Lines from Memory

‘Would you like to live those long-lost days again … can we go back? Can we go back? Oh, no! no! It’s too late now. Time has raced past us like a train. It has left its lines in our skin.’ – Eugène Ionesco

“I was very young, but writing from an older point of view, thinking about ‘reading some old letters’, ‘memories that hold your life together, like glue’ and family members. It’s looking back and forward – melancholy but with a hope that things are going to change for the better.” – Matt Johnson

‘It was an odd thing about my life: whenever I was happy, I would think my happiness could not last; as soon as I thought that, it would indeed go up in smoke. Not because the external conditions creating it had ceased to exist, but because I was conscious that in due course those external conditions would cease to exist, inevitably.’ – M Ageyev

Manic Street Preachers have always made the past a central part of their music; whether taking historical events and figures as their lyrical subjects, or engaging with their own history, evoking earlier songs and personal experiences. While promoting their debut album Generation Terrorists, Richey Edwards, in his typically provocative manner, was frequently seen wearing a T-shirt with the printed slogan ‘Bomb the Past’, broadcasting the band’s desire to blaze a new trail that would avoid the previous dead ends of culture and politics. And not long after making the The Holy Bible, the band would, understandably, sing of their wish to ‘escape from our history’. But as writer Larissa Wodtke says: ‘For better, and sometimes worse, memory and the archive came to define Manic Street Preachers.’ [1] On two back-to-back songs on the album, this reflection on the past and its bearing on the present takes on that more obviously personal quality, making reference to childhood and ageing, and more specifically Nicky Wire and Richey Edwards’s feelings when looking back.

‘This is Yesterday’ stands out in two obvious ways. It features the only lyric on The Holy Bible written almost entirely by Wire. The focus is once again shifted, from journalistic social and political analysis, towards introspection – but without the descriptions of bodily abuse, or the voyeuristic approach taken on Edwards’s first-person songs. James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore’s musical composition meanwhile is unusually based around chords and arpeggios played in open G. The alternate guitar tuning would have been familiar to Bradfield from his earliest days as a player (it was used by The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards on Exile on Main Street, the first album Bradfield learned as a teen) but it had not been typical of his songwriting on the band’s first two albums. The overall effect in the context of The Holy Bible is immediately apparent; the tuning produces a more harmonious whole, the entire structure being built upon a major chord. Already a contrast to the aggressive attack and chromatic solo runs of the preceding track, ‘Faster’, the pacing and the more softly intoned vocals of ‘This is Yesterday’ also make it more resigned and fragile sounding – though it climaxes with one of James Dean Bradfield’s finest, emotionally raw, fuzz-drenched guitar solos.

The song is generally seen as an interlude, a rare moment of relative quiet on a work of unrelenting urgency and fury. That is certainly how it was intended, according to Bradfield. He told Keith Cameron: “I realised there’s not one moment of oxygen on the album, where you can flourish in this calm moment, flourish in this boredom, flourish in this regret… our basic melancholia default position. It just needs to be there.” [2] That ‘default’ melancholia suggests a reversion to type which, lyrically, can be traced through some of the band’s most well-known songs up to that point, from ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ to ‘From Despair to Where’. But it is also possible to see ‘This is Yesterday’ as looking forward; one template for the band’s music in the years after 1994. In the same way that the B-side ‘Comfort Comes’ marks a fulcrum point, when the sound of The Holy Bible became more determined, following the slickly produced, commercial rock sound of Gold Against the Soul, there is (almost paradoxically) a sense of things to come with ‘This is Yesterday’. While its modulated instrumentation and vocal lines, treated with tremolo, phase and distortion effects, are in keeping with the band’s post-punk aesthetic in 1994, the song’s musical and lyrical mood is closer to the songs that would appear on their next album, Everything Must Go, and many of those that would follow after that – with Wire left as the sole lyricist.

The band’s first album after the disappearance of Richey Edwards is to a certain degree misrepresented by its most famous singles – the string-laden working-class anthem ‘Design For Life’ and the propulsive, yearning melodic splendour of ‘Australia’ – as being a total break with the preoccupations and style of The Holy Bible. This despite it including some of Edwards’s most haunting and idiosyncratic lyrics; one song that, lyrically and musically, might easily have been a Holy Bible outtake or B-side (‘Removables’, in fact written three years earlier), and images of physical and psychological agitation that seem to have entered the UK singles chart and the BRIT Awards by stealth. ‘This is Yesterday’ was one of the final songs written for The Holy Bible (recorded in June 1994, along with ‘Revol’) and the same alternate guitar tuning would be used by Bradfield for ‘Kevin Carter’, one of the last songs sketched for the possible follow-up in early 1995 while Edwards was still with the group. Less a wholesale reinvention, more a reframing of the band in remarkable new colours.

Though it is easy to hear ‘This is Yesterday’ as somewhat out of place among the scathing moral judgements and the more harrowing snapshots of suffering across The Holy Bible, its sentiment is in keeping with much of the band’s catalogue – from the jaded perspective of post-adolescence on Generation Terrorists and Gold Against the Soul, to the autumnal melancholy of This is My Truth Tell Me Yours and the longing for familial care on ‘Rewind the Film’. The song provides the same kind of salve as ‘William’s Last Words’ does at the close of its post-punk companion album Journal For Plague Lovers (somewhat appropriately sung by Wire). But more interestingly, a closer look at the words reveals unrecognised overlaps with the images and topics addressed by Wire and Edwards in the more brutal and allusive songs on the same album. ‘The only way to gain approval is by exploiting the very thing that cheapens me’ may as well have been lifted from an early draft of ‘Yes’. There are biblical phrasings, too, in keeping with the entire concept of The Holy Bible, and its concern with guilt and degradation: ‘I repent, I’m sorry, everything is falling apart’ sings Bradfield, along with a couplet which echoes one version of Proverbs 24:31: ‘Houses as ruins and gardens as weeds’.

In writing the music, though, Bradfield reached beyond the most often discussed Holy Bible cornerstones, explaining to Keith Cameron that ‘This is Yesterday’ was shaped by a pair of songs by The Jam: ‘In the Crowd’ and ‘Ghosts’. [3] Whether intended as such or not at the time of recording, the song also seems to be closely linked with another band favourite – one that they would later cover. ‘This is the Day’ by The The not only shares a near-identical sounding title but also the overall theme of reflecting on a treasured past. Matt Johnson’s 1983 song employs parallel images of blinding, cheapness and hidden truths:

‘And the sun burns into your eyes’…
‘All the money in the world couldn’t buy back those days’…
‘But the side of you they’ll never see is when you’re left alone with your memories’.

A promotional video made to accompany the cover version performed by the Manics for their 2011 National Treasures singles collection leads with an onscreen quote about memory by that central voice of The Holy Bible, JG Ballard. It then runs through videos and pictures of the band, chronicling their history up to that point. The footage leans heavily on the pre-Everything Must Go era, with Edwards featuring prominently, before ending on a group photo from 1994, the four-piece band posing in their army-style clothing. There is a clear personal dimension to ‘This is Yesterday’ as well. An indication of the introspective writing style Nicky Wire would begin to use more on subsequent albums, it refers to the lyricist’s own childhood, and his doubts about the present. The music seems to reflect the sadness and despondency that was deepening as 1994 progressed, with Edwards’s increasing ill health coming so soon after the death of the band’s manager Philip Hall, to whom The Holy Bible is dedicated. Wire would later refer to the loss of these two friends on ‘Enola/Alone’.

In what is one of the most overlooked moments of the album, the song begins with a remarkable statement that threatens to undo the faith in language that drives The Holy Bible – when all other sources of faith in the modern world seem to have failed: ‘Do not listen to a word I say / Just listen to what I can keep silent’. The import is easily missed in its apparent simplicity. It introduces the idea of an unreliable narrator, acknowledging a sense of fallibility behind the album’s militant conviction. It asks the listener to forget what they are being told, suggesting that the band’s words, too, are suspect. It also resonates in a more obviously universal and poignant way, conveying how each of us might miss what is troubling those closest to us – that which remains unspoken.

Performing the song live at Cardiff Castle in 2015, Wire explained: “This song is about dreaming, it’s about melancholia, it’s about reading RS Thomas, Philip Larkin and Elizabeth Jennings. Kind of feeling comfort in coffee, chocolate and tea.” [4] While the first part rings true, there seems to be little comfort in ‘This is Yesterday’, despite looking back to happier times. It feels, rather, that it is pitched at a crisis point – one where there is little desire to indulge the mind and body at all: ‘Why do anything when you can forget everything?’. This is in no small part a result of Edwards’s lyrical contribution. Wire told the BBC’s Mastertapes radio programme: “Most of it’s mine, Richey did add four or five lines maybe – four lines, I think.” [5] The line about forgetting was the only one Edwards picked out for his tour programme note for the song, adding ‘Memory more comforting than future’.

The undeniable darkness that surrounded the band from late 1993 to early 1995 now complicates even more any simplistic nostalgia or sense of comfort ascribed to ‘This is Yesterday’. Larissa Wodtke has described the simultaneous ‘[d]erision of and desire for nostalgia’ that has always run through the band’s art. [6] In ‘No Surface All Feeling’ – a song rehearsed at a difficult point for the band, in June 1994, and one of the songs rehearsed at the House in the Woods studio in early 1995 (the last time that Edwards would play with the band) – the push and pull between reminiscence and regret is once again expressed: ‘What’s the point in always looking back / When all you see is more and more junk?’

Despite Wire and Edwards’s descriptions of generally happy childhoods, the band have always referred to that melancholia mentioned as being at the root of the song. Wire told Melody Maker in January 1994: “That’s been the truth since we were 15 years old… All I can remember is being melancholy. I’ve never said I was desperately unhappy. The truly unhappy people of this world are usually the ones who end up suicidal or living on the streets.” [7] Edwards elaborated: “It’s just our natural mood… We’ve always been like that. Where we come from, there’s a natural melancholy in the air. Everybody, ever since you could comprehend it, felt pretty much defeated. You’ve got the ruins of heavy industry all around you, you see your parents’ generation all out of work, nothing to do, being forced into the indignity of going on courses of relevance. Like a 50-year-old miner, worked in a pit all his life, there’s not much joy for him to go and learn how to type. It’s just pointless. And that is all around us, ever since we were born.”

The political background against which the band was forged is another focus of clashing feelings. The Miners’ Strike of 1984-85 in many ways destroyed the South Wales community in which the Manics grew up as much as it created a sense of unity and defiance. For all the misery it wrought at a wider social level, Bradfield has spoken quite positively of this period of political crisis in more recent years, specifically in terms of the clear-cut allegiances it reinforced, as compared with what he sees as the political confusion of more recent times (the same kind, incidentally, that he referred to while promoting The Holy Bible in 1994). [8] The ’80s for the Manics was a time when you could do something, a time that would never be forgotten. Nothing is as black and white as The Holy Bible often proclaims; idyllic suburban scenes in the work of Manic Street Preachers are cut through with raw cynicism (‘my idea of love comes from a childhood glimpse of pornography’) just as the sense of past crises can be imbued with a kind of fondness retrospectively – or ‘distant colours’, as Bradfield has described them on a later song.

Shortly after writing ‘This Is Yesterday’, Wire summed it up less cosily than he did in Cardiff in 2015; as if the present had little to offer, few dreams of what is ahead:

“It’s about how people always look back to their youth and look on it as a glorious period. No matter what walk of life you’re in, you always revert back to childhood and look at it as a beautiful time when, as the song says, ‘Someone, somewhere soon will take care of you’.” [9]

This chimes with a comment he made when promoting Gold Against the Soul a year earlier:

“[W]hen you’re a child, no matter what kind of background you come from, your pleasures are pretty simple. You go to bed and you fall asleep straight away. Nothing keeps you up, worrying. It’s a purer world. When you’re old enough to do or experience what you want and have access to all the things you thought about, it doesn’t make you any more happy.” [10]

The Manics’ songs move between finding strength in memories of the past and lamenting that it cannot be recovered; at other times wishing to forget everything altogether, or seek lost futures once more. Such sentiments are more acutely captured by Wire on ‘Everything Must Go’ and on 2013’s ‘Rewind the Film’: ‘turn back the pages of my past’… ‘I want to feel small / Lying in my mother’s arms’… ‘There is too much heartbreak in the nothing of the now’.

A sense of dissonance when looking back also comes through in the way the band have spoken about the process of making The Holy Bible. Bradfield told NME in 2014: “We were all getting on really well. It felt like we were taking the band seriously again. It was like a big monolithic slab of stone had just planted itself in the middle of the band, and we just had to follow every route. It was a good feeling again. It kind of felt like a restart.” But in recalling the era with photographer Kevin Cummins, he admitted: “I think back to those times and I think, ‘Why didn’t we see the gathering storm’?” [11]


‘They’re amazing lyrics, but there’s that idea that nothing gives you any pleasure anymore; that, post-childhood, life has been utterly empty. I still find it chilling.’ – Nicky Wire

‘Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.’
– Philip Larkin

Despite James Dean Bradfield’s stated musical aim for ‘This is Yesterday’, as a breathing space, a respite of sorts, Nicky Wire’s writing – and crucially the limited involvement of Richey Edwards – nevertheless keeps it in line with the depressive mindset of the album as a whole, a mindset more starkly expressed on the following track, ‘Die in the Summertime’. In his short monograph on The Holy Bible, David Evans says the song ‘resembles a negative image of ‘This is Yesterday’, a darker development of the same tropes’ – I agree with the second part. [12] Writing about the album for the co-authored book Triptych, Rhian E Jones says, ‘“houses as ruins and gardens as weeds” seems more in keeping with the desolate imagery of ‘Die in the Summertime’, just as that song’s sunlit glimpse of ‘whole days throwing sticks into streams’ seems to belong with the melancholy memories of ‘This is Yesterday’.’ [13] In the accompanying booklet, the lyrics are illustrated with photographs of the band members as children that – although two of the pictures suggest summer holidays in the sun – might have been expected to sit alongside ‘This is Yesterday’ (not least because the use of the Sacred Heart detail for the latter does not seem to reflect anything of its lyrical theme). The visual effect is unsettling, Bradfield and Moore’s music imbuing the portraits of the young Manics with a sense of foreboding. [14]

Edwards’s commentary on the song is as unconvincingly neat as Wire’s 2015 introduction to ‘This is Yesterday’. The song (which may have taken inspiration for its title from Yukio Mishima’s short story collection Death in Midsummer and Other Stories) is purportedly sung from the perspective of an elderly man, as Edwards told Stuart Baillie in October 1994: “‘Die in the Summertime’ was written before anything had happened to me, that was basically an old man looking back over his life, over his favourite period of youth. His childhood, basically. Everybody’s got a perfect mental time of their life, and that’s what that song is about. And it was written last summer.” [15]

By this description we might understand the song as a parallel of sorts to ‘La Tristesse Durera (Scream to a Sigh)’ and its depiction of a war veteran faced with seeing his heroic past diminished in a world of modern capitalism. The image of the narrator using hair dye, apparently in a futile attempt to cling to youth, might also be connected with one of Edwards’s final lyrics, ‘Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier’, describing a pathetic ‘out of date’ tribute act with a ‘dyed black quiff’. But given Edwards’s own history of transforming his appearance, his preoccupation with vanity as an adult, along with his self-harm, it is hard not to see this detail and the harrowing opening – ‘Scratch my leg with a rusty nail / sadly it heals’ – as autobiographical. One can choose to interpret the ‘ruining lines’ that are contrasted with the cleanliness and serenity of youth as the marks of aging, but that opening suggests that it is the evidence of wounding about which the narrator is self-conscious. ‘Die in the Summertime’ is comparable with another of Edwards’s defining late lyrics, ‘All Is Vanity’, in which he writes of ‘the luxury of one more dye’, as he (and it is clearly Edwards this time) searches for a way to live without crippling uncertainty. This extreme fixation on maintaining a personal ideal, striving for a sense of accomplishment, perfection even, of course finds its supreme expression on The Holy Bible with ‘4st 7lb’. Just as that song and ‘Yes’ are typically read as expressive of Edwards’s own feelings, so ‘Die in the Summertime’ seems to be thinly masked. As his sister Rachel Edwards has confirmed, Richey Edwards made a suicide attempt in the summer of 1994, which prompted his immediate hospitalisation. [16]

Richey Edwards’s repeated references in the press to the miseries experienced by those who are married, with a mortgage and a routine job, seem to reflect a commonplace anxiety – it was an ‘ordinary’ life he clearly struggled to countenance, or felt unable to live; worried about the disappointments, betrayals and other pain it might bring. He spoke as if it were impossible that anybody could feel more fulfilment and joy in later life. Edwards’s cynical perspective would certainly have been reinforced by some of his favourite writers; Philip Larkin in particular, in poems like ‘High Windows’, ‘The Old Fools’ and ‘Aubade’. It is there in the psychiatrist Dr Dysart’s explosive admission to the magistrate Hesther Salomon in Peter Shaffer’s 1973 play Equus (another favourite of Edwards’s), when he expresses his envy towards his young patient Alan Strang, and his own comparative inability to live as he imagines: ‘I shrank my own life. No one can do it for you. I settled for being pallid and provincial, out of my own eternal timidity. The old story of bluster, and do bugger-all…’ [17] One could hardly describe Edwards as timid, but how profoundly he felt his own loss of fulfilment is expressed here: ‘My heart shrinks to barely a pulse.’

This preoccupation continued as Edwards discussed the song with Music Life in Japan: “They say that as you get older, you become a child again. An ageing pensioner in their 60s or 70s, looks back at pictures of their childhood, reminiscing about those times, realising the last time they had fun was when they played on the side of the road. For the last 25 years they have been preoccupied with paying loans, and they weren’t happy at all. So, this person wishes to see the fallen leaves in autumn and the snow one last time before they die.” [18] In the 1994 tour book, he sums it up as follows: ‘Condition of old age – youth always remembered fondly. OAP wants to die with favourite memory month in mind. Adult memories tawdry, of little value.’ [19]

In keeping with The Holy Bible’s overarching approach – that it be a kind of holy book, speaking the truth of the world – ‘Die in the Summertime’ contains more of Edwards’s biblical imagery: ‘If you really care, wash the feet of a beggar’, he writes, laying down a strict standard of moral virtue; childhood pictures do not console here but ‘redeem’; and there is another, more subtle reference to a ‘nail’, a word used repeatedly on The Holy Bible and often suggesting, even if faintly, persecution. Just as the drama of the Passion has been transformed into a minor act of self-wounding, so the narrative of creation has left only ‘dim traces’. Always a characteristic of Edwards’s writing, this typically subversive religious imagery would intensify in his final lyrics – those later used on Journal For Plague Lovers – no doubt a result of the internal conflicts that grew out of his time spent undertaking a 12-step recovery process at The Priory in 1994 and his growing interest around that time in specific biblical texts, particularly Ecclesiastes. While The Holy Bible was intended to offer its own undeniable truths about a contemporary world in which religion had wrought much destruction, Edwards was increasingly drawn to traditional bible verses in search of consolation and meaning – though evidently sensing there was none to be found.

Nicky Wire also does not seem to have accepted that the lyric was as straightforward as Edwards made out, judging the song’s images to be especially haunting. On an album full of graphic and macabre lines, the lyricist and bassist has regularly singled out ‘Die in the Summertime’ for comment. Reflecting on the song for Melody Maker, following Edwards’s admission to Whitchurch hospital and then The Priory, Wire said: “It was one of the first songs we wrote for the album, and I found it pretty disturbing when Richey first showed it to me. Now, of course, it’s even more so, and I think this and ‘4st 7lb’ are pretty obviously about Richey’s state of mind, which I didn’t quite realise at the time. Even if you’re quite close to someone, you always try to deny thoughts like that.” [20]

Bradfield has likewise scrutinised the lyric for personal resonance, seeing it not as a generalised view of the dissatisfactions of old age, but an unnerving insight into Edwards’s own psychology: “This lyric actually does scare me. I didn’t bother asking Richey what this was about, I was like, ‘If you know, I don’t want to know…’ I remember seeing the title and thinking, ‘It’s that tension in the words: ‘Die – in – the – summertime.’ Like, Tropic – of – cancer. The tension of opposites, innocence versus the reality of the world.” [21] The tangled relationship between knowledge, remembrance and the wish to forget is brought out not only in these two songs but also in the reactions of the band to those same songs – both at the time of writing and subsequently.

For Bradfield the musical idea behind ‘Die in the Summertime’ again emerged out of the band’s post-punk listening, this time the more Gothic elements – perhaps naturally suggested by Edwards’s title: “There was something almost David Lynchian in the lyric. I remember writing the song, thinking, ‘This is a bit Kiss In The Dreamhouse by Siouxsie And The Banshees’ – well, that’s perfect. That shard of beauty that can almost be shattered with one gust of wind is perfect for this.” [22] Bradfield and Moore articulate the unease and sense of disconnection in the lyrics, moving in half-steps, with feedback and noise repeatedly cutting in and out. Bradfield’s high-pitched delivery of the verse line endings soars eerily above the caustic, distorted chords while the frenetic solo swirls wildly with vibrato, struggling to find harmonic resolution.

The song also seems to look to American grunge for its template, its ominous bassline, heavy guitar, and Sean Moore’s rhythmic groove suggesting something of the angst-driven sound of Alice in Chains, the undertow the listener is pulled into on their LP Dirt. The musical inspirations and connections behind the album do seem to be more wide-ranging than has so often been claimed – from the Penguin Café Orchestra giving Bradfield a cue for the unusual time patterns of ‘Yes’, to contemporaries Faith No More, Girls Against Boys and Therapy? just as responsible for the energy and tone of tracks like ‘Faster’ as the Sex Pistols. And then there is Nicky Wire hearing a Manic version of ‘Every Breath You Take’ (and a possible hit single) in ‘She Is Suffering’. As unexpected as it might seem, it is even possible that Edwards borrowed the phrase ‘hole in my life’ for ‘Die in the Summertime’ not from a cult novel, a newspaper article, or a Pete Milligan comic, as he often did, but rather from The Police song of the same name, itself a visceral lyrical expression of dissatisfaction and pain:

‘There’s something missing from my life
Cuts me open like a knife
It leaves me vulnerable
I have this disease
I shake like an incurable
God help me please’

In an extraordinary interview with Paul King for MTV’s 120 Minutes, live from the NME Brat Awards in February 1994, not long after Philip Hall’s death, Edwards gave what is basically a thematic summary of ‘Die in the Summertime’, while discussing the upset of ageing, losing loved ones, and running out of new culture to be inspired by. Clearly catching King off guard, the host soon tries to bring the conversation back to a lighter note, and Edwards is invited to select a favourite song for viewers. He might well have requested ‘Hole in My Life’, but instead opted for another track, ‘Roxanne’, off the same album, with a fragile smile, saying: “a long time ago”. [23]

Much of the sentiment and imagery on ‘Die in the Summertime’ seems to have been carried over from earlier songs, too. On ‘From Despair To Where’ Bradfield cries, ‘There’s nothing nice in my head / The adult world took it all away’. Being one of the earliest songs to be written for The Holy Bible, it seems to be more closely linked with the songs of Gold Against the Soul than the rest of those written and recorded in the first two months of 1994. On ‘Sleepflower’, memory ‘fades to a pale landscape’ and there are mirror images of self-harm on ‘Roses in the Hospital’ (‘try to pull my fingernails out’… ‘stub cigarettes out on my arm’) and narcissistic tendencies and self-loathing are explored on ‘Yourself’. Prompted to talk about the band’s second album ahead of its release, Edwards told Sky magazine in 1993:

“It’s about the loss of innocence. Childhood pleasures are more natural and real. When you’re a child, you always want to grow up and do adult things, but when you get those things, it doesn’t increase your enjoyment of life. Most people look back on their childhoods with more fondness than their early 20s or their teenage years, which are pretty horrendous. As a child, you put your head on your pillow and fall asleep with no worries. From being a teenager onwards, it’s pretty rare that you don’t end up staying awake half the night thinking about bullshit.” (Or as ‘Faster’ has it: ‘Sleep can’t hide the thoughts splitting through my mind’.) Edwards added: “I’m not nostalgic. It’s more a general statement of fact. I don’t wake up every morning and wish that I was 10 again. I just know that I was happier then.” [24]

Like memories that linger in the mind, phrases from ‘Die in the Summertime’ also return, slightly changed, in later songs penned by Nicky Wire. In ‘Cardiff Afterlife’, which refers directly to Edwards, he describes the ‘The paralysed future, the past sideways crawl’, a near echo of that devastating admission of having lost one’s way: ‘I have crawled so far sideways’. Wire has said there is no link between ‘Walk Me to the Bridge’ and his friend and bandmate, but still the resonance of its lines with Edwards’s time in the group is unavoidable; particularly ‘curled like an animal lying on the floor’ – evoking Edwards’s unforgettable ‘tiny animal curled into a quarter circle’. As another lyric of the same Futurology track tells us: ‘old songs leave long shadows’.

Even on the band’s most recent work, the imagery of seasons and scenes from the past predominate. ‘Still Snowing in Sapporo’ recalls with fondness the band’s 1993 tour of Japan, as documented in Kieran Evans’s film Pieces of Sleep. On ‘Quest For Ancient Colour’ Wire writes that his ‘scream had lost its source / Like a reservoir in a summer drought’, again using the sort of imagery found in the titles of ‘La Tristesse Durera (Scream to a Sigh)’ and ‘Die in the Summertime’. Another line on The Ultra Vivid Lament recalls Edwards’s writing: ‘It leads me to a higher plane’, almost a variation on ‘4st 7lb’s assertion, ‘I’ve long since moved to a higher plateau’. Even the band’s earliest cultural references resurface; the final song ‘Afterending’ sees Wire reuse a quote from the poet ee cummings which appeared on the sleeve of Generation Terrorists – ‘Progress in a comfortable disease’.

For Wire, in the years after The Holy Bible, the history of the band has clearly served as a continual source of inspiration, albeit not without that uniquely Manic sense of melancholia and misgiving. Referring back has continued to propel Bradfield and Moore forward in newly capturing the character of the band musically. They have even recently remixed and reconstructed their sixth album Know Your Enemy as it was originally meant to be – the alternate past made reality. What marks Edwards’s words out, by contrast, frozen as they necessarily are in the summer of 1994, is the way in which pain overshadows remembrance and consolation – whether personal or historical. His writing depicts a modern world that can only traumatise, numb or disillusion the individual. Memories cannot ameliorate after all. Even childhood has been unchangeably corrupted somehow. But as grounded as his words are in the circumstances of their writing – in the sociopolitical landscape of Europe in the mid-1990s and the resurgence of the worst aspects of nostalgia, as well as the experiences of the band around that time – still they have a remarkable quality of never seeming outdated. The Holy Bible is a living archive of voices, sounds and images from the past that pulsate with meaning for us; simultaneously a work of history, an articulation of an immediate crisis that feels as urgent as ever, and a gripping prologue to what is about to come.

Images: stills from the 2011 promotional video for ‘This is the Day’ (Band History Version) and the documentary ‘From There to Here’ (BBC, 1998)


[1] Wodtke, Larissa ‘Architecture of Memory: The Holy Bible and the Archive’ in Jones, Lukes, Wodtke Triptych (Repeater Books, 2017)

[2] Cameron, Keith ‘Chapter and verse. Track by track. 13 Reasons to believe in The Holy Bible’, liner notes in The Holy Bible 20 (2014)

[3] Cameron, ibid

[4] See ‘Manic Street Preachers – Cardiff Castle Live – 05/06/2015’. Accessed online at (20 June 2022)

[5] See ‘Manic Street Preachers – BBC Radio 4 – Mastertapes – 17-18/11/2014’. Accessed online at (20 June 2022)

[6] Wodtke, Triptych

[7] Bennun, David ‘All That Glitters’, Melody Maker, 29 January 1994. Accessed online at,_29th_January_1994 (15 June 2022)

[8] In Elizabeth Marcus’ documentary No Manifesto (2015), Bradfield says: “You know, we were in the middle of the Miners’ Strike, round about ’84-85 period, and you know, a lot of our family had been coal mining. We had marches going past our house and it just felt as if everything that we’d grown up with was being systematically destroyed. The one thing I realise about those times now, when we were teenagers from ’84 to ’87, was that we grew up in an optimum time to be angry. It was a glorious, romantic time to be angry. You knew what your targets were and you knew what black was and you knew what white was. So it felt terrible to be there at the time, but now I look back on it and think – it sounds terrible – but I look back on it and think, ‘God we were lucky’…”

[9] ‘Manics’ New Testament’, Melody Maker, 27 August 1994. Accessed online at,_27th_August_1994. (20 June 2022)

[10] ‘Manics Come of Age’, Melody Maker, 27 March 1993. Accessed online at,_27th_March_1993 (1 July 2022)

[11] See Mackay, Emily ‘The Record That Changed Our Lives’, NME, 16 August 2014. Accessed online at,_16th_August_2014 (15 July 2022) and Cummins, Kevin Assassinated Beauty (Faber & Faber, 2014). Both of the these quotes also appear in an informative article on the musical production of the album:

[12] Evans, David The Holy Bible (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019)

[13] Jones, Rhian E ‘Unwritten Diaries: History, Politics and Experience through The Holy Bible’ in Triptych

[14] It seems, too, that the sample of Hubert Selby Jr speaking that appears at the beginning of ‘Of Walking Abortion’ might have easily been placed here instead, where a ‘fairground sample’ was at one point planned to be used.

[15] Bailie, Stuart ‘Manic’s Depressive’, NME, 1 October 1994. Accessed online at,_1st_October_1994 (20 June 2022)

[16] See Roberts and Noakes Withdrawn Traces: Searching for the Truth About Richey Manic (Virgin Books, 2019)

[17] Shaffer, Peter Equus (Penguin Books, 1977)

[18] Akao, Mika, ‘Richey James talks about The Holy Bible‘, Music Life, September 1994. English translation by M. Jun, accessed online at (15 June 2022)

[19] Edwards, Richey The Holy Bible tour programme, 1994. Accessed online at (15 June 2022)

[20] ‘Manics’ New Testament’, Melody Maker

[21] Cameron, ‘Chapter and Verse’

[22] Cameron, ibid

[23] See ‘Manic Street Preachers 120 minutes 6 feb 1994 Richey Edwards interview’. Accessed online at (20 June 2022)

[24] Witter, Simon ‘Glam Rock’, Sky, July 1993. Accessed online at,_July_1993 (2 July 2022)

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