“So here I sit in the middle of The Day. The reason I’m still here and not swirling aimlessly around Perth again.”
Four months had come and gone since my last Manics gig at the Forum on the 16th of December ’96. That was the gig in which my life changed completely. So devastated afterwards at the prospect of possibly never seeing the Manics ever again, I went and bought myself a ticket for their Royal Albert Hall gig at the 90s equivalent of getmein.com – a dodgy bloke in Leicester Square. I paid £35, more than double face value, but I didn’t care. What mattered was that I would see the Manics again.
So by mid-December 1996, my future was set: I wasn’t going back to Australia, I was staying in London. By the time this gig came around, I was in the thick of London life, with a job, and a room of my own, and plenty of time to explore the fantastic musical worlds the city had to offer.
This gig happened during an era when there was much talk in the music press about whether or not the Manics had lost it. There was a sharp divide between the fanbase they’d built over the course of their first three albums, who revelled in the eyeliner and leopard print, the culture, alienation, boredom and despair, and the newer fans who seemingly just wanted to mosh and unironically swill beer to “A Design For Life”. Just two days before this gig, I wrote in my diary about an article my new pop hero Dickon Edwards from Orlando had written in the Melody Maker about why he didn’t love the the Manics anymore.
“I can actually agree with a lot of what he says in the article. It’s true that the Manics have lost an edge. And the all-encompassing acclaim they inspire now is a tad worrying. But there’s still far more to love about the Manics than almost any other band in existence.”
And in keeping with these feelings, and the proximity of this Manics gig to other truly astounding gigs – more of which to be discussed in my next post about gig no.11 – I generally remember this Manics gig as one of the less good ones out of the 32 Manics gigs I have been to at the time of typing.
However, reading over the beginning of my diary entry for this gig, none of this is really apparent. The same hyperventilating excitement I’d experienced at my Manics gigs back in December ’96 is evident from the opening line of the entry.
“the fatigue… bloody hell I was DOWN THE FRONT yes that’s RIGHT DOWN THE FRONT!!! Crushed against the barrier right there in front of Nicky! oh what a night.”
Support this night came from the Boo Radleys, who I noted were “a monumental improvement on previous Manics support selections.” But little could distract me from the excitement of seeing the Manics again. Precisely a week before I’d been screaming my lungs out to Suede, but I felt it necessary to note that this night I screamed Even More.
“Forget anything I might have written last week, for as the MSP screen flickered into life I was screaming like I never have before and never will again, for as it was my throat was verily done in half way through… Such a thrill to see the band walk in at such proximity. I saw James first, then Sean, and finally NICKY! We’d screamed earlier when his feather-boa endowed mic stand had been set up, now here was the real thing, in glorious godlike tehnicolour real life. And I was DOWN THE FRONT! right there in front of him!”
They started with “Australia”, the straight into “From Despair to Where” and “Faster”. It was as thrilling and exciting as ever, and yet, there was something not quite right.
“However. If it’s possible to be underwhelmed whilst screaming one’s lungs to shreds, then yes. The size of the venue was uncooperative, the sight of the seated masses somewhat deflating of atmosphere, the familiarity of the set, maybe. The band seemed at first to wish they were elsewhere. Nicky hated us, or the venue, I couldn’t tell which he was ranting about, probably both.”
However, despite Nicky being in a mood, I was still inspired to describe his appearance that night in detail. “He was wearing green camo trousers and his “I love hoovering” T-shirt, heavily eyelinered, amazingly wonderful, basically. Occasionally he flashed That Grin but mostly just played his bass, first with sunglasses and looking moody, later without sunglasses and looking moody. Often he’d stop playing and just pose.”
It was my first time ever being down the front at a gig, and it was a position I was to come to strive for as much as possible in my subsequent gigging life. I would come to cherish that bruised rib-cage feeling that came after spending several hours crushed against a barrier, screaming at your favourite band.
“I couldn’t really jump about as I was totally pinned to the barrier. I couldn’t even stretch my arms out really, as one of the large security types stood directly in front of me.”
I stopped feeling underwhelmed about this gig, according to my diary, when James’s acoustic set came along, and he announced “This Is Yesterday”. It was still an era in which tracks from “The Holy Bible” were rarely played, and the crowd responded accordingly.
“After he says those words there is a split second of silence, then… pandemonium. We rupture our throats in acknowledgement of that rarest of creatures, the “Holy Bible” track.”
The acoustic set was “monumental”, carrying on with “Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky” (“awe-inspiringly devastating”) and finishing with “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”, “with the trumpeter getting a tad over-enthusiastic, prompting a small tirade from Nicky on his return. Now he has a pink scarf round his head and looks too lovely.”
The set continued with “Enola Alone”, then “Everything must go, and then: “”Stay Beautiful”!!! Do I even need to describe the mayhem, the intensity?”
Was I lost for words here because this gig really was that amazing, or because I was desperate for it to have been so? Or more likely, as I was stilll in the euphoria of being in my first few months in London, perhaps even a slightly less-than-usually brilliant Manics gig was more exciting than most things I’d experienced in my life up til that point.
The gig carried on with James introduing the band, and then launching into “A Design For Life”, before a chaotic, mayhem-filled finale.
“It was the most storming version of “You Love Us” ever, ending with the Lust For Life style DIE! DIE! DIE! of the Heavenly version, and speaking of heavenly, the god that is Nicky then proceeded to show his fury at us pathetic mortals of London by demolishing the stage. He chucks his bass into the speakers! Hurls the drummer onto the floor! Crashes first his, then James’s mic stand into the ailing drumkit! And finally topples a stack of speakers to the ground! And of course we are in the throes of screaming worshipping ecstasy at the sight of this petulant childish money-wasting GODLIKE display. Oh what a night indeed.”
All in all, this was a contradictory gig. The band were in possibly a more settled, stable place than they’d ever been before, with massive success and acclaim at every turn, and yet, there were glimmers of them striving against this complacency, trying to regain the fire and vitriol that propelled their early years.
“It was as if, faced with the most telling indication of New Manics’ more widespread, conventional appeal, the spirit of the Old Manics broke through and took over for the evening. And thank god for that too. If this is what the RAH does to them, I can’t wait for the riots at the Nynex!!”
The band were due to play their biggest gig so far, at the Nynex Arena in Manchester, on the 24th of May, and I had snapped up my ticket the moment they went on sale. But before that gig came round, something unexpected happened: another band came along that threatened to topple the Manics from the centre of my musical obsessions. And it just so happened to be the band that would support them at that Manchester gig.
But as I stumbled towards home down Exhibition Road that night, all I cared about was that I would see the Manics again, in precisely six weeks’ time.