The triumphant, emotional finale to my trilogy of Manics gigs in London in December 1996.
Monday the 16th of December 1996, and my third ever – and possibly final ever – Manics gig was ahead of me. Luckily I had managed to sleep soundly after the Shepherd’s Bush Empire gig the night before, and so I sprang out of bed at the crack of 10.30am, a girl on a mission. My diary relates that my first task on Manics Monday was to take an early trip to Kentish Town, another part of London that was new to me, so as to avoid the clueless wandering around in the dark I’d done the night before. In those iPhone-free days, I had to copy out the relevent bit of the A to Z onto a tiny piece of paper.
“I wandered for a bit in the wrong direction before I got it right and stood reverentially for a bit in front of the Forum. There were already a few fur-coated eye-linered Manics people waiting there, no doubt in hopes of catching a glimpse of the band as they arrived at the venue.”
It was tempting to wait with them too, but I hadn’t brought my ticket with me and didn’t want to risk running out of time to head home to get it, so I had my first wander through Camden Town instead, and then to Oxford Street “to check out the chart at Virgin Megastore (“Australia” down to 31!)” What an alien world 1996 was, where the chart actually mattered, and if you missed the run down on Radio 1 on a Sunday night, you had to venture out to a record store to find out where your fave band was!
I got home, had a brief dinner and got suitably Manics-attired, then set out again. “The tubes were more crowded than usual as it was a weekday and thus rush hour, but I got there in good time and was at the venue shortly after six. For some reason everyone was queuing at the Ticket Sales door rather than the Ticket Holders place. I followed suit for a bit but following the lead of a few tiara’n’fur attired fans I went to the other much shorter queue and a damn good thing too, for when we finally got in I was able to head straight for the front row of the upstairs bit with the most perfect view imaginable!”
Despite being ridiculously young, this three-gigs-in-a-row life was still seriously knackering. “I spent most of the pre-MSP period leaning on the barriers in a semi-sleep state. Stereophonics were just as ok as the night before and Tiger were just as awful.”
But I was still awake enough to soak in every second of what, for all I knew at the time, might have been my last ever Manics gig. “The roadies seemed to set up for the Manics in the leisureliest of fashions but I didn’t care, I wanted it to last as long as humanly/divinely possible. It did build up the suspense nicely so that by the time the Stealth Sonic DFL resounded through the building and the screen started ordering us to read the dictionary every day, even I, a veritable Manics live experience veteran, had my heart in my throat.”
When the band finally came on to “Enola /Alone” and “Australia”, it was mayhem for us balcony crew. “Half the balcony population stood up and bounced along. I didn’t want to obstruct the view of those behind me but as soon as “Faster” came on I had no choice but to stand and scream.” Health and safety regulations were only just beginning to take hold in ’96, it seems. “The barrier between the stamping upstairs posse and the throng below was little over knee high. At first I clung for my life but as the concert progressed I lost all fear of heights and leaned out as far as I could to cheer the greatness below. The tendency of the balcony to bounce cheerily up and down along with the throng was a tad worrying however. No wonder they’ve been ordered to halve their capacity.”
Still, I had the most amazing view of the band out of all my three Manics nights, and I began to learn new things about my fave boys. “I had noticed beforehand that the Nicky side of the downstairs area seemed to fill up more quickly than the other side, and with good reason too. He is such a STAR! With grace and style he propelled his long legs with perfect timing into a variety of silly walks, leaps and kicks, nonchalantly sneaking up behind James and patting him on the head when he wasn’t looking, and just generally being wonderful. And for the first time I could really see Sean as well! Not that I did look at him all that much, what with the two mighty presences in front.”
Nicky had, however, been mostly silent in my gigs so far, so it was exciting to hear him actually impart a few words onto the enthralled throng than night. ” “This is for our Richey” he said in a somewhat sardonic tone. As the cheers of the faithful rang through the air, he added, “And I’d like to repeat that’s OUR Richey”. “
And they launched into “Yes”, the opening track of “The Holy Bible”, and perhaps the song most associated with Richey and his personal demons. At this point in my life, and for many years afterwards, “The Holy Bible” was my favourite album of all time. It was an album that served to reinforce the divide between us faithful, old-school fans and the (so we assumed) oafishly beery new fans, who had just latched on for the accessible hooks of the more recent “Everything Must Go”. However, “The Holy Bible” is not an album I listen to very much these days. It’s still a brilliant album, of course, and one of the most important of my life, but I’ve battled too many of my own demons over the years to want to wallow in someone else’s. However, that night, hearing this song meant the world to me.
“That song they swore they’d never play again, so eloquently painful, the essence of “The Holy Bible” condensed calmly into four minutes. I feel I’ve overused all the appropriate adjectives to describe how brilliant it was so much that all I can say is, it was brilliant. So painfully personal for the band, so powerful for the longterm fans, and yet so dignified, so defiant. Right about now I begin to need a new language to describe how brilliant the Manics are. I love them to death. I will never love anything more. If I did my heart would collapse from the strain.”
While that may sound like adolescent hyperbole, as I sit here now typing this, twice as old as when I wrote those words, I can say with all my heart that it is still true. There are people, and things, and other bands, that I have loved as much as I loved the Manics then. And there have been times in the last 21 years when I have loved the Manics a lot less. But after all this time, I have still never loved anything more than I loved the Manics in that moment.
Sometimes, it’s really brilliant to learn just how right you were, when you were young.
This was the last night of the Manics’ tour, and my diary entry suggests that perhaps they were feeling weary. “At times during this concert, it seemed as though they wanted to get it done as quickly as possible. There was a bit less talk, songs were launched into with abruptness. James didn’t even bother to sing the last verse of “Kevin Carter”, preferring to do something interesting guitarwise before “Click-click-click”ing the sing to an end.”
However, they were not too weary to give us a few Christmassy surprises. During James’ acoustic segment this time we were treated to a few festive bars of “Last Christmas” as well as “Small Black Flowers” and “Raindrops”. And then: “Nicky returned to the stage with some tinsel festively festooned round his neck and they launched into “Elvis” closely followed by “Stay Beautiful”. During the choruses Nick directed his mike to the audience so our collective “fuck off!” resounded through the building.”
And I got a bit emotional. Can you blame me? ““Everything Must Go” had me experiencing one of those Sudden Full Realization Of The True Wonder Of It All moments and I began to cry. Not very much though, as it’s hard to have a bawl when you’re screaming and singing.” I manged to pull myself together during “A Design For Life” and remained jubilant for the rest of the gig, which was not very long, for then it really was the end.
““You Love Us” was frantic, joyous, mad, sad, desperate, wonderful, we all screamed along though of course to be accurate we’d have to sing “We! Love! You! We love you! We love you!” etc instead.”
While sadly it had been a Kylie-free night, there was a stage invasion of a different, more Britpoppy flavour. “Towards the end a shaggy-haired, ragged-jacketed character loped on stage. Liam Gallagher! Nicky stopped playing altogether and embraced Liam in a scuffle which had them rolling about on the floor.”
And the gig ended in appropriately iconic style.
“James brings the song to a hysterical climax as they leave, and finally shouts something into the mike which is echoed for an age as we scream our lungs out. The band are gone. The triumph of ’96 has been played out before our eyes. Truly, astonishingly brilliant.”
There was no encore – there never is, for the Manics – why add to perfection? I had a merch frenzy in mind, but the density of the crowd prevented me from getting to the downstairs area to visit the merch stall. “So I made do with a £5 bootleg t-shirt of dodgy quality, but at least it has the tour dates on it so I can stare at the final three and get nostalgic.”
Said dodgy t-shirt has, in fact, lasted me 21 years and counting. As it was an unofficial shirt it’s one of the few that survived a purge I undertook in my 30s, when I thought I didn’t care about music anymore. And I love it to bits.
And then, all of a sudden, my Manics gigs were over. After almost a decade of longing to be in London, to live and breathe the music scene there, to be a part of the amazing gigs that were going on every day in the greatest city in the world, finally I had experienced it, and it had been everything I had imagined it would be, and so much more. And then it was over. And I couldn’t cope. As soon as I crawled into bed that night, the hyper-emotional, dazed, crazed mental state which had catapulted me through these three amazing days, vanished completely, and I felt blank, and empty, and alone. It was an utterly horrible feeling.
However, all was not lost! I woke up the next morning knowing there was only one remedy for this malaise, and that was: to see the Manics again! Unfortunately, the next Manics gig was due to be at the Royal Albert Hall on April the 12th 1997, which was (a) after I was supposed to be back in Australia, and (b) sold out. The latter impediment was easy to overcome: I searched the phone book for ticket agencies promising tickets to sold out gigs, and hot-footed it to Leicester Square where I procured a ticket for the gig for a seemingly extortionate £35. (I paid double that to see them at the same venue twenty years later – gig 126, patient reader!).
But what the hell was I meant to do with myself between December 17th 1996 and April 12th 1997? My aunt and uncle were welcoming and genial hosts, but I knew even their patience would come to an end if I declared that I was going to extend my stay in their spare room indefinitely. There was only one thing to do: get a job, and find a place to live. And I was a sheltered, shatteringly shy 21 year old. I had no idea how to do it.
But I did it. With a lot of help, it must be said. But that’s a story for my next post about the next gig I went to, in 1997, in London.
I concluded my diary entries for 1996 with this:
“After years and years of being half the world away from everything that inspired me, now to be so close is just overwhelming. I had the notion, while I was planning my trip here, that it’d take me exactly two weeks to figure out whether I wanted to stay or not, and indeed it did. After seeing the Manics, I knew there was no going back… So however my life goes while I’m here, I owe it all to the Manics.”
Twenty one years in London later, all I can say is: THANK YOU MANICS. I owe it all to you, and it’s been amazing.