How Wales shaped the music of Manic Street Preachers

Virgin Radio

1 Mar 2023, 08:14

Manic Street Preachers onstage

Credit: Getty

In celebration of St David's Day, take a deep dive into one of Wales' most prolific bands and how they never forgot the country that shaped them.

Richey Edwards once said of his hometown in the South Wales valleys, “If you were to build a museum out of Blackwood, all you’d be able to fill it with is rubble and sh**t”. 

It might seem like a harsh opinion of the village he grew up in, but if you lived in Wales during the 80s and 90s, you will understand it completely. 

The Miners strike and Thatcherism had decimated these communities; unemployment, alcoholism and poverty were rife and opportunities, particularly for the young, were few and far between. 

As drummer Sean Moore recalls, “We saw massive unemployment, families living on food parcels, daily violence between miners and the police. 

“The toughness, the drive, the empathy and the happiness we’d known in the valleys as kids was disappearing. No wonder our early songs were political.” (via The Times). 

From the ashes of this Welsh mining village rose the Manic Street Preachers. 

From the ashes

The band formed in the late 80s in Oakdale Comprehensive School, which funnily enough is now just a mound of rubble as Edwards feared it would become. 

At the time, Betty Blue (as they were known back then) consisted of Bradfield, Wire and Moore and was re-named Manic Street Preachers when roadie Richey Edwards joined a year or so later.

The Manic Street Preachers line-up including Richey Edwards.

Credit: Getty

All four members were childhood friends and had pretty similar experiences growing up in the valleys. 

As Wire recalls, “Me and James were 5 and in Mrs. Jones’ class and then in the same class right up through school. He looked like Radar from M*A*S*H.” (via Mojo magazine). 

Fuelled by the punk movement and the poverty they saw around them, the newly named Manics started to become known for their controversial lyrics, angry letters to the press and boisterous gigs. 

While it may have stirred up some trouble, the pay off was a die-hard fanbase.

One of their most notorious incidents came during an interview with journalist Steve Lamacq who questioned the seriousness of their political statements. In response, Richey carved the words “4 Real” into his arm with a razor blade and had to be rushed to hospital for stitches.

How could you ignore a band like that?

Generation Terrorism

Due to their wild and often unpredictable behaviour,  the Manics became something of a favourite of the British music press and as they got more and more attention, they found their identity being pulled into question. 

Moore remembers, “You know what really surprised me when we started getting a bit of success? I won’t use the r-word, but there was definite anti-Welsh bigotry from the music press. All they talked about were sheep shaggers and Tom Jones. Lazy, lazy bigotry.”

Not only was the band scarred by the history of Wales and the town they came from, but now it was starting to define them. 

Manic Street Preachers performing live.

Credit: Getty

The themes of this can be seen woven through their early lyrics- no better captured than in Little Baby Nothing and the line “culture, alienation, boredom and despair”. 

There is both a critical focus on global capitalism and a more intimate feeling of despair present in the lyrics of Generation Terrorism and nothing speaks more to the experience of the band growing up in Wales.

Rewind the Film

Politics has remained a strong part of the band’s essence, but these days they look more fondly on their youth and the country that is so woven into their work. 

Their song, Me The Wonder, and the lyric “we may write in English but our truth remains in Wales” particularly feels like a love letter to their roots. 

As Bradfield explained, “it’s a song about feeling that there is something in the world waiting for you. That initial exposure to whatever makes you who you are.

“It’s also about science versus religion, that neither can explain the intangible, like how Keith Richards is still alive and why he still has the best haircut.” (via Wales Online).

When making the new album, Bradfield said he often found himself recalling memories of living in Blackwood, the community and spending weekends at the working men’s club.

Sean Moore, James Dean Bradfield and Nicky Wire.

Credit: Getty

He added, "It was almost like a village echo chamber. I loved it. I’d sit there on a weekend with my legs dangling way off the floor listening to these people singing songs.

“So my formative influences come from sitting on that wall and when I was older drinking in these clubs at a time when you can already see the fantasy of what your band is going to look like, even though you don’t know who’s in the band and you can’t explain how all that manages to become real.”

It’s hard to listen to the lyrics of the Manics and not see that little town of Blackwood nestled in between the lines, just like it nestles between the hills of the old mines.

Although, these days it's a more loving image rather than a middle finger to the village and country that shaped them.