When the Manic Street Preachers announced late in the summer that they would be embarking on a UK tour to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their third album The Holy Bible, Twitter, Facebook and ticket websites went into meltdown. For this wasn’t just a tour of a band playing a much-loved album, this was the Manics playing The Holy Bible live – in full – for the first time in their history. To understand the significance of this, here cometh a brief history lesson…
When The Holy Bible was released, British music was on the up. Oasis had just been discovered, “Britpop” was starting to find its feet and bands like Blur, Pulp, Radiohead and The Charlatans were starting to take hold of the charts. The Holy Bible was from the polar end of the spectrum and was an alternative to the others on offer. The Manic Street Preachers burst on to the scene three years earlier with their stunning debut Generation Terrorists, but as with all great bands there was an underwritten uneasiness – and his name was Richey James Edwards.
Richey brought the Manics to notoriety when asked after a gig by the NME’s Steve Lamacq if he was for real, and he then took a razor blade and carved “4 Real” into his arm to prove the point before being taken off in an ambulance. The second album Gold Against The Soul was followed up by The Holy Bible which made such a swerve from their angst ridden political anthems to a sinister, sceptical tone that the car nearly crashed off the road.
The lyrics of The Holy Bible were credited to Edwards and bassist Nicky Wire, but it is Edwards’s lyrics that resonate, and almost haunt. The description of an anorexic trying to reach their ideal weight of ‘4st 7lb’ as the song title suggests (which is clinically the lowest weight an adult can be before their body shuts down) is one of many examples. Throughout topics such as depression, paranoia, prostitution and the Holocaust are woven into the fabric of the album.
Shortly after the album was released, Edwards was reported missing. He was suffering from depression, alcoholism and anorexia, and his car was found near the Severn Bridge and he has never been seen since. As a threesome the band picked themselves up and became one of British music’s greatest bands, winning Brit Awards and selling stadiums but The Holy Bible was always revered by fans and critics alike as a seminal piece.
So It was with great trepidation that the band stepped on to the stage of The Barrowland in the military fatigues that the band adopted twenty years before, and the stage and amps draped in camouflage netting to carry on the theme. The opening dialogue to the album opener ‘Yes’ kicked in to the acclaim of the sell-out crowd and we were off. Recently the band has played with a keyboard player and other guitarist, but they were in the wings while the trio romped through the album in sequence.
Highlights of the show were the faster tracks, notably ‘Revol’ and ‘Faster’, and true to their word they played every track from the album including ‘Mausoleum’ and ‘The Intense Humming Of Evil’ which had not been played live since the tour to support The Holy Bible in 1994. Singer, James Dean Bradfield didn’t have much interaction with the crowd during the tracks – whether this was because he was anxious, in full concentration mode or a bit under the weather – who knows, but the band were letting the music do the talking. The only exception to this was when Nicky Wire briefly took off his glasses to admire the crowd, and anyone who has watched the band recently will know how rare an event this is!
Before the last song of the album, ‘P.C.P.’, Bradfield finally spoke to the crowd to dedicate the night to “Mr. Richard James Edwards”, much to the acclaim of the crowd. He also explained that the band would take a ten minute interval and when they came back they would “Fuck some shit up”.
Upon their return, the band had a costume change that Lady Gaga would have been proud of, as Bradfield came back wearing his now customary suit and tie, and Wire came on with oversized sunglasses and a winged white jacket that Elvis might have chosen for a Vegas show.
The second part of the show was tagged “Hits, B-sides and Curios”, and they instantly launched into ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’, from their first album and then ‘1985’ from Lifeblood and ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’ which unfortunately didn’t have Nina Persson of the Cardigans adding vocals. Bradfield then stated “We were asked why we are only playing one night at the Barrowlands… well, we fucked it up” which made the fans even more grateful to be witnessing this unique event.
The instrumental ‘Dreaming a City (Hughesovka)’ was dedicated to the members of Simple Minds (possibly due to the bass line being similar to ‘Waterfront’), and the group and crowd were back on sing-a-long duties with ‘Futurology’ from the band’s latest album, and their glorious number one single ‘If You Tolerate This, Then Your Children Will Be Next’. The B-Side ‘Donkeys’ from twenty years earlier was a very rare treat and their pro-Europe anthem from the latest album ‘Europa Geht Durch Mich’ followed and the night was closed with two of the bands greatest creations ‘You Love Us’ and ‘A Design For Life’.
The atmosphere in the gig was generally one of joy, and the crowd almost felt privileged to finally hear the album live in full. Personally I felt that the only lulls in the show were when the band played some of the more obscure songs in the second half although those attending would have expected a bit of everything. Overall, the show was tremendous. You could see that the band feel emotionally connected to this album more than others, and this came across through the course of the evening.
If you get a chance to see them in what’s left of this mini tour, or in the extended tour that is coming to Edinburgh next year, make it a priority. Or even better try to get to Cardiff on June 5th. You will never forget it. I know I won’t.