On Millennium Eve, there was no place I would have rather celebrated the dawning of a new era than in Cardiff, with 75,000 strangers, and the band I loved more than anything else in the world.
December 1999, and Millennium Fever had reached its peak. Everywhere you looked, shops and streets were done up in holographic silver, and we were living through an era that felt like science fiction. I have to admit, I got caught up in it. Of course I knew, deep down, that it was just some arbitrary fluke of calendar configuration that meant our year was soon to be prefaced by a 2 and not a 1. But it was still exciting, and I recall the mood of the time to be one of a buzzing hopefulness, and a sense that Great Things were afoot.
I’d been through a bit of personal drama during December 1999, and so it was with great relief that I boarded a train to Cardiff on the 29th of December, saying goodbye to a stressful work and social life and hello to a blissful, five day retreat away from it all. It was my first trip to Cardiff and it quickly became one of my favourite places in the world.
And the stunning highlight of this Cardiff getaway was, of course, the Manic Street Preachers concert at the Millennium Stadium. So at half past 6pm on the last day of the 20th century I strode out from my hotel and towards this historic night. It was, as I recorded in my diary: “A magnificent, special night, even from the beginning, as I strode past Cardiff Castle on my way to the stadium and a parade danced along in the other direction with lanterns and drums.”
I got to the stadium some time approaching 7pm and spent about an hour in the merchandise queue to buy a t-shirt and programme “and of course party poppers with Nicky, James and Sean on them.” Despite the fact that my ticket unequivocally stated “seating” in big letters, it turned out I was not relegated to the seated section. “As I made my way into the huge auditorium I found myself wandering unhindered all the way down to second row Nicky-side! It was almost exactly the same relative position I had for Reading ’97, and easily the closest I’ve been to the Manics since then. I was utterly thrilled to find myself so excellently placed for this historic gig.”
It was difficult not to feel the weight of the evening as I stood there and waited for the Manics. I could not help but cast my mind back to my angsty teenage years in Perth, sitting alone in my bedroom for hours on end, listening to the Manics, wishing more than anything that I could see them live and wondering if I’d ever get the chance. And now there I was, seeing them for the tenth time on this momentous night.
“Too much! The biggest Manics gig ever! Celebrating their ten years of glory! Coinciding with the turn of the millennium! Oh nostalgia’s crap I know, but it was so wonderful to think I’m here! when six years ago I was the only Manics fan in Australia and would have sold my soul just to see two seconds of the “From Despair To Where” video!”
The first band of the evening, Shack, were already on as I arrived at the stadium,“and fairly pleasant they were too.” But it was only after they were done that things started picking up. “The first real moment of excitement came after they’d finished and the massive video screen proclaim “MANIC MILLENNIUM” and then play the “Love’s Sweet Exile” video and we all scream. Then there’s other videos and montages of Welsh things and happy new year messages from Welsh sports people (the boys in the crowd emitting lusty screams at the sight of any footballer).”
Then it was time for the next band, Feeder, who were “actually very good in a skinny rawkin’ indie way.” And after more videos, and more messages from sports people, it was time for the first truly glorious item of the evening. “Super Furry Animals!!! Amazingly, the seventh time I’ve seen them, and four of those times have been as prelude to the Manics. They were fantastic as ever, Gruff in especially beautiful voice and occasionally exceptionally amusing voice when he sang into his little voice-wonkifying machine.”
There had been some rumours, prior to the Furries being announced as support for the event, that the slot would actually be taken by that other band I loved far too much, Mansun. However, I was happy with the way things turned out. “Probably the Super Furry Animals were a better fit to the festivities than Mansun would have been. Had Mansun played, by the end of their set you would probably have felt like the apocalypse had come already.”
Then it was time of course for more stuff to come on the screens. The video to “Stay Beautiful” was played “and we all sing along”, followed “Rock The Casbah” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. More celebrity messages ensued, Charlotte Church eliciting groans from many (not me, I think she’s fab), and Shirley Bassey inciting cheers. The most memorable message came from Arthur Scargill, “the only person to be cheered both before and after his speech was on. “The Manics will be an inspiration for generations to come, just as they are now” was what he said, as far as I can recall: “They show us there is another way, against inequality and injustice, and tell us not to tolerate those who stand for these things.” Oh we were well and truly ready for our Manic Millennium.”
It started as their V99 set had done, with countless flickering images of the band overtaking the screen. “Then: oh yeah, the routine, unexceptional rampant outright hysteria as the three boys (‘my boys’ to each and every one of us) walked on.” I delivered the essential information early on in my diary entry: “Nicky was in a delightful girly pink minidress with knee-length white socks. His microphone was strangled by countless feather boas and lustrous tinsel strings, which he rearranged from time to time.”
The first song was “You Stole The Sun From My Heart” and the crowd began its frenzied raptures. “We scream insanely and some are even stretchered away in their excitement.” The “first stunning highlight” was “Masses Against The Classes”. “Single of 2000, game set match and burn down the tennis court. The chorus! It seizes you soul and forces it to grow into more painfully alive shapes!”
There was definitely an intensity to this gig that went beyond even the Manics’ usual fervour. “Oh James’ guitar playing was something different, more chaotic, more strangled, more furious, making every riff and every solo more direct, more immediate and intense. “The Everlasting” and “Ready For Drowning” were much rawer than recent renditions and all the more powerful because of it.”
They set was much the same as what I’d seen at V99, including the rarely performed “Of Walking Abortion”, “after which Nicky said “I think the bar sold 60 million drinks during that one”.” At this point, glancing at the video screens I was delighted to see that “Nicky’s lovely pink top was emblazoned with the legend “Culture Slut”. Ah yes, an age of greatness is dawning, I can see.”
Even though I wrote this entry only a few hours after the gig had finished, my memory of it was already hazy. “You know I can’t even recall what they finished their first set with! Was it “Motown Junk”? or “No Surface All Feeling”? Probably.” Some months later when I got hold of the DVD of this gig, I would learn that it was, in fact, “Motorcycle Emptiness”, which was “once again the sound of life’s agonizing truth echoing round the halls of glory.”
And then the band were off. The new millennium would arrive in fifteen minutes, and the screens switched to the BBC coverage of the various celebrations that had already taken place over the world. “Paris was particularly stunning, with the Eiffel Tower shooting sparks from all sides.” In the last few minutes, scenes from all over the UK were shown, and we Manics faithful at the stadium were shown to represent the Cardiff Millennium – “cue more hysteria”.
And then we left the 20th century.
“Surprisingly, we had no countdown – the first indication that the end was nigh came with Big Ben’s pre-bong chimes, then an eternal couple of seconds, then: 23:59 became 00:00. Britain erupts as one to scenes of the Embankment engulfed in fireworks. We cheer to these images for a few minutes, then the screen begins alternately wishing us a happy new year, century and millennium, in Welsh and in English. When this was combined with a billowing snowstorm of confetti and “Let It Be” resounding from the speakers, it was all quite moving.”
But who cared about how historic and epoch-defining this moment was, when all we wanted was more Manics! “And soon James was back with his acoustic guitar shouting “Happy New Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeear” quite literally, that long, and screams abounded and we had “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” an alternately gorgeous and silly singalong and then “Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky” dedicated to Richey.”
Nicky and Sean then returned to the stage. “Nicky proclaimed “I’ve had a bit of a Diana Ross style change of costume.” He was in a school uniform with a glittering red cape round his shoulders.” Continuing the 21st century half of the show were “Australia” and “Elvis Impersonator” which were “glorious things” and “You Love Us” which “always causes the universe to quake”. During it Nicky did “exactly what I’d hoped he’d do, which was come out onto the edge of the stage right in front of where I was, god I hope my disposable-camera photos come out, he was Right There!!!”
Behold the majesty of my disposable camera photos. Excellent shots of a security bloke and the back of people’s heads as you can see.
But the excitement of the evening was not over: we now had ten minutes before the gig was due to be beamed live around the world to two billion millennium revelers. First up though, was a scorching version of “Stay Beautiful”, which I hadn’t heard live for quite some time. “It’s been too too long since I’ve stood amongst thousands hollering that line we all know and love.” They then told us it had been one of the greatest gigs of their life before launching into a scorching rendition “If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next”. James introduced the band, Nicky and his “swimming-pool blue eyes”, Sean and his “superior genetic advantages”, then acknowledged Richey as that coolest man of the 90s “and yes, we did rather shatter our vocal cords.”
“And then we were live! To 2 billion! so we did it again! And then, yes, it was “A Design For Life” and well, you know how it was. Except a thousand times more emotional, maybe. James and Nicky were both clearly moved. “Thank you to fucking death!” was how James summed up the occasion.”
And the gig ended in the only way a Manics gig of this era could end – with stage trashing hijinks from Nicky.
“Nicky, of course, was already engaged in chucking bits of the stage about, dislodging speakers, trashing his bass, etc. Then in the single most exciting moment of my entire life he came down to the barrier and walked along it, shaking some hands, waving etc. I had one picture left in my camera. I stood poised to take a close up of this great, great man. But then, just as he approached my area, something in me compelled me to stretch my arm out instead and holler his name. I swear, if he had shaken my hand at that moment, I could have quite happily retired to spend the rest of the millennium in a small hole under a tree in some remote inhospitable island, safe in the knowledge that life’s greatest purpose had been fulfilled. Perhaps a good thing then that he just waved generally at the throng and passed by, before disappearing down the side of the stage.”
And that was how this momentous night came to an end. “We were left to peel ourselves away from our respective points of worship and holler along to “Paradise City” as we wended our weary way out of the Millennium Stadium. We all walked down the middle of the streets as if to say, how could there possibly be traffic?? Everyone was at the Manic Millennium!”
Back in my hotel room I called my parents, then retired to bed with a small bottle of some fizzy plonk and watched more of the BBC’s coverage. I didn’t want to turn it off, but I finally slid into sleep at about 3am on the first day of the 21st century. And awoke some hours later feeling pretty damn fantastic.
“Happy new year? I could not have wished for a better mood in which to spend the first day of the New Millennium. It’s all a Manics-assisted euphoria illusion, no doubt, but it’s nice while it lasts.”
Out of all of the gigs I’ve been to over the years, there are a few that stand out as not just wonderful celebrations of the joys of live music, but as truly significant moments of my life, and this is definitely one of them. Chances are, if it weren’t for this gig, I might have spent Millennium Eve alone in my tiny Chelsea room, celebrating vicariously through the BBC. Instead, I spent it with the greatest band in the world, playing some of the greatest songs ever written, with 75,000 who felt exactly the same as me, in the middle of one of the loveliest cities in Britain. The 21st century may not have ended up as wonderfully sci-fi and shiny as we imagined it, but at least for me it began amazingly, doing what I love most in the world.
And, as ever, I have the Manics to thank for that.