetism of the power of expression, but there was also the circus sideshow. Would he turn up? Would the show be cancelled? Was this the end?
I find it impossible to convey here, or in any form of expression, to anyone that wasn’t there in 1994 quite what it was like before the Welsh flags and lager louts carried the band into arena tours. There’s no question that everything did have to go, it just couldn’t be like it was any longer. It’s okay to visit that level of bleakness, but nobody should be expected to dwell there.
Simon Cole – Cambridge Corn Exchange, 10 October 1994 // London Astoria, 19–21 December 1994
I was an early adopter. I was introduced to Manic Street Preachers on the cusp of the album Generation Terrorists being released. A more musically adventurous friend gave me a copy of New Art Riot on 12″ and I was hooked. I didn’t pretend to understand it (I could barely make out a word James was saying) or realise why it was so different to the Now That’s What I Call Music 17 CD which had been the last album that I had bought, but something really clicked. The posturing, the sloganeering, the confidence, the quotes, the attitude, the glamour. All of it felt strangely recycled but also totally relevant and important. I saw them live for the first time at the Cambridge Junction in 1992. Unforgettable, sweaty and necessary. My first revelatory gig (everything up to that point either naff and mainstream or minor and local). It dawned: an important band with a message delivered in spray paint and glitter who I loved and would have a connection with for the rest of my life.
In the lead-up to the release of The Holy Bible, I had just turned 18 and was living away from home for the first time in “that London”. Previous jaunts that meant lengthy train journeys and missed last buses suddenly became easy and regular to do. Rock Against Racism in late May outside in Brockwell Park, the first airings of tracks from The Holy Bible (and starting a gig with ‘Repeat’ – perhaps the first and only time?). ‘Faster’ and ‘PCP’ had a vitality and speed to them unlike anything before. ‘Love’s Sweet Exile’ and ‘Stay Beautiful’ seeming almost staid on the same setlist. You could just tell it was the beginning of something special.
Fast forward to 10 October and the third time seeing the band in Cambridge, the second time at the Corn Exchange – but something is different. Richey gaunt and haunted, lacking the abandon which he would always have in the early days. Now properly playing and not going through the motions exactly, just not as present. The rush to the left hand side of the barriers/stage right of the stage so you could be on the “Richey side” now not so vital. ‘Revol’ and ‘Yes’ a sucker punch of a start, following the Dust Brothers opening salvo of ‘Done and Dusted’, which would now define the start of a Manic Street Preachers gig, for the next few months anyway.
The album, which had practically never left my Walkman as I travelled around town and up to Cambridge, had a bite when played live, which immediately made you pay attention and question in which direction this band was going. It was brutal and rhythmic. They were so removed and apart from anything else in the scene at the time. Lacking the polish and sheen of the Gold Against The Soul era gigs and the abandon of the Generation Terrorists era. This was a band deep within a white-hot zone of creativity and drive which was borderline scary.
On to December and the three-night salvo of the Astoria gigs. Legendary and unforgettable. This was the band at its peak and strangely, it also felt like the end of something – easy to say with hindsight, but this was a definite punctuation mark to the history of the band thus far. Probably not a full-stop, but where could they go from here? The sheer noise of the first night. Levels which must have blown speakers and eardrums and yet it didn’t feel too much, it felt just right. ‘Faster’ now finding its way to the opening position, or close to the top, as opposed to being buried mid-setlist in Cambridge. James in his ‘Kill Them All, Let God Sort ‘Em Out’ T-shirt, which I spent the next year looking for in Camden and surrounding Army and Navy stores. Tattoos were handed out to those at the front of the queue on night 1 and 2 and then literally thrown with abandon to all and sundry on night 3. All of it felt like a band at their peak, but perhaps not knowing what the future held due to the uncertainty of that year. ‘Slash N Burn’ jettisoned on night 3 for a trio of covers: ‘Bright Eyes’, ‘Last Christmas’ and ‘What’s My Name’.
On the final night the stage destruction just felt inevitable. Probably unplanned, but once it started it was right and righteous. It was the only possible ending. Devastation as Richey prowled, wandering the stage seemingly wanting to rent every string from every instrument. I had moved up to the balcony, exhausted from having done a day shift at a temporary Christmas job sorting mail as a student and then racing to the Astoria three days and nights in a row. I hung out around the stage door at the conclusion of it all. I couldn’t go home just yet, surely there was more. We all knew there wouldn’t be an encore, but surely there must be something.
I struck up a conversation with a Japanese journalist leaving the after-party who asked if I wanted his backstage pass as a souvenir as we shared a cigarette and I commented that I had seen all three nights. Grateful and adding the pass to my tattoo stash I realised that I suddenly had the keys to the kingdom and headed up past the tired bouncer flashing my pass and into the after-party, upset to hear that the band had left relatively quickly following the trail of wrecked instruments (and that someone from Columbia was probably looking to have a chat about the bill for the impromptu ending). The energy was celebratory but also strangely muted. Things were winding down, but people honestly felt like they may have seen the last Manics gig.
Obviously no-one knew that was the last gig that Richey would play and for those select few, the last time they would ever see him again in public/on stage. However if that was them going out with a bang, you knew it would truly never be forgotten, flicking through each new book on the band, looking for mention of 19-21 December 1994.
Gary Law – Cardiff Astoria, 20 October 1994
My memory holds a few things clear about this show. The Manics were in a dark place in this period and their performance was raw, emotional and angry. The club was hot and filled with condensation. Dub War were the first act and I’ll be honest, this passed me by completely. Sleeper were second on the bill, Louise Wener was a star on the up. Their bubblegum indie pop did seem to jar a bit with the audience who were pretty much all waiting for the headliners.
The Manics came on in their full military regalia, James in a white sailor’s uniform, Richey in a black U-boat uniform, Nicky in combats and Sean in, of all things, a United Nations blue beret.
The set started with ‘Revol’. The sound was loud and very powerful. There seemed to be a morbid curiosity about Richey. People crowded at his side of the stage muttering about his weight and mood. He just sort of stood there in his own world, strumming gently through the set while the noise swirled around him. The set leant heavily on The Holy Bible and some of those harsh pieces jarred against the older more melodic material. In between ‘La Tristesse Durera’ and ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ they played two of the darkest Holy Bible tracks, ‘Mausoleum’ and ‘Of Walking Abortion’, with James swapping his Gibson guitar for a Fender, giving the songs a jagged, edgy sound.
The show climaxed with ‘You Love Us’, with Richey and Nicky trashing their guitars at the end and Nicky holding his mic stand out into the mosh pit. The walls of the club were drenched with condensation and I noticed that as people were leaving they were drained by the power of the performance.
I remember my friend wondering if the band were going to break up because there seemed such a finality to the performance. They had had a hard, problematic year after all.
And then in 1995 it all went to shit.
David McDonald – Belfast Mandela Hall, 23 October 1994
There was a girl in my maths class called Carly, and she was one of those Manics fans, the joyously obsessive type, which all Manics fans were before Everything Must Go made all your mates Manics fans. The Manics were coming to Belfast and Atlantic 252 had been playing ‘Roses In The Hospital’ every morning on the way to school for a year and I liked that, so I decided to go. The Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdown has reminded many of us of how important live music is to us. That feeling of being crammed into a room with so many folk you have something in common with, all shouting the same words, is hard to describe, but it’s important to many of us, and it’s important to Manics fans, the perennial outsiders and rejects.
That night in autumn 1994, in the students’ union at Queen’s University in Belfast was the first time I’d really felt like that. I didn’t go, like Carly would have, as a confirmed Manics obsessive, however. I went because in 1994 Belfast was at the tail end of a decade long lockdown of its own, which meant that the majority of the bands we read about in the NME and Melody Maker just didn’t bother coming to play. Partly it was the added expense of loading all your gear onto the ferry, the hotels, the different promoters, but partly it was the Troubles too. At 15 years old, I hadn’t been to that many gigs yet, and it didn’t feel like there were many to go to. Anyone who was coming to Belfast was worth a listen.
I gave Carly in Maths a couple of blank tapes and she reappeared a week later having filled them with everything the Manics had ever done, B-sides and all. I got my ticket and pressganged my pal Phil into coming too. He thought the Manics were a bit naff, a bit over the top, cheesy metallers, but he agreed to come for the night out and also because there just weren’t that many gigs to go to.
My memories of the gig itself are frustratingly few – it was nearly 30 years ago and I’d probably put away two litres of Old English cider on the way in. I remember walking up Royal Avenue with my ticket in my hip pocket and my hand on top of it because I was so afraid of it flying away. I remember the sense of relief as we were actually allowed into the students’ union, past the bouncers. Sleeper, at that point an up-and-coming indie prospect, were the support act on the tour, but as often happened in Ireland, it wasn’t deemed worth their while coming, so we were treated to a set from Derry band Schtum.
The Manics were in full army surplus chic mode, James was wearing the white sailor suit; Nicky and Richey had camo face paint on. Of the stuff on Carly’s tapes, it was Gold Against the Soul which had grabbed me first, it was after all only a few years since I’d been obsessed with Extreme’s Pornograffiti. The Holy Bible material was more difficult to get into, even if ultimately it was more rewarding. There was a distinct difference at the gig between the songs from Generation Terrorists and Gold Against the Soul, and the Holy Bible material. The atmosphere for those songs was eerie and the crowd was quite restrained, compared to the moshing and dancing which happened during earlier songs.
It was my first Manics gig, and I’ve lost track of how many others I’ve been to; but it was also the last Manics gig I went to where the crowd was mostly comprised of those kinds of Manics fans – the ones with the make-up on and the feather boas and the slogans written on their clothes. A few years later, after the success of Everything Must Go, the crowds were different. At the Mandela Hall that night it was all fishnets, with the odd heavy metaller – in 1994 the Manics were as likely to be in Kerrang! as the NME.
I remember being right up at the stage, I remember dancing and moshing, and I remember an older girl checking I was alright after I got bumped. Manics fans are always really good with each other like that, but it was new for me that night.
There was a quiet bit towards the end, with James doing some songs solo. It wasn’t like the acoustic interludes he did later, it was just him and his white Les Paul. A sparse cover of Nirvana’s ‘Pennyroyal Tea’ from that part was a highlight of the night. The band finished raucously with ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ and ‘You Love Us’, during which Richey put his guitar through the roof. And that was me, one of those Manics fans now.
Not long afterwards I found myself in Waterstone’s, having a copy of The Torture Garden put on special order for me.
MissF – Manchester Academy, 13 October 1994 // London Astoria, 21 December 1994
I have seen hundreds of shows since, but the closest thing I have found to the experience of the two Holy Bible shows is immersive theatre. It’s impossible to explain the sensory intensity and I have never witnessed anything else that has come close.
The Manchester Academy date was my first gig. I was 14. I took a tenner in my jeans pocket with the idea that I could bribe the bouncer to let me into the (over 18s) show if my awful fake NUS card didn’t work. It wasn’t necessary.
The room felt oppressive. The smells are the most evocative in my memory – the thick dry ice hanging in the air, the sweat. The air felt heavy and earthy. Everything looked and felt murky. The stage was draped in camouflage netting and was dark. All the gear on the stage was dark, the lighting was dark – reds and blues and greens.
I worked my way to the middle of the crowd near the front – I didn’t know how this worked. The moment the band started playing the crowd exploded into aggression. James adopted a wide-legged stance, grubby white sailor suit, feet planted, screaming, spitting out streams of words, his face contorted with the effort, his fingers dashing off the guitar parts making it look like nothing. Nicky sneering and pogoing. Musically it was like a percussion bomb radiating out from the stage, it felt like a battle – the band a finely drilled unit of pure rage and the audience responding in kind. It felt like the band despised the crowd for their adoration.
Surrounded by solid men in stinking clothes, their sweat soaked my T-shirt. Their smell. I fought to stay standing, I desperately wanted to see the band but I could only catch glimpses of their heads silhouetted in the seconds when I wasn’t overwhelmed by bodies pushing me around. Feeling woozy, I pushed backwards and worked my way out of the epicentre. I felt arms around me from behind and remembered reading about how people helped each other at gigs. Then I felt a wet mouth on my ear and I realised this wasn’t friendly. The sensation jolted me and I jabbed my elbow into the body behind me and broke free, fleeing to the back of the hall.
At the London Astoria, the crowd seemed older, much more gentle. I worked my way close to Richey’s area and ended up on the second row. The stage set was muted again and Richey’s lighting was especially dim. There were aged flowers on his speaker. Throughout the show he mostly looked down, sometimes smiling at a private joke and mouthing the words to himself – defiant, “these are mine”. Occasionally making eye contact. The whites of his eyes looked huge in the dark. He often physically recoiled from the stares of the crowd and appeared most comfortable subsumed by the gloom.
The mood of the show was less abrasive than Manchester – even playful during James’s acoustic section. Richey was angular – jutting bones and splayed elbows, playing the rockstar more, preening and throwing occasional shapes.
The destruction of the gear at the end of the set felt joyful. One by one the band left the stage until Richey stood alone in the centre, repeatedly hitting himself over the head with the neck of his broken guitar. It looked like it hurt.
Lee Morgan – Norwich UEA, Friday 7 October // London Astoria, 21 December 1994
1994 was an interesting year for me personally. I passed my driving test on the third attempt, I was in my first serious long-term relationship but more importantly my favourite band – Manic Street Preachers – were releasing their third album, with rumours circulating of another re-invention and another new direction.
Looking back, some seeds had already been sown. I saw them in January at Brixton Academy and James was wearing army surplus. That same month Life Becoming a Landslide was released as the last single off Gold Against the Soul and one of the B-sides really stood out. A harsh, stripped back snarl with a militaristic drum beat, ‘Comfort Comes’ was a sign of things to come. It is still even now my favourite Manics B-side.
But it was when I opened that May issue of NME and saw the news piece announcing they were releasing a new double A-side single, Faster/PCP, that things became interesting. The image that accompanied the text had James front and centre in Russian army jacket and balaclava, the other three behind him in military wear and medals. I can still remember the sense of excitement looking at this image, knowing that something within the group had dramatically changed.
And then came the TV appearances – ‘Faster’ on Top of the Pops, Channel 4’s Naked City, Butt Naked and their Glastonbury coverage. Reading Festival highlights on ITV’s The Beat. Their look and sound had now become raw, angry, spiteful, nasty, pissed off.
With The Holy Bible now released, purchased and played on continuous repeat I could not wait to see them live. A tour was announced for October and, living in Essex, I’m naturally drawn to the London dates. But strangely there were no London shows scheduled. So myself and a few mates decided to go the Norwich gig on the Friday night, at the University of East Anglia. The Manics did not disappoint – the intense ferocity of what I had seen and heard on TV was in full evidence.
Even though it is almost 26 years since I saw them at Norwich I still have one abiding memory. During ‘Faster’ there was a power cut – no sound, no lights, no nothing. As various technicians and crew scurried around trying to resolve the problem, the crowd continued to sing along word and note perfect. I still remember James, in his white sailor suit, standing there with a smile on his face, which was somewhere between astonishment and admiration.
Fast forward to December and the band announced a Christmas show at the London Astoria on the 19th – it sold out within minutes. They put on another the next night – that too sold out quickly. So when they announced a third show on the 21st I was not going to be left behind again and managed to get a ticket. My mate Andy went on the first night and told me they absolutely blew everybody away with their passion, power and aggression. Not to mention a small display of petulant instrument smashing.
So the 21st arrived and at the venue excitement levels had reached fever pitch. Unfortunately I could not get a standing ticket, so had to be content in the seats in the balcony, but looking back at the absolute venom MSP were spitting out at these Astoria shows, I was glad to be at a safe distance. The show itself seemed to whizz by at breakneck speed and then came that famous last five minutes when ‘You Love Us’ just exploded into a frenzied mass destruction of equipment (and anything else they could get their hands on it seemed).
I managed to take a photo of James smashing Wire’s bass whilst wearing a Santa hat, something that has become the envy of some Manics fans I know.
For me, 1994 was a benchmark year for the Manics and those three Astoria shows will always be a defining moment. I truly believe even to this day that for those 12 months they were untouchable as being the best UK rock band in the world.
Contributors: Séamus Colgan, Helen Davies, Steve Burnett, Simon Cole, MissF, Christian Oldcorn, Gavin Thomas, Gary Law, Simon Whittle, Rosey R*E*P*E*A*T, David Granger, David McDonald, Lee Morgan