"If literature or music can make you think or become aware,
then it's done something. That's what we've always wanted to do
just ignite sparks in people's minds."
My favourite part of this film comes about 9 minutes in when we are shown one of Nicky's VHS tapes of a gig they played at Blackwood's Little Theatre in 1986. There's Sean on stand up drums, Nicky on guitar, Flicker on bass and no sign of Richey who was, presumably, still their driver. As they thrash and pout their way through what sounds like an early version of Suicide Alley, the band sound competent in a worthy indie sort of way, but clearly missing the spark of genius that was later to mark them out as exceptional. The Little Theatre crowd, though, lacked the patience to hang around 5 years for this to shine through; apparently police had to be called to the venue as bottles and cans started to rain down on the stage, followed by fighting fans, chanting You're worse than Swansea City!
I make this point seriously, not just for the pure enjoyment of seeing my twin passions of The Manics and The Swans brought together in one slogan, nor even to make an unfounded swipe at the lack of vision of some Card*ff fans. I believe The Manics have always been a band defined, at least in part, by their fans, and in recognising this, the makers of this film have hit the bullseye.
The title of the film comes from an early Manics slogan.
'No Manifesto' is an ironic reference to the band's anti philosophy
'De-Nihilism' which proclaimed, amongst other things, that they had
The film makers are clearly aware of the way that MSP were often defined by their relationship with their audience. The early antipathy, exhibited nakedly at gigs such The Little Theatre in '86 and also at Swansea Singleton Park as late as '93, was often an undercurrent at the early gigs, and was seized on and manipulated by the band to increase their impact. From the start there were always 'the mockers as well as the understanders' (to paraphrase Dylan Thomas); those who saw them as Clash wannabes, unimaginative throwbacks, starry eyed teenage posers, or just dismissed them for being 'Welsh' (incredible that nationality could be used as a term of belittlement only 20 years ago!). The band thrived on this reputation; it is after all the central premise of 'You Love Us' which they fashioned into a barbed bouquet to pummel bemused and cynical crowds into submission at the start of their sets. On at least one occasion I heard Wire subtitle it no you don't! The band's constant clash with current conventions (in terms of scenes, politics, other bands, culture, dress sense, morality and even geography) helped define them and incubated the space for them to grow.
With the vast number of knockers, in the press, on the radio or at gigs (what is it with those incredibly cynical fuckers standing arms crossed and superior in the Motown Junk video?!) who the band loved to wind up, there was also a minority who really 'got it'. Initially centred around their gigs and their mailing list (nb NOT a fan club!) the band nurtured in a host of pissed off isolated alienated individuals the realisation that in fact they weren't alone and freakish, but could by contrast be creative, glamorous exciting, intelligent, bookish, sexy, and accepted for being themselves. And from these fans their sprung all sorts of creativity, including new bands, fashion, poetry, philosophy and even (I seem to remember) architecture! The number of fans who have ended up in education (including this writer), eager to share the power of knowledge with the next generation, is testament to this. However the example of the 2 girls Jacqui and Carrie is most graphic; starting off as fans they'd appear glitter'n'glammed up at Manics gigs, before starting their incredibly erudite and literate fanzine 'Last Exit' which they would shyly sell at shows. They then appeared in the Little Baby Nothing video before forming their own band Shampoo, which reputedly made them millionaires.
Alongside this high profile success, there was a landslide
of other MSP inspired zines, of different standards and directions,
but all showing how the band inspired their audience with a love for
both reading, writing and cultural creativity in general (
It is this mixture of admiration and irritation for
fans by the band and for the band by fans which powers this film.
The exceptional live footage (much of it previously unseen and a lot
apparently from Cambridge) is cut in with a host of relevant interviews
with the band, including Richey whose comments fit in organically
as if he was involved in the making of the film. There are also comments
from people they've worked with, mostly making the point that Manic
Street Preachers aren't just another band with nice floppy hair and
wanky guitar solos. The decision to include so much footage from those
outside the band (notably fans) underlines the point the number
of people who explain how they have been transformed by the band is
incredible, if not unexpected; time is given to showing how the Manics
have changed lives by interviewing both a fanzine editor and bands
inspired by MSP.
The group clearly express their affection and appreciation for their fans, while also revealing some of the tension in that relationship which I feel has been so productive. The band clearly feel simultaneous admiration, respect and an almost protective responsibility for their audience, while at the same time being occasionally exasperated by them. In the film Nicky talks of the mutual respect and mutual hatred felt by band towards fans and fans towards band, while James lists the bile, love, hate, understanding, forgiveness and revenge that makes up the psyche of both sides.
Also of interest is the extended studio footage from the making of Send Away the Tigers (the period during which most of this movie was made). We get to see some of the non mystical song writing process in action as we watch our heroes work on 'Autumn Song' and 'Imperial Body Bags'. We learn more about the band's origins, the discussions that preceded the release of Journal for Plague Lovers, see excerpts from soundchecks and learn about life on the road, including the band's determination to meet fans after shows. Perhaps more interestingly, there are also some touching moments which you'd normally never see in a ROCK movie The Wire gardening and caring for his compost heap, James cooking up a mega Mr Carbohydrate breakfast, Sean enjoying his target shooting (like meditation with a loud bang at the end of it!), Nicky getting an honorary degree from Swansea University and petting his slinky dog Marley ... you almost feel you get to know what makes this incredible and unique band tick, until Sean and Nick assure you that there is a secret side to them that even this documentary won't be find.
So, if you like films with great loud melodic rock music
in, you'll like this. If you like films with interviews with the pop
stars in, you'll like this. Even if you just like guitars and
That was my truth, now tell me yours.
No Manifesto is in cinemas now; dates of screenings and DVDs are available here
Sign up for Cambridge showing on March 9th here
Thanks to Sue of November films for her help with this piece