Thirty-two years after forming in Caerphilly, and some 23 years after being forcibly reduced to a trio following the still unsolved and mysterious disappearance of guitarist Richey Edwards, Welsh rockers Manic Street Preachers continue to grow stronger as a unit, producing relevant new material with each release. Each of their 13 studio albums has reached the top 20 of the UK album charts, most hitting the top 5 and, incredibly, their latest two records just missing out on the top spot.
There are few of their era that can say the same. With not a single messy break-up, extended hiatus, or reformation to their name, this is a group that has continued to grow and develop with the times that have changed around them. Featuring political themes from the get-go, the group produced their most successful record to date in 1996 when, at the height of the 1990s Britpop movement, they released seminal fourth album Everything Must Go which spawned 4 top 10 singles including the anthemic A Design For Life, which still closes their shows today.
And the Manics really have always been a true group, with bassist Nicky Wire being the group’s principle lyricist, and frontman James Dean Bradfield and drummer Sean Moore writing the music, theirs is a chemistry that simply gels.
With a Franz von Stillfried-Ratenicz photograph entitled ‘Samurai Warrior 1881’ adorning its cover and a title made infamous by the 1990s hit TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation, 13th album Resistance Is Futile continues to prove the relevance of new music from the Manics rather than an outsider’s view of the trio a ’90s nostalgia act. A collection of lush, riff-laden pop-rock, the 12 songs simply ring out in a musical era that is seemingly trying to define itself by melding together all that came before it to see what comes out.
First single International Blue, is upbeat, radio-friendly, singalong rock. A straight-up anthem to kick-off their sets on this latest tour. But before we get to any music at these shows, the audience are exposed to the Phil Ochs quote “In such ugly times the only true protest is beauty”, emblazoned in bold red letters across the stage backdrop screen, the obscure 1960s American protest singer’s words given a new lease on life.
At their Wembley Arena show, their penultimate of this tour, we’re treated to no less than 100%. Bradfield and Wire take opposite sides of the stage while Moore sits atop a huge drum riser, practically hidden behind a plethora of drum apparatus. Bradfield effortlessly combines his lead vocal and sole guitar duties, tearing up the intricate solos on his signature white Gibson Les Paul that are the cornerstone of Manics’ music.
Wire is suitably and colourfully attired, his face largely hidden behind a large pair of shades and his amps adorned with Welsh flags.
Following 1992 Generation Terrorists single Motorcycle Emptiness, Catherine Anne Davies – AKA The Anchoress – joins the trio on stage for three songs before hit 1999 single You Stole The Sun From My Heart rings out. The Manics cover Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons’ classic crooner hit Can’t Take My Eyes Off You while Wire takes over vocal duties for a rendition of Sex Pistols’ No Feelings showcasing his rather long legs, following a costume change into a skirt.
But it is their trademark Everything Must Go single A Design For Life that brings the show to a close in magnificent bursts of confetti. And in classic Manic Street Preachers style, there is no encore to be had as the house lights come on and the London crowd disperses.
Manic Street Preachers remain a live act to live up to. There are no runways or T-shirt cannons, nor stage dives or B-stages. Just a legacy of straight-up rock anthems from across the band’s 13-album catalogue delivered with flare.
Photo story and photos of Manic Street Preachers @ Wembley Arena by Kalpesh Patel on 4th May 2018.
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate